Room 757 of the Hilton Garden Inn in Chinatown was an unusual place to meet a Philadelphia homicide detective, but the witness said he thought he had little choice.
For years, Detective Philip Nordo — then considered one of the city’s star investigators — had both flattered and intimidated the man: complimenting his appearance, steering reward money his way, and sometimes threatening him with criminal charges if he didn’t do as Nordo asked.
Still, when the man entered the hotel room in 2017 — five years after he’d first given Nordo information about the shooting death of Officer Moses Walker — their relationship took a turn.
Porn was playing on a laptop, the man would later tell police. Nordo offered him a drink, told him to get comfortable, and excused himself to take a shower.
The man stayed in the room, afraid that Nordo might seek to harm him if he fled, he’d later recall. Nordo emerged from the bathroom wearing only shorts, the man said, then pushed him onto the bed, began touching him, took off his pants — and raped him.
That account is among several that prosecutors are expected to present to a Philadelphia jury beginning this week as they seek to prove that Nordo, 56, is guilty of rape, sexual assault, official oppression, and other crimes committed while he was on the force.
Nordo, they say, was an out-of-control cop who groomed and sexually assaulted vulnerable witnesses in hotels, interview rooms, and police vans for more than a decade. Prosecutors have also accused the former homicide detective of defrauding city reward funds and manipulating cases that may have put innocent people behind bars.
Nordo has denied wrongdoing. His supporters have cast the case as a politically motivated attempt by District Attorney Larry Krasner to make good on a campaign promise to prosecute police.
And his lawyer, Michael van der Veen, said in an interview last week that Nordo was innocent, calling him a “highly dedicated and decorated homicide detective who solved murders all over this city.”
“We’re going to vigorously attack the credibility of the complaining witnesses, and the consistency — or inconsistency — of the evidence,” van der Veen said.
The case against Nordo is the most significant police corruption prosecution yet to reach trial for Krasner, who took office four years ago pledging to hold officers accountable for wrongdoing. Judges have thrown out several other recent corruption cases brought by his office (although prosecutors have refiled them), while two murder cases involving on-duty shootings by police officers are awaiting trial.
Nordo’s prosecution has already had ripple effects: Judges have agreed to overturn at least six murder convictions in cases Nordo worked on, and the DA’s Office said last year it was still reviewing an additional 34 convictions linked to him.
The trial is expected to last about three weeks. If convicted, Nordo — who was fired by then-Commissioner Richard Ross in 2017 — faces years behind bars.
Ross was among the city officials to say after Nordo’s 2019 arrest that the allegations against him were startling, even in a city with a long history of police corruption.
Newly revealed court documents outline graphic details of the crimes prosecutors will seek to prove at trial. (The names of Nordo’s accusers have not been released, and The Inquirer does not identify without their consent people who say they were sexually assaulted.)
Nordo joined the Police Department in 1997 after serving for several years as a SEPTA police officer. By the time he joined the force, Nordo, a third-generation cop, had a wife, two children, and a house in the Northeast.
He became a detective in 2002, starting in East Detectives investigating shootings, robberies, and other crimes in neighborhoods including Kensington and Fairhill.
But within a year, prosecutors say, Nordo began making sexual advances on suspects. Charging documents give this account of one early episode:
In 2003, Nordo paid $510 to bail an 18-year-old out of jail because the teen had agreed to become an informant. Two weeks later, Nordo drove to North Philadelphia and spoke to the teen in his car.
After first asking about potential suspects, Nordo placed his gun on the dashboard, began to masturbate, then forcibly performed oral sex on the teen, who later told a grand jury he was frightened by the presence of the gun.
Months after that assault, the documents say, Nordo again assaulted the teen — this time in interview rooms in two different city jails. During those attacks, prosecutors say, Nordo repeatedly referenced the acronym “LLR,” telling the teen to demonstrate “love, loyalty, and respect.”
