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Trial of 6 accused of police corruption begins

Defense attacks witnesses in preview of ten-week trial

Clockwise from left: Thomas Liciardello, Perry Betts, Norman Linwood, Brian Reynol

Drug dealers are arrested and used to convict other drug dealers all the time.

 

But can drug dealers be relied upon to convict six former Philadelphia police officers accused of robbing and kidnapping drug suspects?

To hear lawyers for the six accused officers, the answer is “no.”

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“When you have 19 bags of trash, you don’t have better trash” said attorney Jack McMahon, who is representing officer Brian Reynolds. “You just have a bigger pile of trash.”

Opening arguments began Monday in the corruption trial of members of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Narcotics Field Unit. McMahon’s statements marked for the first time how defense lawyers for the six plan to defend against the sweeping charges that could lead to life sentences for all but one of the accused officers.   

McMahon was referring to 19 key witnesses — of the roughly 100 potential witnesses prosecutors could call — who say the officers stole from them hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug proceeds between 2006 and 2012.

McMahon recounted for jurors the criminal history of all 19 witnesses, calling them liars motivated by vendettas against good cops.

“We are dealing with people who are not of high character,” McMahon said. “They are deceivers from day one.”

But the defense saved special vitriol for Jeffrey Walker, one of the officers’ former colleagues, who last year admitted to planting cocaine on a drug dealer as a ruse to steal keys to the man’s house. He later stole $15,000 from the home in a 2013 sting orchestrated by the FBI. After his arrest, he flipped on his fellow officers — leading agents from the FBI’s corruption unit to the 19 key witnesses — in an attempt to get a lighter sentence.

Jimmy Binns, attorney for Michael Spicer said Walker was an admitted drug dealer, a drunk, who could not be trusted.

“Walker is an admitted home invader. He had a gang and they invaded homes,” Binns said. “He is thief, a liar, and perjurer.”

Defense attorneys made much of the fact that the men were not ensnared in another federal sting designed to catch them stealing from a drug suspect who was really an undercover FBI agent.

“A trap was set by the FBI,” said Jeffrey Miller, lawyer for alleged ringleader Thomas Licardello. “If they were thieves, the money would have disappeared.”

Most of the officers appeared in court surrounded by family, and on breaks between arguments could be seen smiling and laughing. The big exception there is Thomas Liciardello, who has remained in custody since the men were charged. He was ushered into the courtroom in handcuffs.

The proceedings expected to last 10 weeks.

The trial is expected to include text messages between Walker and Liciardello in which Liciardello refers to Walker as a “rat,” for talking to investigators from the department’s internal affairs unit, prosecutors said.

 
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