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Articles on this Page
- 04/28/15--14:10: _D.A. Files Motion T...
- 04/28/15--16:31: _Police Clash With T...
- 04/29/15--18:20: _Narcs' Supervisor C...
- 04/30/15--09:49: _"Can You Call For A...
- 04/30/15--16:27: _"They Were Taking M...
- 05/01/15--15:42: _The Milkman Delivers
- 05/04/15--16:41: _The Big Pizza Robbery
- 05/05/15--10:12: _Merlino Wins On A TKO
- 05/05/15--18:36: _Government Asks Jur...
- 05/06/15--15:39: _Narco Cops Trial He...
- 05/07/15--15:17: _Cops Or Criminals? ...
- 05/08/15--16:42: _Keeping The Vigil
- 05/11/15--17:50: _Day Three In Rogue ...
- 05/11/15--18:49: _Msgr. Lynn's Lawyer...
- 05/12/15--15:17: _Jury At Impasse In ...
- 05/13/15--15:06: _No Questions, No Ve...
- 05/14/15--13:38: _Support From An Unl...
- 05/14/15--13:49: _Jury Acquits Six Na...
- 05/15/15--01:31: _How To Reconstruct ...
- 05/20/15--09:05: _A Closing Argument ...
- 04/28/15--14:10: D.A. Files Motion To Send Msgr. Lynn Back To Jail
- 04/28/15--16:31: Police Clash With The Feds At Narco Cops Corruption Trial
- 04/29/15--18:20: Narcs' Supervisor Counted Drug Money, Never Read Indictment
- 04/30/15--09:49: "Can You Call For A Sheriff, Please"
- 04/30/15--16:27: "They Were Taking Millions Of Dollars Of Poison Off The Streets"
- 05/01/15--15:42: The Milkman Delivers
- 05/04/15--16:41: The Big Pizza Robbery
- 05/05/15--10:12: Merlino Wins On A TKO
- 05/05/15--18:36: Government Asks Jury To Believe A Bunch of Drug Dealers
- 05/06/15--15:39: Narco Cops Trial Heads To The Jury
- 05/07/15--15:17: Cops Or Criminals? Jury Deliberations Begin In Narco Cop Trial
- 05/08/15--16:42: Keeping The Vigil
- 05/11/15--17:50: Day Three In Rogue Cops Case Without A Verdict
- 05/11/15--18:49: Msgr. Lynn's Lawyer Seeks Hearing In Superior Court
- 05/12/15--15:17: Jury At Impasse In Narco Cops Trial
- 05/14/15--13:38: Support From An Unlikely Source
- 05/14/15--13:49: Jury Acquits Six Narcotics Cops On All Charges
- 05/15/15--01:31: How To Reconstruct A Train Wreck
- 05/20/15--09:05: A Closing Argument That Had A Courtroom In Tears
|Assistant D.A. Patrick Blessington|
A day after the state Supreme Court reinstated Msgr. William J. Lynn's conviction, the district attorney filed a motion in Common Pleas Court seeking to revoke Lynn's bail and send him back to jail.
"Consistent with its prior rulings, this Court should, once again, revoke Defendant's bail, thereby remanding him to the service of the remainder of his sentence," said the motion filed today by District Attorney R. Seth Williams and Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, who originally prosecuted Lynn.
Not so fast, said Thomas A. Bergstrom, who is Lynn's lawyer. Bergstrom filed a response to the D.A.'s motion in Common Pleas Court today stating that the D.A. has applied to the wrong court. Any argument over Lynn's bail should be dealt with in state Superior Court, Bergstrom asserted.
Common Pleas Court does not have jurisdiction over the case, Bergstrom argued. After the state Supreme Court reinstated Lynn's conviction, the Supreme Court specified that the case was to be remanded within 14 days back to the state Superior Court, where a number of appeal issues from Lynn's original trial are still pending.
The monsignor is currently under house arrest at a North Philly rectory, where he is confined to two floors and has to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle at all times. In the battle over which court will decide whether Lynn remains on bail, however, the district attorney at present appears to have the upper hand. The D.A.'s motion to revoke Lynn's bail is scheduled for a hearing at 9 a.m. Thursday in Common Pleas Court before Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, who presided over Lynn's trial.
On July 24, 2012, Common Pleas Court Judge Sarmina sentenced Lynn to three to six years in jail after his conviction by a jury on one count of endangering the welfare of a minor. Lynn had served 18 months of his sentence when the state Superior Court on Dec. 26, 2013 reversed his conviction and ordered him "released forthwith."
But the trial court did not go along with that request. On Dec. 30, 2013, Judge Sarmina granted the bail request for Lynn under the conditions for house arrest. Lynn has spent the past 16 months under house arrest.
In his response to the D.A.'s motion, Bergstrom wrote that he is going to file a motion in state Superior Court to have the case returned to the same panel of three Superior Court judges that reversed Lynn's conviction. Bergstrom also plans to file a motion with that same panel to keep Lynn out of jail on the original $25,000 bail deposit of 10 percent imposed by Judge Sarmina.
"Any application for bail revocation or otherwise should be presented to the Superior Court as the Court on remand," Bergstrom wrote. "The trial court is without jurisdiction to consider the current bail motion."
"Mmultiple and undeniable appellate issues remain" for the Superior Court to consider, Bergstrom wrote. Such as whether the lower court "abused its discretion by improperly admitting evidence of 21 instances of bad conduct by other priests dating back as late as the 1940s."
Other appeal issues for the Superior Court to consider include whether "the trial court improperly charged the jury as to a number of issues including the duty of care element" as part of the crime of endangering the welfare of a child, Bergstrom wrote. Another appellate issue is whether the "lower court abused its discretion by denying mistrial motions based on prosecutorial conduct," Bergstrom wrote. The Superior Court didn't consider those issues because they decided the state's original child endangerment law did not apply to Lynn because he did not fit the definition of an "other person supervising the welfare of a child."
"Those other issues are now ripe for review," Bergstrom wrote.
In his response to the D.A.'s motion to revoke bail, Bergstrom set the stage for further battles over the wording of the state's original 38-word child endangerment law of 1972. The law states: "A parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age commits an offense if he knowingly endangers the welfare of a child by violating a duty of care, protection or support."
Here's what the state Supreme Court had to say about the subject:
"Therefore, whether [Lynn] owed a duty of care to the children of St. Jerome's, or to D.G. [Billy Doe] in particular, is not an issue in this appeal and was not encompassed without grant of allowance of appeal. Rather, the legal issue we address concerns solely whether the evidence sufficed to prove [Lynn's] supervision of the welfare of a child."
The state Supreme Court decided that under the state's original child endangerment law, Lynn qualified as an "other person supervising the welfare of a child."
But the state Supreme Court decided in their 60-page opinion not to explore the second element of the law, namely did the law apply to Lynn in the sense of whether Lynn owed a duty of care to a particular child.
The state Supreme Court went on to say:
"While we recognize that the answer to this question will in most circumstances be informed by exploring the extent of the duty owed to the endangered child, we need not engage in such an exploration herein; nor do we wade into an unnecessary review of the trial court's conclusions regarding other elements of EWOC, [endangering the welfare of a child] including that the Commonwealth's evidence sufficed to prove that [Lynn] was aware of his duty of care, protection or support, that he violated this duty, or that he knowingly enraged the welfare of a child, because, again these questions are behind our grant of allowance of appeal."
The state Superior Court, however, has already addressed the issue of whether Lynn owed a duty of care to a particular child when they reversed Lynn's conviction.
Here's what the Superior Court had to say about that subject:
"There was no evidence that [Lynn] had any specific knowledge that [Father Edward V.] Avery was planning or preparing to molest children at St. Jerome's. Indeed, Avery was not even diagnosed with a mental impairment that suggested he had a predisposition to commit sexual offenses."
The archdiocese had decided that Avery was an alcoholic, not a pedophile.
The Superior Court went on to say:
"As such, the notion that Avery was an ongoing, ever-present danger more than a decade after having sexually assaulted R.F. [a previous teenage victim] was tenuous at best. Eve more tenuous was the conclusion that the natural and probable consequences of [Lynn's] negligent supervision of Avery were Avery's intentional acts of molestation against a victim unknown to [Lynn]. Here, the information available to [Lynn] only suggested Avery's acts of sexual abuse were a byproduct of his alcohol abuse, and there was no evidence that Avery had resumed drinking, or that [Lynn] knew of such behavior."
The Superior Court wrote that Lynn appointed Avery to a chaplaincy at Nazareth Hospital "so as to limit his contact with children." Also, "the Commonwealth's own evidence demonstrated that upon Avery's preachment at St. Jerome's rectory, the parish's pastor, Father Graham, was told that Avery 'was not to be around children and was to live in the parish, be around the other priests and minister to the local hospital.'''
Lynn, the Superior Court wrote, "did not know or know of D.G. [Billy Doe], he was not sufficiently aware of Avery's supervision of D.G. or any other child at St. Jerome's, nor did he have any specific information that Avery intended or was preparing to molest D.G. or any other child at St. Jerome's."
The issue of Lynn's intent was also addressed by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor in a dissenting opinion when he wrote:
"Although, as observed, [Lynn] may have been substantially derelict in his obligations, as I read the record, there were no facts placed before the jury by which it could reasonably conclude he affirmatively intended that children's welfare be endangered."
While on house arrest, Begrstom wrote, Lynn has abided by all the rules and regulations imposed on him. Further, William Lynn is neither a danger or a flight risk."
One defense witness said he considers the ongoing police corruption trial a "kangaroo court" and that he can't wait until the six defendants are "set free."
Another called Thomas Liciardello, the lead defendant in the corruption case, an "outstanding investigator" and a "dedicated" police officer "committed to removing narcotics and guns" from the streets of Philadelphia.
Several others contradicted key bits of testimony from drug dealers called by the prosecution earlier in the trial.
That was the scene today in U.S. District Court as the defense called a parade of witnesses in the ongoing racketeering trial of six narcotics officers.
Was it a question of brothers in blue circling the wagons in an us-against-them standoff? Or was it, as defense attorneys claim, the other side of the story, the side that federal prosecutors and FBI agents made no attempt to document as the case was built against Liciardello and five other members of the Philadelphia Police Department's Narcotics Field Unit?
The fifth week of the trial opened with a verbal barrage aimed at the prosecution's case. Testimony from nearly a dozen members of the Police Department, including several supervisors, was designed to contradict and undermine the linchpins of the criminal indictment.
It was the Roshomon effect, Philadelphia style. Same story. But told from a decidedly different perspective and with a clearly different spin.
For four weeks the jury has heard tales of planted evidence, stolen cash and drugs and falsified police reports flowing from the witness stand as a dozen admitted drug dealers and one dirty cop have testified for the prosecution. Their testimony has supported the racketeering indictment that alleges that the six rogue cops stole more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and other valuables and then filed phony reports to cover their tracks.
The defense, which started presenting its case on Friday, has offered witness after witness to refute those claims. Today it was more of the same.
Last week, Rodolfo Blanco told the jury that he was not, as police claimed, a heroin dealer. He also said that heroin and a loaded AK 47 assault rifle that police said they found in his home during a raid were planted and that $12,000 confiscated during that raid was cash from the sale of a van. He also claimed he was held hostage for four days in a hotel and forced to set up drug dealers who were subsequently arrested. Finally, he said, police reported confiscating $5,960, not $12,000, in the raid.
Today Lt. Charles Jackson, who said he was on the scene when police raided Blanco's barbershop and apartment in the 4600 block Frankford Avenue, said of Blanco, "He had drugs. He had money and he had the gun." He also said the van that Blanco claimed to have sold, was parked behind the apartment.
Jackson scoffed at the idea that a police raiding party would carry an assault rifle into an apartment and plant it there. He also said Blanco had agreed to cooperate and that the plan to hold him at a hotel was approved by supervisors and part of a legitimate drug investigation.
"Was he taken hostage?" defense attorney Jack McMahon asked at one point.
"Absolutely not," Jackson replied.
Also last week Theodore Carobine described how police had broken down his door and swarmed through his apartment in the 9400 block of Kirkwood Drive. Carobine testified that he was not a drug dealer; that meth allegedly found in his apartment had been planted, and that police took $11,000 out of his safe but listed only $8,000 in an arrest report. The cash, Carobine said, was savings set aside to pay his daughter's nursing school tuition.
