Cops nab ringleader in major fraud scheme

Tell you what: Raymond Starr had a helluva scam going for a little while there.

Members of the Philadelphia Police Department's Major Crimes Unit started to follow his trail in April when they were tipped off to an apparent bank-fraud scheme that the 21-year-old was allegedly running.

Capt. Roland Lee, the unit's commander, said at a news conference yesterday that the scam worked like this: Starr would approach an unsuspecting person - usually a young adult on a college campus, or on South Street - and claim that he needed to cash a check, but didn't have a checking account of his own.

Starr allegedly convinced his victims to deposit his phony check into their accounts, and then share with him their account information - in return for a piece of the money. Starr would then withdraw money from the accounts before his phony check bounced.

While the scam sounds fairly transparent, Starr managed to pull it off enough times to defraud TruMark Financial Credit Union of at least $30,000, Lee said.

"I know [the final figure] is going to be much higher than that," he said.

Starr and two accomplices were arrested yesterday morning at an apartment on Roosevelt Boulevard near Bleigh Avenue and charged with theft by unlawful taking, criminal conspiracy and related offenses.

Investigators searched the apartment and found handguns, bottles of Xanax and Oxycodone, cash and phony prescription slips, all of which were splayed out on a table like Christmas presents during the news conference at the 16th District's headquarters on Lancaster Avenue near 39th Street.

Lee said other people who believe they were victimized by Starr can contact Major Crimes investigators at 215-686-3396.

Still no bail for ex-cop

A federal judge yesterday again denied bail to ex-narcotics cop Thomas Liciardello, the alleged ringleader of a group of cops accused of robbing suspected drug dealers, at times using violence.

U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno ruled that keeping Liciardello behind bars pending trial does not violate his due-process rights. The judge's order noted previous findings that Liciardello, 38, poses a danger to the community and to potential witnesses.

The judge also noted that the March trial date for Liciardello and his five co-defendants was the earliest feasible date for all the defense attorneys, and that the government would have been ready to try the case at an earlier date.

Liciardello's attorney, Jeffrey Miller, had filed a motion Oct. 27 for Liciardello to be released from custody based on the Speedy Trial Act, which basically requires that a defendant be tried within 70 days of his initial appearance before a judge. The act is subject to exceptions.

The trial for Liciardello and his five co-defendants - other ex-narcotics cops who have been released on bail and are under house arrest - is scheduled for the week of March 23.

Liciardello has been in custody since his July 30 arrest.

- David Gambacorta and Julie Shaw