Tuesday, April 14, 2015
They broke all the rules, Jeffrey Walker told a federal jury, but they made big arrests, so their supervisors looked the other way.
"It was nothing but a dog and pony show, that's all that it was," Walker said of the headline grabbing arrests and the enhanced status his unit had within the Philadelphia Police Department. All the while, he said he and other members of the Narcotics Field Unit were routinely stealing cash and narcotics from drug dealers and falsifying police reports to cover their tracks.
Asked how many times during his 10 plus years in the unit that he had robbed drug dealers and submitted false reports, Walker calmly replied, "Can't count them there were so many times."
Testifying today in the ongoing corruption trial of six other members of that narcotics squad, Walker, 46, said lying and stealing were a routine part of the job in the squad run by Thomas Liciardello, who has emerged as the lead defendant in the corruption case.
All six defendants shared in the booty, Walker said, but only Liciardello was guaranteed money even when he wasn't present for a scam. Liciardello, he said, enjoyed special status within the unit and was able to countermand orders from the sergeant who in theory was in charge of the day-to-day operations of the squad.
"The majority of the decisions were made by Tommy Liciardello," said Walker, adding that Liciardello would make a phone call and the sergeant would back off. The implication was that Liciardello had the ear of someone higher in command, but Walker said he knew of no supervisors or ranking officers who got money from any of the robberies.
Walker, dressed in a green prison jump suit, has been a federal inmate since his arrest in May 2013. Caught stealing $15,000 from an drug dealer in an FBI sting operation, the 24-year police veteran quickly pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the other members of the unit.
From the witness stand today the burly, six-foot-three ex-cop provided an insider's look at what federal prosecutor have described as a narcotics squad out of control. Walker detailed nearly a dozen incidents in which cash and/or drugs were taken.
Liciardello and five co-defendants, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and John Speiser, are charged with stealing more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and other valuables from drug dealer targets between 2006 and 2012. The indictment against them also alleges they routinely falsified police reports and property seizure records to hide their crimes.
At one point Walker spoke of "chunks of money" taken out of a safe stolen from a major marijuana dealer. At another, he described how he and Norman held a narcotics dealer over the railing of his 19th floor apartment in order to get him to give up information.
Liciardello, he said, was a "money-maker" who cautioned him about hiding the cash they stole. He said Liciardello told him to "spend your paycheck," meaning, he said, to use his police salary as he normally did.
Walker, who said at one point he was making $119,000-a-year, said he did not put any of the stolen cash in banks because that would "create a paper trail." Asked what he did with the cash, he said he used it "for women, food, clothes."
He also told the jury that Liciardello established the robbery patterns of the squad and that in most cases "white males" were targeted. They were, he said, "college boy types. Khaki pants. Easy to intimidate."
Robert Kushner, a major marijuana dealer, was a prime example. Kushner, who testified earlier in the trial, was a college-educated drug dealer who lived in a high rise on City Avenue. It was from that apartment, Walker said, that he took a safe containing what Kushner said contained $80,000.
Walker said he didn't know how much money was in the safe which, he said, he broke open with Liciardello and Brian Reynolds. They shared in the "chunks" of cash, money wrapped in rubber bands, that they found inside the safe, said Walker. But he said he never bothered to count the total amount.
The safe was stolen after he, Liciardello and Reynolds stopped Kushner in the car he was driving near Ridge Avenue, Walker said. Kushner spent a night in custody, but was not formally arrested. He was threatened and intimidated and held without being charged while Walker, Liciardello and Reynolds ransacked his apartment.
"Tommy told him we would put him in a cell with black prisoners and tell them he had called them a bunch of niggers," said Walker, himself an African-American. Like the drug dealer held over the railing, Kushner was "scared to death," Walker said.
Walker said he remained loyal to the drug squad even as Liciardello began to isolate him. By 2009, he said, the only person who would ride with him in a car was Norman. When Norman was not on duty, Walker said, he "rode alone."
Personal problems, a divorce, medical issues and a problem with alcohol all became fodder for jokes and abuse within the unit, he said, with Liciardello leading the way.
"I was pushed out of the group," he said. "My personal life was going down the tubes."
But even after being ostracized, he said, he rebuffed attempts by Internal Affairs and the FBI to get him to cooperate. It wasn't until he was caught red-handed in 2013 that he flipped and became a government witness.
Asked why he didn't turn on Liciardello and the others in 2009 or 2010, Walker said he still was "loyal," He also said at that point he knew, "If they go to jail, I go to jail."
The only time Walker showed any emotion was late this afternoon when he described a deal in which he shared stolen marijuana with Linwood Norman, the only squad member who did not shun him. Earlier Walker had said that Norman had once saved his life by getting in the line of fire during a confrontation with a drug dealer. He said when he first agreed to cooperate, he tried to avoid giving up information about Norman, but said his plea deal required him to tell all that he knew and all that he had done.
As he described providing the stolen marijuana to Norman, Walker began to tear up. He paused, wiped his eyes and then continued.
He showed none of that remorse, however, when talking about a series of text messages he and Liciardello exchanged in 2010 after Walker had been questioned by Internal Affairs. At that time, Walker said, he was not cooperating and was not giving anyone up. But, he said, Liciardello was convinced that he was.
The text messages, complete with misspellings and faulty grammar, were shown to the jury. They included Liciardello calling Walker a "snitch" and a "rat."
"You are dead to everyone in thus [this] squad," Liciardello wrote.
"Die rat," said another message.
In still another, Liciardello called Walker a "partner less rat" and added, "I'm not speaking to you ever again. Hang yourself." In another, he wrote "Now u are a cry baby rat faggot."
In turn, while denying he was cooperating, Walker told Liciardello that it was clear from the questions posed to him by Internal Affairs that Liciardello had a problem.
"You are truly fuck up," Walker wrote in a text reply during the lengthy exchange. "I never said anything it was told to me so fuck for the last time dick head."
Later in the same exchange, Walker wrote to Liciardello, "You will be in jail before me."
In fact, Walker has been in jail since his arrest in May 2013. Liciardello, the only defendant in the case denied bail, has been in the federal detention center in solitary confinement since his arrest in July 2014.
Walker will be back on the stand for what is expected to be highly charged and intense cross-examination when the trial resumes tomorrow. The prosecution's case could hinge on whether the jury accepts the disgraced police officer's version of the events at the heart of the case.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.