Carobine, a plumber, said he spent five weeks in jail, but that the charges against him were thrown out of court when a judge agreed with his defense attorney's challenge of the search warrant. He said he is currently suing the city and the police department.
But today Lt. Thomas Wixted, who said he was on the scene for the raid, testified that all the cash taken from the safe was immediately placed in an evidence bag and sealed and that he maintained control of that bag. He also said that when Carobine was shown a Ziploc bag containing meth that was found in his bedroom, he broke down and cried, telling police, "I fucked up. You guys got me. I'm selling that to put my daughter through nursing school."
Testimony throughout the day continued along those lines. Several witnesses contradicted the testimony of drug dealers who said Liciardello and other members of the unit showed up on raids dressed in black and wearing ski masks and did not immediately identify themselves as police.
No one ever wore a mask, several witnesses said today. And during any raid, everyone wore bullet-proof vests clearly labeled POLICE.
The testimony led to some heated cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek.
The prosecutor challenged Jackson on his selective memory after the lieutenant said he could not remember how police got into Blanco's apartment and how many people were present. Blanco said his wife and five children were there when police, waving guns, busted down the door.
After Wzorek pointed to several other vague recollections, Jackson said, "Do I remember every detail? No. What I do remember is the AK47, $5,960 in cash and 260 grams heroin recovered inside that location."
Wzorek also clashed with Wixted, getting the lieutenant to acknowledge that Carobine's statement -- Wzorek called it a "confession" -- was never mentioned in any police report and that the first time he told anyone about it was when he was questioned by the FBI earlier this year.
Wixted said he thought the statement "wasn't needed" because the evidence seized that day was so strong. He also said Carobine had not been "Mirandized" (read his rights about self-incrimination) and for that reason the statement would not have been admissible.
Police officer Sean O'Malley also testified that he heard Carobine make the same statement on the day of the raid. O'Malley and Wzorek clashed continually during cross-examination.
A 14-year veteran of the narcotics unit, O'Malley described Liciardello as "probably the best narcotics officer I've ever worked with. He's abrasive, but very good at what he does."
Conversely, he said Jeffrey Walker, a member of the squad who has pleaded guilty to robbing a drug dealer and who has testified for the prosecution, "was the opposite. Very lazy (and) couldn't do a job on his own."
Wzorek asked O'Malley if he had called the trial a kangaroo court on a Facebook posting in which he also wrote that he "can't wait to see the defendants set free."
"Yes sir," O'Malley said, adding, "I don't want to see innocent people go to the jail."
"Neither do I," said Wzorek.
The prosecutor then questioned O'Malley in detail about a statement he had given the FBI in which O'Malley described Liciardello as loud, abrasive and cocky. He also was asked if he had told agents that Liciardello would threaten drug dealers by telling them their children would be taken away from them and that female members of their family would be arrested and would be abused in prison.
O'Malley conceded making those statements but insisted that Wzorek was distorting the issue and missing the point. The prosecutor asked if O'Malley had said Liciardello would tell dealers "their wives and daughters would get fucked while they (the drug dealers) were in prison?"
"Not their daughters," O'Malley said, adding that "You got to understand. He was trying to give them (the drug dealers) something to think about" as they were being asked to cooperate.
At another point, when the prosecutor was hammering away at O'Malley's inability to remember details, the police officer said he was being asked about events that had happened six years ago and "I don't remember every single detail of every investigation."
Then he shot a look at the prosecutor and asked, "What time did you brush your teeth this morning?"
Wzorek asked Judge Eduardo Robreno to instruct the witness to answer, and not ask, questions. But before he posed another query, the prosecutor said, "It was 5:30."
The animosity building between the prosecution team and the police defense witnesses is expected to continue and perhaps peak tomorrow when Sgt. Joseph McCloskey, who supervised the six defendants, continues his testimony.
McCloskey was on the stand for about 40 minutes today and was questioned primarily about police procedures. The prosecution has portrayed him as a "don't ask, don't tell" supervisor who allowed Liciardello to run the squad. It was part of an overall institutional approach that rewarded results regardless of how they were obtained, the government contends.
Supervisors looked the other way, the government has alleged, because Liciardello and his squad members had a high arrest rate and confiscated significant quantities of drugs and cash. The prosecution contends that some of those drugs were put back on the street and some of the cash ended up in the pockets of the officers making those cases.
McCloskey, described by O'Malley as a no nonsense, by the book, boss, is expected to refute those contentions.
Asked this afternoon to describe Liciardello, the veteran police sergeant said, "Tommy Liciardello is an outstanding investigator and police officer. I don't think I've ever met a police officer more dedicated to removing narcotics and guns" from the streets of Philadelphia.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.
Sgt. Joseph McCloskey told the prosecutor that he never read the federal indictment against the six narcotics officers he used to supervise because, "I just don't believe it."
And when the sergeant showed up for an interview at FBI headquarters, he angrily told the feds he'd been "passed over for promotion because of this shit."'
On the witness stand today for more than five hours, Sgt. McCloskey was blunt and prickly, especially when he was standing up for his guys on the narcotics squad.
"The quality of their work was exceptional" McCloskey said of the six defendants that he supervised for some ten years. But Officer Jeff Walker was another story, the sergeant told the jury. That guy used to show up so drunk on the job he couldn't remember where he left his gun.
"I was the supervisor," McCloskey told the jury. The guy who signed the search warrants and property receipts. The guy on the other end of the police radio who would hustle out to a drug bust or a surveillance site to back up his guys.
The mission of the Narcotics Unit was to get drugs and guns off the streets of Philadelphia, the sergeant testified.
When his squad scored some drugs, McCloskey bagged the stuff in heat-sealed plastic.
When his squad raided drug dealers' houses and found stacks of money, McCloskey counted the cash.
One drug dealer's mother, McCloskey recounted, was impressed with how fast the sergeant could count a stack of money.
"You must have worked in a bank," she said.
I did, McCloskey told the jury. For six years before he became a cop, he worked as a bank teller.
When the squad pulled over Robert Kushner, the marijuana dealer was sampling his product while driving his maroon Hummer. Sgt. McCloskey was the guy who got the police dog out at the scene for a "sniff" test.
"I called K-9 for the Hummer," he said.
Sgt. McCloskey was there back in 2007 when his squad busted dope dealer Michael Cascioli at his 19th floor penthouse. The bust didn't go down the way the drug dealer described it, Sgt. McCloskey told the jury. The drug dealer had claimed the cops wore ski masks and didn't identify themselves. The drug dealer told the jury he thought the Mafia was after him.
The sergeant was one of the guys waiting in the stairwell.
"People were yelling police," he testified. "It was pretty noisy in that stairwell."
"I sat down next to him," McCloskey said about the drug dealer. He was staring at pictures posted on the fridge of his last trip to Costa Rica.
"I should have stayed there," the drug dealer lamented.
"Do you want to help yourself," the sergeant said he told the drug dealer. "We got you pretty f-ing good."
Did a couple of your guys hold the drug dealer by his feet and dangle him off the 19th floor balcony, defense lawyer Jack McMahon asked.
"Absolutely not," the sergeant said. If that had really happened, "We wouldn't be here today," McCloskey told the jury. "I would have taken care of that seven years ago."
Did the cops steal $18,000 from hearing impaired drug dealer Michael Procopio?
"No, it's a lie," McCloskey said.
But the sergeant did hear the drug dealer toss an ethnic slur at Officer Thomas Liciardello.
"Hey macaroni head, why are you doing this to me," McCloskey said he overheard the drug dealer tell the cop.
While he lauded the work of the defendants, McCloskey said that former Officer Jeff Walker, now the government's star witness, was a less than stellar performer.
The sergeant talked derisively about "Walker's less than active performances in the squad."
"He was not going out and doing active investigations," McCloskey said of Walker. "He was just laying back. I thought it was unfair to the squad."
Did Jeff Walker really help himself to six of 13 pounds of marijuana that the squad had packed away as evidence in sealed bags, McMahon was asked.
"It's ridiculous," McCloskey told the jury. First of all the property receipts have the true weight of each bag, the sergeant said. Second, if Walker actually tried to pull a stunt like that, "You violate the seals" on the bags of evidence, McCloskey said.
It couldn't happen.
McCloskey testified about the day Jeff Walker was so drunk he forgot where he left his gun.
"He was in a cold sweat," McCloskey testified. "He was semi-intoxicated. He said to me he lost his gun."
Walker told the sergeant, "Betcha it was Tommy [Liciardello] who did it," McCloskey testified.
When a couple of cops found the gun in Walker's squad car, McCloskey had another officer drive Walker home unarmed.
"I took the gun off of him and put it in my safe," McCloskey said.
Walker was a mess, McCloskey testified. The cop's marriage was on the rocks, he had made some bad investments, and he was drinking heavily.
"It was a gradual slide down a slippery slope," McCloskey said about Walker. At the end of his slide,
Walker wound up on the witness stand telling lies.
The officer showed up drunk at work.
"He was pretty banged up a couple of times," the sergeant said.
It got to the point where the only cop on the squad who would work with Walker was Officer Linwood Norman, a fellow African-American.
But even Norman finally had enough.
"Officer Norman requested to leave the squad," McCloskey said. "I told Officer Norman I didn't want to lose him but he put in the paper work to go to another squad."
After Norman split, nobody wanted to work with Walker, McCloskey said.
The sergeant told Walker he would let him partner with any officer he chose. But out of a pool of some 200 officers, nobody would work with Walker, McCloskey said.
After Officer Norman left the squad, Walker worked alone until he was busted in an FBI sting operation walking out of a drug dealer's house with $15,000 and five pounds of marijuana.
McCloskey was asked about the arrest of marijuana dealer Victor Rosario. The cops pulled Rosario over in a Lowe's parking lot on a day he was driving around with ten pounds of marijuana in the trunk of a rented Honda Accord.
"Most amazing thing I've seen in 26 years," the sergeant testified. Rosario "gave up himself" and told the squad about the house where he was stashing guns and drugs.
Note to Victor Rosario -- the next time a cop stops you and says we think you're a burglary suspect, can you hang around to meet the victim, take off.
"It's a ruse," McCloskey confided. You tell a guy he's a burglary suspect because he knows he didn't rob anybody. So he thinks he can beat the rap.
If the cops told a suspect to hang around because they thought he had drugs on him, the suspect would take off, McCloskey said.
After they pulled Rosario over, "I called K-9 to do a sniff around the car," McCloskey told the jury.
Did the cops actually steal $5,000 that Rosario had tucked in his wallet, McCloskey was asked.
"I don't know how you can keep $5,000 in your wallet," the former bank teller testified.
Did the cops help themselves to a Rolex watch and a cache of Tiffany jewelry that Rosario had supposedly stashed at his place?
"No watches or jewelry were taken from any location," McCloskey flatly said.
"I had a set policy," McCloskey said. The narcotics squad was after drugs and money. They didn't touch jewelry because you never knew whether it was fake or not.
"We never confiscated jewelry," McCloskey said.
Rosario, McCloskey confided, was a sloppy housekeeper.
"The place was a mess," the sergeant said.
When they raided drug dealer Jason Kennedy, did you notice any injuries, McMahon asked.
Kennedy had claimed that one of the cops punched him in the mouth, pushing a tooth through his lip, and knocking him down on a hard tile floor, leaving a big bump on the back of his head.
"None whatsoever," McCloskey said.
If you had seen any blood on Kennedy, what would have happened?
"He would have been transported to the hospital," McCloskey said.
The defendants found a pile of cash in Kennedy's apartment. McCloskey counted it. So did Lt. Otto.
A government exhibit showed the lieutenant counting a pile of money on his desk -- $130,970.
"It's the largest amount of money that we ever seized," McCloskey said proudly.
Did the cops bust out Kennedy's window with a sledgehammer, McMahon asked.
"No," the sergeant said, contradicting the testimony of the drug dealer. "We don't carry sledgehammers."
McCloskey was also there the day the cops raided former state trooper Kenneth Williams' row house.
"Not a big job," McCloskey said. The cops only found 25 grams of marijuana.
Williams was also a bigger slob than Rosario, McCloskey told the jury.
"It didn't smell real good," McCloskey said about the suspect's row house. There was "trash all over," the sergeant said.
What about the story Williams told on the witness stand? That he had $14,000 stashed in a pair of pants and the cops stole it.
"Not that I'm aware of," McCloskey said. "If somebody had $14,000 in that house, I don't know why they were staying there."
At the end of the day, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek only had about 45 minutes to cross-examine the sergeant. The prosecutor began with McCloskey's interview with the feds.
