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City's cost for rogue narcotics squad: $777,500

THE CITY has paid out $777,500 to settle lawsuits against members of a narcotics squad that the District Attorney's Office will no longer use as witnesses.

THE CITY has paid out $777,500 to settle lawsuits against members of a narcotics squad that the District Attorney's Office will no longer use as witnesses.

Since 1999, 34 lawsuits have been filed against squad members. Fifteen were settled for sums ranging from $5,000 for an alleged illegal search to $250,000 for a deadly high-speed police chase.

Seventeen cases were closed without payment and two remain active.

The officers have been targets not only of federal lawsuits, but of dozens of Internal Affairs complaints. They allegedly fabricated evidence, planted drugs, stole money and used excessive force.

Chief Deputy City Solicitor Craig M. Straw said he did not consider the total dollar payout excessive to settle lawsuits involving these officers.

"I don't think that's a shocking number. Not at all," Straw said.

"I can understand the concern that there's a large number of cases, but in a number of cases there's no payment or the amount is as low as $5,000."

Defense attorneys, however, saw it differently.

"Anytime you have 34 lawsuits, regardless of the outcome, it says something," says Michael C. Schwartz, who representing Theodore Carobine, has filed a civil suit against four members of the squad and three other cops.

"Where there is smoke, there is fire," Schwartz said.

It's been a week since Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey transferred Officers Perry Betts, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Thomas Liciardello, John Speiser, and Lt. Robert Otto, who oversaw the unit, out of narcotics.

Ramsey made this move after the District Attorney's Office informed him that those six officers had lost their credibility in court and would no longer be called to testify in drug cases.

The D.A. has withdrawn 68 drug cases as of Wednesday, said Tasha Jamerson, the D.A.'s spokeswoman.

The credibility problem could affect dozens, even hundreds, more cases. Defense attorneys and public defenders have started to petition the court to reopen cases of convicted drug dealers so that some who are serving time based on these officers' testimony could be freed.

The officers have not responded to requests for comment, but the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 5, has defended the officers, saying the accusations have no grounds whatsoever.

But attorneys who have filed lawsuits against these officers argue otherwise.

The case of Carobine, of Northeast Philadelphia, remains open. Carobine was a 50-year-old plumber with no criminal history when he was arrested in July 2009. Carobine alleges in his suit that officers planted methamphetamine in his house and took more than $2,300 and rings.

Carobine had $11,000 in cash in a safe from an on-the-job injury settlement, while the officers recorded $8,669 on a property receipt, Schwartz said.

Carobine was jailed for five weeks until he could raise bail. Prosecutors later withdrew the case.

" @barbaralaker