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After FBI sting, questions remain for Bucks officials

The three men had a long and tangled history in law enforcement and Republican politics in their Bucks County township.

The three men had a long and tangled history in law enforcement and Republican politics in their Bucks County township.

One was a district judge, another a deputy county constable, the third the public safety director in Lower Southampton Township.

Their quarter-century-long careers seemingly came to a halt last month with a federal indictment alleging they laundered $400,000 that they believed was the proceeds from a drug trafficking and health-care fraud.

On Thursday, District Judge John I. Waltman, deputy constable Bernard T. Rafferty, and public safety director Robert P. Hoopes said little as they entered not-guilty pleas to charges of conspiracy and money laundering.

Much about the FBI sting that snared them remained unclear, including what led agents to the lower Bucks township and where the probe might be heading.

Though thin on details, the indictment painted a made-for-TV image: three trips by the men, in an unmarked police car, to a Feasterville-area office building, where undercover agents handed them duffel bags stuffed with at least $100,000 in cash.

Prosecutors have declined to comment on the case, as did the defendants after Thursday's hearing in Philadelphia.

Waltman's lawyer, Louis Busico, was resolute on one point.

"Mr. Waltman denies any wrongdoing whatsoever," he said. "He's served the citizens of Bucks County with honor and pride for the last 25 years of his life. He's well-known and well-respected."

The township has been left shocked by the allegations.

"Everyone here has done a lot of soul-searching, and, you know, nobody saw it coming," Township Manager John McMenamin said Wednesday, a day after Lower Southampton supervisors fired Hoopes. "Nobody knew anything was going on."

According to the Dec. 13 indictment, the sting unfolded between June 2015 and November 2016. It does not say how or why the men were targeted, but says Waltman, Hoopes, and Rafferty used their positions to facilitate schemes to launder money they believed was criminal proceeds.

After getting the cash, prosecutors say, Rafferty would hand the agents a check cut from Raff's Consulting, a firm he owned, along with contracts and other documents he, Waltman, and Hoopes had allegedly fabricated to make the dealings appear legitimate.

The trio then allegedly returned about 80 percent of the money to Rafferty's firm and split the rest among themselves. In total, prosecutors say, they pocketed $80,000.

The indictment also accused the men of offering to broker the sale of a Feasterville bar to be used as a front to launder money, and offering to obtain a judgment in County Court to access money frozen in an overseas account.

State judicial authorities suspended Waltman, 59, the day the indictment was unsealed. Elected constable in 1991, he had served two decades before winning his judgeship.

He took over the post from his sister, former District Judge Susan McEwen, who retired in 2010 amid an investigation by state judicial authorities involving allegations she altered records in a case involving her grandson.

As the FBI sting was quietly unfolding, Waltman presided over the preliminary hearing of one of the county's highest-profile cases, the sexual-abuse and child-endangerment charges against a Feasterville man and the parents of 11 Lancaster County girls found in the man's home.

As a deputy constable, Rafferty had long ties to the district judge, who had reappointed him every six years since the late 1990s. And Hoopes first backed Rafferty for the job in a 1993 petition, records show.

Rafferty, 62, has been suspended from his job. He could also face a state ethics investigation, said Rob Caruso, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, as he has failed to file financial-interest disclosures since 2011, the year he opened the consulting firm that prosecutors say he used to launder money.

Hoopes, 69, a former Lower Southampton police officer and lawyer, had been unanimously appointed in February as the township's first public safety director - a $120,000-a-year position created to replace the police chief and oversee the 29-officer police force, two fire departments, and a rescue squad.

Township officials lauded him at the time for his legal expertise and leadership skills.

McMenamin said Wednesday that officials in Lower Southampton, a town of 19,000, are "kind of disgusted in a way," but mostly just disappointed.

"We expected so much more out of a person like that," he said, "and to have them mixed up in this [alleged] money-laundering scheme is just totally disappointing and very upsetting to everyone."