Former Public Safety Director Robert Hoopes, left, and Lower Southampton District Justice John Waltman
BUCKS COUNTY COURIER TIMES
Former Public Safety Director Robert Hoopes, left, and Lower Southampton District Justice John Waltman

Former Lower Southampton Public Safety Director Robert Hoopes pleaded guilty Wednesday to taking part in a money-laundering scheme with a Bucks County judge and a constable, calling it "the first thing that I truly regret that I ever did in my life."

As he sat next to his attorney in a Philadelphia federal courtroom, Hoopes admitted his role in the corruption scheme, which shook the Bucks County township he once served when he, Magisterial District Judge John Waltman, and Deputy Constable Bernard T. Rafferty were charged with money laundering and extortion in 2016.

Judge Gene E.K. Pratter asked him: Why decide to enter the plea now?

"Because I did it," Hoopes said. "I did the things that are in [the indictment]. … It  was the stupidest thing I've ever done in my life."

"Right after my arrest," he added, "I was ready to admit my guilt."

In a long-running federal probe, authorities found that the three Bucks County officials had run a money-laundering scheme involving $400,000 in cash, money that undercover agents portrayed as the product of drug smuggling and fraud.

A superseding indictment later painted an even more corrupt picture. Between 2014 and 2016, authorities say, Hoopes, Waltman, and Rafferty shook down several businessmen, with Hoopes often serving as the front man in negotiations.

A former police officer and attorney, Hoopes had been in charge of Lower Southampton's police department, rescue squad, and two fire departments for less than a year when he was charged and subsequently fired by the township.

Hoopes said he has since separated from his wife, who now lives in California, and retired from his law practice. He lives alone in his family's Doylestown home, he said, and has struggled with alcohol and post-traumatic stress disorder, which he developed serving in Vietnam.

When Pratter asked how he was feeling now, Hoopes said: "I feel fine, your honor. I feel sad and I feel embarrassed and minorly depressed. But other than that, I feel fine."

He stressed to Pratter that he "never had a blemish" on his records as a police officer or lawyer and that he regretted his actions.

But "I'm not worried about myself," he said. "I'm worried about my family."

Three of Hoopes' five daughters attended the hearing and wiped away tears as they sat behind him in court.

Hoopes, 71, of Doylestown, and his attorney, William Winning, declined further comment after the hearing.

Hoopes previously had pleaded not guilty. With Hoopes' change of plea Wednesday, Waltman, 60, of Lower Southampton, remains the only defendant in the case who has not entered a guilty plea. Waltman awaits trial, scheduled for later this fall, on charges related to the scheme. Rafferty, 63, of Lower Southampton, pleaded guilty in the spring.

At the end of Wednesday's proceeding, Pratter asked Hoopes whether he ever socializes with anyone allegedly involved in the scheme.

"No, I've never seen them or talked to them" since charges were filed, Hoopes said.

Hoopes' sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 17. He faces a maximum sentence of 100 years in prison.