Sledgehammers, threats and stolen designer suits: Breaking down the Philadelphia police corruption case


From top left to right, Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer. From bottom left to right, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and John Speiser. (Philadelphia Police Department via AP)

Six Philadelphia narcotics officers threatened and intimidated targets, extorting them for money, clothes and drugs, authorities claimed in an explosive indictment this week.

Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman, and John Speiser — all members of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Narcotics Field Unit — have pleaded not guilty, the Associated Press reports. They face several charges — including racketeering conspiracy, robbery and extortion — and are due back in federal court Monday.

“Words just don’t describe the degree to which their acts have brought discredit,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said at a news conference, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Ramsey called the charges “one of the worst cases of corruption I have ever heard.”

Among the accusations:

November 2007: Authorities believe Norman lifted a man up and “leaned him over a balcony railing on the 18th floor of his apartment house.” Members of the group that’s now under indictment also entered the man’s apartment and ordered pizza using money they had taken from his nightstand. They are accused of stealing about $8,000 worth of items from the man.

October 2008: Liciardello allegedly transported a suspected drug dealer to his parents’ Philadelphia home and threatened to seize the house unless the man opened a safe. The man did, and the defendants then stole about $20,000.

February 2010: After Liciardello, Reynolds, Betts and Spicer used a sledgehammer to break into an apartment, Spicer punched a suspected drug dealer in the mouth, then held him off a balcony to get the man to tell the group where money and drugs were in the home. More than $200,000 was seized from the apartment, and one of the defendants stole a Calvin Klein suit.

Defense attorneys noted that the sources for the allegations were drug dealers and another officer who was arrested in 2012, the AP reported. “I’m surprised the government will give them so much deference and credence,” said Betts’s lawyer, Gregory Pagano, according to the AP.

“That many of the victims were drug dealers, not Boy Scouts, is irrelevant,” Edward Hanko, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia office, said in a statement. “This corrupt group chose to make their own rules. Now they will have to answer for it.”

U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger said in a statement that the district attorney’s office will review old convictions that involved the six officers, who have been suspended, according to the Inquirer. The office had stopped relying on testimony from Liciardello, Reynolds, Spicer, Betts and Speiser two years ago.

According to the Inquirer:

Their arrests, during predawn raids Wednesday, threaten to throw dozens of their past cases into doubt and reopen a pipeline of civil rights lawsuits from suspects they arrested that has already cost the city at least $777,000.

If convicted, five of the defendants face possible life sentences; Speiser faces a maximum 40-year term.

You can read the indictment here:

Philadelphia Indictment

Sarah Larimer is a general assignment reporter for the Washington Post.
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