Operations

Undercover FBI Agent Poses as Taxicab Owner, Tapes Conversations

LCT Staff
Posted on November 17, 2004

PHILADELPHIA – Lawyer Charles P. Mirarchi III, 53, has pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and agreed to help prosecutors in the trial of Joseph F. Hoffman Jr., former manager of the city's Bureau of Administrative Adjudication (BAA), which hears parking ticket appeals.

Under the plea agreement, Mirarchi faces a six-month prison term. But if he cooperates as promised in his plea, he would likely get a lesser sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy L. Kurland said Mirarchi's law license could be suspended as a result of the plea, and that it could also affect his benefits as a city employee. In addition to his law practice, Mirarchi has been a deputy city commissioner since 1973, currently earning $37,893.

In a plea bargain with federal prosecutors, Mirarchi has agreed to testify against a co-defendant, Joseph F. Hoffman Jr., who has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial.

Neither Mirarchi nor Hoffman knew it at the time, but the taxi company owner, Michael Etemad, was working undercover for the FBI and taping his conversations with them.

Hoffman, 48, son of a South Philadelphia ward leader, once headed the city's BAA, an agency that hears appeals of parking violations.

Mirarchi, former deputy city commissioner and son of a city judge, has been working in recent years as a private attorney.

Prosecutors filed a memorandum with U.S. District Judge Bruce Kauffman, outlining how Mirarchi allegedly helped Hoffman fix $47,000 worth of tickets for the owner of a taxi company.

Mirarchi's role in the ticket-fixing scheme was simple, prosecutors contend.

He notified the BAA that he was the lawyer for individuals for whom Hoffman was fixing tickets, covering up the fact that these fines had been eliminated without those individuals ever appearing at the BAA, as required by the agency's own rules.

"Having an attorney enter an appearance would provide an explanation as to why there was no taped record of the hearing if the legitimacy of the dismissal was ever questioned in the future," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amy Kurland and Judy Goldstein Smith wrote in the memorandum.

Mirarchi went to the BAA "as often as four times per week" and "signed as many as 40 entry of appearance forms at a time for Hoffman, all for people he did not represent," prosecutors asserted.

Hoffman's attorney, F. Emmett Fitzpatrick Jr., declined to comment about the allegations against his client, who is scheduled to be tried in January.

Mirarchi's lawyer, John Rogers Carroll, couldn't be reached for comment.

An investigation alleged last year that Hoffman dismissed 125,000 parking tickets, worth more than $6 million, for friendly politicians, businesses and others while he was with BAA.

In the guilty plea memo, prosecutors disclosed that an FBI undercover investigation two years ago led to the criminal charges.

The prosecutors indicated that attorney Mirarchi acted as Hoffman's bagman in accepting payoffs to fix tickets from Etemad, the taxi company owner who was working undercover for the FBI.

"Mirarchi called these payments fees or retainers, even though he did no legal work for Etemad, and despite the fact that he gave the money he received from Etemad to Hoffman," prosecutors noted.

"After receiving the bribes from Etemad, Hoffman reduced more than $47,000 worth of tickets to $3,500,” prosecutors charged.

At a recorded meeting at Etemad's office on May 23, 2002, Hoffman allegedly said he "could work with Etemad to reduce his outstanding parking tickets," prosecutors disclosed.

Hoffman came to Etemad's office that day with Mirarchi and told Etemad that Mirarchi would represent Etemad on the parking tickets. This way, their relationship would "look more professional," Hoffman allegedly told Etemad.

"Hoffman said he could clear up the tickets without Etemad coming into the BAA. Hoffman said the tickets could be cleared over time so it did not look like 'a big hole in the wall.'"

Hoffman allegedly added that he knew Etemad likes to be "appreciative."

"So I'm not looking for nothing, no problems, and in the meantime, you get rectified. But Michael, you'll be very happy ... This is a long-term relationship. This is not a short-term relationship. That's the way we'll do it," Hoffman purportedly said.

That day, Etemad "counted out $2,000 in Hoffman's presence and Hoffman told Etemad that the money would be Mirarchi's 'retainer, you follow me?' "

Prosecutors said Etemad gave Mirarchi an envelope containing $2,000. Later, Mirarchi told Etemad that the taxi company owed the city $47,127 for parking tickets.

On Aug. 5, 2002, Etemad gave Mirarchi a $3,000 bribe to pass on to Hoffman, who was outside the taxi company, waiting in a car, unaware that FBI surveillance agents were watching.

"Etemad and Mirarchi went outside to see Hoffman, and Etemad told Hoffman that he had given Mirarchi '3.' "

"Hoffman said that whatever Etemad and Mirarchi were doing was fine with him," prosecutors alleged.

About a week later, Mirarchi "told Etemad that the $47,000 in parking tickets would be dismissed over time in order to avoid raising eyebrows, and that Etemad would pay the city $3,500 in six payments."

On Sept. 17, 2002, Etemad gave Mirarchi $2,000. Agents followed Mirarchi as he drove to the BAA office and other places. The next day, Etemad and Hoffman spoke on the phone.

Etemad told Hoffman he'd given Mirarchi "2 Gs" the day before and "7 Gs cash" in total.

Hoffman said, "OK" and that he appreciated it.

Mirarchi later gave Etemad parking ticket disposition reports that showed wholesale ticket dismissals as well as reduced fines for some of Etemad's parking tickets.

"In sum, Hoffman had dismissed about $47,000 worth of tickets in exchange for the $7,000 that Etemad had provided to Mirarchi," prosecutors alleged.

LCT Staff LCT Staff
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