Castro admits authorizing violence to collect debt

Former Phila. Police Inspector Daniel Castro (right) with attorney William Brennan outside the federal courthouse in November.
Former Phila. Police Inspector Daniel Castro (right) with attorney William Brennan outside the federal courthouse in November.
Posted: April 15, 2011

Former Philadelphia Police Inspector Daniel Castro broke down in tears on the witness stand Thursday and admitted that he authorized the use of violence in a strong-arm extortion scheme last year against a former business partner who owed him money - a decision Castro described as "the biggest mistake of my life."

"I broke my mother's heart," he said, testifying in federal court on the fourth day of his trial on extortion and bribery charges. "You go to my mother's house, she has pictures of me on the wall. . . . I was stupid."

Castro, 47, believed to be the highest-ranking member of the Police Department to face criminal charges in several decades, also admitted Thursday that he lied to FBI agents in October when they came to question him about his involvement in the scheme to recoup money from a failed real estate investment. Additionally, he testified that he looked up a car's license-plate information for a friend as a personal favor, a violation of department policy.

Castro wept several times Thursday during his 90 minutes on the stand and expressed regret for the crimes that led to the end of his 25-year career as a police officer. If he is found guilty of the charges by a jury, he could face more than 50 years in prison.

Castro, who had risen to the rank of inspector less than a year before his arrest, had ambitions of someday becoming police commissioner.

Castro's admissions Thursday left no doubt that he was responsible for many of the acts that federal prosecutors accused him of committing from April to October 2010. But Castro, in later testimony, also suggested the FBI enticed him into committing the extortion scheme by using Rony Moshe, an FBI informant and a longtime friend of Castro's, to talk Castro into the plan.

"You sent this man after me, sir," Castro said in response to questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis D. Lappen. "I became something that he wanted me to become."

"You are someone who can make up their own mind," Lappen countered.

$90,000 loss

Castro's attorney, Brian McMonagle, is using an entrapment defense. He has argued in court that federal agents devised the scheme that got Castro in trouble, and said Castro never would have committed those crimes had it not been for the government's actions. Castro has pleaded not guilty. He is expected to continue his testimony Friday.

Castro was indicted in November on charges that he schemed to shake down businessman Wilson Encarnacion, to whom he had lost $90,000 in a failed real estate venture, by sending men to his South Jersey home who would use threats and violence to recoup the money. Castro discussed his financial problems with Moshe, who told Castro he knew people who could force Encarnacion to pay up. Unknown to Castro, Moshe was working with the FBI, who asked Moshe to record the conversations with Castro.

Castro had sued Encarnacion and had been trying to get back his money for four years. Moshe, Castro said, presented the collection scheme as safe, quick, and easy. Castro, for his part, initially told Moshe that the hired collectors "can't be aggressive," and Moshe told Castro the men would be "nice." Moshe later delivered several cash payments to Castro, ostensibly collected from Encarnacion but actually provided by the FBI. Moshe also gave Castro indications that the collectors were using threats to extract the money, according to the recordings.

'Rough up'

Over time, Castro became dissatisfied with the sizes of the payments, and asked that the collectors speed up the process. During a conversation in September, which was played for the jury this week, Moshe told Castro that the collectors wanted to "rough up" Encarnacion - but that they needed Castro's go-ahead.

As he recounted the conversation Thursday, Castro raised his head and looked across the courtroom to where his mother and other family members were sitting.

"I haven't told my mom this," Castro said. "I told him, yeah. I told him, OK."

Lappen argued that as a high-ranking police officer, Castro must have known that even using threats to get his money back was illegal. He pointed out that Castro took care to have Moshe act as his go-between with the "collectors," so they wouldn't know who he was or what his job was. Furthermore, Lappen said, Castro referred Moshe's collectors to two friends who also needed help collecting debts - men who have since pleaded guilty to federal extortion-related charges.

"Rony Moshe didn't do that, did he?" Lappen asked. "You did that."

Castro responded, "Shamefully," and added, "I'm sorry for my actions."

Lappen also reminded Castro that he told Moshe to have the collectors take $150,000 from Encarnacion, an amount that Castro said represented his investment, plus interest.

Castro acknowledged in court that when Moshe asked him to look up a license plate, and get the driver's information, that Castro did it as a favor to a friend. He never considered the television to be a bribe, he said. He also denied several allegations made earlier this week by Moshe, who said he had given Castro free electronics from a store he owned in years past. Castro said he bought several televisions from Moshe, who gave discounts to police officers. He also denied an allegation that he had accepted cash bribes from Moshe.

"I have never taken money from anyone," Castro said, his voice breaking. "Never. Never."


Contact staff writer Allison Steele at 215-854-2641 or asteele@phillynews.com.

 

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