Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How Mohammed & The Fatboy Got Caught With 225 Pounds Of Marijuana But Beat The Rap [Thanks To D.A. Seth Williams]

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

On Jan. 17, 2012, the Philadelphia Police Department's Narcotics Field Unit South tailed a suspected drug dealer to a garage, where they confiscated 53 pounds of hydroponic marijuana with a street value of $481,240.

When the cops interviewed the suspect, Mohammed Samhan, 26, of Los Angeles, he decided to cooperate and give up another marijuana dealer. The cops subsequently raided the home of Kit "Fatboy" Poon, 41, of Northeast Philadelphia. This time, they confiscated 172 pounds of hydroponic marijuana with a street value of $1,565,420.

Faced with serious jail time, Poon decided that he too wanted to cooperate. He told the cops he knew about an even bigger future marijuana shipment due to arrive by tractor-trailer.

With the two accused drug dealers in custody, Lt. Robert Otto, supervisor of the narcs, called Chief Jan McDermott of the District Attorney's Dangerous Drug Offenders Unit, and requested that McDermott conduct "proffers" with both suspects. [A proffer is an interview where, in exchange for information about criminal activity, a prosecutor agrees not to use that information against the suspect.]

That's when the system broke down. Two confidential police memorandums obtained by Big Trial lay out the details of what's been described in court papers as a "petty and childish feud" between the narcs and the Philly D.A.'s office. It was an old fashioned turf battle over who sat in on proffers, which law enforcement agency would collect drug forfeiture money, and who got credit for major drug busts.

Seth Williams put an end to the feud when he announced, via a letter leaked to the media -- without a shred of evidence to back him up -- that the district attorney's office would no longer prosecute any drug cases involving Lt. Otto or five of his officers.  The narcs and their supervisor were subsequently transferred out of the narcotics unit.

Meanwhile, what happened to the two accused drug dealers who got caught red-handed with 225 pounds of marijuana worth more than $2 million? They were set free by the district attorney, along with 800 other suspects previously arrested by the narcs, in what amounted to a holiday for drug dealers.

In a confidential Feb. 15, 2012 memo to William Blackburn, Philadelphia's deputy police commissioner, Lt. Otto laid out the "unprofessional conduct" of top officials in District Attorney Seth Williams's office.

Otto wrote that after he called Chief McDermott in the D.A.'s office and asked her to schedule a proffer with Mohammed Samhan, Otto found out that the proffer had already been been conducted by the D.A.'s office without the participation of any of his officers.

Present at the proffer session, according to Otto's memorandum, were McDermott, First Assistant District Attorney Brian Grady, FBI agents, and members of the D.A.'s Dangerous Drug Offenders Unit.

But the narcotics unit was cut out of the proffer that resulted from their own arrest. Lt. Otto set out to find out why, since in the past, the D.A.'s office had usually cooperated with his narcotics officers on many phases of drug investigations, including proffers.

"I contacted Chief McDermott via phone and inquired as to if this had actually taken place given our previous agreement that we would participate in any proffers we initiated," Lt. Otto wrote Deputy Police Commissioner Blackburn.

McDermott, according to Otto, "stated to me that she was 'not at liberty to discuss' " whether the suspected drug dealer had been proffered by her office. McDermott, according to Otto, then stated, "We have a  new policy and we are not to discuss who we proffer and who is to be present for these proffers.'"

According to Otto, McDermott told him, "I may not necessarily agree with this new policy, however it is above my pay grade."

Otto said he "reminded her [McDermott] of our previous agreement involving proffers and our professional agreement involving the ongoing, cooperative effort between the Police Department and the District Attorney's Office as it pertains to information sharing. She [McDermott] said there was nothing more to say and the conversation ended."

"I have brought this situation to your attention as I know you have an interest in this investigation and how it proceeds," Lt. Otto wrote Deputy Commissioner Blackburn. "This situation is one of frustration, not simply because it involves this one investigation, but rather this seems to be a continuing pattern of unprofessional behavior on the part of some in the District Attorney's Office."

"I have always had a solid working relationship with many attorneys in the District Attorney's Office and have only in the past two years seen this relationship often strained by some who are not willing to work side by side with us here in the department," Otto wrote the deputy police commissioner.

"Early on, I met with Chief McDermott and expressed my complete desire to be open and forthcoming in the area of information sharing in pursuit of offenders who prey on the citizens of this city," Otto wrote.

Otto explained to the deputy police commissioner that for the past two years he had forwarded all "white papers," reports on significant criminal activity, from his squad to McDermott "for her consideration as to how to proceed with many of the offenders we investigate and arrest."

