CAMDEN, N.J. – Corruption charges were announced Thursday against two Camden police officers accused of falsifying evidence in drug cases in what are expected to be the last charges filed in a case that led authorities to dismiss more than 200 criminal cases.
The two officers, Antonio Figueroa and Robert Bayard, were indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday. Both were suspended when the investigation began nearly a year ago.
Lawyers for both men entered not guilty pleas for them during arraignments on Thursday. Both defendants are being held without bail until detention hearings scheduled for Tuesday.
Three other Camden police officers pleaded guilty to related charges earlier this year and free on bail as they await sentencing.
Authorities say the officers, all members of a special operations unit assigned to police hot spots for crime and crack down on open-air drug markets, trafficked in drugs themselves. They say they stole them from some suspects, planted them on others, threatened to plant them on more in order to coerce cooperation, paid informants with drugs, and kept some for their own use.
They're also accused of conducting illegal searches, giving false testimony and filing false reports between 2007 and last year.
Since last year, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office has dropped charges in 210 cases in which some or all the officers were involved. In some cases, defendants had served years in jail.
Prosecutor Warren Faulk has said that some innocent people were jailed in some cases. In others, he believes true drug dealers were allowed to go free because the evidence against them was no longer credible.
Figueroa faces eight charges and Bayard five. For both, the most serious is conspiracy to violate the civil rights of a citizen, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman would not say whether Figueroa, 34, and Bayard, 32, were offered plea deals, or whether the other officers would testify against them.
Fishman said Thursday that Camden's police chief, Scott Thomson, alerted state and federal prosecutors of the alleged corruption after his department's internal affairs department started investigating.
Revelations about the case earlier this year were seen as yet another blow to a hard-luck city that consistently ranks as among the most crime-plagued in the nation.
Thomson said he's been meeting with community leaders for months — and that most of them seem to believe that the problem of rogue officers isn't widespread.
He stood Thursday with Fishman and state Attorney General Paula Dow to try to reinforce that message.
"It places dishonor on the thousands to tens of thousands of law enforcement officers who are out there day and night, basically doing the right thing," Dow said.