From inside his jail cell, the young man looked anxious.
On the morning of April 10, 2005, he repeatedly pleaded with a Philadelphia police officer, “I got to talk to you.” His voice was quavering and his body was shaking, and so the officer could sense it wasn’t a typical complaint.
“What’s the problem?” the officer asked, according to court documents.
The man, unnamed in court records, told the officer that a Philadelphia detective had sexually abused him during an interrogation the previous day.
The detective, Philip Nordo, started out by asking him questions about a robbery in which the man was suspected, assuring him that he “didn’t have anything to worry about.” But then things turned sexual. Suddenly, the suspect said, Nordo asked him to show him his penis, shocking the man, who just sat there. The detective asked if he was too scared — and then he walked over to the suspect and began groping him, the suspect said. Nordo told him to masturbate and watched as he did. When he was finished, the man said, Nordo gave him a cigarette and sent him back to jail.
The officer immediately contacted superiors, leading the internal affairs division at the Philadelphia Police Department to open an investigation. The investigators brought the man back to the same interview room, where they found a cigarette butt and a piece of crumpled paper the man assured them would contain his semen. Investigators tested it for DNA and the suspect was right.
Yet, for reasons police have yet to explain, Nordo continued to be a homicide detective — and according to prosecutors, he continued to sexually assault an untold number of young men.
On Tuesday, nearly 14 years after the inmate complained, Nordo was arrested and charged with dozens of sexual assault offenses after prosecutors say a deeper look into his cases revealed that he had been using intimidation to silence the alleged victims for years.
A 38-page grand jury document, much of which was redacted, accuses Nordo of raping, groping and forcing men to masturbate in front of him in interview rooms or elsewhere. To keep them silent, sometimes Nordo threatened them with arrest or prosecution or offered them rewards, according to the document. Sometimes he forced them to sign witness statements that weren’t true, prosecutors allege. Often, prosecutors say, Nordo “prominently displayed” his gun as he molested the men.
If a witness or tipster cooperated with him, prosecutors claim, he would submit false information to the city of Philadelphia so they could get crime-reward money, according to the document. He fraudulently diverted about $20,000 from the mayor’s reward fund to give to his victims, prosecutors say.
He allegedly told the victims that no one would believe them if they came forward.
The 35 charges against Nordo include rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, official oppression, institutional sex assault, stalking and theft by deception, among others.
“He cultivated relationships with male suspects, witnesses, or individuals who may or may not have been related to an investigation,” the grand jury document states. “Nordo cultivated these relationships by grooming the individuals, engaging in conduct to make the targets of his advances more susceptible to his sexually assaultive and/or coercive behavior. He also used intimidation and manipulation to keep his victims from coming forward.”
The Philadelphia Police Department could not immediately be reached to comment on the 2005 internal affairs investigation of Nordo. Police Commissioner Richard Ross told ABC 6 that he found the allegations “absolutely despicable,” but that the department determined in the course of its investigation that “no one else is connected to this in any way.”
Nordo’s defense attorney could not immediately be reached to comment late Tuesday, but according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, he said Tuesday after court that his client maintained his innocence and that he believed the prosecution was motivated by “political forces.”
Nordo had been on the force since 1997, a detective since 2002 and a homicide investigator since 2009, according to the grand jury document. He was described in previous Philadelphia Inquirer news articles and by colleagues as a “prolific” investigator often assigned to the most complex homicide cases.
But it wasn’t until 2017 that his alleged misdeeds started to come to light.
The first sign that something was awry was the money.
A defense attorney for a murder suspect followed the funds, finding $400 piled up in the commissary account belonging to an inmate who was a key witness for the prosecution in the case. Immediately, the attorney knew something was wrong: The lead detective on the homicide case, Nordo, was the one who made the deposits, as the Inquirer reported then.
The suspicious payments began to cast doubt on all of his work on the case. Further investigation revealed that he had been making chummy phone calls to the profiting inmate, the Inquirer reported. In a second phone call with another witness, the man told Nordo, “I love you."
It was all too much for Judge Diana L. Anhalt, who threw out the case in 2018 because of Nordo’s “outrageous misconduct,” the Inquirer reported. Anhalt described Nordo’s relationship with the profiting inmate as “messed up," and said of the second man, "I would be willing to bet I don’t know a whole lot of guys who are telling some white homicide detective ... ‘I love you, man,' ” according to the court transcript obtained by the Inquirer.
The case had already led to Nordo’s firing in 2017 — but as the months went on, prosecutors kept quietly looking into more murder cases involving Nordo.
According to the grand jury document, investigators found that during interviews, Nordo would “use small talk” to make the interviewees feel at ease, before transitioning to more personal topics and, ultimately, turning the conversation to sex. He would allegedly make inappropriate comments about the men’s genitals before assaulting them, preferring to target men in handcuffs or leg shackles so that “his dominating position reduced the individuals’ ability to resist or report the assault,” the document says.
In recorded phone calls, he would talk about having sex with the men using “code words,” the document alleges.
For those who cooperated, Nordo rewarded them with gift cards or deposited money into their inmate accounts, prosecutors said. In some cases, he prevented charges from being formally filed against the man, and in others, he requested leniency from prosecutors or judges.
If they were loyal to him, he promised, he would be loyal to them.
As a result of the findings, at least four cases tied to Nordo have been affected, the Inquirer reported last month. In addition to the murder charges Anhalt tossed out, one man was immediately paroled from prison, another was granted a resentencing hearing, and another man, Jamaal Simmons, had his murder conviction vacated after years of maintaining his innocence.
In that case, a witness who implicated Simmons recanted his testimony, saying Nordo forced him to make untrue statements.
“I was constantly approached by Detective Nordo, saying that if I don’t do what I’m supposed to do, he going to make sure my life is f----- up,” the witness testified in 2012, according to court documents cited by the Inquirer.
Until now, authorities have not revealed the extent of Nordo’s alleged misconduct or sexual assaults.
The 2005 complaint against Nordo was the only case detailed in the grand jury document, with all of the alleged victims’ names and specific details of their reported assaults redacted in full.
The man who came forward in 2005 didn’t live to see charges filed against the detective he accused of sexually abusing him, according to the grand jury document. He was killed in 2015, a homicide that remains unsolved.
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