But, Otto wrote, he found that this "feeling [of cooperation] is not shared by those I have come to deal with in the District Attorney's Office."

"All that I have ever asked is that we all act in a professional manner and work together in pursuit of what should be the ultimate goal," Otto wrote. "That is to serve the citizens of this city to the best of our abilities without having a personal agenda."

"I respectfully thank you for your attention in this matter."

The Narcotics Field Unit South had quite a track record for making high-profile drug busts. In 2011 alone, according the unit's records, they seized 357 guns, $7 million worth of drugs, and $1.8 million in cash.

But the unit's success ended on Dec. 3, 2012, when District Attorney Seth Williams wrote a two-
paragraph letter to former Police Commissioner Ramsey, saying that the district attorney's office would no longer prosecute any drug cases involving Lt. Otto and five of his narcotics officers.

When he wrote this letter, as was subsequently revealed in criminal proceedings initiated by the public defender's office, as previously reported on this blog, Seth Williams was not in possession of any files or investigative reports that would back up his letter.

The D.A.'s letter was the subject of a meeting the narcs subsequently had with Ramsey and his chief deputies. At the meeting, according to a knowledgable source, Police Commissioner Ramsey told Otto and his officers that he was transferring them out of the narcotics unit.

At the meeting, according to the source, deputy Police Commissioner Blackburn spoke out against the transfer. Blackburn predicted the fallout would be disastrous because of the high-profile investigations, arrests and seizures that the unit had been making. Blackburn, according to the source, told Ramsey that no one had proper cause to move the officers out of narcotics, and that the district attorney's offensive amounted to a personal attack.

Ramsey, according to the source, responded by dismissing Blackburn from the meeting. The deputy police commissioner was subsequently reassigned.

Otto, when contacted by Big Trial, declined comment.

Former Police Commissioner Ramsey, now a distinguished visiting fellow at Drexel University's Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, did not respond to an email requesting comment.

A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department did not respond to a request for comment; or a request to speak with McDermott, who now works in the Southwest Division, as well as a request to talk to Blackburn, who has retired.

A spokesman for District Attorney Williams did not respond to requests for comment.

Former ADA Grady declined comment, saying he didn't know anything about the memorandums.

Former First Assistant District Attorney McCann could not be reached for comment. In the past, he has, through a spokesperson, declined comment on his feud with the narcs.

After the district attorney's office cut the narcs out of proffers, Kit Poon, the guy caught with 172 pounds of marijuana, decided against cooperating. So his tip to the narcs about a tractor-trailer loaded with marijuana and headed to Philadelphia was not pursued.

Lt. Otto's first memorandum to Deputy Police Commissioner Blackburn was written on Feb. 15, 2012. The feud between the Narcotics Field Unit and the D.A.'s office would continue for the remainder of that year.

On Dec. 9, 2012, Lt. Otto wrote a second memo to Deputy Police Commissioner Blackburn, documenting further problems with the D.A.'s office that led to the transfers of Otto and his officers.

Otto wrote Blackburn that on Nov. 29, 2012, he had received several phone calls and text messages from Officer Thomas Liciardello, one of his narcs, telling Otto that a suspected drug dealer arrested by Liciardello was going to be proffered the next day by Assistant District Attorney Kalli Bartorillo.

A lawyer for the suspected drug dealer told Liciadrello "that he was told by members of the District Attorney's Office that Officer Liciardello would not be present" at the proffer.

On Nov. 29, 2012, according to his memorandum, Otto called Bartorillo on her cell phone and asked about the proffer. Otto explained "who I was and what our previous agreement had been with the District Attorney's Office regarding proffers. I also briefly explained to ADA Bartorillo that there had been a previous collapse in this cooperative effort between the Police Department and her office due to the actions of her predecessor."

Bartorillo, according to Otto, informed him that the proffer "would go forward as scheduled, but that she would speak to her boss, and would talk to Otto after that. In a text message, Otto asked "in the interest of our future cooperation" if Liciardello could sit in on the proffer.

But the ADA never responded, Otto wrote. The next day, Otto called the ADA at her office but she again didn't respond. Bartorillo could not be reached for comment.

On Dec. 1, 2012, Liciardelo, who was off duty, spoke directly with Chief McDermott "as she was walking past his private residence," Otto wrote. McDermott told Liciardello that ADA Bartorillo had held the proffer "with a male that he had arrested and refused to allow members of the Narcotics Field Unit to sit in as was agreed upon previously."

Liciardello informed McDermott that since he already had information from the drug dealer, he would move forward with his own investigation.

