FOP takes swipe at Daily News' bad-cop stories

FOP President John J. McNesby, at news conference at which he ridiculed Daily News stories and reporters.
FOP President John J. McNesby, at news conference at which he ridiculed Daily News stories and reporters.
Posted: February 26, 2009

The Fraternal Order of Police and Officer Jeffrey Cujdik's lawyer joined forces yesterday to attack Daily News stories that raised questions about Cujdik's relationship with a paid police informant.

"It's a shame we have to stand here today to defend a highly decorated police officer in the Narcotics Field Unit, an officer who confiscates a ton of drugs, a ton of guns and is out there doing what a lot of other citizens in the city of Philadelphia do not want to do," FOP President John J. McNesby said.

Flanked by more than a dozen officers at a news conference inside FOP headquarters, on Spring Garden Street near Broad, McNesby said that the FOP would defend Cujdik "to the wall."

The Daily News series, "Tainted Justice," sparked a joint federal and local investigation into allegations that Cujdik sometimes instructed his longtime informant, Ventura Martinez, to lie about drug buys so that Cujdik could get search warrants for targeted homes.

Cujdik, 34, a 12-year veteran, was placed on desk duty and his police-issued gun was taken.

His attorney, George Bochetto, said that the facts will exonerate Cujdik. He blamed the Daily News for destroying Cujdik's reputation and jeopardizing hundreds of criminal cases by publishing "sizzling, scandalous type of stories" designed to sell newspapers.

At times the attack seemed personal: "You have to remember, you're dealing with a confidential informant here. A confidential informant in the city of Philadelphia is one step above a Daily News reporter," McNesby said, prompting cops to applaud and laugh.

Bochetto said that he had planned to file a libel lawsuit against the newspaper, but Sunday's bankruptcy filing by Philadelphia Newspapers LLC has made him question whether bringing suit would be worthwhile. Philadelphia Newspapers LLC is the parent company of the Daily News and Inquirer.

Daily News Editor Michael Days said, "The stories are accurate and we will defend the reports and our reporters."

Martinez began working with Cujdik to take down drug dealers after Cujdik busted him for selling marijuana in 2003. The Police Department paid Martinez to make drug buys and for tips leading to drug and gun seizures.

In an exclusive interview with the Daily News in December, Martinez alleged that he had paid at least $20,000 in informant cash to Cujdik for rent on a Kensington house that Cujdik owned. Martinez and his family lived in the home from September 2005 to Jan. 30 this year, documents and court testimony show.

Bochetto yesterday distributed a textbook-thick binder that detailed Martinez's criminal record and commendations for Cujdik. The report was prepared by Russell Kolins, a private investigator hired by Bochetto.

Bochetto argued that Martinez didn't live in Cujdik's house, although he visited on occasion. In fact, Martinez lived with "his common-law wife," Susette I. Piniero, on North Philip Street, Bochetto said.

Reached yesterday, Piniero said she and Martinez haven't lived together since at least 2004, when they split up. About two years ago, Piniero said, she went to the house that Martinez rented from Cujdik to pick up money for a daughter whom she and Martinez share. Cujdik was there, she said.

"Jeff was there fixing something in the basement," Piniero said.

The report compiled by the private investigator notes that Martinez last renewed his driver's license in June 2007 and listed his address as "Philip Street."

Yesterday, Martinez explained that Cujdik repeatedly told him not to use his real address. " 'I don't want it to come back to me,' " Martinez said that Cujdik had told him.

During the news conference, Bochetto ripped into Martinez, calling him a liar and a criminal.

Yet, Cujdik and other officers relied on Martinez to help police obtain hundreds of search warrants. In search-warrant applications, Cujdik and other officers credited Martinez with providing "reliable information" that led to at least 200 arrests.

Bochetto said that Cujdik and at least one other officer kept Martinez under "constant surveillance" when he made drug buys. Bochetto said that there were many "checks and balances in the system."

"A lone officer who wanted to make this stuff up . . . couldn't do it even if he wanted to," Bochetto said.

Several search warrants examined by the Daily News, however, mentioned only Cujdik and Martinez, known as confidential informant #103. Martinez has said that he often worked alone with Cujdik.

During the news conference, Bochetto said that he had warned Daily News reporters that printing Cujdik's name would put the officer and his family in potential danger, and said that the reporters replied, "That's not our concern."

Bochetto made the same assertion in a Feb. 3 letter to the Daily News. The Daily News corrected Bochetto in a Feb. 5 letter. "We never said such a statement or anything close to it," the reporters wrote. *

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