Thursday, April 30, 2015

"They Were Taking Millions Of Dollars Of Poison Off The Streets"

Lt. Robert Otto [left]
By Ralph Cipriano

On the witness stand, Lt. Robert Otto was asked to give his professional assessment of former Officer Thomas Liciardello.

"He is one of the finest, most dedicated police officers," said the white-haired veteran of 26 years. Of the thousands of officers he has known during his career, Lt. Otto said, Liciardello ranks in the top 5.

"He is the best police investigator I ever met," Otto told the jury.

In court today, Otto also praised the work of the other five defendants in the rogue cops case.

 "They were very effective, very efficient, very honest," the lieutenant told the jury about the former members of the Narcotics Field Unit. "They were the best at what they did; there's no doubt about that."

"They were taking millions of dollars of poison off the streets," Otto told the jury. He said he used to tell the defendants they would never know how many lives they had saved until they went to heaven and met their maker.

He looked around the courtroom where the six former officers were sitting at several defense tables, accused by the federal government of conspiring to beat and rob drug dealers.

"And this here makes no sense to me," the lieutenant said.

In the spectator seats after the lieutenant got through testifying, a few female relatives of the defendants were crying.


"Can You Call For A Sheriff, Please"

By Ralph Cipriano

Defense attorney Thomas A. Bergstrom was trying to convince Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina that she didn't have the authority to send his client, Msgr. William J. Lynn, back to jail.

The judge, however, wasn't buying it. "Bail revoked," she ruled. The prisoner is "ordered back into custody."

"Can you call for a sheriff please," the judge cooly instructed a court officer. Then she disappeared back into chambers.

Moments later, a sheriff's deputy showed up to take away the monsignor, who had sat quietly with his head down during the half-hour proceedings. After 18 months in jail and 16 months of house arrest, the official scapegoat for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had his ticket punched for the bus back to prison, so he could continue his atonement for the sins of the church.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Narcs' Supervisor Counted Drug Money, Never Read Indictment

by Ralph Cipriano

Sgt. Joseph McCloskey told the prosecutor that he never read the federal indictment against the six narcotics officers he used to supervise because, "I just don't believe it."

And when the sergeant showed up for an interview at FBI headquarters, he angrily told the feds he'd been "passed over for promotion because of this shit."'

On the witness stand today for more than five hours, Sgt. McCloskey was blunt and prickly, especially when he was standing up for his guys on the narcotics squad.

"The quality of their work was exceptional" McCloskey said of the six defendants that he supervised for some ten years. But Officer Jeff Walker was another story, the sergeant told the jury. That guy used to show up so drunk on the job he couldn't remember where he left his gun.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Police Clash With The Feds At Narco Cops Corruption Trial

By George Anastasia

One defense witness said he considers the ongoing police corruption trial a "kangaroo court" and that he can't wait until the six defendants are "set free."

Another called Thomas Liciardello, the lead defendant in the corruption case, an "outstanding investigator" and a "dedicated" police officer "committed to removing narcotics and guns" from the streets of Philadelphia.

Several others contradicted key bits of testimony from drug dealers called by the prosecution earlier in the trial.

That was the scene today in U.S. District Court as the defense called a parade of witnesses in the ongoing racketeering trial of six narcotics officers.

Was it a question of brothers in blue circling the wagons in an us-against-them standoff? Or was it, as defense attorneys claim, the other side of the story, the side that federal prosecutors and FBI agents made no attempt to document as the case was built against Liciardello and five other members of the Philadelphia Police Department's Narcotics Field Unit?


D.A. Files Motion To Send Msgr. Lynn Back To Jail

Assistant D.A. Patrick Blessington
By Ralph Cipriano

A day after the state Supreme Court reinstated Msgr. William J. Lynn's conviction, the district attorney filed a motion in Common Pleas Court seeking to revoke Lynn's bail and send him back to jail.

"Consistent with its prior rulings, this Court should, once again, revoke Defendant's bail, thereby remanding him to the service of the remainder of his sentence," said the motion filed today by District Attorney R. Seth Williams and Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, who originally prosecuted Lynn.

