A Philadelphia police detective accused of tipping off a drug kingpin about an imminent search warrant was permitted yesterday to remain free on bail while awaiting trial on federal charges.
Prosecutors wanted U.S. Magistrate David R. Strawbridge to order that the detective, Rickie Durham, be locked up prior to trial on charges that he alerted Alton "Ace Capone" Coles in August 2005 about a pending police raid and then lied to investigators when they questioned him.
Durham, 43, pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of obstruction, making false statements and giving advance notice of a search.
Strawbridge ordered that Durham be released on $50,000 bail, be on 24-hour house arrest with electronic monitoring and not have contact with witnesses or potential witnesses.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bresnick said that Durham was a flight risk because he was facing eight to 10 years in prison if convicted of all charges, and that if he was freed on bail there was "absolute certainty" Durham would "obstruct justice, intimidate witnesses and tell them what they should or should not say."
Bresnick said Durham arrived at the grand-jury waiting room on Jan. 6, even though he had not been subpoenaed, and asked to meet with some witnesses so he could clear up "a big misunderstanding."
Bresnick said that Durham's presence while witnesses were waiting to testify against him showed his "obstructive nature."
The prosecutor also said that Durham had confronted Jerome "Pooh" Richardson after the former NBA player was subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury and told him to "tell the truth."
Defense attorney Fortunato N. Perri Jr. disagreed with the prosecutor's version of events, saying that Durham had been at the grand jury because he had accompanied his wife, who had been subpoenaed to testify.
Moreover, Perri said, it was Richardson who approached Durham, who then told him to "tell the truth" while the two chatted at Durham's father's funeral.
Perri also assembled a courtroom full of supporters for Durham, including city cops.
"These police officers obviously have a different version of Durham than the government has," Perri said, adding that "law enforcement has not turned their back on Rickie Durham."
A Philadelphia police spokesman said yesterday that Durham had been suspended for 30 days with intent to dismiss.
Durham was indicted Wednesday in connection with an Aug. 10, 2005, phone call he made to Richardson, a Philadelphia native who is a longtime friend of Durham's.
The feds say that Durham tipped off Richardson about the impending searches of Coles' home. Durham is accused of telling Richardson that authorities also planned to "take down" Richardson's half-sister, Asya, who was a live-in girlfriend of Coles'.
Authorities said that Richardson called Asya, told her about Durham's warning, and then told Coles about the search.
Coles and five associates were convicted in March 2008 in connection with running a $25 million cocaine-trafficking organization. Coles was sentenced to life plus 55 years in April. Asya Richardson was convicted of money-laundering. *