Six former Philadelphia narcotics officers charged with robbing and beating drug dealers in a gangland-style enterprise have lost a bid to halt their upcoming trial over claims that at least one accuser lied before the grand jury.
Federal prosecutors on the eve of trial have withdrawn charges involving two of the 22 alleged victims. Defense lawyers accuse them of trying "to whitewash" problems with their witnesses even as jury selection was set to start.
The last-minute fireworks in court Tuesday mostly involved the testimony of a drug trafficking suspect named "C.C.," who the defense said got immunity in a state burglary case after telling the federal grand jury last year that drug squad officers had stolen $3,200 from him during a 2010 arrest. But he made no mention of the missing money at his related criminal trial or in a lawsuit he filed against police, defense lawyers said.
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"The motion to withdraw (several alleged crimes) is nothing less than an attempt to hide and whitewash a fraud that was — be it negligently or recklessly — played upon the grand jury. It is a vain attempt to spare their agents ... embarrassment and scrutiny," lawyer Michael Diamondstein argued in court documents seeking to have the case against his client, John Speiser, dismissed.
Federal prosecutors acknowledged "contradictions" in C.C.'s testimony, but denied that he knowingly perjured himself.
U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno appeared frustrated but ultimately ruled that enough of the accusations remain to preserve the sweeping, 25-count indictment and hold all six men for trial.
The highlight of the 10-week case is expected to be several days of testimony from former colleague Jeffrey Walker, who has pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate. The defendants worked together at the drug squad from about 2000 until their arrests in 2012.
Lead defendant Thomas Liciardello, accused of 15 gunpoint robberies, is the only defendant being held in custody. He and four others also are accused of dangling one suspect over a high-rise balcony to get information out of him.
The other ex-officers heading to trial are Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts and Linwood Norman. All six have pleaded not guilty. Many of the accusations overlap with more than a dozen lawsuits filed against them in recent years.
Opening statements are set for March 30. Jury selection began Tuesday and was expected to last all week.