Crimes and schemes: Top stories of 2020

In 2020, criminal proceedings were followed by discipline proceedings for 9 former judicial officers based on acts committed while they were still on the bench and, in most cases, related to their judicial duties.

Bonding scheme
In West Virginia, 2 former magistrates were sanctioned for their scheme to ensure that bonds for defendants arraigned by one of the magistrates were posted by a bonding company owned by the wife of the other magistrate.  In the Matter of Clem, Order (West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals January 30, 2020); In the Matter of Skinner, Order (West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals January 30, 2020).  Based on their agreements and the recommendation of the Judicial Hearing Board, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals publicly censured them, barred them from serving in public office again, and fined them $1,000 each.

Before their resignations, Alton Skinner and Roger Clem were magistrates in adjoining counties.  The bonding company E-Z Out was operated by Skinner’s spouse and employed Skinner’s son as an authorized bonding agent.  Skinner was also involved in the operation of E-Z Out.

From March 2017 to March 2018, then-magistrate Clem did not present a list of authorized bail bonding companies to defendants at arraignments.  Instead, approximately 200 times, soon after an arraignment, he called E-Z Out, usually to Skinner’s cell phone, and Skinner would ensure that an E-Z Out agent was at the courthouse to post the bonds.

Both magistrates had been indicted for the same scheme by a federal grand jury on charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, and obstruction.  The charges were dismissed after the U.S. Attorney agreed not to prosecute conditioned on their resignations and admissions in the discipline proceedings.

Information disclosure
Agreeing with the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Discipline based on a stipulation and agreement, the Colorado Supreme Court publicly censured a former judge based on his guilty plea to federal charges and “a pattern of disclosing nonpublic, confidential information to his friends” while serving as a magistrate and later as a district judge.  In the Matter of Kamada (Colorado Supreme Court December 7, 2020).  The Court explained that removal from office would have been the appropriate sanction if the judge had not resigned in August 2019.  The former judge has also been disbarred after conditionally admitting to misconduct as an attorney.

In June 2020, the judge pled guilty to obstructing the proceedings of a federal agency; his sentencing is scheduled for February 2021.  The charges are described in a press release from the U.S. Attorney announcing the judge’s guilty plea.

According to the stipulated facts contained in the plea agreement, beginning in or around October 2018, a federal task force was investigating a drug trafficking organization that was distributing large quantities of cocaine throughout northern Colorado.  One of the members of the organization was a drug trafficker who lived in Greeley, Colorado.  Kamada had known the drug trafficker since high school. . . .

While serving as the “on call” judge one evening in April 2019, Kamada received a phone call from a task force officer who was seeking a search warrant related to the investigation into the drug trafficker.  The task force officer pointed out to Kamada that he was associated with the drug trafficker on social media.  As a result, Kamada recused himself from the case.  But early the next morning, Kamada called his best friend, Geoffrey Chacon, who had also known the drug trafficker since childhood.  Kamada told Chacon that law enforcement was “watching” the drug trafficker’s house, car and phone, and instructed Chacon to “stay away” from the drug trafficker.  Chacon subsequently informed the drug trafficker about the warrant and modified Chacon’s own behavior in order to avoid law enforcement attention.

The information that Chacon provided to the drug trafficker also caused the drug trafficker to change his pattern of conduct and substantially interfered with the task force’s investigation.  After Chacon relayed the information that he received from the judge to the drug trafficker, Chacon destroyed records of his communications with the drug trafficker in order to impair efforts by law enforcement to tie Chacon to the drug trafficker.  In November 2019, Chacon pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of destruction of records with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation.

In its order, the Court describes several other times the judge inappropriately disclosed information to Chacon.

In January 2019, during his first month as a district court judge, in a text to Chacon and another friend, the judge declared that the wife in a divorce proceeding “would be ‘free game tomorrow night’ and that the husband was keeping the family’s Mercedes.”  “In another matter, he sent his friends a photo of a father and child involved in a parenting dispute, commenting ‘check out the dad in my trial today.’”

On one occasion, Chacon asked the judge to get him information about a person being taken into custody by the FBI.  The judge searched Colorado court records and, when he could not find the case, suggested to Chacon that it was likely a federal matter.

In January 2019, Chacon texted the judge that a mutual friend (the drug trafficker referred to in the criminal charges) had been in an altercation with another drug dealer, commenting that the other dealer was “high on coke.”  The judge replied that the friend needed to “grow up” if he wanted “to play big boy stuff.”

Phony and baseless
Based on the decision and recommendation of the Disciplinary Review Board, the New Jersey Supreme Court disbarred a former judge based on his guilty plea to 1 count of falsifying records.  In the Matter of Thompson, Order (New Jersey Supreme Court January 16, 2020).  In his plea allocution in state court, the former judge had admitted that, while serving as a municipal court judge in 9 jurisdictions, he had routinely suspended mandatory motor vehicle fines, which would have been divided between the towns and the county, and substituted “phony, baseless contempt of court charges” to ensure that 100% of the fines would go to the towns.  The judge admitted that “to conceal his wrongdoing, he typically falsified the contempt charges outside of the presence of the defendants and their counsel.”  The judge’s scheme was successful; according to the prosecution, it had diverted $600,000 to the towns from the county in approximately 4,000 cases between 2010 and 2015.  Finally, the judge admitted that he continued his scheme even after discussing his practice with his superiors; after the meeting, he began assessing smaller phony contempt fines, but he continued to steer funds to his preferred jurisdictions until he was suspended from the bench.