You insisted that the interview be videotaped, Wzorek told the witness. You brought a lawyer. You insisted on a proffer, an informal session where the ground rules usually are nothing you say will be used against you.
"You waited six months to interview me," McCloskey shot back.
You wanted a proffer so that you would have "no criminal liability," the prosecutor argued.
"That is correct," McCloskey agreed.
The cross-examination of Sgt. McCloskey will continue when court resumes at 9 a.m. tomorrow.
By Ralph Cipriano
Defense attorney Thomas A. Bergstrom was trying to convince Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina that she didn't have the authority to send his client, Msgr. William J. Lynn, back to jail.
The judge, however, wasn't buying it. "Bail revoked," she ruled. The prisoner is "ordered back into custody."
"Can you call for a sheriff please," the judge cooly instructed a court officer. Then she disappeared back into chambers.
Moments later, a sheriff's deputy showed up to take away the monsignor, who had sat quietly with his head down during the half-hour proceedings. After 18 months in jail and 16 months of house arrest, the official scapegoat for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was headed on the bus back to prison to continue his atonement for the sins of the church.
Judge Sarmina convened a hearing at 9 a.m. this morning in Courtroom 601 of the Criminal Justice Center to address a motion filed by the district attorney's office to revoke bail and send Lynn back to jail.
Arguing on behalf of the Commonwealth was Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, the prosecutor who put Lynn away. On June 22, 2012, a jury heeded Blessington's arguments and convicted the monsignor on one count of endangering the welfare of a child.
Judge Sarmina, who presided over Lynn's trial, then sentenced the monsignor to 3 to 6 years in jail.
Blessington, who with his thick mop of white hair and droopy mustache looks like he stepped out of a Frederic Remington painting, told the judge that this was the fourth time he's had to make this argument, "the fourth time this guilty defendant should be denied bail."
Lynn got out of jail when the state Superior Court on Dec. 26, 2013, overturned his conviction and ordered the prisoner to be "released forthwith." Judge Sarmina, however, decided instead to impose conditions of house arrest on Lynn.
The monsignor was confined to living on two floors of St. William's, a Northeast Philadelphia rectory, where he had to wear an electronic bracelet on his ankle at all times, and report weekly to a court officer supervising his release.
Enter the state Supreme Court. In a 4-1 decision on Monday, the justices reversed the reversal of the state Superior Court. The state Supreme Court's 60-page opinion, however, focused on a narrow section of the state's original 1972 child endangerment law, namely the question of whether Lynn fell under the law's definition of an "other person supervising the welfare of a child."
The law says, "A parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age commits an offense if he knowingly endangers the welfare of a child by violating a duty of care, protection or support."
Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham and a 2005 grand jury had already stated in writing that the law didn't apply to Lynn. The state Superior Court decided that under the original child endangerment law, Lynn did not meet the definition of an "other person supervising the welfare of a child."
The argument was that Lynn was a supervisor of priests who had direct contact with children, not somebody who had direct contact with children, such as a parent or guardian. The state's child endangerment law has since been amended to include supervisors such as Lynn.
Four state Supreme Court justices, however, decided on Monday that under the original child endangerment law, Lynn fit the definition of an "other person supervising the welfare of a child."
So the state Supreme Court justices reversed the reversal of the state Superior Court, and sent the case back to Superior Court, where other appellate issues remain from Lynn's trial. Such as whether Judge Sarmina erred by allowing into evidence 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse in the archdiocese dating back to 1948, three years before the 64-year-old Lynn was born.
Reading the state Supreme Court's 60-page opinion, Blessington said, "brings it all back in sharp focus what this defendant did."
When Lynn went to jail, he became the first Catholic administrator in the country to be imprisoned for not adequately supervising predator priests.
It was a "historic decision," Blessington told the judge, "because of historically bad conduct."
Here Blessington was talking about the sins of the church as revealed in a 2005 grand jury report. The grand jury found that two Philadelphia archbishops, the late Cardinals John Krol and Anthony Bevilacqua, had orchestrated a systematic cover up spanning four decades that successfully kept from prosecution 63 priests who had sexually abused hundreds of children.
The grand jury found that Lynn, the archdiocese's former secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, employed "incompetent investigation techniques" and kept parishioners and police in the dark at the behest of Cardinal Bevilacqua.
Lynn's lawyers countered that one of the monsignor's first official acts was to draw up a list of 35 priests in active ministry accused of abuse. Formerly confidential church documents revealed that Cardinal Bevilacqua subsequently ordered Lynn's list to be shredded.
Lynn was still guilty of shielding child abusers, Blessington argued. The monsignor "facilitated and supported monsters in clerical garb who destroyed the souls of children, Blessingon told the court, quoting Judge Sarmina's previous words of condemnation against Lynn.
"The conviction's back in, he should go back in," Blessington told the judge about Lynn. "It's that simple."
"You were right," Blessington told the judge about her original decision that the 1972 child endangerment law applied to Lynn. "They were wrong," Blessington said about the Superior Court's reversal of Lynn's conviction.
After Blessington sat down, and it was Bergstrom's turn to argue, he began by saying, "I think we need to take a deep breath."
Bergstrom told Judge Sarmina that when the state Supreme Court made its ruling, the Supreme Court "did not affirm [Lynn's] conviction."
"I don't think you have the authority to revoke his bail," Bergstrom told the judge. The Superior Court order calling for Lynn to be "discharged forthwith" is "still in effect," Bergstrom asserted.
Judge Sarmina, however, wasn't buying it. They only reason she let Lynn out of jail, the judge told Bergstrom, was because of the state Superior Court's reversal of Lynn's conviction.
"I have to consider the fact that I did get it wrong," she said about whether the state's original child endangerment law applied to Lynn.
The state Supreme Court, however, decided she got it right, the judge said. So that means Lynn belongs back in jail.
Bergstrom got upset.
"What gives you the right to revoke bail," he argued.
"What gives me the authority," she answered. "That the only reason I let him out," she repeated, was the reversal of Lynn's conviction by the state Superior Court, which has now been reversed.
"It's a farce," the assistant district attorney said about Bergstrom's arguments. "A reversal of a reversal is a status quo."
That means his conviction still stands, and so does his sentence, Blessington argued.
Bergstrom began to respond, but the judge warned, "Don't raise your voice."
Richard Lawrence, a pretrial officer in charge of conditional release, was sworn in to testify about whether the monsignor has complied with Judge Sarmina's terms of house arrest.
Earlier in the hearing, Judge Sarmina had raised the question of whether Lynn was making too many trips to Bergstrom's office. She preferred that Bergstrom go see Lynn at the rectory.
Bergstrom explained that Lynn hasn't made many trips to his office. Most of Lynn's visits had to do with responding to a civil suit filed against the archdiocese by Billy Doe. He's former 10-year-old altar boy whose alleged rape was the basis for Lynn's conviction for endangering the welfare of a child.
"Father Lynn has observed every possible rule," Lawrence told the judge. "He never out more than one day a week."
When he does go out, Lynn always "comes home early," Lawrence told the judge. The monsignor has always been very humble and done everything that was asked of him.
"I have no complaint at all," Lawrence said.
It didn't seem to make any difference to the judge.
After she ordered Lynn to be taken back into custody, the monsignor, dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans, shrugged his shoulders and went meekly along with the deputy.
Before Lynn left, Lawrence came over and shook his hand.
"I tried," the court official told the monsignor.
Blessington declined comment, saying he never speaks to reporters. Even when he wins.
Outside the Criminal Justice Center, Bergstrom was still seething.
"We're not gonna surrender on this," Bergstom told a crowd of reporters.
"She has no jurisdiction," Bergstrom said about Judge Sarmina. The state Supreme Court has remanded the Lynn case back to the state Superior Court, the defense lawyer said. And that's where Bergstrom was headed, to file an emergency motion for bail.
"She's been wrong before and she's wrong again," Bergstrom said about Judge Sarmina. "We're gonna prove it."
Asked if his client was surprised by the judge's ruling, Bergstrom replied, "He expected it. We both did. This wasn't a surprise. Trust me."
Bergstrom has previously described Lynn as perhaps the only client he ever defended who was truly innocent.
Lynn never met Billy Doe, Bergstrom said. The monsignor had left his post as secretary for clergy for five years when the former altar boy came forward to make his accusations.
One man and one man alone has repeatedly been held accountable for the sins of the archdiocese, the defense lawyer lamented.
"It's a modern-day lynching," Bergstrom said.
|Lt. Robert Otto [left]|
On the witness stand, Lt. Robert Otto was asked to give his professional assessment of former Officer Thomas Liciardello.
"He is one of the finest, most dedicated police officers," said the white-haired veteran of 26 years. Of the thousands of officers he has known during his career, Lt. Otto said, Liciardello ranks in the top 5.
"He is the best police investigator I ever met," Otto told the jury.
In court today, Otto also praised the work of the other five defendants in the rogue cops case.
"They were very effective, very efficient, very honest," the lieutenant told the jury about the former members of the Narcotics Field Unit. "They were the best at what they did; there's no doubt about that."
He looked around the courtroom where the six former officers were sitting at several defense tables, accused by the federal government of conspiring to beat and rob drug dealers.
"And this here makes no sense to me," the lieutenant said.
In the spectator seats after the lieutenant got through testifying, a few female relatives of the defendants were crying.
Before Lt. Otto took the stand today, Sgt. Robert Friel, a former member of the narcotics field unit, told the jury that former Officer Jeffrey Walker loathed Tommy Liciardello.
"He said, 'I hate that mother fucker' numerous times," Friel told the jury about Walker.
Friel said he told Walker that Liciardello gets under people's skins. Friel said he cautioned Walker not to jeopardize his career over the feud with his fellow officer.
But Walker wouldn't listen, Friel told the jury.
Friel said he heard Walker say, "One day I'll get him. He's gonna get hit."
Friel said he talked to Liciardello about the feud as well and concluded, "Tommy didn't like him," meaning Walker, either.
When Lt. Otto took the stand, he dismissed drug dealers' tales about the defendants conducting police raids while allegedly dressed in black and wearing ski masks.
"That's never been done," Otto told the jury. "That's nonsense."
Defense lawyer Jack McMahon asked the lieutenant to explain to the jury his philosophy behind his frequent "integrity checks" upon fellow officers.
Otto said his philosophy boiled down to this. If a cop was gonna go bad and dishonor his profession, "You don't give a fuck about me so I don't give a fuck about you."
"If you did something wrong, I'm gonna turn you in," Lt. Otto said he repeatedly told his men.
He was a "hands-on lieutenant," Otto said. When the cops busted marijuana dealer Jason Kennedy, Otto told the jury how he tried to tackle a fleeing suspect.
"If it was 25 years ago,"Otto said, "I would have caught him."
McMahon asked Otto what he thought of Officer Jeffrey Walker.
"Officer Walker was a satisfactory employee at best," Otto told the jury. "He had problems."
Walker, Otto said, even accused him of misconduct. Otto told the jury how Walker once accused the lieutenant of taking $30,000 of a drug dealer's money.
Otto said he was incredulous and asked Walker if he realized what he was saying.
"That's what my source told me," Otto quoted Walker as saying.
Otto said he told Walker that regarding the incident in question, he found much more money than $30,000. Otto said he told Walker he had turned in $72,000 on a property receipt.
But Walker continued to insist that Otto had done something wrong.
Otto said he brought Walker in to see his captain, and asked Walker to repeat his accusations. Then, the lieutenant told the jury, he offered to go on restricted duty while internal affairs conducted an investigation.
After an objection from the prosecutor, the judge allowed Otto to say that nothing ever came of the alleged incident, and that Otto never had to go on restricted duty.
Regarding the feud between Walker Liciardello, Lt. Otto said he tried unsuccessfully to mediate.
"I thought it was a shame," Otto told the jury. The two officers "had been friends for years."
"I've often had conversations with both officers," Otto said. Walker "just simply detested Officer Liciardello," Otto said.
Court resumes tomorrow at 9 a.m. with the cross-examination of Lt. Otto.
By George Anastasia
It was a primer on police narcotics field work, a street-level view of the war on drugs.
And it was given by an unassuming former milkman who worked the dairy beat in South Philadelphia for 11 years before going to the Police Academy.
For nearly five hours today Michael Spicer, one of six Philadelphia Police Department narcotics officers charged in a federal corruption case, testified in his own defense -- and by extension in defense of his five co-defendants.
