Six Philadelphia police officers have been arrested on charges - including conspiracy, robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and drug dealing - for a six-year racketeering scheme during which the group netted $500,000 in drugs, cash, and personal property.
The indictment of the officers, formerly part of the city’s narcotics field unit, comes after a two-year joint investigation by the FBI, federal prosecutors, and the Philadelphia Police internal affairs unit, said US Attorney Zane David Memeger.
"I have been a police officer for more than 40 years, and this is one of the worst cases of corruption that I have ever heard," Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told reporters on Wednesday.
"Words just don't describe the degree to which their acts have brought discredit," he added, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Memeger said the officers were involved in a variety of crimes between February 2006 and November 2012, including beatings, threatening to shoot suspects, busting into homes without warrants to steal drugs and money, and the distribution of narcotics.
In one instance, the officers allegedly held a drug suspect over a balcony railing of an 18th-floor apartment during an interrogation, federal prosecutors said.
In another case, the six officers kidnapped a drug suspect and held him in a hotel room for days while making threats to his family.
"The reprehensible conduct alleged to have been committed by the six charged officers tarnishes the badge held by the thousands of officers who currently serve -- and have previously served -- this city with distinction," Memeger said.
The officers indicted in the case are Thomas Liciardello, 38; Brian Reynolds, 43; Michael Spicer, 46; Perry Betts, 46; Linwood Norman, 46; and John Speiser, 44. All were arrested Wednesday at their homes, authorities said.
Their arrests now cast doubt on dozens of their past cases, and could reopen a host of civil rights lawsuits from suspects they arrested. These lawsuits have already cost the city at least $777,000.
"Our clients have been waiting for this day for some time now," said Jonathan James, a civil rights lawyer representing clients in lawsuits against the officers. "They look forward to the day when these officers are punished by the very law they hid behind in their efforts to illegally charge our clients."
The officers often attempted to cover their activities by falsifying police reports, Memeger said.
Information provided to investigators by former narcotics unit member Jeffrey Walker was used to build the case against the rogue officers, Commissioner Ramsey said.
Walker was arrested in May 2013 on charges of robbery extortion, and committing criminal acts through his position as a police officer, according to a criminal complaint. He pleaded guilty to robbery charges and will be sentenced on Nov. 4, according to Patty Hartman, spokeswoman for the US Attorney’s Office.
The information provided by Walker led to the removal of the six officers from the narcotics unit after the district Attorney’s Office told the commissioner’s office that their testimony could no longer be used in their cases, Ramsey said. The officers were not fired at the time in an effort to maintain the integrity of the ongoing investigation, he added.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the officers’ previous convictions, it said in a statement.
The officers will be held in custody until trial, Memeger said.
"My client is a good, decent family man, presumed innocent by law," Jack McMahon, attorney for Officer Reynolds, said Wednesday. "These are merely accusations by a bunch of police-hating drug dealers."
If convicted, the six officers face between 40 years and life in prison, Memeger said.
"That many of the victims were drug dealers, not Boy Scouts, is irrelevant," said Edward Hanko, head of the FBI's Philadelphia office. "This corrupt group chose to make their own rules. Now they will have to answer for it."