PHILADELPHIA — Six Philadelphia police officers were arrested Wednesday in a predawn roundup and charged with robbing, kidnapping, and extorting drug suspects over a nearly seven-year period.
The officers all were veterans of a narcotics squad that came under the scrutiny of a joint FBI-Police Department Internal Affairs investigation.
The officers charged in a federal indictment are Thomas Liciardello, 38; Perry Betts, 46; Brian Reynolds, 43; Michael Spicer, 46; John Speiser, 42; and Norman Linwood, 46.
The indictment alleges the officers falsified records, held people without arrest, stole drugs and shared in the proceeds.
Federal officials said they stole more than $500,000 from February 2006 to November 2012, including Rolex watches, electronics and a Calvin Klein suit.
According to a 42-page indictment, some of the officers allegedly took part in a game involving beating drug suspects for points. Others held one suspect from a balcony 30 feet above the ground and knocked out his teeth.
Prosecutors said the officers routinely filed false police reports to cover up their criminal behavior.
"That many of the victims were drug dealers, not Boy Scouts, is irrelevant," said Edward Hanko, special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Office.
Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, who attended the news conference where the charges were announced, said the arrests stemmed from "one of the worst cases of corruption I have ever heard."
"These officers don't represent the majority of this department," Ramsey said.
All the officers, except for Speiser, face up to life in prison, officials said. For Speiser, the maximum term is 40 years. Ramsey suspended all six for 30 days with the intent to dismiss.
John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said the accusations against the officers represented the worst allegations of police corruption he has seen during his seven years as union chief.
"On the scale of one to 10, from what I'm reading this is a 10," he said. "These are serious accusations, and they have to be dealt with seriously."
He said the union "does not take corruption lightly," but would review all of the facts before rushing to judgment against the officers.
"On the face of it, it looks bad, but let's let the dust settle, and see exactly what happened," McNesby said. "They all have good attorneys and they'll make the right decisions."
The arrests come seven months after Ramsey first acknowledged a federal probe was underway and said he had pulled at least four of its targets, all narcotics squad veterans, off street duty.
The probe intensified after former officer Jeffrey Walker pleaded guilty to federal counts of attempted robbery and using a gun during a violent crime in January. Prosecutors said during his last court hearing he had been cooperating with the investigation.
Questions have dogged the narcotics officers' work since at least 2012, when District Attorney Seth Williams said his office would no longer use their testimony in drug cases, a decision that resulted in the dismissal of scores of cases.
The city has since paid at least $777,000 to settle lawsuits claiming the officers framed suspects with false testimony and evidence. Dozens more remain on court dockets awaiting resolution.
In a statement, Williams' office said it "will review previous convictions involving the six officers and will take appropriate action."
The office said it had no open cases involving all the officers except Norman and that it was reviewing cases involving him "from the relevant time period."
Mayor Nutter, speaking after a groundbreaking in North Philadelphia, said, "If you are corrupt, we will find you."
"The overwhelming majority … of our officers are hard-working, dedicated and honest," Nutter said. "Unfortunately, there are few who tarnish their badge."
Walker, 45, began cooperating with the investigation almost as soon as he was arrested last year in an FBI sting operation, his lawyer said.
An undercover informant caught the former officer on tape scheming to set up a South Philadelphia drug dealer by planting nearly 28 grams of cocaine in his car.
Walker later took the man's keys, broke into his house and stole $15,000 and five pounds of marijuana.Copyright © 2015, CT Now