Kickback scheme
The Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline removed a former judge from office and barred him from further judicial service based on his guilty plea to federal charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and extortion under color of official right.  In re Waltman, Opinion and order (Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline May 6, 2020).  In a press release, the U.S. Attorney described the judge’s crimes:

Together with his co-defendants . . . , Bernard Rafferty and Robert Hoopes, Waltman participated in a scheme to extort bribes and kickbacks from Bucks County businessmen.  They also conspired to launder money for individuals they believed were engaged in narcotics trafficking and health care fraud. 

For example, in November 2016, Waltman, Hoopes, and Rafferty accepted a bribe of $1,000, as well as the promise of other fees, in exchange for Waltman, Hoopes, and Rafferty to use their positions as public officials to “fix” a traffic case before Waltman in Bucks County Magisterial District Court.

In addition, from June 2015 to November 2016, Waltman, Hoopes, and Rafferty conspired to launder funds represented to be proceeds from health care fraud, illegal drug trafficking, and bank fraud.  From June 2016 to August 2016, Waltman, Hoopes, and Rafferty laundered $400,000 in cash, represented to be proceeds from health care fraud and illegal drug trafficking, and took money laundering fees totaling $80,000 in cash.

Scheme to defraud
Based on its findings of misconduct, the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline removed a former judge from office and banned him from serving in office again based on (1) his guilty plea to federal charges of mail fraud and filing a false personal income tax return and (2) his conviction on federal perjury charges.  In re Mulgrew (Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline May 6, 2020).

(1) In August 2012, the judge was indicted on 33 federal counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, and tax-related crimes based on a scheme to misuse state grant funds awarded to non-profit groups.  In September 2013, he pled guilty to 1 count of mail fraud and 1 count of filing a false personal income tax return.  In August 2014, he was sentenced to 30 months of incarceration and 3 years of probation and ordered to pay $199,000 in restitution and $123,000 in back taxes.  The U.S. Attorney’s press release described his crimes:

Between 1996 and 2008, the [Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development] awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to two community groups with which Mulgrew and [co-defendant Lorraine] Dispaldo were associated.  DCED awarded more than $450,000 in grants to the Friends of Dickinson Square (“FDS”) with the understanding that the grants were to be used to purchase equipment and materials for the maintenance of Dickinson Square Park at 4th & Tasker Streets, Philadelphia, and surrounding neighborhood revitalization.  Mulgrew, the Vice-President of FDS, signed the FDS grant contracts with DCED.  DCED also awarded approximately $397,000 in grants to the Community to Police Communications (“CPC”) with the understanding that the grants were to be used to purchase communications equipment for the police and to purchase materials to secure vacant lots and buildings for the protection of the police.  Dispaldo signed the CPC grant contracts with DCED.

The defendants misrepresented their intentions to DCED, and — contrary to their agreement to spend grant funds solely to purchase equipment and materials for neighborhood revitalization and improved communications with the police — the defendants used thousands of grant dollars to pay Mulgrew’s relatives and associates.  They represented that they were paying for work done on behalf of FDS and CPC.  After distributing grant funds to relatives and associates, the defendants supplied false and misleading information to DCED to conceal the actual amount of grant funds which they paid to the relatives and associates contrary to the express purposes of the grant.

Mulgrew conceded that he received almost $70,000 in grant funds for his own personal uses.  Mulgrew improperly reimbursed himself from FDS funds for thousands of dollars of expenditures which he claimed were incurred by FDS when they were not and for his expenditures for items not authorized under the terms of the FDS grants.  Mulgrew and Dispaldo supplied DCED with false documents to conceal their own use of grant funds and other improper uses of the funds. 

Mulgrew did not report the additional income from the fraud scheme on his tax return and claimed false business deductions which improperly reduced his tax liability.  

(2) In January 2013, Mulgrew was one of 9 judges indicted on wire fraud, mail fraud, and perjury charges related to ticket-fixing on the Philadelphia Traffic Court, described by the U.S. Attorney as “a widespread culture of giving breaks on traffic citations to friends, family, the politically-connected, and business associates.”  In July 2014, a jury convicted the judge of 1 count of perjury before the federal grand jury.  He appealed.  His conviction was affirmed in January 2019.  

Personal conduct
A former magistrate pled guilty to misdemeanor possession of methamphetamine and resisting arrest and was permanently barred from judicial service by the Indiana Supreme Court.  In the Matter of Greenaway (Indiana Supreme Court December 4, 2020).  The Court also suspended him from the practice of law for 1 year with the first 90 days as an active suspension and the balance stayed subject to at least 2 years of probation.  According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, in March 2019, the judge was arrested as part of an Indiana State Police sting operation after he bought 2.5 grams of meth from an undercover informant in a parking lot.  During the arrest, he “put the bag of meth in his mouth and bit an officer’s hand as the officer tried to pry his mouth open, according to court documents.”  He was charged with possession of methamphetamine, resisting arrest, and obstruction of justice, all felonies.  He pled guilty in September 2020.

Accepting a stipulation based on the judge’s resignation and agreement not to seek or accept judicial office, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct concluded a proceeding against a former judge who had pled guilty to state charges of attempted burglary in the second degree, a felony.  In the Matter of Cicale, Decision and order (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct April 2, 2020).  According to Newsday, Cicale admitted entering the home of a 23-year-old former intern at the town attorney’s office where he used to work and taking articles of her clothing.  His attorney told the newspaper that the former judge “has dealt with his mental illness issues in a proactive manner and is a better person for doing so.”

Accepting a stipulation based on the judge’s resignation and agreement not to seek or accept judicial office, the New York Commission concluded a proceeding against a former judge who had pled guilty to federal tax evasion charges.  In the Matter of Seedorf, Decision and order (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct April 2, 2020).  According to the Journal News, Seedorf did not file income tax returns from 2005 to 2015 and owed more than $487,000, including interest and penalties.

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