Not so fast, said Thomas A. Bergstrom, who is Lynn's lawyer. Bergstrom filed a response to the D.A.'s motion in Common Pleas Court today stating that the D.A. has applied to the wrong court. Any argument over Lynn's bail should be dealt with in state Superior Court, Bergstrom asserted.

Common Pleas Court does not have jurisdiction over the case, Bergstrom argued. After the state Supreme Court reinstated Lynn's conviction, the Supreme Court specified that the case was to be remanded within 14 days back to the state Superior Court, where a number of appeal issues from Lynn's original trial are still pending.

The monsignor is currently under house arrest at a North Philly rectory, where he is confined to two floors and has to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle at all times. In the battle over which court will decide whether Lynn remains on bail, however, the district attorney at present appears to have the upper hand. The D.A.'s motion to revoke Lynn's bail is scheduled for a hearing at 9 a.m. Thursday in Common Pleas Court before Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, who presided over Lynn's trial.

Monday, April 27, 2015

State Supreme Court Reinstates Msgr. Lynn's Conviction

By Ralph Cipriano

The state Supreme Court today reinstated the conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn on a single charge of endangering the welfare of a child.

On June 22, 2012, a Philadelphia Common Pleas jury convicted Lynn of endangering the welfare of a former 10-year-old altar boy dubbed "Billy Doe" by a grand jury. Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, became the first Catholic administrator in the country to go to jail for failing to adequately supervise a sexually abusive priest. He was sentenced on July 24, 2012 by Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to a prison term of 3 to 6 years.

Lynn had served 18 months of his sentence on Dec. 26, 2013, when a panel of three state Superior Court judges unanimously reversed the monsignor's conviction and ordered that he be "released forthwith." The trial judge, however, refused to allow Lynn's release after the D.A. argued that if bail was granted Lynn might flee to the Vatican. For the past 16 months, the monsignor has been held under house arrest in a Northeast Philadelphia rectory and according to Judge Sarmina's conditions must wear an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle at all times.

The 60-page opinion on behalf of four state Supreme Court justices doesn't necessarily mean that the monsignor is headed back to jail to serve out the remainder of his sentence. The case is now remanded back to the state Superior Court where Lynn's lawyers can proceed with an appeal on several remaining trial issues. Such as whether Lynn could have possibly received a fair trial in a case where Judge Sarmina allowed in as evidence 21 supplemental cases of child abuse dating back to 1948, three years before the monsignor was born.

The district attorney, however, could throw a monkey wrench in that appeal process by filing a motion with Judge Sarmina to revoke Lynn's bail. If the D.A. does file that motion to revoke bail, based on Judge Sarmina's previously demonstrated antipathy to Lynn, the monsignor had better have his toothbrush packed.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Defense To Rely On Top Cops To Refute Drug Dealers

By Ralph Cipriano

It took four weeks for the government to finally run out of drug dealers.

After sending a parade of 15 drug dealers to the witness stand, the government this morning rested its case against six former narcotics officers accused of going rogue by allegedly  beating and robbing the suspects they busted.

The defense then began its case by calling FBI Agent Dennis Drum to the witness stand.

Defense Attorney Jack McMahon took Drum through a list of 15 superior officers and fellow officers in the case who supposedly were eyewitnesses to the various "episodes" of alleged police misconduct in the indictment. 

Drum testified that a dozen of the cops were interviewed by the feds between three and seven months after the defendants in the case were indicted on July 30, 2014. Two of the cops were never interviewed; a third refused to talk.

The defense strategy seems to be to call as many of these officers to the witness stand as possible to refute the allegations made by the drug dealers who testified on behalf of the government. The list of possible witnesses include a chief inspector, an inspector, a captain, a couple of lieutenants, a sergeant, a corporal and some fellow officers.

If the boys in blue stick together, this case is going to come down to the FBI, Jeffrey Walker and a bunch of drug dealers vs. the Philadelphia Police Department.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Narcotics Cops Work In A Cesspool

By George Anastasia

Spend all your time in a cesspool and you're going to smell.

That's the assessment of retired Philadelphia Police Captain Al DiGiacomo as he follows the ongoing corruption trial of six narcotics cops in U.S. District Court.