Calm and confident, and at time self-effacing, Spicer, 49, walked the federal court jury through a series of incidents that are at the heart of the corruption indictment. Again and again, he denied the allegations, responding to questions from defense attorney Jack McMahon with short and clear answers.
"That's not true . . . That never happened . . . That's a lie," Spicer said, never raising his voice or showing any anger.
Contradicting the testimony of more than a dozen admitted drug dealers and one dirty cop, Spicer said cash and drugs seized during raids were always accounted for, never pocketed. He said police always wore bullet proof vests label POLICE during raids and always announced themselves, sometimes forcefully. And he said he never, ever saw any member of the squad hide his face behind a ski mask during a raid as several prosecution witnesses have contended.
Spicer will be back on the stand when the trial resumes before Judge Eduardo Robreno on Monday. The judge told the jury closing arguments are likely to begin Tuesday, a scenario that would set up jury deliberations sometime later next week, the sixth week of the controversial trial.
Dressed in a suit, white shirt and tie, and wearing black rimmed glasses, Spicer was on the stand from around 10:30 a.m. until court adjourned for the day at 4:30 p.m. It appears he will be the only defense witness who will testify. His appearance came after three days of testimony in which the defense called a parade of police officers and officials. Like Spicer, they have refuted most of the allegations presented by the prosecution witnesses.
Authorities allege that over a six-year period beginning in 2006, the members of the Narcotics Field Unit stole more than $500,000 in drugs, cash and other valuables, planted evidence, lied on arrest reports and falsified other documents to cover their tracks. Supervisors, the prosecution alleges, looked the other way because the unit had a high arrest rate.
Spicer and co-defendant Thomas Liciardello, the lead defendant, were named in most of the criminal acts cited in the indictment. Today McMahon questioned him about 13 of 17 "episodes" detailed in the criminal case. He is expected to testified about the remaining four when he gets back on the stand Monday and then faced a grueling cross-examination by the prosecution which has to be concerned about a defense presentation that has challenged the credibility and honesty of virtually ever government witness.
Whether Spicer will be able to maintain his cool will be one of the things to watch next week. Several defense witnesses have verbally clashed with prosecutors, setting up a potential "who do you trust" dilemma for jurors.
Spicer could emerge as the defense's star witness. Constantly using his hands as he spoke, he was conversational in tone, looking directly at the jury as he offered details and explanations, sometimes with drama, at other times with humor.
Asked how the drug unit approached a location in what he called a "knock and announce" procedure, Spicer banged three times on the witness stand with his open palm, then shouted into the microphone, "POLICE! SEARCH WARRANT!"
On other occasions, he said, the squad would "breach" a locked door using a small, hand-held battering ram. He then described how he had unknowingly used the ram on what turned out to be a hollow wooden door. His momentum, he said, carried him halfway through the door, leaving him stuck in the shattered wooden structure.
He had the jurors smiling and laughing when he joked about the age of the mother of one of the drug dealers nabbed in a raid and again when he said he and other officers played basketball with another target between phone calls the then cooperating dealer made to set up buys in which his suppliers would be arrested.
The dealer, himself a basketball coach, "wasn't very good," Spicer said.
He also recounted how another targeted dealer "begged" not to be jailed and agreed to cooperate not, Spicer said, because he wanted to help police but because he had tickets to a Phillies World Series game that weekend and didn't want to miss it.
Drug buys were part of the field unit strategy, he said, but most could not be made without the use of an informant. Dealers, he said, were cautious about whom they sold to. You couldn't, he said to the jury with a smile, walk up to a street corner dealer and say, "Excuse me sir, I'm a cocaine purchaser. Could you sell me two of your finest bags?"
He also offered a glossary of terms, explaining that "fronting" meant a dealer bought drugs on consignment and paid after selling his product and going back for a new supply. He said "knock and talk" was a technique sometimes used in which an arresting officer would go to a family member of a target, a mother, father, wife, and explain what was going on in an attempt to get them to help convince the target to cooperate.
It wasn't always successfully, he said, seguing into a story about a hearing impaired South Philadelphia drug dealer who "shut off his hearing aid" when his sister began to berate and harangue him as police searched his home.
Asked about the often upside down state of a room or an apartment after a police search, Spicer said there was a method to the madness, but that more often than not the room or apartment was a mess when police finished looking.
"Sometimes it was better," he said of the houses and apartments that, even before the police arrived, could be dirty, smelly and in chaos. "Most times it was worse," he added. But searches were a crucial part of any investigation. Armed with warrants police went in looking for drugs and cash. Over his 12 years in narcotics, he said, he had found drugs in plastic bags stuffed under the cream cheese in cream cheese containers, in tampon boxes, in baby shoes and rolled up and stuffed in the crotch area of thermal underwear.
Spicer's testimony was viewed as an effective presentation of the position of all six defendants in the case. Until the jury comes back with a verdict, there is no way to be certain if that strategy worked.
But as one trial observer quipped at the end of today's session, "If you can't trust your milkman, who can you trust?"
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.
By Ralph Cipriano
On cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen McCartney asked former Officer Michael Spicer about a shocking allegation contained in "Episode #4" of the government's indictment of the rogue cops.
On Nov. 26, 2007, the indictment charged, while hanging out at drug dealer Michael Cascioli's 19th floor apartment on City Line Avenue, Officers Spicer, Linwood Norman, Perry Betts and Jeffrey Walker allegedly took money from the drug dealer's nightstand and "used it to purchase pizza" for four big hungry cops "without [Cascioli's] permission."
"That would have been a staple of our diet," Spicer conceded with a half-smile from the witness stand when asked about the pizza.
Sensing weakness, the prosecutor pressed in for the kill. Who bought the pizza, she wanted to know.
"I don't know," Spicer replied. "I don't know who paid."
It was exchanges like this during the three-hour cross-examination of Spicer, the only one of six defendants to take the stand, that had the defense camp smiling and laughing when it was all over.
Before the cross-examination got started today, Spicer gave the jury an inside look at the feud between former Officer Jeffrey Walker, the prosecution's star witness, and former Officer Thomas Liciardello, the defendant the government says was the criminal mastermind of the rogue cops.
"We actually got along pretty good," Spicer told defense attorney Jack McMahon about his past relationship with Walker.
The problem with Walker was that he was the most senior member of the narcotics field unit,
Spicer said; the guy with the most time on the job.
As the officer with the most experience, Walker felt he should shave been the "driving engine" on the squad, Spicer said.
"Not only was he not the driving engine," Spicer said of Walker, but "he was being pulled along caboose-style" by the other officers. Especially Liciardello, who had the least experience on the unit, Spicer said.
In basketball they call it court vision. On the narcotics squad, Spicer told the jury, Liciardello was the guy who always saw first what everybody else was doing.
There goes that drug suspect we stopped a while back, Liciardello would tell Officer Spicer. Let's go after him. He also had a knack for working informants.
"Tommy gained the most information and did the most jobs," Spicer said admiringly. "He had a talent. He was phenomenal at what he did."
Meanwhile, Jeff Walker was screwing up, Spicer told the jury.
Typically, everybody on the squad "had a piece of the job," Spicer testified about drug busts.
"Jeff screwed up so many things," Spicer said.
Walker became known as the "X-man" on property receipts because he made so many mistakes that he was always crossing out, Spicer said. That left plenty of openings for defense attorneys to probe in court what he really meant to say on those property receipts, Spicer said.
Then Walker shifted to recording drug tests, Spicer recalled. It's a relatively easy job. You dip small amounts of seized drugs in chemicals and record the colors that they turn.
Walker was getting the color sequence wrong, Spicer said. That resulted in several "nasty-grams" from the police lab, Spicer told the jury.
Walker also screwed up the summary sheets on drug busts, Spicer said. That pissed off the squad's meticulous sergeant, Joe McCloskey, Spicer said. The summary sheets would be kicked back three times a night for corrections.
In summation, McMahon asked Spicer if he ever planted drugs on suspects.
"Never," Spicer said.
Did you ever beat anybody up, McMahon asked.
"No, I never beat anybody," Spicer said.
Did you ever rob anybody?
"I never stole money in my entire career," Spicer said.
Are you proud of your work as a police officer, McMahon asked.
"I was," Spicer said, with a shrug.
Until this indictment came along.
"I lived for that job," Spicer said.
On cross-examination, the prosecutors had to know that Spicer was going to be a tough witness. The affable and easy-going former milkman was a veteran cop used to testifying in court. He doesn't rattle, he doesn't get agitated. He's quick to smile and insufferably polite.
"Yes ma'am," he kept saying.
Today, during the three-hour cross it was prosecutor McCartney who was raising her voice, cutting off Spicer's answers and looking agitated when the defense objected, and the judge repeatedly allowed Spicer to finish his often lengthy answers to the jury.
For Spicer, it seemed like a walk in the park.
The defendant has something else going for him. On much of the heavy-handed stuff that the rogue cops are accused of, it wasn't usually Spicer who got fingered as the heavy. Or he wasn't on the scene when much of the alleged police misconduct went down.
So the former milkman was a fabulous poster boy for the defense.
After Spicer charmed the jury last week, and got rave reviews from many corners, the prosecution could have just asked him a series of questions that he didn't know the answer to and get him off the witness stand as quickly as possible.
So you didn't see your fellow officers dangling that drug dealer off the balcony?
You didn't see your fellow officers threatening another drug dealer's wife and daughter?
You didn't see your fellow officers stealing drugs and money?
You didn't see much, did ya?
But instead, perhaps sensing they were way behind, prosecutor McCartney spent three relatively fruitless hours probing Spicer, looking to trip him up. The result was, McCartney didn't land any real punches. But she did give Spicer more time to ingratiate himself with the jury.
McCartney began by asking Spicer about Officer Walker.
Was Spicer one of the cops who used to make fun of Officer Walker after he had gastric bypass surgery, McCartney asked.
Walker didn't tell us he was going in for gastric bypass surgery, Spicer countered. He told us he was going to have his nose operated on to cure sleep apnea.
Spicer admitted that the other cops on the squad did rib Walker.
"You got your nose operated on and you lost 30 pounds," was the kind of joke the cops cracked on Walker, Spicer said.
McCartney asked about some crueler remarks. But once again, Officer Spicer didn't hear anything nasty.
"I didn't hear 'zipper mouth' and 'staple stomach,'" Spicer told the prosecutor.
Walker does "snore like a bear," Spicer said. That's why he and the squad initially bought the sleep apnea story.
Did Spicer see a Spanish-speaking drug dealer being abused by one of his fellow officers?
"I didn't stand over the top of somebody who was reaching into somebody else's crotch," Spicer explained.
McCartney asked why a search warrant that Spicer wrote out said that a Spanish-speaking officer had translated for the Spanish-speaking drug dealer. Especially after the Spanish-speaking officer was called as a government witness and said in court that he didn't do any such translation.
"I'm still scratching my head a little bit," Spicer said about the denial by the Spanish-speaking officer. "I don't know if we misconveyed what we were asking him, or if we misunderstood," Spicer said.
"But I'm not going to call him a liar."
Then there was the plumber that Officer Liciardello allegedly threatened after he busted the guy for possessing meth.
Liciardello, McCartney said, allegedly threatened to arrest the plumber's wife and daughter if he didn't cooperate and give up his supplier. And if the wife and daughter got arrested, McCartney said, Liciardello allegedly told the plumber the wife and daughter would go to jail, and bad things would happen to them.
Spicer, of course, remembered the conversation differently.
Liciardello was trying get the plumber to cooperate.
And "If he didn't step up to the plate," Spicer said, "his wife and daughter were going to prison."
The plumber didn't step up to the plate, and his wife and daughter did go to prison, Spicer said. But he didn't hear any threats.
Did your see your fellow officers steal anything from another drug dealer's house, McCartney asked.
"I didn't pat anybody down or search them when we left," Spicer replied.
McCartney asked about a marijuana dealer that the squad was using as a cooperator.
On his second bust, the cops caught the dealer with nearly a pound of marijuana. Yet he wasn't charged with anything.
Why wasn't he charged, the prosecutor wanted to know.
"That's above the pay grade of a police officer," Spicer replied. It's the district attorney who decides who gets charged with what.
The police report said the investigation on the marijuana dealer was closed "due to a lack of action," McCartney said. Why was that investigation closed, McCartney asked Officer Spicer.
The witness smiled at the prosecutor.