Three days later, Otto and five of his offers were told by two supervisors that they was being moved from the Narcotics Bureau due to the letter sent by District Attorney Seth Williams to Police Commissioner Ramsey. In the letter, Williams announced that in an exercise of "prosecutorial discretion" that the district attorney's office would "no longer prosecute any narcotics case that my name appeared on," Otto wrote. The supervisors told the narcotics officers that they were being transferred out of the narcotics unit by order of Police Commissioner Ramsey.

Otto was given approximately five minutes to choose one of three possible assignments. The next day, he went to work at South Detectives Division.

"It is my belief that his action by Seth Williams and members of the District Attorney's Office was retaliatory due to a previous memorandum that I was requested to prepare by Deputy Commissioner Blackburn," Otto wrote the deputy police commissioner, referring to his first memorandum of Feb. 15, 2012.

"This memorandum was critical of the unprofessional conduct of members of the District Attorney's Office, namely Chief Brian Grady (who has since been removed from the District Attorney's Office) and Chief Jan McDermott," Otto wrote. "In addition, I believe this more recent event involving ADA Kalli Bartorillo was also a motivating factor in requesting my removal from the Narocitics Bureau."

"The previous memorandum was later brought to the attention of Seth Williams and Edward McCann," Otto wrote. "At that time, I called into question the actions of Chief Brian Grady and Chief Jan McDermott regarding these same issues of proffering and the treatment of cooperating offenders."

"When I spoke to Deputy Commissioner Blackburn about these concerns and the refusal of Chief Grady and Chief McDermott to adhere to our professional agreement of agency cooperation, he requested that I prepare this memorandum so that he may present it to Commissioner Ramsey."

"This memorandum was prepared by me on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012, and hand-delivered by me to Deputy Commissioner Blackburn on this same date," Otto wrote.

For Lt. Otto and his narcotics officers, the troubles were just beginning.

In a  26-count RICO indictment, the U.S. Attorney's office charged six former members of Otto's narcotics field unit with  routinely robbing and beating the drug dealers they had arrested. The feds also alleged that the narcs stole at least $500,000 from the drug dealers in cash and drugs, and tried to cover their tracks by falsifying police reports.

But the feds had no records or sting videos to back up their charges. Instead, they relied on the accusations of a former member of the narcotics unit who got caught red-handed in a sting operation. And the uncorroborated stories of 19 accused drug dealers.

The result was a complete disaster for the feds.

On May 14, 2015, after a trial that lasted nearly six weeks, a federal jury unanimously acquitted all six officers on all 47 charges. Two months later, an arbitrator ruled that all six officers would get their jobs back, plus a year's worth of back pay.

In March 2012, Grady and D.A. Williams said that Grady had resigned amid reports that Grady had been fired by D.A. Williams.

McDermott was reassigned to police department's Southwest Bureau. DiBartollio left the D.A's office. So did McCann.

As for the two suspected drug dealers, they were freed, along with some 800 other accused drug dealers, in the D.A.'s voluntary decision to overturn 800 arrests previously made by members of the Narcotics Field Unit South.

Some 175 of these formerly accused drug dealers have subsequently filed civil rights lawsuits against the city. The city is now paying millions of dollars for seven lawyers from two law firms to defend the former narcs as well as the city in the civil suits.

But the two marijuana dealers arrested by the cops, Mohammed Samhan and Kit "Fat Boy" Poon, were not among the civil plaintiffs. In Poon's case, it may have been because he had more legal problems to worry about.

On March 19, 2013, Poon, then of Baldwin Park, CA., was among 37 defendants charged in a federal indictment unsealed in New York targeting a Southeast Asian marijuana and counterfeit cigarette trafficking operation that operated throughout the United States.

The arrest came just three months after Poon's case in Philadelphia was dismissed by D.A. Williams on Dec. 12, 2012.

Prosecutors alleged that the members of the ring conspired to produce and distribute more than $45 million worth of marijuana, as well as illegally distribute nearly 44 million cigarettes, resulting in more than $7 million in lost tax revenues.

Poon was among the defendants arrested by special agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations.

"Today's arrest deals a blow to an organization that allegedly conspired to manufacture multimillion-dollar quantities of marijuana that they would then distribute, along with millions of contraband cigarettes nationwide," said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in announcing the indictment.

"Thanks to the coordinated efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement around the country, this alleged supply chain has been effectively broken."

The ring used a Los Angeles-based transportation company, Super Quality Logistics, to ship homegrown pot and black market cigarettes around the country, the U.S. Attorney said.

The group allegedly used financial institutions to launder its proceeds. During the investigation, authorities seized more than 25 bank accounts, along with a number of vehicles that included several tractor-trailers owned by Super Quality Logistics.

So Poon may have been telling the truth a year earlier when he told the narcs about an upcoming delivery of a tractor-trailer load of marijuana.

