CRIMINAL investigators descended on Delaware County's troubled Colwyn Borough yesterday in connection with a probe of a former Philadelphia cop who was secretly hired to oversee the suburban police department.
The latest raid in Colwyn, a dysfunctional little burg on the border of Southwest Philly, appeared to be focused on Rochelle Bilal, who recently left her city job but has been quietly working a side gig in the borough since September, apparently in violation of city police rules, the Daily News reported last month.
Detectives took a computer from the police department and also executed a search warrant at borough hall. The raid was headed by Philadelphia police, with assistance from county detectives and the FBI's computer forensics lab, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
Bilal, 55, president of the black police officers' Guardian Civic League, was hired last year by Colwyn's Democratic council majority, led by Council President Tonette Pray, according to Republican Mayor Daniel Rutland. He said Bilal was hired as public-safety director without a vote. Pray has refused to disclose how Bilal is paid - even to the mayor.
"I'm in the dark," Rutland said.
Pray would not discuss Bilal's job with the Daily News last month or answer questions about how public funds are being spent, saying, "I don't answer any questions. My bottom line is I don't give out information."
Pray, a local firebrand who became the borough's first black council president in 2007, is facing a civil-rights lawsuit alleging that she fired the police chief because he is white. The suit claims that Pray has sought to make Colwyn "brown like UPS," as she allegedly said. Yesterday, she declined to comment on the raid and hung up on a Daily News reporter.
"Any time someone wants to do something good, you have people with personal interests," said Wanda Davis, who described herself as Bilal's assistant in Colwyn.
Colwyn's offices were raided last year after Officer Trevor Parham used a Taser on a teen who was shackled in a holding cell, then texted "lol" about the incident to a fellow cop.
The borough's political feuds often make the news. That prompted a resident of the duplex that houses the police station to pitch a moneymaking scheme:
"If they keep putting my house on the news, I'm going to start selling advertising," the man, sporting flip-flops and a "Free Hugs" T-shirt, blurted out from his front porch.
Bilal declined to comment, but she hired attorney Brian Puricelli yesterday.
"From what I've seen so far, it doesn't appear that she's done anything wrong," Puricelli said.
Parham was back in uniform, standing in front of the station while authorities executed the search warrants.
"Who would have thought this little town could be like this?" Rutland asked. "Amazing."
Staff writer Dana DiFilippo contributed to this report.