Please don't think I'm being "fresh or smart," he said. But the reason the investigation was closed was "due to a lack of action." Spicer said.
After McCartney got through, to prove how successful Spicer had been, a smiling defense attorney McMahon stood up and told the judge he didn't have a single question to ask on redirect.
After three hours of cross-examination.
The defense rests, McMahon said.
The prosecution had no rebuttal witnesses.
The jury was on a break when Judge Eduardo C. Robreno called the other five defendants to the front of the court to ask about their decision not to testify.
Were the defendants aware that they had a constitutional right to not testify, and that it wouldn't be held against them? Were they aware that they also could choose to testify, but that their testimony would then be evaluated by the jury as they would evaluate the testimony of any other witness?
In view of the circumstances, did the witnesses choose to testify or decline to testify, the judge asked.
"Decline, sir," Liciardello said.
"I decline to testify, Your Honor," Brian Reynolds said.
"I decline to testify," Betts said.
"I decline, sir," Norman said.
"I decline, Your Honor," John Speiser said.
When court resumes at 9 a.m. tomorrow, it will be time for closing statements.
This could go on for a while.
The prosecution plans to use two hours for their closing statement. The six defense lawyers are allotted up 10 hours for their closings.
Then the government gets a one-hour rebuttal.
Some of us have already heard enough of this case. What we really need is an explanation for why it was brought to trial.
By George Anastasia
Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino was sprung from jail last month after a appellate court panel vacated a U.S. District Court order sentencing him to four months in prison for violating the terms of his supervised release.
This morning the panel issued a detailed report explaining its findings. Merlino's release, on April 24, came with only 10 days remaining on his four-month sentence.
"They owe me four months," Merlino quipped during a phone interview this afternoon, adding, "I hope they just leave me alone. I'm not doing anything wrong."
Last month, when the appellate court announced it was vacating the lower court order that sent Merlino back to jail, his lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr. declared that "my client has served a four-month sentence for doing absolutely nothing wrong."
But that's not exactly the legal takeaway from the split decision of the appellate court that was made public today.
Merlino, who is back in Boca Raton where he is the front man for a posh Italian restaurant named -- what else? - MERLINO'S, won on a technicality.
The appellate court never took up the broader defense argument that there was not sufficient evidence to support the allegation that Merlino had knowingly consorted with fellow South Philadelphia mobster John Ciancaglini in a Boca Raton cigar bar while on supervised release.
Instead, in a split 2-to-1 decision, the appellate judges found that Merlino had not been served a summons prior to the expiration of his three-year probation period and as a result, the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia no longer had jurisdiction.
Timing is everything. And in this case, the feds dropped the ball.
The irony is that they had plenty of time to meet the deadline, but opted instead to wait until the last minute to cite Merlino, a strategy that has been employed in other cases in the past and one that defense attorneys and defendants deem petty and personal.
"They wanted to stick it up my ass," Merlino said of the decision to file a probation violation charge literally at the 11th hour.
Merlino was convicted of racketeering in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia in July 2001 and subsequently sentenced to 14 years in jail. The conviction was built on gambling and extortion charges and also the receipt of stolen property. Among other things, Merlino was convicted of dealing in tractor-trailer loads of goods taken from terminals along the Delaware River.
He and his co-defendants beat several murder and attempted murder charges at that trial. Merlino was also found not guilty of drug dealing. Still, 14 years was a steep price to pay for what Jacobs called a major victory over the feds at the time.
Merlino was also found not guilty of another federal murder charge in a trial in Newark after the Philadelphia case. There are those in the underworld and in the defense bar who believe the feds are still bristling over the fact that Merlino, in their minds at least, has gotten away with murder.
That might explain the timing of the parole violation charge that subsequently blew up in their faces.
Merlino, 52, relocated to Florida after he was released from prison and started his three-year supervised release sentence on Sept. 7, 2011. He has told anyone and everyone that he has no intention of returning to South Philadelphia and that his past life in the underworld is, just that, in the past.
In June, according to court documents, Merlino was spotted at a restaurant and a cigar bar in Boca Raton in the presence of convicted felons, a violation of the terms of his supervised released. But it wasn't until August 26 that an order was presented in U.S. District Court by his parole officer asking that his probation be revoked.
At that point, Merlino had just 11 days remaining on his parole period. It was, figuratively, a move to slam the jail door shut just as he was about to leave. On Sept. 2, his lawyer, Jacobs, was notified by phone that the revocation petition had been filed. The notification was made by the judge's clerk.
But an official notice and summons was not issued until Sept. 16, ten days AFTER Merlino's three-year probationary period had ended. Because the feds waited until the last minute, the gate was already closed. That was the essence of the appellate court ruling made public this week.
Third Circuit Appellate Court Justices Thomas L. Ambro and Thomas I. Vanaskie, in the majority opinion, ruled that the Sept. 2 notice was not the same as the issuance of a summons. In legal terms, to "issue," the judges said, means "to put forth officially."
The summons on Sept. 16 was too late, they ruled.
Justice Patty Shwartz, in a dissent, agreed with the prosecution argument that the telephonic notice and Jacobs subsequent request for a delay in a hearing for scheduling reasons was "functionally equivalent to and served the purpose of a summons."
Merlino said again today that he met Ciancaglini by chance that night in Havana Nights, a popular cigar bar, and that all he did was say hello. He said had he thought it would have jeopardized his release from probation, he would have reported the encounter.
"I was in a cigar bar, yeah," he said. "I saw Johnny. I said, `How ya doin'?' Then I walked away. Come on. What the fuck? That's associating?"
Merlino is now back in Florida, although he may be heading north to spend some time at the Jersey Shore this summer.
"Sure, I'll visit," he said of possible returns to the Philadelphia area. "Hello. Goodbye."
But there is no way, he said, that he would consider coming back permanently. He is happy to have all of this behind him and is no longer on supervised release, meaning he can go wherever he wants and can associate with whomever he likes. Most of that he intends to do in the Sunshine state.
Jacobs said in a statement released last month that enough is enough.
"Maybe now federal law enforcement will stop following him to cigar bars and restaurants and spend that same time investigating terrorist organizations," the lawyer said.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.
By Ralph Cipriano
Should the jury at the rogue cops trial believe stories of alleged police misconduct as told by a bunch of drug dealers?
Yes, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen McCartney, because the tales the drug dealers told are "shockingly similar" to the stories told years later by former Officer Jeffrey Walker, after he got caught red-handed in an FBI sting operation.
No, said defense lawyer Jack McMahon, because the drug dealers are a bunch of lying criminals with no corroborating evidence to back up their ridiculous stories. As for Jeffrey Walker, McMahon said, he's a liar and a thief who would "do anything to save himself."
The doors in Courtroom 15A were locked throughout the day today as lawyers on both sides of the case gave their closing arguments before Judge Eduardo C. Robreno.
McCartney was content with attacking the defendants in the case, six former members of the narcotics field unit accused of conspiring to beat and rob the drug dealers they busted, and covering up their tracks with phony police reports.
McMahon, however, spent as much time attacking the government as he did the dirty cop and the drug dealers.
"What the government has done in this case should be shocking to all of us," McMahon told the jury. The feds have displayed "extraordinary gullibility" while embracing a disreputable cast of characters, McMahon charged. "They [the feds] have failed at every level to investigate and corroborate."
McCartney went first with the prosecution's closing argument. She told the jury that the defendants in the case thought their crimes would never "see the light of day" because they wore badges. They thought they were above the law, she said.
You should believe the stories told by the drug dealers, the prosecutor said. Because Jeffrey Walker told the same stories to the FBI.
She talked about how the cops grabbed drug dealer Michael Cascioli back in 2007 and "leaned him over that balcony" 19 floors up.
"Why would Mr. Cascioli make that up," McCartney asked. She reminded the jury that Cascioli's lawyer remembered his client making that allegation when he was arrested years earlier, even though the files in the case were long gone. You don't forget a story like that, the prosecutor quoted the lawyer as saying.
"It did happen to Mr. Cascioli," McCartney insisted. Officer Thomas Liciardello, the prosecutor said, told Officers Linwood Norman and Jeffrey Walker "what they had to do" to get Cascioli to surrender the code on his palm pilot.
Officer Liciardello got his way, she said, and the information on the palm pilot led to the arrest of more drug dealers.
McCartney went through other stories told by the drug dealers.
Orlando Ramirez got busted in Upper Darby with four kilos of cocaine that he had stashed in a black bag on the floor of his Chevy Blazer. Then, two plainclothes cops pulled up and busted him: Linwood Norman and Jeffey Walker.
Ramirez, however, was charged with only possessing one kilo of cocaine.
Norman filled out a police report that said the bust happened in Philadelphia, and that only one kilo was recovered. Norman's nephew, Rubin Tidwell, sold the rest of the coke for at least $32,000, the prosecutor said. The nephew subsequently gave the officers their cut: $17,000, she charged.
It was a "win-win" for everyone involved, the prosecutor said. Even the drug dealer was happy because he was only charged with possession of one kilo of cocaine instead of four.
She talked about how marijuana dealer Jason Kennedy allegedly got "punched in the face" by Officer Michael Spicer. And how marijuana dealer Victor Rosario had his Rolex watch allegedly stolen by Officer Brian Reynolds.
"Mr. Reynolds liked Rolex watches," the prosecutor said.
McCartney brought up text messages sent in 2011 by Liciardello to Walker, and recovered by the government.
Liciardello, she said, called Walker a rat and "Sir Snitch A Lot."
"You went up there and talked about stuff," the prosecutor quoted Liciardello's text to Walker. "You didn't tell me" you were going to do it.
"You are dead to everyone on this squad," Liciardello texted Walker.
McCartney talked about the real meaning of those text messages.
"That's what a conspiracy is," McCartney said. "He doesn't call him a liar," she said about Liciardello's angry texts to Walker. "He calls him a snitch."
"That's as close to an admission as Mr. Liciardello is going to get," she said.
Cops, she said, "take an oath" to uphold the law. "We give them a lot of power," she said. They are supposed to "use it responsibly."
Consider the evidence against the defendants, she said, and "find them guilty."
Defense lawyer Jack McMahon told the jury about two words they didn't hear during the prosecutor's closing argument: "reasonable doubt." There's all kinds of reasonable doubt in this case, McMahon said.
The defense lawyer claimed the government went on a crusade to prove a bad story line fed to them by Walker and the drug dealers.
The government, McMahon said, was only interested in "their version of the truth." That's why they didn't interview about a dozen fellow officers and superior officers who were witnesses to the incidents at issue in the case.
McMahon reminded the jury about what FBI Agent John Hess said when McMahon asked the agent why he didn't interview a police lieutenant who witnessed several incidents.
"I didn't think he would tell me the truth," McMahon quoted the agent as saying.
In this case, it's the jury that will determine the truth, McMahon said, hovering above the prosecution table.
"Not you Agent Hess," McMahon shouted at the agent.
McMahon talked about how the government had charged his client, Brian Reynolds, with participating in three alleged episodes of police misconduct. Then the government found out that Reynolds was either on vacation in Florida, or not at work on the dates of three episodes.
The feds, McMahon said, had indicted Officer Reynolds for allegedly participating in three events when "he wasn't even there."
"That tells you everything you need to know about this case," McMahon said.
McMahon disparaged other witnesses in the case.
"You turn over enough rocks you'll find some bugs," he said. But the government, he said, had "an obligation to verify when you start with suspect people."
Instead, the government relied on the words of "15 bags of trash," McMahon said, talking about the drug dealers who testified on behalf of the government.
The biggest pile of trash, McMahon said, was the "one on top," Jeffrey Walker.
McMahon ran down for the jury the list of witnesses the government didn't call in the case.
Such as Javier Blanco, the drug dealer who claimed he was held hostage at a hotel by the defendants, after they supposedly terrorized his family.
"Blanco, where's his wife" to back up his story, McMahon said.
Drug dealer Michael Procopio said the cops stole $18,000 that he received as wedding cash.
"You hear from his wife," McMahon asked.
How about Victor Rosario, the marijuana dealer who claimed the cops stole his Rolex watch and a cache of jewelry he supposedly bought from Tiffany as presents for his girlfriend.
Did we ever hear from the girlfriend, McMahon asked.
McMahon talked about other holes in the case.
Jeffrey Walker claimed he carried a drug dealer's safe stuffed with cash down 17 flights of stairs. The cops stole the money and Walker supposedly threw the safe in the river.
A team of divers spent three days looking for that safe, McMahon told the jury. Did the divers ever find it?
