Fourth Guilty Plea in Traffic Court Scandal

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    NBC10 Philadelphia

    A man described as the conduit through which Philadelphia Traffic Court judges passed political favors in a wide-ranging ticket-fixing scheme pleaded guilty Monday to federal corruption charges.
    William Hird, the court's retired director of records, told U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly that he routinely sought special attention for cases involving individuals who were with the right union, or carried the right political ties.

    Often under the direction of his boss, Administrative Judge Fortunato Perri Sr., Hird sent traffic citations to other magistrates for "consideration," a term prosecutors say he used as code when seeking ticket dismissals or a reduction in fines.

    His is the fourth conviction in a case that led to federal charges against six Traffic Court judges and prompted state lawmakers to shut down the court last year. Its duties are now handled by a newly created traffic division of Municipal Court.

    Hird, 68, declined to comment Monday. His lawyer, Gregory Pagano, stressed that much of what his client did happened under the direction of others. Hird has made no agreement to cooperate with prosecutors.

    "It should be noted that he never profited financially or otherwise from his crimes," said Pagano.

    Authorities have not alleged that Hird gained any benefit from his role in the scheme, though his boss, Perri, received free auto-repair and landscaping services, and home improvements for fixing tickets for various contractors.

    According to the grand jury indictment, unsealed last year, Hird, a former carpet layer and tavern owner, was the linchpin for the court's systemic corruption.

    From 1997 to 2001, he worked as Perri's personal assistant before receiving a promotion to court administrator - a position he held until his retirement in 2011.

    For much of that time he doled out Perri's largesse, ensuring his boss' friends - including ward leaders, contractors, and a strip-club landlord - had their tickets farmed out to favorable judges.

    Though not mentioned in court filings or during Monday's hearing, Hird is also alleged to have played a role in a ticket fixed for Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery's wife.

    William G. Chadwick, who investigated the affair for the Supreme Court, said Hird helped shepherd McCaffery's wife, lawyer Lise Rapaport, through Traffic Court as she fought a wrong-way driving citation in 2010.

    Chadwick's report alleges that McCaffery called Hird before his wife's hearing and summoned Hird with a text message when he and his wife arrived. The court supervisor met them at the door. Once inside, then-Judge H. Warren Hogeland dismissed the ticket.

    McCaffery has said he had no knowledge of Hird's role as a ticket-fixer and only contacted the court to suggest a judge from outside of Philadelphia hear his wife's case because of his high-profile political position.

    Both Hogeland and Perri pleaded guilty last year. Hogeland died months later from complications that developed during heart surgery.

    Hird faces up to 315 years in prison and $4.5 million in fines at a sentencing hearing scheduled for April.


    This story was reported through a news coverage partnership between NBC10.com and The Philadelphia Inquirer.