The district attorney's office, under Seth Williams, would try and fail to turn Poon into a cooperator. The D.A.'s office subsequently decided to turn Poon loose along with 800 other accused drug dealers.

It fell to the feds to arrest Poon a year later.

This is the abysmal record of our district attorney, who remains unaccountable for his reckless and irresponsible actions.




14 comments:

  1. and just look at the streets of Philadelphia, full of drug addicts who steal and assault the innocent people of Philadelphia in their quest for that next fix...

    hey, Seth gave a free pass to one, Danny Gallagher aka Billy Doe of the Archdiocese sexual abuse trial, in exchange for his perjured testimony against those 2 prietst and the teacher.....the infamious arrest of Danny G. with 56 bags of heroin stuffed in his pants, no conviction or jail time for that, another couple of possession arrests months before he concoceted his stories of abuse, arrests that were ultimately expunged from his record after those men were wrongfully convicted...

    Seith's office will ultimately cost this city millions and millions of dollars in legal expenses and settlements in these drug cases when all is said and done all because of his arrogance....add the defamation suits filed by the narcotics cops after they were acquitted and all one can say is, how can one man be so stupid.......

    add the 150K in free "gifts" he just owned up to after several years, the nonprofit investigation and you can even mention the failure to investigate the tire slashing for several months before charging his "EX girlfriend" and you can see why it's time for this arrogant man to be given the boot....

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  2. At the very, very least, Seth (don't call me Rufus) Williams should be charged with malfeasance. This guy is a living, breathing, walking, talking danger to honest Philly citizens. He's the ultimate personification of the Peter Principle.

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  3. RON GALATI SR.WAS GIVING SEITH WILLIAMS INFORMATION!!!! HE WAS GOING TO RONNIE THE WIG BLOCK PARTY!!!!

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  4. Really, what is there to say...Rufus (Seth) Williams and Ed McCann, you are both truly despicable, horrible and disgusting criminals/human beings who decided to sacrifice the safety, lives and tax payer's money of all Philadelphians because of your unethical arrogance. Simply being disbarred, arrested and imprisoned would actually be too good for you both. Ramsey, you are a cowardly, fraud of a so called law enforcement professional who knew the truth and allowed this to happen. Ramsey, you are just as guilty as Rufus and McCann. You had a chance to do the right thing because you knew the truth and you decided to remain silent to protect your own personal and selfish agenda. You all have blood on your hands. The truth will continue to be told and the public will finally get to know the crimes you have committed.

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  5. Ralph, didn't something similar happen years ago when Williams was an ADA? I thought I remembered an entire filing cabinet of his cases being tossed out because he let them all get stale.

    Were those also drug cases? Is there a pattern here?

    Mixed in with some of these tossed cases (then and now) are there maybe some that somebody important wanted "resolved?" I also vaguely remember something about a councilman's daughter.

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  6. What more can be said, luckily the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York put the public first, unlike our District Attorney and Federal Prosecutors that put career first, honesty and integrity last.

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  7. This is unbelievable! How could this have been allowed to have happened. Who is paying the price? The citizens of this city! Simply disgusting. Why is this story not in the media for all to see? The people of this city need to know this story. They are being victimized over and over again due to the actions of this Williams and McCann. At the very least, this story must be presented to the Pennsylvania Bar Association and their Ethics Committee. If written in this article is truly what occurred, then it seems that it can be easily proven by these official documents. Williams and McCann must be held accountable. Ralph, do something to get this story out.

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  8. Perhaps someone should drop a line to the Inquirer and tell them to wake the f---k up.

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  9. At least the Inky is covering the story of a real gangster, Basciano, and the millions he spread around to stay out of harms way with BigHead Williams.

    No interest in that scandal from this quarter, so far.

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  10. In your piece in PhillyVoice concerning the shakedown in the Italian Market you failed to interview any Hispanics.

    No Habla Espanol.
    They could import a cleaning crew for a few stuffed burritos.

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  11. Glad you're keeping book on me. The language barrier in the Market makes it tough to get non-Italians to cooperate. [The Italians are hard enough.] The Asian merchants I talked to said they did not have an opinion, or at least one they wanted to share.

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  12. Ralph - at least you're asking, unlike the Inky. Keep at it.

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  13. I'm assuming if the DA's office any type of evidence that the officers weren't trustworty they would have been a federal witness during the trial and presented it there.

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  14. Hey Ralph, when you guys get the time, I would like an update on the Eastcoast LCN enterprise case, where Joey merlino is the only philly defendant. Also, do you think that the philly crew are expecting a second round of indictments to be brought against them?

    ReplyDelete

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