ABOVE PHOTO: Former Phila. PO Jeffrey Walker
By Maryclaire Dale
A disgraced ex-police officer testifying against his drug squad colleagues acknowledged Tuesday that he stole drug money, planted evidence and lied on police paperwork too many times to count.
Jeffrey Walker told jurors that the Philadelphia Police Department drug squad targeted white “college-boy … khaki-pants types” who were “easy to intimidate.”
That matches the description of some of the drug dealers who have testified at the six-week police corruption trial that the squad stole as much as $110,000 at a time during violent, no-warrant raids.
Lead defendant Thomas Liciardello always got a cut of the stolen money, while the others split “jobs” that they worked, Walker said. The city’s police brass often celebrated the squad’s work with splashy news conferences to announce large seizures.
“They liked that, as far as the bosses and supervisors were concerned. It made them look good. It was nothing but a dog and pony show,” Walker testified.
More than 160 drug convictions have been overturned since Walker pleaded guilty and the others were named in a 26-count indictment. Scores of civil-rights lawsuits are pending over the arrests. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has voiced his disgust with the squad’s alleged crimes while continuing his effort to clean out and reform the 7,000-member department.
Walker, 46, said he first stole money as a uniformed patrolman when he chased a dealer into a house and spotted a large bag of cash on top of the refrigerator.
“I never saw that much money. I was a young kid,” Walker told jurors. “I took some money, put it in my jacket pocket.”
Defense lawyers have attacked his credibility and will no doubt point out on cross-examination Wednesday the times he admits acting alone, even before he joined the elite undercover drug unit. He also said he developed a drinking problem and became forgetful.
Walker had nearly 24 years in when he was arrested in an FBI sting in 2013. He was making $119,000 a year, and padding overtime for court appearances and undercover work. The illicit drug money provided yet more “gravy.”
Walker and defendant Linwood Norman were known as “The Twin Towers,” often assigned by Liciardello to rough people up.
In one of their more memorable assignments, Norman leaned drug suspect Michael Cascioli over a high-rise balcony to elicit the passcode for his Palm Pilot, according to Walker, who helped scare the suspect.
City police officials later held a news conference to announce that the 2007 search had yielded more than $1.5 million in marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms, and $440,000 in cash. Federal prosecutors now say the squad raided the apartment before they got a warrant.
In another episode, Walker admitted carrying a heavy safe full of drug money down 17 flights of stairs to avoid being seen on the elevator security camera. And he described another heist when he stuffed so much bundled cash into his police vest that he had to wear Liciardello’s vest over his to cover the bulges.
Walker agreed to cooperate after the FBI caught him stealing $15,000 from a suspect and planting drugs in his car. He has been in custody ever since and hopes to avoid a life sentence through his testimony.
Liciardello, he said, warned squad members not to change their spending habits so dramatically that they attracted attention. The other ex-squad members on trial are Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts and John Speiser.
Walker said he once worked closely with Liciardello and Reynolds but was ostracized as he went through a divorce, weight loss surgery and other personal problems. Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen late Tuesday introduced a series of threatening texts Liciardello sent Walker once he suspected Walker was talking to Internal Affairs.
“Your now a rat I hope you die,” Walker wrote. “I will have you locked up by midnight. Goodbye loner.”
“You will be in jail before me,” Walker replied.
That didn’t quite prove true. Liciardello — the only defendant denied bail after the July 2014 indictment — was jailed a year after him.