Now a professor of criminal justice at West Chester University, DiGiacomo, 65, has been watching the case unfold from his perch in academia. For the veteran cop the allegations are similar to those that surfaced in two earlier and infamous narcotics squad corruption investigations.

But whether the six defendants in the ongoing case end up disgraced and convicted like members of the Five Squad or the tainted cops of the 39th District is still a very much open question.

The prosecution is expected to rest its case in the four-week trial tomorrow at which point the defense will begin calling witnesses. While it's unlikely any of the defendants will take the stand, the defense has promised to call several top Police Department officials who knew of or who were on the scene for some of the "episodes" detailed in the racketeering indictment that was handed up two years ago.


"Ram-Shacked" At The Rogue Cops Trial

By Ralph Cipriano

As the prosecution in the rogue cops trial winds down its case, they're scraping the bottom of the barrel for witnesses.

One drug dealer on the witness stand today confessed that he had two different names.

Another drug dealer testifying on behalf of the government who was unsteady on his feet looked and smelled like he may have been drinking his favorite beverage again, Grey Goose Vodka.

Meanwhile, Judge Eduardo C. Robreno announced that the trial was moving much faster than expected, and that the prosecution would be winding down its case this week. As rumors swept the courtroom that one of the reasons why was that another unreliable prosecution witness was about to be ejected from the case.

The government has already had to drop a couple of witnesses; one drug dealer because he got arrested again, another drug dealer because he got caught lying under oath. So it would be no surprise if a third prosecution witness gets the boot. Since there's a gag order in the case, none of the lawyers can comment.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

More Witnesses, More Stories Of Corruption, More Questions About Credibility In Rogue Cops Case

By George Anastasia

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.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Otter Defense

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.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Soldiers In The War On Drugs Or Urban Bandits With Badges?

By George Anastasia

Disgraced narcotics cop Jeffrey Walker spent three days on the witness stand this week in the federal corruption trial of six fellow officers.

Depending on  your perspective, Walker provided either the high or the low point of the now three week-old trial. By his own admission, he was a liar, cheat and thief during most of his 24 years with the Philadelphia Police Department. But that's a description he and federal prosecutors say that also fits the six members of the Narcotics Field Unit sitting at the defense table in U.S. District Court.

Planting drugs, stealing cash and narcotics, falsifying reports and lying in court were all part of a day's work  in the unit, Walker said.

When the indictment in this case was handed down last year Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey called it one of the worst cases of corruption in the department's history. A more troubling possibility, and one hinted at by the feds, is that the dark side of law enforcement that has been the theme of this prosecution is SOP in narcotics squads.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Gun And A Bottle Of Tequila

By Ralph Cipriano

Police Officer Jeffrey Walker had parked his car in his garage and left the engine running. He'd brought along a gun and a bottle of tequila.

Despondent over his failed marriage, Walker hadn't figured out yet whether he wanted to end it with carbon monoxide or a gunshot. In the meantime, he had his tequila.

Asked if he was going to commit suicide that day back in 2002, the 46-year-old Walker replied, "I was going down that road."

Then, Walker said, his girlfriend showed up and talked him into going to the emergency room at Lankenau Hopsital. On medical records displayed in the courtroom, Walker's "chief complaint" was listed as "suicidal, depressed." His diagnosis: depression.

Walker was taken by ambulance to the psychiatric ward at Bryn Mawr Hospital, the medical records showed. It would have been just another chapter in the life of the government's star witness at the rogue cops trial, a star witness one defense lawyer has aptly described as a train wreck. Except that Walker had made a big deal out of telling the jury that when he became a government witness he finally stopped lying.

The hitch was, the day he signed his cooperation agreement with the government, the judge had asked Walker if he'd ever been hospitalized or treated for mental illness. Walker's answer was no. To defense lawyer Jeffrey Miller, this was proof that Walker was still lying.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Punching Bag In Courtroom 15A

By Ralph Cipriano

At the start of his cross-examination, Jack McMahon greeted the prosecution's star witness with a slap upside the head.

"I'd appreciate it if you look at me when I talk," the defense lawyer admonished Jeffrey Walker.

McMahon, a flashy former prosecutor with a white mustache and a shaved head, then spent the next six hours pummeling the witness.

