By Ralph Cipriano
Should the jury at the rogue cops trial believe stories of alleged police misconduct as told by a bunch of drug dealers?
Yes, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen McCartney, because the tales the drug dealers told are "shockingly similar" to the stories told years later by former Officer Jeffrey Walker, after he got caught red-handed in an FBI sting operation.
No, said defense lawyer Jack McMahon, because the drug dealers are a bunch of lying criminals with no corroborating evidence to back up their ridiculous stories. As for Jeffrey Walker, McMahon said, he's a liar and a thief who would "do anything to save himself."
The doors in Courtroom 15A were locked throughout the day today as lawyers on both sides of the case gave their closing arguments before Judge Eduardo C. Robreno.
McCartney was content with attacking the defendants in the case, six former members of the narcotics field unit accused of conspiring to beat and rob the drug dealers they busted, and covering up their tracks with phony police reports.
McMahon, however, spent as much time attacking the government as he did the dirty cop and the drug dealers.
"What the government has done in this case should be shocking to all of us," McMahon told the jury. The feds have displayed "extraordinary gullibility" while embracing a disreputable cast of characters, McMahon charged. "They [the feds] have failed at every level to investigate and corroborate."
McCartney went first with the prosecution's closing argument. She told the jury that the defendants in the case thought their crimes would never "see the light of day" because they wore badges. They thought they were above the law, she said.
You should believe the stories told by the drug dealers, the prosecutor said. Because Jeffrey Walker told the same stories to the FBI.
She talked about how the cops grabbed drug dealer Michael Cascioli back in 2007 and "leaned him over that balcony" 19 floors up.
"Why would Mr. Cascioli make that up," McCartney asked. She reminded the jury that Cascioli's lawyer remembered his client making that allegation when he was arrested years earlier, even though the files in the case were long gone. You don't forget a story like that, the prosecutor quoted the lawyer as saying.
"It did happen to Mr. Cascioli," McCartney insisted. Officer Thomas Liciardello, the prosecutor said, told Officers Linwood Norman and Jeffrey Walker "what they had to do" to get Cascioli to surrender the code on his palm pilot.
Officer Liciardello got his way, she said, and the information on the palm pilot led to the arrest of more drug dealers.
McCartney went through other stories told by the drug dealers.
Orlando Ramirez got busted in Upper Darby with four kilos of cocaine that he had stashed in a black bag on the floor of his Chevy Blazer. Then, two plainclothes cops pulled up and busted him: Linwood Norman and Jeffey Walker.
Ramirez, however, was charged with only possessing one kilo of cocaine.
Norman filled out a police report that said the bust happened in Philadelphia, and that only one kilo was recovered. Norman's nephew, Rubin Tidwell, sold the rest of the coke for at least $32,000, the prosecutor said. The nephew subsequently gave the officers their cut: $17,000, she charged.
It was a "win-win" for everyone involved, the prosecutor said. Even the drug dealer was happy because he was only charged with possession of one kilo of cocaine instead of four.
She talked about how marijuana dealer Jason Kennedy allegedly got "punched in the face" by Officer Michael Spicer. And how marijuana dealer Victor Rosario had his Rolex watch allegedly stolen by Officer Brian Reynolds.
"Mr. Reynolds liked Rolex watches," the prosecutor said.
McCartney brought up text messages sent in 2011 by Liciardello to Walker, and recovered by the government.
Liciardello, she said, called Walker a rat and "Sir Snitch A Lot."
"You went up there and talked about stuff," the prosecutor quoted Liciardello's text to Walker. "You didn't tell me" you were going to do it.
"You are dead to everyone on this squad," Liciardello texted Walker.
McCartney talked about the real meaning of those text messages.
"That's what a conspiracy is," McCartney said. "He doesn't call him a liar," she said about Liciardello's angry texts to Walker. "He calls him a snitch."
"That's as close to an admission as Mr. Liciardello is going to get," she said.
Cops, she said, "take an oath" to uphold the law. "We give them a lot of power," she said. They are supposed to "use it responsibly."
Consider the evidence against the defendants, she said, and "find them guilty."
Defense lawyer Jack McMahon told the jury about two words they didn't hear during the prosecutor's closing argument: "reasonable doubt." There's all kinds of reasonable doubt in this case, McMahon said.
The defense lawyer claimed the government went on a crusade to prove a bad story line fed to them by Walker and the drug dealers.
The government, McMahon said, was only interested in "their version of the truth." That's why they didn't interview about a dozen fellow officers and superior officers who were witnesses to the incidents at issue in the case.
McMahon reminded the jury about what FBI Agent John Hess said when McMahon asked the agent why he didn't interview a police lieutenant who witnessed several incidents.
"I didn't think he would tell me the truth," McMahon quoted the agent as saying.
In this case, it's the jury that will determine the truth, McMahon said, hovering above the prosecution table.
"Not you Agent Hess," McMahon shouted at the agent.
