PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Lawyers for six former police officers charged with stealing millions of dollars in cash and drugs while working undercover attacked the Justice Department case Monday as a fable crafted by 19 drug dealers and a dirty colleague.
Hundreds of cases based on the Philadelphia drug unit's work have been thrown out, and about 100 civil rights lawsuits are on hold awaiting the outcome of the 26-count racketeering trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek told jurors that the even drug dealers can be victims of crime if the items seized are not "yours to take." The armed defendants routinely broke into homes without search warrants and ransacked them to steal drugs, cash, a Rolex watch and other valuables, he said.
Defense lawyer Jack McMahon fired back that the government had no evidence to back up the testimony of their criminal witnesses, including convicted ex-officer Jeffrey Walker.
"They take all this cast of characters, and they get Jeffrey Walker, and they think ... they can just wash away all the problems of this case," McMahon said.
Walker began cooperating after he took the bait in an FBI sting focused on the aggressive narcotics field unit within the Philadelphia Police Department. He admitted in a February 2014 plea that he had planted evidence in a suspect's car and taken $15,000 from him.
"When you're dirty and despicable and dumb and arrogant, it's easy to get you," McMahon said of Walker, who is expected to spend several pivotal days on the stand during the 10-week trial.
After his arrest, Walker told the FBI about a series of cases in which drug dealers, he said, were robbed, beaten, threatened and even hung over high-rise balconies. He said that members of his unit stole items ranging from loose change to $80,000 in a safe that they removed from an apartment and carried down 17 flights of stairs.
"These are men sworn to uphold the law but instead broke it," Wzorek said.
In a 2009 incident described in the indictment, Walker said he and drug unit member Linwood Norman seized four kilograms of cocaine only to have Norman resell three of them on the street.
McMahon, though, told jurors that client Brian Reynolds and the others on trial never fell for the FBI sting that snagged Walker, but instead reported the money they found in an FBI operative's red Camaro. He also questioned why prosecutors have no plans to call drug unit supervisors who took part in many of the supposedly rogue searches. The defense vowed to call them.
Lead defendant Thomas Liciardello is being held in solitary confinement without bail. Norman, Reynolds and the other co-defendants — Perry Betts, John Speiser, and Michael Spicer — are on house arrest.
If nothing else, the trial is likely to illustrate the eye-popping flow of cash that runs through the drug trade. The drug squad allegedly found nearly $450,000 in cash in one city apartment, and more than $50,000 in countless others, along with huge stashes of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and psychedelic mushrooms.
Some of the drug suspects said the cash — locked in a safe, stashed in a clothes dryer, curled inside a pencil holder — came from legitimate sources. Defense lawyers questioned that, especially when some of the trial witnesses also had weapons in their homes, including a barber with an AK-47.