In 2005, prosecutors say, Nordo obtained a signed confession from a robbery suspect — but only after ordering the man to masturbate in a police interrogation room.
The next day, court documents say, the man reported the incident to other officers, telling them Nordo had touched him, kissed him, and massaged his penis. Crime-scene investigators found evidence supporting the man’s assertion that he had ejaculated, and police referred the case to the DA’s Office, which declined to file charges. (The man has since died.)
”I think what happened is they weren’t able to prove that Nordo had anything to do with it,” Ross, the police commissioner, later said. “It was one word against the other.”
Rising through the ranks
Nordo was promoted to the Homicide Unit in 2009 and quickly became assigned to a special task force for high-profile or difficult investigations.
Throughout the investigation, they say, Nordo repeatedly cajoled and pressured the man he would go on to rape in the hotel in 2017.
He told the man about a “porn club” and said he would make a good porn star, according to prosecutors.
“If [the man] showed any reluctance to continue their contact,” prosecutors wrote, “Nordo would get angry and threaten to take [his] kids.”
At one point, they say, Nordo filed paperwork that allowed the man to receive $20,000 in reward money for his help in the case.
About the same time, prosecutors say, Nordo encountered a familiar face: the man he had helped bail out of jail as a teen in 2003.
That man, by then imprisoned on a lengthy sentence for a crime that court documents do not specify, was directed to Nordo after telling prosecutors he had information about the murder of his best friend. He was brought to Police Headquarters for an interview, and court documents say Nordo gave him food and alcohol and drove him in a van to North Philadelphia.
There, the documents say, Nordo performed oral sex on the man while he was handcuffed. When the man tried to resist, prosecutors say, Nordo reached for the gun on his hip.
Over the next year or so, Nordo assaulted the man in a similar fashion five or six more times, according to prosecutors. Nordo later sent gifts to the man’s family and wrote supportive letters to the parole board — evidence, prosecutors contend, of his attempts to manipulate those he abused.
In 2013, while investigating the killing of Christian Massey — a man with special needs gunned down over a pair of headphones — Nordo repeatedly steered discussions with a witness toward a porn business the detective said he owned. And in emails with the witness, prosecutors say, Nordo frequently used the acronym “LLR,” just as he had with the teen victim in 2003.
Last year, the DA’s Office moved to overturn the conviction Nordo helped secure in Massey’s murder, in part because they now believe Nordo used the case to pursue sexual relationships with that witness and one other tied to the case. And prosecutors have declined to retry the defendant, Arkel Garcia, saying Nordo’s misconduct tainted the evidence beyond repair.
“Nordo had ulterior motives during this investigation that had nothing to do with solving this murder,” Assistant District Attorney Michael Garmisa said last summer, when asking a judge to overturn Garcia’s conviction.
About 2015, charging documents say, Nordo began harassing a prison guard, repeatedly asking him about sex, requesting meetings in hotel rooms, and later trying to persuade him to smuggle contraband to inmates.
The guard reported Nordo’s actions to a Department of Corrections hotline. Shortly afterward, the documents say, Philadelphia police officers showed up at the guard’s house in the middle of the night and took him to a psychiatric hospital, allegedly because coworkers had expressed concern that he might harm his family.
Staffers at the hospital found no evidence of homicidal or suicidal thoughts, the documents say, and the guard was released the same day. He later told a grand jury he believed Nordo had orchestrated the episode in retaliation for his report of the detective’s harassment.
Whom to believe?
In these crimes and others outlined in court documents, prosecutors say Nordo, a white man in a position of power, often told his victims, typically young Black men with criminal records, that they wouldn’t be believed if they spoke up.
The question of credibility will now be put to a jury.
Was Nordo a predatory cop who targeted vulnerable men?
Or has a dedicated detective been falsely accused by criminals who have little to lose?
Jury selection is expected to begin Monday. Testimony could begin by midweek.