McMahon talked about how the government had charged his client, Brian Reynolds, with participating in three alleged episodes of police misconduct. Then the government found out that Reynolds was either on vacation in Florida, or not at work on the dates of three episodes.
The feds, McMahon said, had indicted Officer Reynolds for allegedly participating in three events when "he wasn't even there."
"That tells you everything you need to know about this case," McMahon said.
McMahon disparaged other witnesses in the case.
"You turn over enough rocks you'll find some bugs," he said. But the government, he said, had "an obligation to verify when you start with suspect people."
Instead, the government relied on the words of "15 bags of trash," McMahon said, talking about the drug dealers who testified on behalf of the government.
The biggest pile of trash, McMahon said, was the "one on top," Jeffrey Walker.
McMahon ran down for the jury the list of witnesses the government didn't call in the case.
Such as Javier Blanco, the drug dealer who claimed he was held hostage at a hotel by the defendants, after they supposedly terrorized his family.
"Blanco, where's his wife" to back up his story, McMahon said.
Drug dealer Michael Procopio said the cops stole $18,000 that he received as wedding cash.
"You hear from his wife," McMahon asked.
How about Victor Rosario, the marijuana dealer who claimed the cops stole his Rolex watch and a cache of jewelry he supposedly bought from Tiffany as presents for his girlfriend.
Did we ever hear from the girlfriend, McMahon asked.
McMahon talked about other holes in the case.
Jeffrey Walker claimed he carried a drug dealer's safe stuffed with cash down 17 flights of stairs. The cops stole the money and Walker supposedly threw the safe in the river.
A team of divers spent three days looking for that safe, McMahon told the jury. Did the divers ever find it?
McMahon talked about "these ridiculous stories" where the defendants in separate incidents allegedly dangled two drug dealers over high-rise balconies.
Why would drug dealer Michael Cascioli lie about being dangled over a balcony by the cops, McMahon asked, picking up on McCartney's argument.
That's a good question, McMahon said. How about "self-protection?" McMahon said that drug dealer Cascioli had to explain to his supplier why he gave him up to the cops.
McMahon mocked marijuana dealer Jason Kennedy as "a poster boy for why you shouldn't do drugs." He ripped another government witness, former state trooper Kenneth Williams, as a "scammer living in a pig sty."
Williams's rundown row house had "buckets of feces and urine" in it, McMahon said, and yet, Williams claimed he had $14,000 hanging around in a pair of pants. Money that the cops allegedly stole, yet Williams had no proof that ten years earlier, as he said, he had received the money in a worker's compensation claim.
Another government witness, Percocet dealer Leonard Sammons, reeked of Grey Goose when he came in to testify on behalf of the government, McMahon said. And did you know that after he got busted by the cops, Sammons filed a civil suit against the city, McMahon told the jury.
"You deal drugs, you get caught, you sue for anxiety," McMahon said incredulously.
McMahon ripped former Police Officer Jeffrey Walker as somebody who lies, cheats and steals, and "would do anything to save himself."
McMahon quoted what Walker told him on the witness stand about "truth is an evolving process."
The truth is the truth, McMahon said. It doesn't evolve; it never changes.
"The government made a deal with this liar," McMahon said. "He has a free pass to say anything."
McMahon reminded the jury how Walker testified that he planted drugs on innocent people in at least 20 cases.
The government's audacity in using a witness like that "ought to trouble each and every one of you," McMahon told the jury. "Twenty innocent people got convicted just like that. What more needs to be said?"
McMahon called Tommy Liciardello's text messages to Jeffrey Walker a "red herring."
Those text messages were made well before the current federal investigation, McMahon said. Licardello was talking about an internal police investigation, not this investigation.
He talked about Officer Walker getting "so drunk he lost his gun." And who did he blame, McMahon reminded jurors.
Walker blamed Tommy Liciardello for allegedly playing a practical joke on him by stealing the gun. And then Walker's fellow officers found the gun underneath the seat in Walker's patrol car, the defense lawyer said.
McMahon reminded jurors that while the government relied on a dirty cop and a bunch of drug dealers as witnesses, the defense called upon the likes of Chief Inspector Werner, Lt. Otto, Lt. Jackson, and Sgt. McCloskey, most of whom were sitting in the second row of the courtroom.
This case boils down to the "tale of two stings," McMahon concluded.
Back in May 2013, the FBI caught Jeffrey Walker red-handed in a sting operation when he walked out the door of a drug dealer's house with $15,000 in his hands and five pounds of marijuana.
On April 10, 2012, the feds tried to pull a sting on the defendants. They used as bait FBI agent posing as a drug dealer who was driving around with $8,500 worth of cash in his car.
The feds expected the cops to steal the drug dealer's cash. And what was the result?
"Every single dollar was put on property receipts," McMahon said.
"Is this not reasonable doubt," McMahon said. "These are honest cops. That tells it all."
Closing statements from five remaining defense lawyers, plus an hour-long rebuttal from the government, begin at 9 a.m. sharp tomorrow in Courtroom 15A at the federal courthouse, 7th and Market. Show up early and without your cell phone or you'll be locked out.