PHILADELPHIA – Former NBA player Jerome "Pooh" Richardson reluctantly testified Monday that his close friend, a Philadelphia police officer, tipped him about an imminent drug raid involving his half-sister.
Richardson, 43, testified under a grant of immunity about two phone calls around 3 a.m. from childhood friend Rickie Durham in August 2005. Durham told him the FBI was about to take down a drug kingpin and take the sister down too, he testified.
Richardson said he quickly called his sister at the New Jersey home she shared with the drug dealer and told her to "leave right now."
"I just said that something was going to go down," Richardson said, his head hung low and his voice barely audible.
He never looked at Durham.
Durham, 42, is charged with obstruction, leaking information about a search and lying to authorities about the calls to Richardson in Los Angeles, which were made on an FBI-issued cell phone.
Despite her brother's warning, Asya Richardson was arrested with boyfriend Alton Coles on Aug. 10, 2005 when an FBI task force raided their new $500,000 home near Mullica Hill, N.J. at 6 a.m.
Durham was one of about 200 officers involved in the two-state raid on Coles' $25 million crack-cocaine empire. Wiretaps show that Coles made numerous calls to his underlings just after 3 a.m., including one in which he tells another girlfriend to get rid of his gun.
Coles acknowledged at his 2008 trial that he knew "the feds were coming," although he did not specify who told him.
The leak could have cost officers their lives, prosecutors said.
Asya Richardson's phone was not tapped, so there is no recording of Richardson's two brief calls to her.
Nor is there a recording of Durham's two brief calls to Richardson, defense lawyer Fortunato N. Perri Jr. reminded jurors.
In his opening, he suggested that Richardson had to choose between friendship and his freedom — and was choosing the latter.
On cross-examination, Richardson said he had not thought about whether he did anything wrong, and that he only got the immunity letter on his lawyer's advice.
"I wasn't even thinking along those lines," he said. "I was just calling to make sure my sister wasn't in trouble."
He affirmed that Durham hated drug dealers and frequently vowed to take them off the streets. Durham was removed from the force after his arrest this year.
Coles, a sometime-rap promoter, is serving a life term after being convicted last year of running a violent drug enterprise. Asya Richardson was convicted of money laundering but remains free pending her appeal. She has not been sentenced.
Richardson, a first-round draft choice out of UCLA in 1989, spent more than a decade in the NBA, playing for Minnesota, Indiana and the Los Angeles Clippers.