McMahon talked about "these ridiculous stories" where the defendants in separate incidents allegedly dangled two drug dealers over high-rise balconies.
Why would drug dealer Michael Cascioli lie about being dangled over a balcony by the cops, McMahon asked, picking up on McCartney's argument.
That's a good question, McMahon said. How about "self-protection?" McMahon said that drug dealer Cascioli had to explain to his supplier why he gave him up to the cops.
McMahon mocked marijuana dealer Jason Kennedy as "a poster boy for why you shouldn't do drugs." He ripped another government witness, former state trooper Kenneth Williams, as a "scammer living in a pig sty."
Williams's rundown row house had "buckets of feces and urine" in it, McMahon said, and yet, Williams claimed he had $14,000 hanging around in a pair of pants. Money that the cops allegedly stole, yet Williams had no proof that ten years earlier, as he said, he had received the money in a worker's compensation claim.
Another government witness, Percocet dealer Leonard Sammons, reeked of Grey Goose when he came in to testify on behalf of the government, McMahon said. And did you know that after he got busted by the cops, Sammons filed a civil suit against the city, McMahon told the jury.
"You deal drugs, you get caught, you sue for anxiety," McMahon said incredulously.
McMahon ripped former Police Officer Jeffrey Walker as somebody who lies, cheats and steals, and "would do anything to save himself."
McMahon quoted what Walker told him on the witness stand about "truth is an evolving process."
The truth is the truth, McMahon said. It doesn't evolve; it never changes.
"The government made a deal with this liar," McMahon said. "He has a free pass to say anything."
McMahon reminded the jury how Walker testified that he planted drugs on innocent people in at least 20 cases.
The government's audacity in using a witness like that "ought to trouble each and every one of you," McMahon told the jury. "Twenty innocent people got convicted just like that. What more needs to be said?"
McMahon called Tommy Liciardello's text messages to Jeffrey Walker a "red herring."
Those text messages were made well before the current federal investigation, McMahon said. Licardello was talking about an internal police investigation, not this investigation.
He talked about Officer Walker getting "so drunk he lost his gun." And who did he blame, McMahon reminded jurors.
Walker blamed Tommy Liciardello for allegedly playing a practical joke on him by stealing the gun. And then Walker's fellow officers found the gun underneath the seat in Walker's patrol car, the defense lawyer said.
McMahon reminded jurors that while the government relied on a dirty cop and a bunch of drug dealers as witnesses, the defense called upon the likes of Chief Inspector Werner, Lt. Otto, Lt. Jackson, and Sgt. McCloskey, most of whom were sitting in the second row of the courtroom.
This case boils down to the "tale of two stings," McMahon concluded.
Back in May 2013, the FBI caught Jeffrey Walker red-handed in a sting operation when he walked out the door of a drug dealer's house with $15,000 in his hands and five pounds of marijuana.
On April 10, 2012, the feds tried to pull a sting on the defendants. They used as bait FBI agent posing as a drug dealer who was driving around with $8,500 worth of cash in his car.
The feds expected the cops to steal the drug dealer's cash. And what was the result?
"Every single dollar was put on property receipts," McMahon said.
"Is this not reasonable doubt," McMahon said. "These are honest cops. That tells it all."
Closing statements from five remaining defense lawyers, plus an hour-long rebuttal from the government, begin at 9 a.m. sharp tomorrow in Courtroom 15A at the federal courthouse, 7th and Market. Show up early and without your cell phone or you'll be locked out.
By George Anastasia
The government wasn't interested in finding the truth, but merely in making a case.
That was the message delivered again and again today in closing arguments for the defense in the racketeering corruption trial of six Philadelphia Police Department narcotics investigators.
The jury, which is expected to begin deliberations sometime tomorrow, heard a steady stream of defense arguments built around attacking the government's case and the credibility of its witnesses, including more than a dozen admitted drug dealers and one dirty cop.
One defense attorney after another fired verbal shots at the prosecution.
It was, the jury was told, a "flawed" case built on "fables" not facts. Testimony came from "a parade of witnesses that looked like an audition for the Jerry Springer Show." The prosecution was "disingenuous in the extreme" and the six-week trial was an example of "innocent men being accused by guilty men."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek, who had the final word in the government's rebuttal closing late this afternoon, shrugged off the criticism, telling the jury the defense strategy was to "attack and distract" and that despite the emotional claims and high octave rants, the defense still was faced with one hurdle it could not overcome.
How was it possible, Wzorek asked, that Jeffrey Walker, the former narcotics cop turned government witness, told the FBI after his arrest in 2013 virtually the same stories of corruption that drug dealers
had recounted five or six years earlier?
The six defendants, all former members of the Police Department's Narcotics Field Unit, are charged with stealing more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and other valuables from drug dealers they had targeted and then fabricating police reports and arrest records to cover their tracks. The corruption extended from 2006 through 2012, the indictment alleges.
Wzorek said the cops thought they had committed "the perfect crime." Drug dealers, he said, had "a lot of cash and couldn't complain" when money was taken because the money was drug proceeds. What's more, he said, if they complained their credibility would be questioned. In most cases, he said, having cash stolen was considered "the cost of doing business."
The prosecutor dismissed the testimony of nearly a dozen police officers and supervisors who were called as defense witness and who refuted and contradicted the allegations that came from the witness stand when the prosecution was presenting its case.
Wzorek said the "thin blue line" of unchallenged loyalty that is part of the unwritten code of all police officers "became quite wide" when the indictment in the current case was handed down. Wzorek implied, as the prosecution has throughout the trial, that police officials were willing to look the other way because the Narcotics Field Unit had a high arrest rate and made big cases.
The defendants, he said, were not heroes, as the defense had argued, but rather a "disgrace;" police officers who had sworn to uphold the law, but them systematically broke it.
The defense, as it had throughout the trial, hammered away at the prosecution in pointed and often vitriolic closing arguments.
"They didn't want to know the truth," said Jeffrey Miller, the lawyer for lead defendant Thomas Liciardello who emerged from prosecution testimony as an arrogant cowboy cop who trampled on everyone's rights while pocketing cash and falsifying reports.
"The government wants you to convict based on the testimony of a freak show," said Miller after comparing the witnesses to the misfits who appear on the Jerry Springer Show.
charged 30-minute closing argument in which he managed to quote Shakespeare, the poet Walter Scott, the Bible and Yogi Berra.
Binns said the government witnesses "committed perjury with aplomb" and called the six defendants "heroes" who deserved to be thanked for the job they did, rather than prosecuted. He said they were the "peacemakers" referred to in the Bible verse about the eight beatitudes and "they shall be called children of God."
Two female jurors appeared to be dabbing tears while Binns delivered his argument.
Somewhere on the "road to the truth" the government got lost, said Nicholas Pinto, the lawyer for defendant Linwood Norman. Pinto called Walker, the cop-turned-cooperator, a "snake" who couldn't be believed or trusted. Yet, he argued, the government embraced the admitted dirty cop who said he routinely had stolen money and drugs while on duty.
Gregory Pagano, the lawyer for Perry Betts, said the testimony of admitted drug dealers, many of whom planned to sue or had already filed suit against the city, "made a mockery of the justice system."
Those witnesses, he said, "will profit from a guilty verdict in this case."
And Michael Diamondstein, noting that his client John Speiser was seldom even mentioned during the trial, said the fact that Speiser was a defendant said all anyone needed to know about the integrity of the prosecution.
"There is no evidence against John Speiser, absolutely none," said Diamondstein."It's wrong that John Speiser is here." But, he added, the prosecution "was not interested in justice. They just wanted to win."
The war of words finally ended around 3:45 when Wzorek completed his arguments and Judge Eduardo Robreno sent the jury panel home for the night. Robreno will charge the panel -- explain the laws that apply in the case -- when court reconvenes at 9 a.m. tomorrow. The jury will probably begin its deliberations sometime around noon.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.
By George Anastasia
Were they cops who bent the rules or criminals who broke the law?
That's the only question that matters for a federal court jury that began deliberations this afternoon in the corruption trial of six former Philadelphia Police Department narcotics officers.
The jury, primarily middle class suburban residents, got the case shortly after noon following a detailed two-hour explanation of the laws that applied to the case by Judge Eduardo Robreno. The judge's charge capped a six-week trial that included days of conflicting testimony from drug dealers (the prosecution's key witnesses) and law enforcement officials (called by the defense). The jury also got two days of highly charged and often vitriolic closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys.
The six former members of the Police Department's Narcotics Field Unit are charged in a 26-count indictment with stealing more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and other valuables from narcotics dealers they had targeted and with fabricating police reports and arrest records to cover their crimes.
One of the defendants, veteran police officer Michael Spicer, testified for the defense. The other defendants are Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and John Speiser.
Liciardello, the lead defendant, has been described by the prosecution as the officer calling the shots in what the government contends was a rogue unit. The 38-year-old son of a former police captain is the only defendant being held without bail. He has been in jail since the indictment came down back in July.
The prosecution has alleged that the defendants became bandits with badges, trampling on the rights of targeted drug dealers while pocking cash, drugs and jewelry during high profile arrests. The defense has conceded that the defendants were tough and sometimes abrasive as they worked the drug underworld, but the lawyers said again and again that was standard operating procedure. The six Narcotics Field Unit members were part of the front line in the war on drugs, they told the jury.
The jury deliberated for about four hours today. The panel will be back tomorrow at 9 a.m. to take up the case. The jurors began their deliberations by asking for a complete list of exhibits and evidence. Toward the end of the afternoon the panel sent out two notes asking for documents related to the last two counts in the indictment.
Count 26 was the only count that focused specifically on Speiser. In that count he is accused to falsifying a police report. He, like all six defendants, is also named in Count One which is the overarching racketeering charge at the heart of the case.
Count 25 dealt with a false report allegedly filed by Betts.
The questions led to speculation about the jury's deliberation process. Was the panel starting with the least significant defendants? Speiser was hardly mentioned at all by the government's witnesses and Betts' name was also seldom heard. Or was the panel starting from the back of the indictment and working forward, a process that would make a decision on Court One easier?
Speculation about jury deliberations is just that -- speculation. It's like trying to handicap a horse race.
Some of the defense camp have argued that a quick verdict, by tomorrow for example, would bode well for the defense. Other observers have predicted that simply based on the number of defendants and the number of counts, deliberations will spill into next week. The panel will not be held over this weekend because one member has a child graduating from college. But Judge Robreno has indicated that should deliberations continue through next week he will consider having the jurors work on Saturday and Sunday.
"Let's hope it doesn't come to that," said one member of the defense camp who believes the lawyers in the case did a good job deconstructing the government's theory and undermining the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses.
Those in the prosecution camp had little to say, but appeared upbeat as deliberations began.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.
About two dozen spectators, mostly family members and supporters of the defendants, spent the afternoon camped in the hallway outside Courtroom 15A.
Meanwhile, behind closed doors, the jury in the rogue cops case sent two questions to Judge Eduardo C. Robreno that prompted some sparring among the lawyers.
"Hey, hey, hey," the judge yelled at the lawyers, to get them to calm down.
The first jury question on the second day of deliberations asked if all the charges in the case are interrelated, or whether they all stand alone.
The second question involved Episode #17 of the indictment, where Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds and John Speiser allegedly stopped a person identified as "L.S." near 38th St. on Aug. 14, 2010, and confiscated a total of $1,100 in cash.
The indictment charged Liciardello with attempting to "conceal the theft from authorities" by writing a police report that said only $507 had been seized from L.S. "To conceal the theft of the additional $593 from L.S., defendant Liciardello falsely stated in the report that Jeffrey Walker had made an undercover purchase of Endocets from L.S. when Liciardello knew that was not true," the indictment stated.
L.S. would appear to be drug dealer Leonard Sammons. On April 23, Sammons was unsteady on his feet and reeked of alcohol when he strode to the witness stand to testify on behalf of the government.
Sammons told the jury that in August 2010, he drove out to the Hess Gas Station at 34th and Grays Ferry carrying 182 Percocets and $1,100 in cash. At the time he was driving, Sammons told the jury he had also been drinking a half pint of Grey Goose vodka.
That's when he was accosted by the defendants, Sammons testified.
"They told me to get the fuck out of my car," Sammons said.
Licardello, Sammons said, put him in handcuffs. Then, Officer Walker swore out a false statement that claimed he had bought 182 pills from Salmons for $600, Sammons told the jury.