On the receiving end, Walker, a big bearded former narcotics cop who entered the courtroom wearing handcuffs and a drab green prison jumpsuit, seemed used to taking abuse.

"We know you were a thief, right?" McMahon asked the fallen cop that another defense lawyer has characterized to the jury as a train wreck.

"Yes, I was," Walker admitted.

"You're a thief and a historical liar," McMahon added.

"I lie," Walker admitted. "I continued my thievery until I was arrested."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dirty Cop Fingers Brothers In Blue

By George Anastasia

They broke all the rules, Jeffrey Walker told a federal jury, but they made big arrests, so their supervisors looked the other way.

"It was nothing but a dog and pony show, that's all that it was," Walker said of the headline grabbing arrests and the enhanced status his unit had within the Philadelphia Police Department. All the while, he said he and other members of the Narcotics Field Unit were routinely stealing cash and narcotics from drug dealers and falsifying police reports to cover their tracks.

Asked how many times during his 10 plus years in the unit that he had robbed drug dealers and submitted false reports, Walker calmly replied, "Can't count them there were so many times."

Testifying today in the ongoing corruption trial of six other members of that narcotics squad, Walker, 46, said lying and stealing were a routine part of the job in the squad run by Thomas Liciardello, who has emerged as the lead defendant in the corruption case.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Judge Lifts Gag Order; Father Andy's Lawyer Rips D.A.

By Ralph Cipriano

The defense lawyer for Father Andrew McCormick today accused the district attorney's office of prosecutorial misconduct for trying to put a Catholic priest in jail "by any means necessary."

The D.A.'s office "took every witness at their word no matter how fantastical the story was," Trevan Borum complained to reporters outside the Criminal Justice Center.

Borum, a former prosecutor himself, said that the D.A.'s office didn't do their homework, but "Thank God we did." Speaking moments after a judge lifted a gag order, Borum told reporters about how the defense went out looking for witnesses to refute the prosecution's case.

"They were easy to find," Borum said, including a former altar boy now a state trooper who discredited a key prosecution witness. That's how Borum managed to thwart a district attorney's office that he said was "looking to convict a priest at all costs."

After two heavily publicized trials in the last 14 months, however, both of which ended in deadlocked juries, "Father Andy" faces "an uncertain future," his lawyer said. The priest is on administrative leave with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and still has to face a church hearing over alleged boundary violations. Then there's the matter of his reputation, his lawyer said, after being accused in the media and the courts of something he didn't do, an attempted rape of a 10-year-old altar boy.

"How do  you get your reputation back," Borum asked.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Archdiocese Serves Subpoena On District Attorney

Does This Man Have Anything to Hide?
By Ralph Cipriano

Here's a switch. More than a decade ago, after former District Attorney Lynne Abraham got a judge to serve multiple subpoenas on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the archdiocese in a civil case has talked a judge into serving a subpoena on Abraham's successor, District Attorney Seth Williams.

In a lengthy investigation that preceded a groundbreaking 2005 grand jury report on the church, D.A. Abraham got a judge to approve a series of subpoenas that pried open the archdiocese's secret archive files. The files, kept under lock and key in a safe, contained some 45,000 pages of documents detailing what the grand jury described as "countless acts of sexual depravity" committed by 169 priests over four decades against hundreds of children.

But on March 12, ruling in the civil case of former altar boy "Billy Doe," Common Pleas Court Judge Jacqueline F. Allen approved the serving of a subpoena on the D.A.'s office, over the objections of the former altar boy's lawyers.

Court records don't say what the archdiocese's lawyers are seeking. But since the archdiocese has recently deposed two detectives from the D.A.'s office, it would be logical to assume that the archdiocese wants to see the D.A.'s confidential files from his flawed investigation of Billy Doe.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Rogue Cop Jeffrey Walker Set To Testify

By George Anastasia

Jeff Walker walked out of the house in the 5600 block of Florence Avenue with $15,000 in his pocket, certain that he had just ripped off another drug dealer.

Seconds later he was in handcuffs, stung by the FBI.

Walker, a burly, dreadlocked narcotics officer gone bad, quickly agreed to cooperate following his arrest that night back in May 2013. He pleaded guilty to robbery and extortion charges and began talking. He has been before a federal grand jury and has sat for nearly three dozen debriefing sessions by the FBI.

