Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Philadelphia Ex-Police Testify That His Drug Squad Colleagues Stole And Planted Drugs

PHILADELPHIA — A disgraced ex-police officer testifying against his drug squad colleagues acknowledged Tuesday that he stole drug money, planted evidence and lied on police paperwork too many times to count.
Jeffrey Walker told jurors that the Philadelphia Police Department drug squad targeted white "college-boy ... khaki-pants types" who were "easy to intimidate."
That matches the description of some of the drug dealers who have testified in recent weeks in the federal police corruption trial. The witnesses have said the squad stole as much as $110,000 at a time during illegal raids marked by threats and physical violence.
Lead defendant Thomas Liciardello, their de facto leader, always got a cut of the money, while the others split "jobs" they actually worked, Walker said. The city's police brass often celebrated the squad's success with splashy news conferences when they made big seizures.
"It made them look good. It was nothing but a dog and pony show," Walker said.
More than 160 drug convictions have been overturned since Walker pleaded guilty and the others were named in a 25-count indictment. Scores of civil-rights lawsuits are pending over the arrests.
Walker, 46, said he first stole money as a uniformed patrolman when he chased a dealer into a house and spotted a large bag of cash on top of the refrigerator.
"I never saw that much money. I was a young kid," Walker told jurors. "I took some money, put it in my jacket pocket."
Defense lawyers have attacked his credibility and will no doubt point out on cross-examination the times he admits acting alone, even before he joined the elite undercover drug unit. He also said he developed a drinking problem and became forgetful. The trial began last month and is expected to last several more weeks.
Walker joined the department around age 20 and had nearly 24 years in when he was arrested in an FBI sting last year.
He said he ultimately made $119,000 a year, apparently not counting significant overtime for time spent in court or late-night drug investigations, or the large sums of drug money he stole. He suggested that squad members padded their overtime hours, and he faulted one-time partner Linwood Norman for not making arrests that led to lucrative court hours.
"We make money going to court," Walker testified. "He's basically riding along. I got frustrated with that."
Walker and Norman were known as "The Twin Towers," often assigned by Liciardello to rough people up.
In one of their more memorable assignments, Norman leaned drug suspect Michael Cascioli over a high-rise balcony to elicit the passcode for his Palm Pilot, according to Walker, who helped scare the suspect.
City police officials later held a news conference to announce that the 2007 search had yielded more than $1.5 million in marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms, and $440,000 in cash. Federal prosecutors now say the squad raided the apartment before they got a warrant.
In another episode, Walker admitted carrying a heavy safe full of drug money down 17 flights of stairs to avoid being seen on the elevator security camera. And he described another heist when he stuffed so much bundled cash into his police vest that he had to wear Liciardello's vest over his to cover the bulge when he left the house.
Walker agreed to cooperate last year after being caught in an FBI sting stealing $15,000 from a suspect and planting drugs in his car. He has been in custody for nearly a year and hopes to avoid a life sentence through his testimony.
Liciardello, he said, warned squad members not to change their spending habits so dramatically that they attracted attention. Walker nonetheless said he spent the money he made on clothes and other purchases.
The other defendants include Michael Spicer, Perry Betts and John Speiser.
Walker said he once worked closely with Liciardello and co-defendant Briian Reynolds but was ostracized as he went through a divorce, weight loss surgery and other personal problems.

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