When the jury filed into the courtroom today, the judge told them, "I have your questions."
On the first jury question of whether the charges in the case are interrelated or do they stand alone, the judge referred the jury to three different paragraphs in his written instructions.
The paragraphs, which the judge read out loud, said that the charges in the rogue cops case proceeded from an alleged RICO conspiracy, although in the indictment, individual defendants are also charged with individual offenses.
The number of charges against any one defendant has nothing to do with the relative guilt or innocence of the defendant, the judge said. The judge instructed the jury to consider each charge separately, and he reiterated that every charge had to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Regarding Episode 17 and the charge of attempting to conceal a theft from authorities, the judge said Liciardello would be guilty if the jury found that the officer wrote a false report that said a phony amount of cash had been seized from the drug dealer.
Liciardello would also be guilty of attempting to conceal a theft if the jury found that the officer had falsely stated that Walker made the undercover buy if Liciardello, who never took the stand, knew it wasn't true.
"Either is sufficient," the judge said, if the jury found that Licardello had committed either act "with intent to impede the investigation."
Besides the legal questions, spectators were left to ponder the jury's demeanor.
During closing arguments, some jurors had glanced at family members in the spectator seats. Some jurors at times were also observed dabbing their eyes during emotional closing statements from a half-dozen impassioned defense lawyers.
Today, however, the jury seemed to be all business and kept their eyes riveted on the judge.
The jury sent another note to the judge saying they wanted to go home at 4:30 p.m.
When he dismissed the jury for the weekend, the judge said that deliberations would resume at 9 a.m. Monday.
By Ralph Cipriano
The jury in the rogue cops case spent a third day behind closed doors deliberating the fate of six defendants.
Judge Eduardo C. Robreno received two notes from the jury today.
The first asked to see three trial exhibits: D51, 9J and 9K.
Since the media was not provided with a list of trial exhibits and there is a gag order in the case, it remains a mystery as to what exhibits the jury was asking for.
The second note asked the judge if the jury could leave at 4:30 p.m. It was a request granted by the judge without requiring the jury to file into court seeking to be dismissed. The judge requested that the court clerk remind the jury of his instructions not to discuss the case or view media accounts.
The judge also announced that the lawyers in the case -- two prosecutors and six defense lawyers -- didn't have to continue to stake out the courtroom awaiting a verdict. A clerk was instructed to collect phone numbers. The judge told the lawyers to stay at locations no more than ten minutes away from the courthouse.
Deliberations are scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. tomorrow.
A lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn filed two motions in state Superior Court today, seeking to argue an appeal for a new trial before the same panel of judges that previously overturned Lynn's conviction.
On Dec. 26, 2013, state Superior Court Judges John T. Bender, Christine L. Donohue and John L. Musmanno issued an opinion that reversed Lynn's June 22, 2012, conviction in Common Pleas Court for endangering the welfare of a child.
On April 27, 2015, the state Supreme Court entered an opinion reversing the Superior Court's reversal.
In his motion seeking a new briefing before the Superior Court, Thomas A. Bergstrom, Lynn's lawyer, noted that the state Supreme Court only addressed one narrow issue, namely whether Lynn was considered an "other person supervising the welfare of a child" under the state's original 1972 child endangerment law.
The law states: "A parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age commits an offense if he knowingly endangers the welfare of a child by violating a duty of care, protection or support."
In their opinion, the state Supreme Court ruled that under the law, Lynn was considered an "other person supervising the welfare of a child." The state Superior Court didn't see it that way, ruling that the law didn't apply to Lynn.
In his motion, Bergstrom noted that he had previously raised 10 other issues in the appeal of Lynn's conviction that "remain unresolved."
In the second motion, Bergstrom "respectfully applies to the Court for an order assigning this case for further disposition before" the same panel of judges that previously overturned Lynn's conviction.
Lynn had served 18 months of a 3 to 6 year sentence before the state Superior Court overturned his conviction. He spent the last 16 months under house arrest under terms of release imposed by Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, who presided over Lynn's 2012 trial.
After the state Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court's reversal of Lynn's conviction, Judge Sarmina revoked bail and ordered Lynn back to jail.
When Lynn appeared in Judge Sarmina's courtroom on a motion by the district attorney's office to revoke bail, Lynn's family was noticeably absent from the proceedings.
The monsignor's family subsequently released a statement that says:
We, the family of Msgr. Lynn, chose to forgo the proceedings as we were confident of what the outcome would be, considering that the judge involved has acted as a member of the prosecution team since the inception of the trial. We could also not bear the erroneous ramblings of the prosecutor once more.
We also know that Msgr. is secure in the love and support from family and so many others so our physical presence was unnecessary. Those who know him know what a good, compassionate and unequivocally faithful man he is.
We firmly believe that abuse of a child by any individual should not be tolerated. Sadly this trial was not about justice for victims but about establishing political platforms by charging an underling with the crimes of his former superiors who could not or would not be prosecuted.
Jury deliberations have apparently hit a snag in the corruption trial of six former Philadelphia narcotics officers.
The panel of six women and six men sent a message to Judge Eduardo Robreno late this afternoon indicating there was "an impasse." The note, delivered shortly before 3 p.m. read, "If we are at an impasse on one or more of the counts, what is the direction of the court?"
The jury is weighing the evidence and testimony introduced to support a 24-count indictment. There was no indication on which counts the jury may be stalled. The question would seem to imply that the jury has reached consensus on some of the charges, but there is no way to determine whether they have voted to convict or acquit.
"It's like reading tea leaves," said one member of the defense camp before the judge responded to the jury question.
Family members and friends of the six defendants have sprawled across the 15th floor hallway outside Robreno's courtroom during the deliberation process. The panel got the case late Thursday afternoon after hearing nearly six weeks of testimony and closing arguments. Today marked the third full day of deliberations.
Robreno told the jurors to keep on deliberating.
"Although it might seem like eternity, it's only been three and one-half days," the judge said. "It's a complex case . . . We urge you to continue to deliberate."
He then read a small portion of the charge he had given the jurors before they began deliberations on Thursday, telling them to "keep an on mind and listen to what your fellow jurors have to say," but cautioning them against a rush to judgment simply to end the case.
"Your vote must be exactly that, your vote," he said.
The six members of the Philadelphia Police Department Narcotics Field Unit are charged with stealing more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and other valuables from drug dealers and then falsifying police reports to cover their crimes.
The alleged conspiracy ran from 2006 to 2012.
One former member of the unit, Jeffrey Walker, testified for the prosecution along with a dozen admitted drug dealers, many of whom have filed civil suits against the city for what they alleged were actions that denied them their constitutional rights.
The defense called more than a dozen police officers and police supervisors who refuted the bulk of the prosecution testimony. Many defense witnesses praised the work of the six defendants, calling them heroes and the front line in the war on drugs.
Only one defendant, Michael Spicer, testified but his testimony was seen as a defense for all six of those charged. The other defendants are Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and John Speiser.
The principal charge in the case -- count one -- is a racketeering conspiracy count that encompasses all the alleged criminal acts committed by the defendants. The other charges focus on specific acts involving threats, use of force and the doctoring of evidence and police reports.
Jury deliberations are set to resume tomorrow at 9 a.m. Most observers believe tomorrow will be the day in which the jury overcomes the logjam it is now facing or announces that it is deadlocked. The announcement of a partial verdict on the counts that have already been decided is also possible.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.
By George Anastasia
Not a peep.
Not one question. Not one request for documents. Not a word.
They jury in the corruption trial of six former Philadelphia Police Department narcotics officers completed its fifth day of deliberations this afternoon without offering any sign of where things stand. One day after declaring an impasse on some issues, the panel went from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. without any indication of where they were heading and of whether the impasse was still in place.
"There's just no way to know," said one member of the defense. "We could speculate all day and be totally wrong."
The silence, however, has fostered all kinds of speculation in both the defense and prosecution camps. Lawyers have been keeping vigil along with family members and friends who have spent four full days (the panel began deliberating late last Thursday afternoon) in the 15th floor hallway outside Judge Eduardo Robreno's courtroom.
In dismissing the jury this afternoon, Robreno reminded the panel of six women and six men that should deliberations continue beyond Friday he intended to have them work on Saturday. Several jurors nodded their heads, indicating that they were well aware of that possibility.
Whether that will add impetus to the next two days of deliberation was one of the things being speculated on in the hallway today. More important were questions about what issues had caused the logjam referred to in a jury note late yesterday afternoon.
Is the panel hung up on one charge? One count? One defendant? There's just no way to know.
Supporters of the prosecution case have taken heart in the length of the deliberations. If the jury had bought into the defense argument completely -- that the government's case was built around the testimony of drug dealers and one dirty cop and that none of it was independently corroborated -- then the conventional wisdom is that the panel would have been back with not guilty verdicts all around.
But that speculation does not rule out one or two jurors holding out for some convictions in the face of a strong push by the majority to acquit.
Conversely, there is some speculation that the jury may been splitting on both defendants and issues. The two primary targets for conviction in that scenario are Thomas Liciardello, who has been described as the leader of the rogue unit for six cops by prosecutors, and Linwood Norman, who was fingered in what is considered one of the more serious offenses in the case.
All six defendants are charged with racketeering conspiracy in a case built around the central allegation that over a six-year period beginning in 20006, they stole more than $500,000 in cash, narcotics and other valuables from drug dealers who were being arrested and then covered their crimes by falsifying police reports.
One former member of the unit, Jeffrey Walker, who was arrested in a separate sting operation set up by the FBI and charged with stealing $15,000 from a drug dealer, was a key prosecution witness during the six-week trial. Walker's credibility and motivation were challenged repeatedly by defense attorneys as was the credibility of most of the drug dealers called by the government as witnesses.
To date the questions asked by the jury have focused on three episodes. The most serious, and the one that may be the area of impasse, had to do with the alleged robbery of drug dealer Orlando Ramirez who testified that when he was arrested by Walker and Norman on Sept. 6, 2009, he had four kilos of cocaine.
Walker, confirming details contained in the indictment, testified that he falsified the arrest report and claimed one kilogram of cocaine had been seized. He said he and Norman then arranged to sell the other three kilos and split the profit with Norman's nephew, a drug dealer who arranged the sale.
"It's one thing to be back there (in the jury room) arguing over whether you believe the defendants pocketed a couple hundred dollars," said a defense supporter (in actuality the amounted pocketed over six years was in the tens of thousands of dollars). "But it's another thing to deal with the question of whether Norman put three kilos of cocaine back on the street and made a profit doing it. That's big."
One of the pieces of evidence the jury asked for two days ago were phone records that tended to support Walker's story.
There is great irony in the possibility that Norman has the most of lose in the case. Walker testified at length about how he did not want to implicate Norman, the one member of the Narcotics Field Unit who did not abandon him. Walker testified that Liciardello and the others ostracized him because of personal problems (marital strife, drinking and medical issues) and work habits (Walker was described as lazy and incompetent. He admitted that he once lost his service revolver and at times was drinking on the job or fell asleep while on surveillance).
Norman, he said, once took a bullet for him during a street altercation with drug dealers and Norman, he added, was the only member of the unit who would ride in a car with him after he had fallen out of favor with the others. He and Norman are also the only African-Americans implicated in the case.
His deal with the federal authorities -- a deal that he hopes will result in a lighter sentence than the 20-year term he is potentially facing -- required him to tell all that he knew about the corruption within the unit, Walker told the jury. He admitted that he held a grudge against Liciardello. But Norman, he said, was not someone he wanted to hurt.
The jury will resume wrestling with whatever issues have caused the impasse when deliberations resume at 9 a.m. tomorrow.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.
By George Anastasia
Mobster-turned-government-witness Ron Previte, who was a Philadelphia police officer for 12 years, was digging into a lunch of veal parmigiana and penne pasta in a restaurant near Atlantic City this afternoon when he was informed by bigtrial.net that six former narcotics cops had been found not guilty in their federal corruption trial.
"Beautiful," said Previte. "Good for them."
Previte didn't know any of the six defendants, but he knows about police work and despite his checkered past, he still takes pride in the time he spent on the streets wearing a blue uniform.
"I did some bad things but I was still a good cop," Previte said. "People don't understand. These same people who were calling these guys corrupt, badmouthing police, when they were getting slapped around by their husband or when their drug dealing neighbors were shooting at one another, the first person they called was a cop."
Despite playing fast and loose with the rules, Previte said he and the officers he worked with always answered the call.
