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Defense lawyers for alleged rogue cops call federal witnesses 'liars,' feds say cops broke the law

The trial of six ex-narcotics cops accused of robbing suspected drug dealers began with spirited opening statements.

DEFENSE ATTORNEYS for the ex-narcotics cops accused of robbing suspected drug dealers went on the attack yesterday, calling the alleged victims "despicable liars."

They also lambasted Jeffrey Walker, a former narcotics cop-turned-cooperating government witness. Defense lawyer Jack McMahon, in his typical bulldog manner, called Walker "dirty and despicable, dumb and arrogant."

McMahon said he will put on the stand the narcotics cops' supervisors - who were at the scenes of the alleged robberies - to show there was no wrongdoing.

In his opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek told jurors in the packed federal courtroom that the six ex-narcotics cops on trial - alleged ringleader Thomas Liciardello, 38; Brian Reynolds, 43; Michael Spicer, 47; Perry Betts, 47; Linwood Norman, 47; and John Speiser, 42 - abused their power.

"Make no mistake about it - taking money while armed and while exercising your power as a Philadelphia police officer and keeping it for yourself and your co-conspirators is robbery, even if the money is illegal drug money," the prosecutor said.

Although most of the alleged robbery victims were drug dealers, "the focus [of the trial] is on the actions of these defendants as members of the Narcotics Field Unit," Wzorek said.

"The question is how did these defendants use their positions as police officers? . . . Did they break the law?" the prosecutor asked.

Wzorek said this case began when the FBI began to investigate the Narcotics Field Unit and conducted two undercover operations. The second sting, in May 2013, resulted in Walker's arrest.

Walker began to cooperate with the FBI and pointed out cases in which he or other cops stole money or drugs, or committed physical abuse, the prosecutor said. The alleged drug dealers then independently corroborated the robberies, Wzorek said.

The rogue cops in the unit "stuck together" until Liciardello and Walker had a falling-out, the prosecutor said. "For whatever reason, Jeffrey Walker felt like he was ostracized from the unit," Wzorek said.

After Walker was called to talk to police Internal Affairs and didn't check with Liciardello on what he should say, Liciardello texted Walker on March 11, 2011, and called him "a snitch, a rat," and wrote: "You're dead to everyone in this squad. Die, rat. I hope you die," Wzorek said.

The six ex-cops are charged with racketeering conspiracy. Some also face charges of robbery, extortion, falsification of records and other offenses. The feds contend they conspired to rob 19 victims in 19 "episodes" from 2006 to 2012 while on duty as plainclothes cops.

McMahon, Reynolds' lawyer, the first of the six defense attorneys to give an opening, told jurors that the alleged drug-dealer victims are seeking "revenge."

"They are people that lurk in the dark," he said, later adding: "If you have a bag of trash, and you have 19 bags of trash, you don't have better trash. You just have a bigger pile of trash."

McMahon described Reynolds as "an active cop, not a 9-to-5 cop," charged with ridding Philly of the "scourge" of drug dealers, who kept the streets safe while regular folks got to sleep at night.

He also contended the government, in its investigation, didn't interview people who didn't fit its predetermined theory.

"The United States government . . . has an obligation to you . . . to present to you the complete picture," he said.

But, McMahon said, the six ex-cops' supervisors at the time - then-Narcotics Chief Inspector William Blackburn, Sgt. Joe McCloskey, Lt. Robert Otto, Capt. Chris Werner and Lt. Thomas Wixted - are not going to be called as prosecution witnesses. Instead, the defense will call the supervisors to testify.

They "were right there, eyewitnesses to the events" listed in the indictment, McMahon said.

Jeffrey Miller, Liciardello's lawyer, told jurors that a better word to describe the 19 "episodes" in the government's indictment is "fable," or "fairy tale."

He stressed to jurors that in the first of two sting operations conducted by the FBI, narcotics cops, including Liciardello, took nothing from a suspected drug dealer, who was really an undercover FBI agent trying to catch the narcotics cops doing wrong.

"If they were thieves, the money would have disappeared," Miller said. But instead, the cops reported and turned in all the money they found, he said.

"This was a test by the FBI that exploded in their face," he said.

Jimmy Binns, Spicer's lawyer, called Walker "an admitted home invader," "a drug dealer," "a thief," "a drunk" and "a drooler."

Jurors will hear the remaining defense opening statements today, followed by the first prosecution witnesses, before U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno.