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. ••