When all is finally said, all that’s left to be done is time.
Five ex-city workers last week negotiated pleas with the city district attorney’s office rather than face trials for ransacking homes and terrorizing residents more than three years ago. Common Pleas Court Judge Sandy L.V. Byrd immediately sentenced them to jail terms ranging from 11 months to three years.
Former Community Life Improvement Program workers Algie Cuffee Sr., Algie Cuffee Jr., Jermaine Adderly, Henry Turrentine and Rycharde Sicinski pleaded guilty to theft, receiving stolen property, official oppression, perjury and criminal conspiracy. Adderly and Cuffee Jr. also pleaded guilty to weapons offenses.
The five, along with three co-defendants — Lamont Williams, Anthony Scarcia and William Roldan — will be back in Byrd’s court on Oct. 14 to work out how they will pay about $100,000 in restitution to their victims and to surrender for incarceration.
Wilfredo Cintron, one of the nine men charged in late 2009, pleaded guilty earlier and already is serving his sentence of one to three years in state prison. Roldan, of the 7000 block of Rising Sun Ave.; Scarcia, of the 4200 block of Knorr St.; and Williams, of the 800 block of E. Woodlawn St., have not been sentenced yet.
Had the defendants pleaded guilty when arrested in mid-December 2009, they would have completed their minimum sentences months ago.
At the time, Lynne Abraham, who was concluding her career as district attorney, announced that a grand jury had investigated CLIP and that the nine men were arrested for allegedly ransacking five homes — in Somerton, Tacony, Torresdale, Frankford and Kensington — from mid-2006 through January 2008.
As part of the city program, crews are dispatched to look into complaints of properties that are overgrown or unsightly, and the city bills the homeowner for the cleanup work.
A FESTIVAL FOR THIEVES
Abraham characterized the victims of this “theft fest” as “unsophisticated, unaware, elderly and powerless.”
She said CLIP workers inappropriately forced residents from their homes under the pretense of having city orders for clean-and-seal operations. That work soon became “clean-and-steal operations,” the former DA said.
CLIP crew members were among those summoned to testify before the grand jury.
“It was clear from the testimony of the crew members that stealing from houses was their routine practice,” the grand jury wrote in a report released Dec. 15, 2009. “They said Sicinski, as the inspector at the sites, would go through the properties first with another supervisor, Henry Turrentine. The two supervisors would take a look around and then tell the workers what was in the houses and where to find it.”
That’s when the thefts began.
“Both supervisors allowed the crew to steal guns, valuables, furniture, electronics and tools from the houses where they worked, even though L&I policy (Department of Licenses and Inspections) strictly forbade workers from taking anything from the properties except trash that was supposed to be disposed of in a trash truck,” the grand jury wrote.
According to the grand jury, the supervisors further aided the thefts by failing to follow procedures such as photographing the properties and possessions before and after the cleanups, or by contacting police when they found weapons.
The grand jury was just as critical of city administrators.
“No one at L&I or the (city) managing director’s office seemed to care if the crew ever remedied the alleged code violations that served as a pretense for the break-ins and thefts,” the grand jury wrote.
SCENES OF THE CRIMES
One of the more blatant of the cases took place at a home on the 1800 block of Greymont St. in Somerton. On Jan. 16, 2007, the owner was away from her home when she got a call from a neighbor who told her city officials were there with a caravan of trucks.
The woman testified that her property was removed from her home that day by CLIP employees. She arrived and spoke to Sicinski, who would not let her enter her house, she testified. She paid to stay at a motel until she was permitted to return.
Although her home had debris in it, the woman said, she denied having received any notice that a CLIP crew would be coming to her property.
Letters that explain specific violations are supposed to be sent to property owners, who are given 10 days to remedy the situation before the city takes action.
The woman’s missing items included a safe, appliances, sterling silver, furniture, coins, her late husband’s tools and many weapons from his gun collection.
The woman later received a city bill of $17,854.72 for CLIP’s services. Some of the woman’s relatives, however, told the grand jury that debris remained in the house even though much of the woman’s property had been removed.
A neighbor told the grand jury that he saw workers carry bags from the home. However, rather than toss them into trash trucks, the workers put the bags in city trucks and personal vehicles.
