They came dressed in black, waving their guns and hiding their faces behind ski masks.
They wanted to know where the drugs and money were and when he didn't tell them he said they threatened to take his five young children away from him.
He spent the night in a police lockup without being charged and then, he said, he was literally held hostage over the next five days in a hotel near the airport, forced to give up the names of drug dealers he knew and to set up buys so that they could be arrested.
That was the story, told through a Spanish interpreter, that Rodolfo Blanco told a federal jury today in the trial of six Philadelphia Police Department narcotics cops accused of stealing more than $500,000 in cash and drugs from targeted dealers in what Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has called one of the worst cases of police corruption in the city's history.
Blanco insisted he was not dealing drugs when police burst into his apartment around 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, 2006. He said a police report citing information from a confidential informant who said he routinely bought heroin in the barbershop was not true.
He also said that a document indicating that police had seized nine small plastic bags of heroin, a loaded assault rifle and a coffee grinder that later tested positive for heroin residue was fabricated. There were, he said, no drugs or guns in his apartment and there was no coffee grinder.
"The thing was, they told me if I gave them money, they would leave," said Blanco who was able to identify only one of the defendants, Thomas Liciardello, as part of the group that conducted the raid.
He said he pointed police toward his bedroom where, in a plastic pencil bag, he had $12,000. The cash, he claimed, was from the sale of a van. The indictment alleges that Liciardello and Jeffrey Walker, another member of the alleged rogue unit, pocketed more than half the cash, claiming on a property receipt that only $5,960 had been seized.
Walker testified for the government last week, admitting that he routinely stole cash and drugs while working in the Narcotics Field Unit.
Blanco said when he was taken to the hotel he was told "if I gave them somebody they would let me go." He said he was not in the drug business, but that "in a barbershop you hear a lot of things." So he called three individuals who he believed were drug dealers and set up buys. Each was arrested.
He also contacted a dealer in Florida.
All the while, Blanco said, he was in fear that his children, all under the age of six, would be taken away.
Life in the hotel wasn't exactly prison, he acknowledged, but he said he was nonetheless a hostage, unable to leave when he wanted. He said the police arranged for his wife to send him clothes and he said he and the police officers ate and drank at local restaurants and also played pool.
Eventually, he said, he told police he had no more names to give him and they released him without filing any charges. Shown another document that he had signed indicating he had agreed to become an informant, Blanco said he thought it was a paper he had to sign in order to be released. He said he understands English, but does not speak it well. And he said in 2006 he understood even less.
Under cross-examination, the thick-chested barber, who sported colorful tattoos on both sides of his neck, admitted that he had been arrested on a drug charge in 2010 in Delaware. He said he was transporting cocaine (about 500 grams) for a friend when he was arrest. He later pleaded guilty.
That, he said, was the only time he had ever been involved in drug dealing.
"It was a mistake," he said. "They caught me...(The police in Delaware) were doing their jobs." But the police in Philadelphia, he insisted, were not.
Blanco's testimony was sandwiched between two other accounts of alleged police corruption.
Earlier today Robert Silverstein, an admitted small time marijuana dealer, said police took $7,000 from a cigar box he kept in his apartment during a raid in February 2011. He identified defendants Michael Spicer and Perry Betts as part of the police crew that conducted the search of his apartment in the 7900 block of Horrocks Street.
Police, Silverstein acknowledged, did file a receipt indicating they had found $50,000 in a safe but did not list the $7,000 from the cigar box.
The day ended with Kenneth Williams on the stand. The one-time state trooper and admitted marijuana user, said police broke down the door of his home on North 51st Street on June 30, 2010. Liciardello, Betts, Spicer, Walker and co-defendant Linwood Norman are charged in that incident, according to the indictment.
Williams said the police seized $16,200 dollars, including $14,000 he had hidden in a suit pocket in his bedroom. A police report indicated that only $2,413 in cash had been found. The bulk of the $14,000, Williams said, came from a worker's comp settlement. He admitted that he sometimes added small amounts of cash if friends gave him money for some of the marijuana they would smoke together.
Asked why he didn't keep the $14,000 in a bank, Williams offered an explanation that underscores the problem the prosecution has with the parade of witnesses who have testified. Most have back stories that undermine -- or at least raise questions about -- their honesty and motivation.
"I had an issue with family court," Williams said.
When Assistant U.S. Attorney Wzorek said bluntly, "You were hiding the money?," Williams replied that he was.
"I was in arrears in payments for child support," he said.
More drug dealer victims are expected to take the stand when the trial resumes tomorrow. Indications are the prosecution could wrap up its case by the end of the week.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net