By Ralph Cipriano
We're entering our fourth week in the rogue cops trial, and so far the poster boy has been Jeffrey Walker.
He's the dirty cop who got caught red-handed in an FBI sting operation walking out of a drug dealer's house with $15,000 and five pounds of marijuana. The drunk who showed up loaded at work and got so bombed at his favorite bar every night that he passed out while drooling on himself. The office screw-up who dozed off during stake-outs, bailed on a raid because he needed a hit of Milk of Magnesia; the bumbler who forgot where he left his gun.
Meanwhile, over at the defense table sits Tommy Licardello. If the prosecution's story line is to believed, Liciardello was the dark criminal mastermind who knew how to placate the department brass with headline-grabbing busts while he and his gang were beating and ripping off drug dealers. An amoral, ruthless bandit with a badge so slick he supposedly knew how to hide the booty from the feds, elude sting operations and FBI accountants.
The jury seems to have gotten their fill of Jeffrey Walker. When the marshalls led him away in handcuffs last week after three days on the witness stand, every juror I saw was looking the other way. Meanwhile, the jury has only seen and will probably never hear from Tommy Licardello. All the jury knows about Liciardello, the pale guy at the defense table being held in solitary confinement, is a bunch of allegations from some drug dealers. As for the rest of the defendants, as far as the testimony goes, it's hard to tell Michael Spicer from John Speiser. They're just a bunch of anonymous RICO conspirators.
The feds, already guilty of sloppy detective work in the rogue cops case, can also be faulted for bad story-telling.
The sloppiness of the feds in this case has been ampty demonstrated.
On the eve of trial, the government had to drop a couple of counts from a 26-count indictment because one of their sleazeball witnesses got busted again, and because the feds didn't do their homework in checking out another sleazeball's story.
Mistakes were made, an FBI agent admited on the stand. The defense has already made hay out of their plans to call several of the rogue cops's supervisors to the stand, witnesses that the feds never even bothered talking to.
We didn't interview one lieutenant, an FBI agent testified, because we didn't think he would tell the truth. Or as the defense suggested, maybe it was because it was only your version of the truth that you wanted to hear.
There are plenty of other lingering problems with the prosecution's case. If Tommy Licardello and the boys stole $500,000 from the drug dealers, as the feds have alleged, what did they do with the money? If the defense is to be believed, there's no paper trail on the alleged booty, or undercover video of cops getting caught red-handed. Just the word of Walker and a bunch of drug dealers all singing in the federal choir.
The feds say that Tommy and the narcs stole a drug dealer's safe with $80,000 in it. But Jeffrey Walker, the prosecution's star witness, says there was only $30,000 in the safe. Who does the jury believe?
If the jury believes Walker is credible, they have to swallow his story that he's the rare thief who's so lazy he never gets around to counting the money he stole. Can anybody buy that?
If Tommy and the narcs are the criminals the feds say they are, why didn't they take the bait in an FBI string operation the way Jeffrey Walker did? Instead, the feds rolled the cameras and came up empty; the cops didn't take a dollar of planted dirty money. What does the jury do about that?
If the feds were so convinced the six defendants were such corrupt officers, why didn't they keep running sting operations until they caught them red-handed like they did with Walker? The federal investigation of the six defendants had already gone on for eight years. Why didn't they keep it going until they finished the job?
The government seems to be relying on a traditional strategy of saving up their tirade against Tommy Liciardello until the closing argument. But by then, will it be too late? Instead of a starring role for Tommy Licardello, the jury will be left to ponder for far too long how pathetic Jeffrey Walker is.
All the prosecution has besides Walker is a bunch of whiny drug dealers who say they were taken advantage of. The defense claims they have a bunch of superior officers who will testify that those busts were legit and that the defendants were hero cops. It helps their case when there's no booty to show off on surveillance videos, or paper trails leading to secret accounts where the loot was stashed.
With the sleaziness of the prosecution witnesses and all the holes in the case, can Tommy and the boys shoot their way out? While behaving like cowboys on the street and frat boys in the cop shop?
"Sir Rat A Lot" and "Sir Snitch A Lot" were a couple of the nicknames that Liciardello dropped on Walker in sophomoric text messages displayed in court. With the defendants behaving like frat boys, should the defense reprise Otter's closing argument from Animal House?
To parphrase Otter, the issue isn't whether we broke a few rules or took a few liberties with the drug dealers we arrested. We did, the defense can say with a knowing wink. But you can't hold a whole police department responsible for the behavior of a few sick perverted individuals, can you? For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole criminal justice system? And the entire war on drugs?
And if you do, isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do what you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you bad mouth the United States of America!
If the defendants march out of the courtroom humming the Star-Spangled Banner and passing themselves off as soldiers in the war on drugs, will it work? It may when the other alternative is buying what Jeffrey Walker and a bunch of drug dealers are peddling.
As one defense lawyer described the prosecution's case, it's one dirty cop and 19 bags of trash.
The dirty cop has already admitted that he's planted drugs on people so many times that he can't count. That he's used to coming into court and lying over and over again to a judge and a jury to send innocents to jail. So why would anyone believe him this time?
He's a fall-down drunk who claims he's changed his ways while meditating in his cell since his bust in the FBI sting operation. But as the defense has pointed out, Walker's also been talking about writing a book about his exploits during his 45 interviews with the FBI.
The same FBI that never bothered to interview Walker's superior officers who were often present at the scene of many of the so-called "episodes" of bad behavior in the case.
Either way the jury chooses to go, they may have to do it while holding their noses.