According to the grand jury report, Sicinski testified that he told the woman on Jan. 6 or 7, 2007 that she would have to leave her property based on his inspection of looking in the windows and seeing debris. CLIP workers never got the woman’s permission to enter; in fact, they found the doors locked when they showed up on Jan. 16, 2007, and Sicinski later told the grand jury that he summoned a locksmith to get into the house.
Sicinski testified “untruthfully” that he had a court order to enter the home, the grand jury reported.
CLIP STAYED PUT
The grand jury stated that a CLIP crew remained at the woman’s home until Jan. 25, 2007.
In his testimony, co-defendant Scarcia said Cuffee and Adderly came to his house in January 2007 and gave him a 9mm handgun that police found in his house in 2008. Authorities confirmed the gun had been registered to the Somerton woman’s late husband.
The grand jury report is filled with testimony of the men implicating one another in thefts from the home.
The case against the CLIP workers became clearer on Aug. 13, 2009, when Manuel Santiago, a gun task force special agent with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, obtained a warrant to search Cuffee Sr.’s home and found numerous sweaters, tools and silverware that had been stolen from the Somerton woman’s home.
Similar accounts of thefts — in some cases including stolen weapons — stemmed from visits to four other homes by CLIP crews.
One of the most appalling accusations against the men was that they broke into a home on the 9000 block of Convent Ave. and forced an elderly couple and their disabled daughter to leave. When the family members returned, they found about $25,000 missing along with several bottles of liquor, two televisions and all their furniture.
Before Sept. 12, former CLIP crew members Cintron, Scarcia, Williams and Roldan already had negotiated guilty pleas with the district attorney’s office. Cuffee Sr. had pleaded before potential jurors were questioned on Tuesday morning, Sept. 13.
Four defendants held out until a jury was impaneled and testimony was about to begin last Thursday morning. Two more defendants caved at that point, and the remaining two soon decided to plead guilty as well.
Why, after so much time had passed since their arrests, did the last four defendants just fold? Sometimes, said Assistant District Attorney Miriam Enriquez, the reality of their situations doesn’t dawn on defendants until they see jurors sitting in the courtroom.
Sicinski, 57, a Department of Licenses and Inspections employee who was head CLIP inspector, got the longest sentence last Thursday: 18 months to three years in prison and five years’ probation. However, Sicinski, a former 28-year city employee who lives on the 9300 block of Germania St., can serve his time in Philadelphia’s jails and is eligible for work release to make payment to his victims.
Turrentine, 54, a retired CLIP subcrew chief, and Adderly, 36, a former CLIP crew member, were sentenced to 11 to 23 months in city jail and five years’ probation. They also are eligible for work release.
Adderly also had pleaded guilty to illegal-weapons transfers. The judge said he would abide by the guilty plea arranged by Adderly’s attorney, but only with reservations because of the weapons offenses.
He said the same to Cuffee Jr., 25, who was sentenced to one to two years in the city’s jails, also with work-release eligibility and five years’ probation.
“I reluctantly agreed to accept your guilty plea,” Judge Byrd said.
IT STARTED WITH A GUN
The thefts — and the CLIP crews’ involvement — started to come into focus when agents of the city’s Gun Violence Task Force traced some stolen weapons to Cuffee Jr., who they alleged had traded guns for marijuana.
In 2008, the agents interviewed a man accused of illegal possession of a handgun. The gun had been traced to a deceased Northeast man. That weapon led to another, and it was learned that they had been purchased from a juvenile who had an arrest record involving a stolen gun.
With the juvenile at the time, but not arrested, was Algie Cuffee Jr., then an employee of the Mayor’s Office of Community Service. The juvenile told investigators he got the guns from Cuffee Jr., whose father, Algie Cuffee Sr., agents then learned, worked for CLIP. The weapons, it was found, came from homes visited by CLIP crews.
Further legwork by the task-force agents took them to guns that they traced to another Northeast man and led to a grand jury probe, its presentment on Dec. 15, 2009, and the arrests the following day.
Almost 30 guns were reported stolen during the CLIP spree. One was used in an unrelated murder. Only about a dozen have been found. ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org