"It was an us-against-them kind of thing," the 72-year-old former wiseguy said. "The story with police is this: There's total loyalty to one another."
Previte said there was never that kind of loyalty in the mob and that's why he had no qualms about becoming a government witness and helping make cases against mobsters Joey Merlino and George Borgesi.
"They were trying to guzzle me," Previte said of the scams and backstabbing that were part of every day life in the mob. "So in the end, who got guzzled?"
But during his years working with the Police Department, he said, there was never a time when one cop would turn on another.
"It just didn't happen," he said. "Never once did I see it."
Previte followed the trial of the six members of the Narcotics Field Unit in the media. He had no connection to any of the defendants or to the feds who investigated and prosecuted the case. But he was dumbfounded over the government's decision to build charges around admitted drug dealers. And he was more than surprised to see a former member of the unit -- Jeffrey Walker -- turn on his fellow officers.
"Look, it happens in the mob all the time," he said. "I'm just one example. But there isn't that kind of loyalty anymore in the underworld. Those guys I testified against weren't gangsters. They were thugs. They were trying to rob me. I had no loyalty to them."
But when he wore a police uniform, he said, the sense of camaraderie and loyalty was palpable.
"I felt it every day," he said.
And as he spoke the burly, tough-talking former mobster began to tear up.
"It meant a lot to me," he said. "I'm ecstatic that these guys were found not guilty."
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.
|Perry Betts hugs daughter Samantha Photo: Michael Bryant/The Inquirer|
It was a complete repudiation of the government's racketeering case against six former narcotics officers.
Forty-seven times, the jury foreman today announced a verdict on forty-seven charges contained in twenty-six separate counts. Forty-seven times, the jury foreman said, "Not Guilty."
When the jury foreman sat down, there was a roar of approval from courtroom spectators that could be heard out in the hallway. After a ten-month legal ordeal, all six defendants were getting ready to walk out of the federal courthouse as free men.
The last defendant to leave was former Officer Thomas Liciardello, who has spent the past ten months in solitary confinement while the other defendants were out on bail.
After the verdict, Liciardello and the other defendants literally stopped traffic out on Market Street while supporters, including FOP President John McNesby, pulled over in trucks and SUVs, to honk their horns in solidarity.
"I just want to thank the jury," a pale Liciardello told a media throng as he stood beside his wife, also a police officer. "I just want to get on with my life."
The six members of the narcotics field unit were charged in a 26-count federal indictment with allegedly using their positions to run a criminal enterprise. The rogue cops, the feds said, robbed and beat drug dealers they arrested out of at least $500,000 worth of cash and drugs. The money and drugs were allegedly stolen over a six-year period, between 2006 and 2012. The feds also accused the cops of falsifying police reports to cover their tracks.
It was a case with plenty of rhetorical flourishes endlessly replayed in the media. The rogue cops, the feds said, supposedly dangled a couple of drug dealers by their feet off of high balconies. The rogue cops allegedly used sledgehammers to blow open doors. They allegedly beat one drug dealer, Wayne Layre, with a steel bar in the back of the head and kicked in his his teeth. They allegedly kidnapped another drug dealer and held him hostage, and they allegedly extorted other drug dealers. They allegedly stole Rolex watches, iPods, a Calvin Klein suit, even $6,000 of somebody's flood relief money.
At a press conference the day of the arrests, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey declared, "I have been a police officer for more than 40 years and this is one of the worst cases of corruption that I have ever heard."
"Words just don't describe the degree to which their acts have brought discredit," said Ramsey, who volunteered that he was going to destroy the officers' badges.
"Unfortunately, a very small percentage of police officers continue to toss their oath aside and act like the very criminals they have sworn to bring to justice," said U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger.
"These acts alleged in the indictment go beyond egregious, " FBI Special Agent Edward Hanko said.
Then, after all that chest-pounding, the government had to show its hand, so they released nearly 100,000 pages of documents.
When the defense lawyers got through plowing through all that paperwork, to put it plainly, the government's case was an embarrassment.
The case was so shoddy that the feds indicted Officer Michael Spicer for three alleged crimes on days that he was either not at work, or in Florida on vacation.
At least three drug dealers in the government's original all-star lineup of 19 drug dealer witnesses had to be dropped from the case because they were found to have perjured themselves or were deemed unreliable. One of those drug dealers was Wayne Layre, the guy who claimed the cops beat him with a steel bar and kicked in his teeth. The feds had to drop Layre as a witness after he got busted again as part of a big heroin and meth ring.
In the original 22 "episodes" of alleged police misconduct contained in the indictment, there were 15 Philly cops who were material witnesses -- fellow officers and supervisors --- that the feds didn't bother to interview until three to seven months AFTER the indictment.
The feds had no audio or video evidence to support their claims of misconduct against the cops. They didn't produce one scrap of paper to prove the drug dealers had the cash that the feds claimed was stolen by the cops.
The feds, the defense said, took the drug dealers at their word. Whether it was jewelry allegedly purchased from Tiffany's, or money withdrawn from a bank, or $14,000 from a worker's comp settlement a decade ago, or some $6,000 in flood relief, the feds never produced one bank record or sales receipt to back up any of the drug dealers' claims.
The evidence in the case included audio and video from two sting operations.
In the first sting operation, Officer Jeffrey Walker, the government's star witness, got caught red handed walking out of a drug dealer's house with $15,000 in cash and five pounds of marijuana.
In the other sting operation, an FBI agent posing as a drug dealer drive around with more than $8,600 in cash. The feds were hoping the defendants would help themselves. Instead, they turned over every dollar and reported it on property receipts.
With so many holes in the case, no wonder the jury couldn't find the defendants guilty of one charge.
"Thank God for the jury system," said Jimmy Binns, the lawyer who defended former Officer Spicer, as he walked out of the courtroom.
"I'm gonna take my son home," said Tommy Liciardello's mother, as she hugged other defendants.
Michael Diamonstein, the lawyer who defended Officer John Speiser, said the case should serve as a "stark reminder" to the city's top cop and other public officials who pre-judged the case without knowing anything other than the government's allegations.
Diamonstein and other defense lawyers said that Police Commissioner Ramsey owed the defendants an apology.
"He didn't even know the facts," Jack McMahon, the lawyer who defended Officer Brian Reynolds, said about the police commissioner.
"They didn't investigate," McMahon, a former prosecutor, said about the feds. "They didn't do their job."
"Embarrassing" and "shocking" was how McMahon described the government's investigation in the case.
While the defendants and their lawyers had plenty to say, the two prosecutors in the sorry case, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anthony Wzorek and Maureen McCartney, were nowhere in sight.
McCartney bluntly told this reporter she would have nothing to say. Wzorek promised to come out on Market Street to answer questions.
But after the government's crushing defeat, Wzorek never showed.
Out on Market Street, former Officer Michael Spicer was walking around with a big smile. He was the only one of six defendants to take the stand.
"That was the easy part," Spicer said about his testimony. It's easy to tell your story, he said, "if you're telling the truth."
It wasn't so easy, Spicer said, to watch his family suffer through his long legal ordeal.
Tracey Duckett, the fiancee of Officer Linwood Norman, said the couple was planning to get married last October. Before Norman got arrested at 5 a.m. on July 30 by FBI officers brandishing automatic weapons.
"They put a gun to my lady's head and to my kids' heads," Norman recalled.
Norman's house, Duckett said, is filled with medals, commendations and trophies for bravery and outstanding police work.
One of those awards is for saving the life of a fellow officer -- Jeffrey Walker.
It's still sitting there on the mantle.
They put the cuffs on me, Norman said of the feds, as he was leaving the courthouse.
Now that the case is over, he said, maybe somebody should put the cuffs on them.
Ralph Cipriano can be reached at email@example.com.
When there's a catastrophe like a train derailment, guys like Steven M. Schorr get paid to reconstruct what happened.
Schorr, a licensed professional engineer from Abington, is the guy who goes to an accident scene packing a high-definition laser scanner to map all the debris.
It doesn't matter whether engineers like Schorr are investigating a plane crash, a multi-vehicle car accident, or a train derailment, the methodology is the same.
"The reconstruction of a collision is an application of the laws of physics to the physical evidence left as result of a collision," Schorr said.
To that end, the job of the National Transportation Safety Board is to not make any judgments right away, Schorr said, but rather to "collect the physical evidence." That's why NTSB member Robert Sumwalt recently bopped Mayor Nutter for his declaration that the "idiot" engineer of the Amtrak train was at fault because he was allegedly doing 106 mph on a curve with a speed limit of 50.
"You're not going to hear the NTSB making comments like that," Sumwalt said right after Nutter's announcement. "We want to get the facts before we start making judgments."
And right now, the NTSB is collecting evidence.
They want to map "where everything ends up," Schorr said. "The points of rest of the train pieces, the location of the debris path." The spots along the accent route where occupants were ejected, as well as all the damage done to the train. All that physical evidence can sometimes be used to make a 3D animation to recreate the accident, Schorr said.
"Once you figure out how the accident happened, you can then attempt to figure out why it happened," Schorr said.
Besides analyzing the data, the NTSB has to analyze the train's so called "black box" to make sure the data collected was recorded properly.
There are three factors in any railroad collision, Schorr said. There's the driver and whether his input or lack of input was a factor in the collision. There's the train and whether it had any mechanical issues that contributed to the event. And there is the layout and the condition of the railroad tracks and surrounding environment.
While the NTSB is still conducting its investigation, "Nobody should be jumping to conclusions," Schorr said. "Even if it quacks like a duck and has feathers like a duck, you've got to do your analysis and make sure it's a duck."
One thing that is different about analyzing a train accident vs. an auto accident, Schorr said, is that "trains take a significantly longer period of time to decelerate."
We're talking steel wheels on steel tracks as compared to rubber tires on an asphalt roadway, Schorr said. A truck can take 150 feet to stop at a particular speed. A train can take 750 feet to stop at that same speed.
Schorr's tool of the trade is a high-definition laser scanner that allows him to "collect data in three dimensions," he said. The scanner produces a "3D model of whatever it scans," Schorr said. The price of a high-definition laser scanner can run from $65,000 for a hand-held terrestrial [land-based] machine up to $1 million for a mobile high-definition laser scanner that can be mounted to a car.
Schorr gets hired to reconstruct accidents by government agencies, plaintiffs and defendants. But sometimes he gets hired before any catastrophe takes place. For example, in 2013, the National Parks Service retained CyArk [a nonprofit historical preservation group based in California] and Schorr's firm, DJS Associates of Abington, to create a 3D model of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
If there are any future problems at either monument that require reconstruction, Schorr said, the Parks Service will have a three-dimensional blueprint of the interior and exterior of both monuments.
While Mayor Nutter has already pronounced the Amtrak engineer guilty, people wonder whether the Amtrak engineer will face criminal charges.
First, the NTSB has to complete its investigation and release its findings before a prosecutor can seek an indictment.
"However, just as we see in vehicular manslaughter/homicide cases, in order for the engineer to be prosecuted, there must be a high degree of recklessness in his driving such as excessive speed," said Heidi Villari, a lawyer at The Beasley Firm who specializes in catastrophic injury cases. Criminal charges may be filed "particularly if drugs or alcohol are found to be in the engineer's system," she said.
In Pennsylvania, a person is "guilty of involuntary manslaughter when as a direct result of the doing of an unlawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, or the doing of a lawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, he causes the death of another person."
Involuntary manslaughter is a misdemeanor of the first-degree punishable by a mandatory sentence of five years in jail and/or a $10,000 fine. A second-degree manslaughter charge results when the victim is udder 12 years of age and is "in the care, custody or control of the person who caused the death."
Second-degree involuntary manslaughter is punishable by a mandatory sentence of two years in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.
When the Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia Tuesday night, killing eight and sending 150 to the hospital, the train jumped the Northeast Corridor tracks and skidded about 100 yards before crashing into Conrail's Frankford Junction Yard.
The Frankford yard is frequented by tank cars that carry crude oil, ethanol and other explosive liquids, prompting media speculation that the accident could have been far worse. However, there's been a standing order in that freight yard for at least 10 years to not have any freight cars with hazardous cargo parked on the tracks adjacent to the Northeast Corridor tracks, said a railroad source familiar with the area.
"It's the best maintained railroad track in the country," said the source, who claimed the derailment was not a problem with infrastructure being maintained improperly. The tracks are inspected daily and maintained to the "highest possible federal standards," the source said.
An NTSB spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.