Former Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes is home from federal prison

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Armstrong: Former Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes said she tried to pay for the bracelet she was given, which resulted in her conviction.

GUESS WHO'S back in Philly - former Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes.

Yes, you read that correctly.

She's home after a nearly two-year stay in federal prison.

You'll recall that Tynes famously accepted a $2,000 bracelet during an undercover "sting" operation targeting Philadelphia Democrats from October 2010 to April 2012.

After tearfully pleading guilty to a felony count of conflict of interest in 2014, Tynes spent a year and a half in federal custody in Texas. She was released to house arrest late last month.

When I caught up with her this week, Tynes was at her condo in West Philly and was surprisingly sanguine about having been locked up for nearly two years.

"It was OK," she told me. "I followed the rules. I didn't have a problem.

"They tried [me]," Tynes said of her fellow inmates. "I just told them, 'Don't let the gray hair fool you.'

"You have to get people straight from the beginning," said Tynes, now 73.

Tynes, the first female, African American president judge of Traffic Court, was among five Democratic officials ensnared by undercover operative Tyron B. Ali, who handed out cash or, in Tynes' case, jewelry.

Tynes also was convicted in another case of lying to a grand jury investigating ticket-fixing at the now-defunct Traffic Court.

She was sentenced to two separate prison terms of two years each, which she served concurrently at the Carswell Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. (Tynes is a breast-cancer survivor and also has diabetes.)

Now that she's back home and completing her sentence on house arrest, Tynes wants to tell her side of the story and try to clear her name. She also is in the process of appealing both convictions on various grounds.

Meanwhile, her monitoring bracelet is scheduled to be removed Nov. 1. Afterward, she still faces a year of probation.

I asked Tynes if she felt any animosity toward District Attorney Seth Williams for reopening the undercover investigation that caught her, after former state Attorney General Kathleen Kane had declared the probe flawed and racially biased.

"Let me tell you the reason why I don't have any animosity toward Seth Williams," Tynes explained. "I don't have any animosity toward anybody because I know how the system works. It's all about politics. It's all about how you can get ahead in life and what you need to do. And people do things to advance their careers and what they want to do in life.

"The only thing I'm upset about is that I was incarcerated for the bracelet. That bothers me, you know," she said, sounding troubled. "Because nobody else went to jail but me."

The four other Philadelphia Democrats caught up in the sting were former State Reps. Ronald G. Waters, Vanessa Lowery Brown, Michelle Brownlee, and Louise Williams Bishop.

Tynes also brought up her oft-repeated claims that she had tried to return the bracelet after Ali presented it on her 68th birthday during lunch at the now-closed Palm restaurant.

"He got me to come to the restaurant because the Palm had put a [caricature of him] on the wall and he wanted me to see it, and that's when he presented me with the bracelet," Tynes recalled.

"When he gave me the bracelet, he held my hand and he said, 'Here, I wanted to give you this.' He was a very good-looking guy."

Afterward, she reconsidered and decided to present him with a cashier's check for $2,000.

"I wanted to pay for it when I found out what it cost," Tynes said.

"I never saw the guy again."

When I asked what she thought of Williams' having recently reported receiving $160,050 in gifts from 2010 to 2015 - funds previously omitted from mandatory annual statements of financial interests - she simply replied, "He forgot."

"I guess maybe he [should] be tested like I was tested for dementia," she added. "He forgot."

We spoke on the phone a couple of times. And each time she was philosophical about her prison ordeal.

"The man above sent me to jail for a reason," Tynes said. "Whatever happens to me is not in my control."

She feels the same way about having been part of the scandal that led to the end of Traffic Court.

Tynes was one of four former Traffic Court judges convicted of lying to a grand jury or the FBI about ticket-fixing. This week, she alleged that the charges she faced were part of a larger plan to dismantle the court.

"It had nothing to do with me," she claimed. "When Gov. Rendell gave me the appointment of president judge, the only duties I had were to give the parking spaces out to the judges ... and also to give them their chamber rooms when they came into Traffic Court.

"I had no other duties at all," she said. "It was called a ceremonial position.

"People knowing me as the president judge thought I had all of" this authority, she added. But "I never knew what someone else was doing in someone's courtroom. I never knew that."

While incarcerated, Tynes shared a cell with three other inmates, took courses and tried to stay out of trouble.

She mostly was a loner, something made easier by the support she got from friends. Tynes estimates that she must have gotten more than 100 cards and letters from friends while incarcerated. She also kept up with Philadelphia happenings with her subscription to the Inquirer.

A prison chaplain at the facility told her, "You're a little different from the rest of the inmates because you're at peace with yourself." To that, she responded, "I'm here for a reason."

Tynes, who is divorced and has no children, wants to complete an autobiography she started in prison and call it From Judge to Jail.

"I just want to clear my name."

@JeniceArmstrong

Blog: ph.ly/HeyJen

armstrj@phillynews.com