The trial of six former Philadelphia narcotics officers accused of robbing drug dealers in a 42-page indictment that read like a script for a Hollywood action movie is expected to begin in federal court Monday.
Five of the six officers face life sentences for their participation in what authorities say is a corrupt organization whose members dangled a drug dealer from an 18th story balcony to get him to divulge the password to his computer. Others were beaten with with metal bars, according to court documents, and kicked detainees in the teeth.
The officers, Perry Betts, Thomas Liciardello, Linwood Norman, Brian Reynolds, John Speiser, and Michael Spicer, were taken into custody July. All but Liciardello, the accused ringleader, have been out on bail.
Defense attorneys declined to comment on the case, citing a gag order. But court filings indicate that lawyers plan to challenge the credibility of witnesses, many of whom are criminals with unsavory pasts.
That list includes Officer Jeffrey Walker, a police officer who planted cocaine on a a drug dealer as a ruse to steal the dealer’s house keys. He then stole $15,000 from the man’s home in a 2013 sting orchestrated by an FBI informant. Walker pleaded guilty last year, but agreed to testify against these officers.
To convict the former officers on the most serious charges under racketeering and corrupt organizations, or RICO statutes, prosecutors have presented a list of more than 100 potential witnesses, along with bank records, credit card statements and casino receipts. They also say they plan to present text messages between Walker and Liciardello made after Walker became a confidential informant, and a recorded conversation between Liciardello, Reynolds and an FBI informant.
Prosecutors have been forced to withdraw a handful of counts against the six police officers, citing difficulties with witnesses. In one instance, prosecutors were forced to dismiss two charges against the police officers after the facts alleged in a lawsuit against the city did not match statements he made before a grand jury.
All of the men except Norman were removed from the Narcotics Field Unit in 2012 after District Attorney Seth Williams wrote a letter saying he could not rely on their testimony. Hundreds of drug cases have been withdrawn in the wake of that letter, prosecutors say.
The case also threatens to spark a wave of civil litigation against the city.