Worst of the worst?

Spicer
Spicer
Posted: August 01, 2014

CRACKIN' SKULLS, stealing cash, selling cocaine and dangling men from balcony ledges: Such was life on the beat for six veteran Philadelphia narcotics cops, a federal grand jury alleges.

Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and John Speiser were arrested yesterday as the U.S. Attorney's Office unveiled a 26-count indictment against the former members of the Philadelphia Police Department's Narcotics Field Unit.

Zane David Memeger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said the disgraced cops allegedly stole $500,000 worth of cash, personal belongings and drugs from suspected drug dealers between February 2006 and November 2012 - and then forged police records to cover their tracks.

When the rogue officers couldn't easily find the goods they were looking for, they allegedly resorted to tactics that would've made hardened criminals nod in approval: kidnapping, extortion and playing a "game" that awarded points for the types of physical injuries they could inflict on a suspect.

The indictment detailed 22 instances of the cops breaking the law, including a February 2010 incident in which Liciardello, Reynolds, Betts and Spicer allegedly sledgehammered their way into a North Philly man's apartment.

Spicer knocked out some of the man's teeth and dangled him from his third-story balcony, until he confessed to having some money hidden in his apartment, according to the indictment.

The cops allegedly confiscated $210,000 in cash and a Calvin Klein suit, but claimed in paperwork that they found only $130,790.

In an October 2007 episode, Liciardello, Reynolds and another officer were accused of seizing $30,000 from a suspect's car and leaving the man in a cell overnight without processing him - and then stealing a safe that contained $80,000 from the man's City Avenue apartment, the indictment shows.

Norman, meanwhile, allegedly sold three kilograms of cocaine in September 2007 that had been stolen from a drug dealer.

"I can say that I've been a police officer for more than 40 years, and this is one of the worst cases of corruption that I have ever heard," Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said, moments after Memeger detailed the charges against the cops at a morning news conference.

Ramsey said he'd suspend the six men for 30 days with the intent to dismiss, and would have their badges destroyed.

"This was a malignancy inside our department, and today it was removed," he said. "Hopefully, through prosecution, they will receive the maximum sentences allowed by law."

Liciardello, 38; Reynolds, 43; Spicer, 46; Betts, 46; and Norman, 46, each could face up to life in prison for offenses that include RICO conspiracy, Hobbs Act robbery and falsifying police records. Speiser, 44, could face up to 40 years behind bars.

The sheer brazenness of the cops' alleged activity, as detailed in the 42-page indictment, is breathtaking.

But word of their arrests didn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who has closely followed the never-ending tide of corruption allegations that crash into police headquarters.

Since 1999, the city has doled out $777,500 to settle civil lawsuits filed against Liciardello, Spicer, Betts and Reynolds.

In December 2012, District Attorney Seth Williams notified Ramsey that he could no longer call those officers to testify in drug cases because of credibility concerns.

Ramsey removed the officers - and another, Lt. Robert Otto, who has not been charged with any crimes - from the Narcotics Field Unit.

But the situation turned more serious in May 2013, when Officer Jeffrey Walker, who often worked with Liciardello and the others, was arrested in an FBI sting and charged with planting evidence and stealing cash from a suspected drug dealer.

Walker opted to plead guilty to attempted robbery and using a gun during a violent crime - and to cooperate with the growing federal investigation into his former colleagues.

(Memeger declined to discuss Walker's cooperation, but noted that investigators were able to corroborate many of the allegations that theft and assault victims made against the six cops.)

In January, Ramsey acknowledged that a federal grand jury was probing the officers, and he stripped Liciardello, Spicer, Betts, Reynolds and another cop, Sgt. Joe McCloskey, of their police powers.

Lt. John Stanford, a police spokesman, said last night that McCloskey is still on desk duty.

Lawrence Krasner, a lawyer who has filed lawsuits against the six officers on behalf of people who claim that they've been robbed and assaulted and experienced violations of their civil rights, said yesterday afternoon that the allegations are nothing new.

"This is absolutely not the first serious allegation of corruption in Narcotics," he said of the unit.

"It is almost a perennial in the city that you go from one corrupt narcotics unit to another corrupt narcotics unit. . . . I think the long shadow of [late Mayor] Frank Rizzo has created a culture in which police officers who are often undereducated think they can get away with anything," Krasner said.

"I think that when you're dealing with narcotics, there's always more temptation because the ability to steal and to extort and to abuse is much greater."

Memeger noted that the vast majority of police officers are decent, law-abiding people.

"Unfortunately, a very small minority of police officers continue to toss their oath aside and act like the very criminals they are sworn to bring to justice," he said.

Ramsey said he has long been hampered by a labor contract that prevents him from implementing a plan to regularly rotate cops out of narcotics units, with the aim of hopefully preventing fraud and corruption.

John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, said yesterday that Ramsey's goal could finally be realized as part of a new labor agreement now being mulled by an arbitrator.

"Unfortunately, this case puts a cloud over everybody," McNesby said. "It's pretty much the worst I've seen since I've been here."

The FOP, which previously argued that the six cops had been unfairly maligned by the D.A.'s office, isn't providing them with legal representation.

Ramsey, who appeared grim-faced throughout the morning news conference, said he had no proof that any supervisors were aware of the six officers' alleged misdeeds.

But he noted that the investigation is ongoing.

The disgraced officers appeared in federal court yesterday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Marilyn Heffley.

The muscular Spicer, wearing a blue T-shirt, his skin a bit reddish as if he had recently gotten some sun, licked his lips and squinted when he sat down.

The bearded Liciardello, wearing white athletic shorts, a gray T-shirt and sneakers, stood next to his attorney, Brian McMonagle, as a court official read the long list of charges against him. Reynolds, wearing black shorts and a gray shirt, appeared nervous as he sat in the holding area. At one point, he gulped.

Speiser, wearing a gray shirt, shorts and flip-flops, appeared at ease as he sat in the holding area. He mouthed a kiss to a blond-haired woman sitting in the front row of the gallery.

Norman did not have an attorney. Dressed in a yellow-and-green striped shirt and blue jeans, he sat alone at the defense table. When asked by the judge if he planned to retain an attorney, Norman told her: "Basically, can't afford it."

The judge then assigned an attorney, Nicholas Pinto, to represent him.

All but Norman pleaded not guilty; Norman can enter his plea during his scheduled arraignment Monday afternoon.


On Twitter: @dgambacorta

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