Federal prosecutors worked to bolster their racketeering case against six undercover drug officers by calling a defense lawyer and a suspect's mother to the stand Thursday to corroborate the testimony of drug dealers who say police robbed them.
Prosecutors have a challenging case given that many of their 20 accusers are criminals. The most-anticipated witness is a former member of the Philadelphia drug squad who says his unit routinely skimmed money and drugs while working the streets. The disgraced officer, Jeffrey Walker, has pleaded guilty and is set to testify against his longtime colleagues. Defense lawyers call him "dirty'' and "disreputable.''
Marijuana dealer Ian Bates spoke for many of the accusers when he explained Thursday why he never filed a police complaint after more than $21,000 allegedly was missing from his home following a 2010 raid.
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"My lawyer said there was no point, because it was my word against theirs," said Bates, 38, who made his living selling marijuana for five years and now, after two arrests, waits tables.
The police paperwork in his case lists $65,000 in seized cash. However, Bates insists he had $86,000 in a seized silver box to make a drug buy later that week. And he said there was more in his guitar case.
On cross-examination, he appeared somewhat vulnerable.
Bates admitted that he had been smoking marijuana "all day'' before police arrived, from the time he woke up until about 3 p.m. He has smoked regularly since he was about 13, he said. Asked if his heavy use might affect his memory, he said he didn't know.
"I'm not a doctor,'' Bates said.
Lead defendant Thomas Liciardello and co-defendants Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer and Perry Betts were involved in the raid of Bates' home.
The four allegedly split as much as $35,000 that went missing from a 2007 raid described in court earlier in the day. They are accused of searching the home of jailed suspect Michael Lau by threatening his mother with eviction. Both Lau and his mother testified Thursday morning, along with a former public defender who represented him in the case.
"He told me that after he was arrested, and while in custody, police went back to his house and burglarized it, and took a large sum of cash,'' lawyer Gabriel Levin confirmed in his testimony.
Neither Levin nor Lau raised the issue at the time, but complaints started to trickle in about the drug squad officers, some in the form of civil rights lawsuits. Ultimately, both federal and city prosecutors stopped accepting the drug unit's cases. And scores of convictions have been overturned.
The civil lawsuits are on hold until the conclusion of the officers' criminal case. The other defendants are Linwood Norman and John Speiser. The trial is expected to last about 10 weeks.