Friday, April 10, 2015
Jeff Walker walked out of the house in the 5600 block of Florence Avenue with $15,000 in his pocket, certain that he had just ripped off another drug dealer.
Seconds later he was in handcuffs, stung by the FBI.
Walker, a burly, dreadlocked narcotics officer gone bad, quickly agreed to cooperate following his arrest that night back in May 2013. He pleaded guilty to robbery and extortion charges and began talking. He has been before a federal grand jury and has sat for nearly three dozen debriefing sessions by the FBI.
Next week, the former member of the Narcotics Field Unit is expected to make his debut as a government witness, taking the stand in the ongoing corruption trial of six other members of that squad.
Described by one defense attorney as a "train wreck both personally and professionally," Walker's testimony will be pivotal in the now two-week old trial. To date, the jury has heard from a half dozen drug dealers, each telling a version of the same story. All claim that they were threatened, beaten and robbed by what authorities charge was a corrupt group of police officers who over a six-year period stole more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and other valuables from the drug dealers they were arresting.
Walker will be the first witness to offer an account from inside what prosecutors say was a conspiracy within the police department. Like the other witnesses in the case, his credibility and motivation will be challenged.
It will be up to the jury to decide whether Walker is a dirty cop giving up his partners-in-crime or a dirty cop trying to get out from under his own criminal problems by telling federal authorities what they want to hear.
The anonymously chosen jury headed home for the weekend this afternoon after hearing more testimony from drug dealers allegedly targeted by the narcotics cops. Key testimony came from Michael Procopio, a South Philadelphia-based dealer in oxycontin who, like several other witnesses in the case, has a civil suit pending against the Police Department and the city alleging cash was stolen from him during an illegal search at his home.
Procopio, who has a hearing disability, answered questions translated by a sign language expert. His story was similar to those of several other witnesses. He claimed that Thomas Liciardello, the alleged leader of the rogue unit, stole $18,000 from his home during an illegal search back in December 2008.
The indictment alleges that Liciardello and co-defendants Michael Spicer and Brian Reynolds took part in the arrest of Procopio that night but reported seizing $4,750 not $18,000. The indictment also alleges a Rolex watch was taken and that the police officers ordered food delivered to Procopio's home and paid for it with cash taken from his pocket.
Through their cross-examination, defense attorneys raised questions about the amount of money on hand, offering statements made by Procopio over the past two years in which he claimed different amounts of cash had been taken. The money, he insisted, was what remained of wedding gifts he and his wife had received seven months earlier and was not part of his drug dealing.
The other defendants in the case are Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and John Speiser.
Walker, who is likely to take the stand some time Tuesday, the day the trial resumes, worked with most of those officers and is expected to provide details about many of the alleged ripoffs. His story is that of a once decorated police officer gone bad.
Depicted in the indictment as an enforcer for the rogue unit, Walker joined the Police Department in 1989 and ten years later was assigned to the Narcotics Field Unit where he earned several citations for his work. But somewhere along the line, he and those he was working with went bad, authorities say, stealing drugs and cash from those they were arresting and literally taking the law into their own hands.
Walker was arrested on May 21, 2013, in an FBI sting operation that began two weeks earlier when he unknowingly solicited an FBI informant to set up another drug dealer. The informant recorded conversations with Walker, including one in which he boasted about his routine, claiming that he staged most of his robberies on Mondays, his day off.
On the tape, Walker told the informant he did "all of my dirt on Mondays."
In another he talked of ripping off a marijuana dealer.
“Let me grab the motherfucker as he has the (marijuana) brick already on him,” Walker said as the tape rolled. “I could rob him for the half of a brick.”
The FBI sting unfolded with Walker lured into setting up another dealer. As the FBI listened in, Walker described a plan to plant cocaine in the car of the unsuspecting drug dealer. He would then have the dealer arrested and while the dealer was in custody, Walker would go to his home and rob him.
The targeted "dealer," however, was an FBI undercover. The plan unfolded as Walker had described it. However when the unsuspecting narcotics officer emerged from the house with the $15,000, FBI agents closed in.
Walker immediately admitted he had planted cocaine on the dealer and had stolen the cash from his house. He has been talking ever since. But his story, according to defense attorneys, has varied and his accounts have been inconsistent. That, they claim, is one of the reasons he has been debriefed 33 times by the FBI.
"Jeffrey Walker despised these six men," Gregory Pagano, the lawyer for Perry Betts, said in his opening statement to the jury when the trial began two weeks ago. "There is no love lost between these six men and him."
Pagano told the jury that Walker had been "ostracized" by the other members of the narcotics unit because of his erratic and unprofessional behavior. He described Walker as "a train wreck both personally and professionally," an angry, frustrated cop who had an alcohol problem and who was, among other things, a "Ponzi scam artist" who ripped off other members of the drug unit.
When Walker takes the stand, Pagano and the other defense attorneys will be focused on convincing the jury that he is the only rogue cop in the courtroom.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.