Bucks County

Judges Split on Bail for Philly Narcotics Officers Accused of Theft

A Philadelphia police officer accused of being an enforcer in a group of officers suspected of theft and rogue behavior has been granted bail.

U.S. Magistrate Timothy Rice will release the officer, Linwood Norman, on house arrest until the group's racketeering trial.
He's among six members of the city's narcotics unit who are charged with robbing drug suspects of more than $500,000 in cash and cocaine _ often at gunpoint.

Norman, 46, along with Perry Betts, 46; Thomas Liciardello, 38; Brian Reynolds, 43; and Michael Spicer, 46; appeared in federal court Monday for a 1:30 p.m. detention hearing.

Betts and Reynolds also received bail while Spicer and Liciardello were denied bail. The sixth defendant, 42-year-old John Speiser, did not have a hearing because his attorney was on another case.

Defense lawyers say the accusers are all criminals, including a convicted colleague now cooperating in the FBI probe.

Prosecutors say the indicted officers are threats to the witnesses in the case.

The officers pleaded not guilty and have remained behind bars since their arrests Wednesday. They are accused of swiping more than half a million dollars' worth of money, drugs and other items over a period of years.

“Unfortunately, a very small percentage of police officers continue to toss their oath aside and act like the very criminals they have sworn to bring to justice,” said U.S Attorney Zane David Memeger while announcing the arrests.

The U.S. Attorney's Office unsealed the 26-count indictment that resulted from a two-year joint investigation between the police department, FBI and U.S. Attorney's office. The officers, who have served anywhere from five to 13 years in the narcotics unit, face allegations of multiple acts of robbery, extortion, kidnapping and drug dealing from February 2006 to November 2012.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek told Philly.com that the officers are "a risk of flight and a continuing danger to the community" and therefore should remain behind bars as the case develops.

In papers filed in federal court, lawyers for Speiser filed a motion for release that includes letters and emails from friends that beg for his release.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said that each officer will be suspended for 30 days with the intent to dismiss.

"Conduct like this is simply unacceptable, cannot be tolerated and is inexcusable," said Ramsey who noted the shame these allegations bring the officers and entire department.

Prosecutors say that the defendants would routinely rob the occupants of suspected dealers' cars or homes.

"The defendants used their positions of authority to target suspected drug dealers for purposes of stealing cash, personal property and drugs," said Memeger.

The indictment details about 22 separate incidents where the officers broke the law.  In total, prosecutors estimate the officers took more than $500,000 worth of cash, drugs and goods including fancy watches.

Some of the incidents outlined in the indictment includes one where Liciardello, Reynolds and Walker allegedly took $30,000 from an illegally detained suspect then took another $80,000 from the suspect’s home; an incident where Norman allegedly held a man over an 18-story balcony; an incident where Spicer allegedly dangled a man off a 35th-floor balcony in an attempt to swipe $79,000 and a designer suit; and an incident where Norman and Walker allegedly stole and distributed multi-kilogram quantity of cocaine.

Other incidents weren't as violent.

"They literally filed false police reports," Memeger said.

The allegations include declaring they collected less money than they would report.

Ramsey said that the officers tarnished their badges and that the badge numbers will be destroyed.

"I have been a police officer for more than 40 years and this is one of the worst cases of corruption that I have ever heard," Ramsey said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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