Closing arguments portray ex-inspector in differing lights

Posted: April 19, 2011

As prosecutors see it, former Philadelphia Police Inspector Daniel Castro is a "criminal" who thought he was "above the law."

To his defense attorney, Castro is a "good citizen" who was entrapped by an FBI informant with an inclination to lie.

The differing portrayals of Castro, 47, a police officer for 25 years who aspired to be police commissioner, were presented yesterday during closing arguments of his federal extortion trial.

Castro was indicted in November in a scheme to shake down businessman Wilson Encarnacion for a $90,000 debt that Encarnacion owed him for a 2006 real-estate deal that went belly up.

The alleged extortion never really happened and an FBI undercover agent posed as a strong-arm collector.

Much of the government's evidence in the weeklong trial came from conversations between Castro and the informant, Rony Moshe, which were secretly recorded by Moshe at the FBI's behest.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Tsao called the entrapment defense "frivolous" and said that Castro knew as early as April 20, 2010, that Moshe had planned to use strong-arm collectors to go to Encarnacion's house and that it would "scare" Encarnacion.

During a meeting with Moshe that day, Castro said that he wanted collectors to get $150,000 ($90,000 plus interest), and that Moshe must conceal his identity because he didn't want to be implicated in any "trouble." Tsao said that Castro's caution demonstrated that he knew the scheme was illegal.

"This case is all about the defendant's crimes captured on tapes that you heard," Tsao told the jury, adding that during the next six months Castro didn't put a stop to the alleged extortion and received more than $20,000, ostensibly collected from Encarnacion.

Tsao likened the payments to "blood money."

But Castro's attorney, Brian McMonagle, said that the payments showed that the feds had tried to "persuade" Castro to commit a crime that he wasn't predisposed to committing.

"If they weren't trying to persuade him, then why did they give him the money?" the defense attorney asked, adding that it was the "greatest inducer of all time."

McMonagle said that Moshe, a convicted drug dealer, should be on trial, not Castro, who is believed to be the highest-ranking Philadelphia officer to face criminal charges in decades.

He said the case began in March 2010, when Moshe told FBI agents "an unspeakable lie" that he had been paying bribes to Castro for years.

Castro is also accused of lying to FBI agents, accepting a 42-inch television in exchange for running a license tag through a police database and referring Moshe to a friend in two other attempted extortion plots.

The former police inspector, who testified in his own defense, said that he had to "accept some level of culpability" when, during a Sept. 10 meeting, he authorized Moshe to tell collectors to "get [his] money" after Moshe said they would have to get "rough" with Encarnacion.

Jurors deliberated for about an hour yesterday without reaching a verdict.

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