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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Former Traffic Court Clerk Charged in Ticket-Fixing Scam

Former New Orleans Traffic Court clerk charged in ticket-fixing scam 
The Times-Picayune by Laura Maggi  -  May 1, 2012

A former clerk at New Orleans Traffic Court is facing criminal charges that he scammed money out of errant drivers trying to clear up their records, according to documents filed in federal court. James Singleton, the former deputy clerk, is accused in a federal criminal complaint of taking at least $9,000 in bribes from six people.  Singleton was arrested by federal agents more than a week ago, but was released on a $10,000 personal surety bond. Singleton was hired at Traffic Court in 2008 and served as the deputy clerk. He left in September 2010, but not before taking thousands of dollars in cash from people who sought his assistance taking care of traffic citations, according to an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Krysti Hawkins. He admitted to the wrongdoing during an interview with FBI agents in August 2011, acknowledging he took money to wipe out the outstanding traffic tickets. Though he kept the money, he didn't take care of the violations, Hawkins wrote. The scam was initially uncovered when one man came forward to complain about the fact that he had received notification about outstanding tickets, even though he had been given a "reinstatement letter" from Singleton, said Chief Administrative Judge Robert Jones. "It was based solely on that citizen's complaint that Singleton was confronted and forced to resign," Jones said. Singleton is not related to the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority board chairman and former City Council member of the same name. He is represented by the federal public defender's office, which does not respond to media requests for comment. After Singleton resigned from his position in September, Noel Cassanova, clerk of court, sent a letter to the Orleans Parish district attorney's office and the FBI outlining the case presented by Ernest Roy, the citizen who complained. Roy had received a card from Traffic Court notifying him that there was a warrant out for his arrest because of an unpaid ticket. According to Cassanova's letter, Roy told the clerk, "I paid James Singleton $3,500 cash for this letter." "When I asked him for a receipt, he showed me the reinstatement letter and said, 'Mr. Singleton told me this is all you need,'" Cassanova wrote. The letter Roy received from Singleton is dated November 2009, and purports to inform the state Department of Public Safety that eight tickets have been "satisfied." In fact, Roy had seven open tickets on his record, Cassanova noted in his letter. Lorraine Franklin, Roy's mother, told WWL-TV last week that she helped her son get the money together to pay his tickets and for bail money after he was arrested because of the violations. When initially confronted, Singleton denied that he scammed people who came to court, Jones said. But after he resigned, more people showed up with similar stories about paying him money to get rid of tickets. "Whenever an individual comes forward, we refer that individual to Camp Street," said Jones, referring to the location of the U.S. attorney's office. In the FBI affidavit, Hawkins outlined three 2010 cases in which Singleton allegedly bilked people looking to clear up their violations. In two cases, he took more than $3,000 from people with several outstanding tickets and fines. One of Singleton's victims is serving a 10-year sentence in federal prison for a drug conviction. That man paid Singleton $3,200 to receive a reinstatement letter like Roy, but in fact still has tickets on his record. Another person gave Singleton $100 in June 2010 to take care of a ticket for driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Despite taking the money, Singleton didn't remove the violation from the woman's record. She was pulled over by a New Orleans police officer after Singleton quit Traffic Court, but the officer agreed not to arrest her after she explained the situation. At that point, the woman owed $441 to the court, Hawkins wrote. This is not the first time Traffic Court has come under the federal microscope. An sprawling investigation of the court that began before Hurricane Katrina eventually nabbed more than a dozen people, including court employees and a former city attorney, in a traffic ticket-fixing ring. Laura Maggi can be reached at or 504.826.3316.

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