Why are 4 narcs under probe still getting OT?

Posted: August 03, 2009

THE CITY IS still paying thousands of dollars in court-related overtime to four narcotics officers taken off the street after being accused of fabricating evidence and other crimes.

The officers are being paid to go to court for cases that are delayed or withdrawn. They show up at the Criminal Justice Center and do nothing.

Officers Jeffrey and Richard Cujdik, Robert McDonnell Jr. and Thomas Tolstoy, in addition to their $58,000-a-year salaries, have collectively earned more than $15,500 in overtime since being taken off the street, city payroll records show.

The city District Attorney's Office continues to subpoena the officers to appear in court, even though prosecutors routinely ask judges to postpone or drop the cases.

Jeffrey Cujdik, 34, was placed on desk duty in February. His 35-year-old brother, Richard, and McDonnell, 38, were taken off the street in April, and Tolstoy, 35, followed in May.

Defense lawyers say that the overtime payments are a waste of taxpayer money and city resources at a time when the city is trying to curb court-related overtime, which totaled almost $25 million in fiscal year 2008.

"In a city scrambling for money, in an economic crisis, why [is the D.A.'s office] saying, 'Let's subpoena witnesses to come to court' for cases they know are not going to go on?" questioned defense lawyer Guy R. Sciolla, a former assistant district attorney. "It's flat-out wrong to be spending money like that."

Scores of drug cases are in legal limbo pending the outcome of a joint FBI and police Internal Affairs investigation into allegations that the officers fabricated evidence to make drug arrests and then lied under oath in court.

Authorities launched the probe after a Daily News article Feb. 9 in which Cujdik's longtime informant, Ventura Martinez, alleged that Cujdik had instructed him to lie about some drug buys so that officers could obtain search warrants to enter homes of suspected drug dealers.

The investigation expanded in March after the Daily News reported allegations that Cujdik and fellow squad members cut wires to video-surveillance cameras during raids of corner grocery stores selling tiny ziplock bags, which police consider drug paraphernalia. After the cameras went dark, thousands of dollars in cash and merchandise went missing, store owners alleged.

In June, the Daily News described claims of three women who said that they had been sexually violated by Tolstoy during drug raids in their homes.

No officer has been charged with a crime. The officers, all members of the elite Narcotics Field Unit and veterans of the Police Department for 10 years or more, have declined to comment. Jeffrey Cujdik's attorney has maintained that his client did nothing wrong.

As the FBI-led investigation enters its sixth month, the District Attorney's Office is trying to keep afloat criminal cases stemming from arrests made by the officers.

"We want to maintain the status quo," said Deputy District Attorney John Delaney, who heads the trial division.

"We can't behave as if the allegations [against the officers] don't exist. And we can't behave like the allegations are automatically true just because they were made," Delaney said.

The District Attorney's Office continues to subpoena the four officers to appear in court just in case a judge denies the prosecutor's request for a continuance, he said.

"The District Attorney has to be prepared," Delaney said. "We can't try the case if the officer isn't there."

Yet prosecutors and defense lawyers interviewed by the Daily News could not name a single case that has gone forward since the officers were taken off the street. In fact, prosecutors have chosen to withdraw charges in cases where defense lawyers balked at postponements and judges agreed that a delay would be unfair to the defendant.

"The bottom line is, the D.A.'s office can't call them as witnesses because of the cloud they're under," Sciolla said.

"It defies logic," defense lawyer Jeremy Ibrahim said. "It's almost like a shell game. On one hand, the city can't proceed with the cases, but is paying these officers to come to court."

In just a three-month period ending July 12, McDonnell earned nearly $4,000 and Richard Cujdik made more than $4,500 in court overtime.

Jeffrey Cujdik - the first officer put on desk duty in connection with the expanding FBI probe - has collected nearly $4,800 in court overtime from Feb. 13 to July 12, payroll records show.

The extra earnings are far less than what the officers had made in overtime in previous years, when they arrested hundreds of drug suspects while on street duty. Last year, for example, three of the four officers almost doubled their salaries in overtime pay, each grossing more than $100,000.

Many of the drug arrests that led to the overtime are now under scrutiny as part of the probe.

One case in question involves Albert Nunez, 32, whose Kensington house was raided in December 2007.

In an application for a search warrant, Officer McDonnell said that he watched Martinez, known as Confidential Informant No. 103, buy a packet of cocaine from Nunez as the two men stood on the front porch. Martinez, however, has told the Daily News that he never bought drugs from Nunez.

During the raid, Jeffrey Cujdik said that he found 47 packets of cocaine in a teddy bear inside the home. Nunez admits that he had a small amount of marijuana, but insists he never had or sold cocaine.

Nunez wasn't home at the time, but his wife, Lady Gonzalez, said that an officer, whom she later identified as Tolstoy, pulled up her shirt and fondled her breasts. She said she feared that he was going to rape her.

Gonzalez has filed a civil suit against Tolstoy and the eight other cops who participated in the raid.

Nunez's drug case has been continued until Sept. 15, with a trial date set for Sept. 28.

"They [the officers] still get paid when my life is on hold," Nunez said. "I'm struggling to pay my bills and pay my lawyer, and these guys get overtime. I don't understand."

Delaney said that the District Attorney's Office has no control over whether officers get paid overtime for going to court.

"That's up to the Police Department," Delaney said. "If the Police Department put the officers on daywork only, they would make zero overtime. That's not our decision."

Officers working an 8 a.m.-4 p.m. shift do not receive overtime for court appearances. But under the police contract, the city is required to pay officers a minimum of two hours of overtime, even if the case is postponed, if they're scheduled to work a night shift. Officers received a minimum of four hours of overtime if they're subpoenaed on a day off, according to police spokesman Lt. Frank Vanore.

"By contract, if they are subpoenaed and they are on a tour of duty that warrants overtime, then they get it," Vanore said.

Although the Cujdik brothers, McDonnell and Tolstoy are currently on desk duty, they still are assigned to the Narcotics Field Unit and their hours must continue to match those of their fellow squad members under terms of the police contract, Vanore said.

"If a particular officer is in one platoon and they're scheduled to work 4 p.m. to 12 a.m., we couldn't arbitrarily shift them to day work just because they have a court notice," Vanore said. "That would cause a contractual issue."

In fiscal year 2008, the city spent about $24.9 million on court-related police overtime. It expects to pay about $22.8 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, Vanore said.

To see previous Daily News stories in the Tainted Justice series, visit

http://go.philly.com/tainted

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