Testifying Thursday in federal court, drug dealer Jason Kennedy said Philadelphia narcotics officers punched him in the mouth, threatened him with a sledgehammer, took $210,000 from his apartment, and said they would toss him from a third-floor balcony if he didn't agree to give up his supplier.

But when it came time for lawyers for those officers - now standing trial on corruption charges - to ask their own questions of Kennedy, they led off with an unusual early choice.

"How did you get into the business of drug dealing?" asked defense lawyer Jack McMahon.

That question was posed again and again to witnesses on the fourth day of the racketeering conspiracy trial of Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman, and John Speiser.

Jurors heard Thursday from three more men who accused the members of an elite narcotics unit of using excessive force or taking money and property that was never listed as seized in official police reports.

As he cross-examined each, between efforts to poke holes in their stories, McMahon dedicated significant time to draw out the minutest of details on how their drug businesses worked.

Who was your supplier, he pressed Michael Lau, 44, who was twice arrested by the unit for dealing marijuana. Lau would later allege that Liciardello and a seventh officer, Jeffrey Walker, seized and never reported $35,000 in drug proceeds they took from his bedroom in his mother's house in Chinatown.

Who were your customers, McMahon demanded of Michael Cascioli during testimony a day earlier. Cascioli hedged in his response, saying he could only remember nicknames like "Jewish Rob."

How much did marijuana cost wholesale and how much of a profit did you make, he later asked Kingsessing dealer Ian Bates.

At face value, questions focusing on the ins and outs of the drug trade might not appear to directly challenge the allegations the men have made against the indicted officers.

But by keeping a constant focus on the illegal activity that brought the officers to the men's doorsteps in the first place, the defense has been laying the groundwork for one of its chief strategies: to get jurors to question whose testimony is more credible - that of the drug dealers or that of the officers who put them behind bars.

"Nobody else on this Planet Earth can testify to that except you, the drug dealer," McMahon responded as Bates told jurors that the officers took $128,000 while searching his house in 2009, but only reported seizing $65,000.

When Lau described his 2010 arrest, McMahon interjected, "But you weren't an innocent person who was just picked off the street and framed for drug dealing, were you?"

Prosecutors say the criminal records of the witnesses are beside the point in a case about whether the indicted officers overstepped boundaries, violated civil rights, stole money, or lied to their supervisors.

Or, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek put it in his opening statement Monday: "Make no mistake about it, taking money while armed and using your authority as a Philadelphia police officer is robbery even if it's illegal drug money."

Wzorek closed his presentation Thursday with Kennedy, a witness whose testimony underlined that point.

"I thought I was being robbed," he told jurors, recalling the moment in 2010 when plainclothes officers burst into his Front Street condo with a sledgehammer.

Kennedy, 42, a part-time music producer and full-time marijuana peddler, testified that Spicer, the first one through the door, took minutes to identify himself as an officer.

The two engaged in a struggle as Kennedy tried to flee. Spicer punched him, Kennedy said, damaging his teeth, and threatened to hit him in the head with the sledgehammer.

Spicer only revealed his identity after their fight concluded, Kennedy testified. It was then, he said, that Spicer handcuffed him, shoved him onto his third-floor balcony, and leaned him out over the edge.

"He asked me whether I wanted to go head first or feet first," Kennedy recalled.

And which did he choose, Wzorek asked.

Feet first, said Kennedy.

Spicer, he recalled, replied: "You're not such a dumb [obscenity] after all."

Kennedy's testimony is expected to continue Tuesday, when the trial resumes after a planned four-day break.

jroebuck@phillynews.com 215-854-2608 @jeremyrroebuck