By George Anastasia
The government wasn't interested in finding the truth, but merely in making a case.
That was the message delivered again and again today in closing arguments for the defense in the racketeering corruption trial of six Philadelphia Police Department narcotics investigators.
The jury, which is expected to begin deliberations sometime tomorrow, heard a steady stream of defense arguments built around attacking the government's case and the credibility of its witnesses, including more than a dozen admitted drug dealers and one dirty cop.
One defense attorney after another fired verbal shots at the prosecution.
It was, the jury was told, a "flawed" case built on "fables" not facts. Testimony came from "a parade of witnesses that looked like an audition for the Jerry Springer Show." The prosecution was "disingenuous in the extreme" and the six-week trial was an example of "innocent men being accused by guilty men."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek, who had the final word in the government's rebuttal closing late this afternoon, shrugged off the criticism, telling the jury the defense strategy was to "attack and distract" and that despite the emotional claims and high octave rants, the defense still was faced with one hurdle it could not overcome.
How was it possible, Wzorek asked, that Jeffrey Walker, the former narcotics cop turned government witness, told the FBI after his arrest in 2013 virtually the same stories of corruption that drug dealers
had recounted five or six years earlier?
The six defendants, all former members of the Police Department's Narcotics Field Unit, are charged with stealing more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and other valuables from drug dealers they had targeted and then fabricating police reports and arrest records to cover their tracks. The corruption extended from 2006 through 2012, the indictment alleges.
Wzorek said the cops thought they had committed "the perfect crime." Drug dealers, he said, had "a lot of cash and couldn't complain" when money was taken because the money was drug proceeds. What's more, he said, if they complained their credibility would be questioned. In most cases, he said, having cash stolen was considered "the cost of doing business."
The prosecutor dismissed the testimony of nearly a dozen police officers and supervisors who were called as defense witness and who refuted and contradicted the allegations that came from the witness stand when the prosecution was presenting its case.
Wzorek said the "thin blue line" of unchallenged loyalty that is part of the unwritten code of all police officers "became quite wide" when the indictment in the current case was handed down. Wzorek implied, as the prosecution has throughout the trial, that police officials were willing to look the other way because the Narcotics Field Unit had a high arrest rate and made big cases.
The defendants, he said, were not heroes, as the defense had argued, but rather a "disgrace;" police officers who had sworn to uphold the law, but them systematically broke it.
The defense, as it had throughout the trial, hammered away at the prosecution in pointed and often vitriolic closing arguments.
"They didn't want to know the truth," said Jeffrey Miller, the lawyer for lead defendant Thomas Liciardello who emerged from prosecution testimony as an arrogant cowboy cop who trampled on everyone's rights while pocketing cash and falsifying reports.
"The government wants you to convict based on the testimony of a freak show," said Miller after comparing the witnesses to the misfits who appear on the Jerry Springer Show.
charged 30-minute closing argument in which he managed to quote Shakespeare, the poet Walter Scott, the Bible and Yogi Berra.
Binns said the government witnesses "committed perjury with aplomb" and called the six defendants "heroes" who deserved to be thanked for the job they did, rather than prosecuted. He said they were the "peacemakers" referred to in the Bible verse about the eight beatitudes and "they shall be called children of God."
Two female jurors appeared to be dabbing tears while Binns delivered his argument.
Somewhere on the "road to the truth" the government got lost, said Nicholas Pinto, the lawyer for defendant Linwood Norman. Pinto called Walker, the cop-turned-cooperator, a "snake" who couldn't be believed or trusted. Yet, he argued, the government embraced the admitted dirty cop who said he routinely had stolen money and drugs while on duty.
Gregory Pagano, the lawyer for Perry Betts, said the testimony of admitted drug dealers, many of whom planned to sue or had already filed suit against the city, "made a mockery of the justice system."
Those witnesses, he said, "will profit from a guilty verdict in this case."
And Michael Diamondstein, noting that his client John Speiser was seldom even mentioned during the trial, said the fact that Speiser was a defendant said all anyone needed to know about the integrity of the prosecution.
"There is no evidence against John Speiser, absolutely none," said Diamondstein."It's wrong that John Speiser is here." But, he added, the prosecution "was not interested in justice. They just wanted to win."
The war of words finally ended around 3:45 when Wzorek completed his arguments and Judge Eduardo Robreno sent the jury panel home for the night. Robreno will charge the panel -- explain the laws that apply in the case -- when court reconvenes at 9 a.m. tomorrow. The jury will probably begin its deliberations sometime around noon.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.