PHILADELPHIA – Lawyers for six fired police officers charged with stealing millions of dollars in cash and narcotics from drug dealers attacked the government case Monday, saying it relies on 19 lying drug dealers and a "dirty, despicable" ex-colleague.
Jurors are hearing a full day of opening statements as the 10-week trial gets underway in the sweeping police corruption case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek told jurors that if police steal money from drug dealers, it's still robbery because "it's not yours to take." He said the former officers routinely broke into homes without search warrants and ransacked them to steal drugs, cash, a Rolex watch and other valuables.
Scores of convictions based on the unit's work have been overturned, and about 100 lawsuits are on hold amid the officers' criminal trial.
Defense lawyer Jack McMahon, in a fiery address, told jurors the government had little evidence to back up the testimony of their criminal witnesses, including convicted ex-officer Jeffrey Walker.
"They take all this cast of characters, and they get Jeffrey Walker, and they think ... they can just wash away all the problems of this case," McMahon said.
Walker began cooperating after he took the bait in an FBI sting focused on an aggressive undercover drug unit. He admitted in a February 2014 plea that he had planted evidence in a suspect's car and taken $15,000 from him.
"When you're dirty and despicable and dumb and arrogant, it's easy to get you," McMahon said of the government's key trial witness, who is expected to spend several days on the stand.
After his arrest, Walker told the FBI about a series of cases in which drug dealers, he said, were robbed, beaten, threatened and even hung over high-rise balconies. He said that members of his unit stole items ranging from loose change to $80,000 in a safe they removed from an apartment and carried down 17 flights of stairs.
"These are men sworn to uphold the law but instead broke it," Wzorek said.
In a 2009 incident described in the indictment, Walker said he and drug unit member Linwood Norman seized four kilograms of cocaine only to have Norman resell three of them on the street.
McMahon, though, told jurors that client Brian Reynolds and the others on trial never fell for the FBI sting that snagged Walker, but instead reported the money they found in an FBI operative's red Camaro. He also questioned why prosecutors have no plans to call drug unit supervisors who took part in many of the supposedly rogue searches.
Lead defendant Thomas Liciardello remains in custody. Norman, Reynolds and the other co-defendants -- Perry Betts, John Speiser, and Michael Spicer -- are on house arrest.