Judge John Waltman didn’t hesitate when a man approached him in Lower Southampton in 2015, seeking his help to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars described as proceeds from the illegal sale of drugs.
The judge already had involved himself in a slew of other corrupt dealings, including extorting a landowner in his small Bucks County township. Before embarking on this new misdeed, he had only one concern.
“I don’t care who the f — you are,” he told his new partner in crime. “All I care about is —.”
The man interrupted: “That you get paid?”
“Yeah,” the judge said. “That’s all.”
That conversation — recorded by the FBI — and dozens of equally incriminating recordings hung over Waltman’s decision Friday to plead guilty to a litany of federal crimes, including multiple counts of extortion and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
His admissions effectively ended his public career in Lower Southampton, a working-class township of 19,000 people that, as prosecutors portrayed it, he lorded over like an old-school Mafia don.
Waltman, 61, was a district judge — a relatively minor role in the state judicial system. Yet he was able to exert the level of control over Lower Southampton’s government needed to carry out his many criminal schemes, which included repeated pledges to sway votes by the township council in exchange for kickbacks.
And excerpts of his conversations — outlined for the first time in court filings this week — show that he frequently boasted of his influence and wielded it with alacrity.
He attained his position on the bench in 2010, replacing his sister, who was drummed out of office after a corruption scandal of her own. In his six years on the bench, he oversaw minor criminal proceedings and preliminary hearings for defendants facing trial — including early stages of the case against Lee Kaplan, a Bucks County man convicted in 2017 of sexually abusing six sisters who had been “gifted” to him by an Amish couple.
But Waltman, a longtime constable and former chair of the Lower Southampton Republican Party, cultivated deep ties in local politics and township government that extended far beyond his small court.
“This is Lower South,” he bragged in a 2015 conversation with co-conspirators, as described in court filings. “I know everything there is to know.”
A year later, while shaking down a business owner seeking township contracts, he dismissed the Lower Southampton Board of Supervisors as a “rubber stamp” on decisions he made.
He surrounded himself with a network of other government employees to aid in his corrupt plans, including a deputy constable; the township solicitor; and the public safety director, Robert Hoopes.
Court documents suggest that Waltman delighted in the council’s hiring in 2016 of Hoopes to the newly created position overseeing the fire and police forces, because both men believed the position would create new opportunities for graft.
“It’s trickle-down economics,” Waltman explained to his cohorts during a 2016 attempt to shake down a vendor seeking township business. “Everybody will be happy.”
The indictments filed against Waltman, Hoopes, and four others in 2017 charged them with involvement in five criminal schemes, from fixing a traffic ticket to extorting bribes from vendors seeking everything from the township’s towing contract to a lease on a billboard slated to go up in a park.
Additionally, Waltman admitted Friday that he and Hoopes, starting in 2014, sought to bully a Florida investment firm to sell land it owned in the township to a buyer with whom both men had a financial relationship.
Hoopes, who was working as a lawyer at the time, admitted during a hearing in September that he impersonated the township solicitor during a call with the investment firm’s representative and threatened to bury the company under zoning and regulatory obstacles unless it agreed to sell.
But it was the money-laundering scheme starting in 2015 that ultimately brought Waltman and Hoopes down.
Waltman did not know that the two New York businessmen who approached him claiming to have ripped off insurance companies and made hundreds of thousands selling drugs were undercover FBI agents, recording his every word. He eagerly agreed to help them.
“I don’t care about insurance companies,” he said. “They’re whores. They make millions and millions, and sometimes there has to be a little taking. So what?”
Over the next year, he and Hoopes washed $400,000 for the men — handed over in duffel bags stuffed with cash — through a consulting company set up by a coconspirator, Lower Southampton Deputy Constable Bernard Rafferty.
Although prosecutors say Waltman took a cut of about 5 percent of the proceeds — or $20,000 — he insists that he never made a dime off his involvement.
That dispute, however, was the only point on which Waltman appeared to have any will left to fight during his court appearance Friday. He sat slump-shouldered next to his lawyer, Louis Busico, answering questions from U.S. District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter and admitting to all the other misdeeds that prosecutors laid at his feet.
“I want to plead guilty. I am guilty, your honor,” he said in court. He declined to comment after the proceedings.
Waltman will face a maximum of 20 years on each of the six counts to which he pleaded at a sentencing hearing scheduled for May. Hoopes, Rafferty, and three others also have pleaded guilty and face similar hearings in March.