Next week, the former member of the Narcotics Field Unit is expected to make his debut as a government witness, taking the stand in the ongoing corruption trial of six other members of that squad.

Described by one defense attorney as a "train wreck both personally and professionally," Walker's testimony will be pivotal in the now two-week old trial. To date, the jury has heard from a half dozen drug dealers, each telling a version of the same story. All claim that they were threatened, beaten and robbed by what authorities charge was a corrupt group of police officers who over a six-year period stole more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and other valuables from the drug dealers they were arresting.


D.A. Waves White Flag On Father Andy

D.A. Gives Up
By Ralph Cipriano

District Attorney Seth Williams has decided not to retry Father Andrew McCormick a third time for the alleged attempted rape of a former 10-year-old altar boy.

In a brief appearance today before Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp tersely announced that the D.A. would not retry the case.

Twice in the last 14 months, the district attorney had brought the case to trial. And twice the end result was a mistrial after both juries wound up hopelessly deadlocked.

At today's brief hearing, Trevan Borum, Father Andy's defense lawyer, asked the judge to lift a gag order in the case. But even though there's no future jury pool to worry about tainting, the judge told Kemp and Borum that she wanted her gag order to remain in efffect until April 16th. Later the judge changed her mind and announced she would rule Monday on Borum's motion to lift the gag order.

In the absence of official comment, one loyal member of the "Friends of Father Andy" support group  said the D.A.'s decision to finally give up was a "long time coming, especially when there is no evidence."

Thursday, April 9, 2015

FBI Agent Concedes Mistakes In Narco Cop Investigation

By George Anastasia

Mistakes were made in the investigation of six Philadelphia Police Department narcotics investigators, an FBI agent told a federal jury from the witness stand today.

But the agent, John Hess, would not agree with a defense argument that the 26-count indictment charging the veteran officers with going rogue and stealing more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and valuables from drug dealers was a rush to judgment.

Hess also said he could not answer what Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek called the fundamental question in the case -- how high and how wide had corruption spread through the Philadelphia Police Department?

"I still don't know for certain," said Hess, one of the agents who conducted the two-year probe of the narcotics unit.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Drug Dealer Says Cop Dangled Him Over A Balcony

By Ralph Cipriano

It was a police raid on a drug dealer holed up in his condo on North Front Street. The cop used a sledgehammer to bust open the  window on a steel door, so he could reach through the broken glass and turn the handle.

Moments later, the cop allegedly had marijuana dealer Jason Kennedy handcuffed and dangling over a third-floor balcony rail.

"He hung me over the balcony railing" some 30 feet above the ground, Kennedy told a federal jury. "I was up over the balcony like he was gonna drop me."

The cop asked "If I wanted to go head-first or feet-first, Kennedy testified. "I said feet-first and he said, 'You're not such a dumb fuck after all.' "

That's the story Kennedy told today in federal court. His assailant, he charged, was sledgehammer wielding former Police Officer Michael Spicer. Kennedy was one of three drug dealers who testified in court today about allegedly being robbed by a squad of six former Philadelphia narcotics officers. The question is whether the white suburban jury sitting in judgment will have more sympathy for cowboy narcs out there waging the war on drugs, or for the drug dealers they allegedly robbed and terrorized.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"This Is Training Day Fuckin' For Real"

By George Anastasia

He said they were all dressed in black and wearing ski masks and his first thought was that it was "the Mafia" coming to rob him.

It turns out, according to a federal indictment, that Michael Cascioli was half right. They were coming to rob him. But it wasn't the Mafia. It was the cops.

Cascioli, once a major marijuana dealer in the Philadelphia area, spent four hours on the witness stand today describing his November 2007 encounter with what prosecutors allege was a rogue and out-of-control group of Philadelphia Police Department narcotics officers.

The soft-spoken 39-year-old was the second key witness to take the stand in the federal racketeering conspiracy trial of six officers accused of stealing more than $500,000 in cash and drugs from dealers they targeted over a four-year period. They used threats and violence to carry out the scheme, according to a 26-count indictment, and then falsified official arrest reports to cover their actions.