Northeast Times

Narcotics officers arrested in corruption case

  • Thomas Liciardello

  • Brian Reynolds

  • Michael Spicer

  • Perry Betts

  • Linwood Norman

  • John Speiser

A group of cor­rupt nar­cot­ics of­ficers from the Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment robbed, beat up and kid­napped nu­mer­ous sus­pec­ted drug deal­ers, steal­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars dur­ing a sev­en-year span, ac­cord­ing to a fed­er­al grand jury in­dict­ment re­leased last Wed­nes­day by the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice.

Au­thor­it­ies ar­res­ted six mem­bers of the Nar­cot­ics Field Unit-South in the hours be­fore the pub­lic re­lease of the char­ging doc­u­ment. The ac­cused of­ficers are Thomas Li­ciar­dello, Bri­an Reyn­olds, Mi­chael Spicer, Perry Betts, Lin­wood Nor­man and John Speiser. All are city res­id­ents ran­ging in age from 38 to 46. All have at least 19 years of ser­vice in the po­lice de­part­ment. Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er Charles Ram­sey has an­nounced the im­min­ent fir­ing of all six.

The 42-page, 26-count in­dict­ment cata­logues 22 epis­odes in which the of­ficers al­legedly used il­leg­al searches, threats and phys­ic­al ab­use to shake down the sus­pec­ted drug deal­ers in a rack­et­eer­ing con­spir­acy. All six of­ficers are charged with vi­ol­at­ing the fed­er­al “RICO” stat­ute re­gard­ing cor­rupt or­gan­iz­a­tions. In­di­vidu­ally, the de­fend­ants are charged with vary­ing of­fenses in­clud­ing civil rights vi­ol­a­tions, rob­bery, ex­tor­tion, fire­arms vi­ol­a­tions, drug of­fenses and falsi­fy­ing re­cords.

If con­victed on all counts, each would face pos­sible life in pris­on, ex­cept for Speiser, who would face up to 40 years in pris­on at sen­ten­cing.

The in­dict­ment iden­ti­fies an­oth­er former Nar­cot­ics Field Unit-South of­ficer, Jef­frey Walk­er, as a par­ti­cipant in most of the 22 epis­odes. Earli­er this year, Walk­er pleaded guilty to at­temp­ted rob­bery and us­ing a gun in a crime of vi­ol­ence in con­nec­tion with his at­tempt to rip off a South Philly drug deal­er. As part of his plea deal, Walk­er agreed to co­oper­ate with a broad­er in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to his former col­leagues.

None of the of­ficers or in­cid­ents lis­ted in the in­dict­ment were men­tioned in the Phil­adelphia Daily News’ 2009 series that pur­por­ted to ex­pose cor­rup­tion among a dif­fer­ent group of nar­cot­ics cops, none of whom have been charged crim­in­ally.

“We don’t tol­er­ate this type of dis­grace­ful be­ha­vi­or, and these of­ficers don’t rep­res­ent the ma­jor­ity of this de­part­ment,” Ram­sey said in a prin­ted state­ment. “The ma­jor­ity of our de­part­ment is rep­res­en­ted in the ded­ic­ated po­lice work dis­played daily by [of­ficers] work­ing end­lessly with the com­munity and get­ting wanted crim­in­als off the street.”

Des­pite their unit’s name, the of­ficers had free­dom to con­duct in­vest­ig­a­tions throughout the city. Sev­er­al of the 22 du­bi­ous epis­odes de­tailed in the in­dict­ment oc­curred in the North­east. The earli­est in­cid­ent oc­curred in Feb­ru­ary 2006 and the most re­cent in Novem­ber 2012.

In one case, cops al­legedly entered a house on the 4600 block of Frank­ford Ave. with guns drawn, “stole” $12,000 cash from the oc­cu­pant — a sus­pec­ted drug deal­er — and kept him cap­tive at a hotel for days while they threatened him and his fam­ily. Even­tu­ally, the of­ficers al­legedly re­leased the man, but kept his $12,000. The in­dict­ment iden­ti­fied the money not as drug pro­ceeds, but rather as “cash that [the man] had ac­cu­mu­lated from the sale of a con­ver­sion van.”

In an­oth­er case, Walk­er — who was not charged in the in­dict­ment — al­legedly found $38,000 cash in a sus­pec­ted deal­er’s clothes dry­er. He al­legedly showed it to Li­ciar­dello and the two of­ficers split the money. Later, Li­ciar­dello al­legedly filed a po­lice re­port that neg­lected to men­tion the con­fis­cated cash.

Li­ciar­dello’s al­leged false re­port­ing was a com­mon theme in many of the 22 epis­odes. He routinely un­der-re­por­ted or failed to re­port the amounts of cash and prop­erty seized by of­ficers dur­ing their drug raids, ac­cord­ing to the charges.

In an­oth­er raid, of­ficers al­legedly took $210,000 cash from a North Front Street apart­ment, but Li­ciar­dello’s re­port stated that they con­fis­cated $130,970 in sus­pec­ted drug pro­ceeds. The in­dict­ment did not de­tail what ex­plan­a­tion the al­leged vic­tim had for stash­ing $210,000 in his apart­ment. However, dur­ing that raid, Spicer al­legedly punched the apart­ment dwell­er in the mouth and held him over a third-floor bal­cony in an ef­fort to get in­form­a­tion from him.

A sim­il­ar epis­ode in­volved squad mem­bers and Walk­er when they al­legedly searched a City Line Av­en­ue apart­ment without a war­rant, stole $8,000 in prop­erty from the oc­cu­pant, as­saul­ted him and threatened to push him over an 18th-floor bal­cony.

When of­ficers searched the house of a sus­pec­ted drug deal­er and his par­ents on South Dari­en Street, the cops al­legedly found $20,000 cash in a safe. The in­dict­ment ex­pli­citly iden­ti­fied the money as “drug pro­ceeds.” Li­ciar­dello al­legedly re­por­ted that only $6,260 was in the safe.

Con­versely, when the of­ficers raided a res­id­ence on Kirk­wood Road in the North­east, they al­legedly found $10,000 in a safe that the in­dict­ment iden­ti­fied as cash that the res­id­ent had “saved for his daugh­ter’s tu­ition.” In a sim­il­ar in­stance on Ce­dar Av­en­ue, the of­ficers al­legedly seized $6,000 in sus­pec­ted drug money that the in­dict­ment iden­ti­fied as “fed­er­al gov­ern­ment re­lief funds” that the wo­man res­id­ent had ob­tained as “flood dam­age com­pens­a­tion.” The of­ficers also found a gun in the house that the wo­man had a li­cense to carry, ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment.

The char­ging doc­u­ment fur­ther ac­cuses of­ficers of steal­ing drugs from a sus­pect and re­selling the con­tra­band for profit in at least one in­stance. In that case, Walk­er and Nor­man al­legedly ar­res­ted a man in Up­per Darby and found four kilo­grams of co­caine in his pos­ses­sion. Walk­er al­legedly gave three of the “keys” to Nor­man, who al­legedly sold them on the black mar­ket and re­turned $17,000 to Walk­er as his share of the pro­ceeds. Walk­er then wrote a re­port stat­ing that the of­ficers had seized only one kilo­gram, ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment.

Three of the six ac­cused of­ficers, Reyn­olds, Betts and Nor­man, were re­leased from fed­er­al pris­on on Monday in­to house ar­rest pending tri­al. Li­ciar­dello and Spicer were ordered to re­main in pris­on pending tri­al, while a bail hear­ing for Speiser was post­poned. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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