A former city judge was sentenced on Thursday to 24 months in prison for using his judicial position to influence the outcome of two cases in Philadelphia Municipal Court.
Joseph C. Waters Jr. pleaded guilty in September to mail fraud and honest services wire fraud, according to the United States Attorney’s office. In addition to the two-year prison term, U.S. District Court Judge Juan R. Sanchez ordered three years of supervised release and further ordered Waters to pay a fine of $5,500 and a special assessment of $200.
The case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Chief of the Public Corruption Unit Richard P. Barrett and Assistant United States Attorney Michelle L. Morgan.
On Sept. 30, 2011, Waters was asked by an individual identified as Person 1 — a politically active business owner — to use his judicial office to achieve a favorable outcome in a small-claims case filed in Municipal Court against Person 1’s real estate management company. Waters called two judges, assigned to the case on different dates, and asked them to rule in Person 1’s favor, according to documents filed in the case.
A judge identified in the documents as Judge 2 eventually decided the case in favor of Person 1 after Waters told Judge 2 “he’s a friend of mine.” Judge 2’s ruling in favor of Person 1’s company prevented the plaintiff in the small claims case, identified only as Company B, from collecting $2,733 in unpaid fees owed to it for security services it delivered to Person 1’s company.
Waters allegedly gave Person 1 a secret advantage through a series of secret ex parte communications with other Municipal Court judges scheduled to hear the case, and allegedly used his position to cause favorable rulings for Person 1. In a second scheme, Waters used his position as a judge to facilitate a favorable outcome in a criminal firearms case, investigators said.
In that case, Person 1 urged a witness cooperating with the government, identified in the documents only as CW1, to contribute money to help pay down debts Waters had incurred while campaigning for a position on the Municipal Court.
In January 2010, the cooperating witness gave Waters $1,000 in cash. In accepting the money, Waters told the cooperating witness he would help with future problems either the cooperating witness or their friends may encounter in the court system. Federal investigators assert between 2010 and 2012, the cooperating witness handed over gifts and cash contributions to Waters that were not reported on the former judge’s campaign finance reporting forms.
In May 2012, the cooperating witness asked Waters for his assistance with another firearms case pending in Municipal Court. CW1 introduced Waters to an undercover agent, identified in the investigative documents as UC1, as a business associate. The cooperating witness and the undercover agent asked Waters to help UC1’s “cousin” who had been arrested for felony possession of a firearm. On July 23, 2012, Waters called Judge 1 — alerting them to the preliminary hearing of a “friend” for the firearms charge and asked the judge to help him. At a July 24, 2012 preliminary hearing, Judge 1, without proper legal basis, reduced the felony firearms charge to a misdemeanor.