By Joseph A. Slobodzian A Philadelphia judge today denied bail motions for a group of inmates whose convictions are based on the now-clouded police work of Philadelphia narcotics officer Jeffrey Cujdik.
With the inmates present in court via a two-way telecast from the courtroom and their prisons across Pennsylvania, Common Pleas Court Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper said that there was no legally acceptable evidence to justify releasing the inmates under Pennsylvania's Post-Conviction Relief Act.
Woods-Skipper said she was "greatly troubled" by allegations that Cujdik and his confidential informant, Ventura Martinez, made up facts to obtain search warrant for drug suspects.
But the judge agreed with Assistant District Attorney Robin Godfrey that there was no legal evidence supporting the inmates' claims - just the reporting contained in Martinez's interview with the Daily News in a Feb. 9 article.
Although nine inmates' petitions were scheduled before Woods-Skipper this morning, only five inmates' bail petitions were actually denied. Assistant Public Defender Bradley S. Bridge withdrew the other four because the inmates also are serving time on unrelated charges or are about to be released on parole.
At issue is whether their convictions are so tainted by the involvement of Cujdik and his confidential informant - under investigation by the FBI and police for allegedly falsifying search warrants - to justify setting them free on bail pending the outcome of the probe.
Godfrey argued that none of the 52 challenges filed by Bridge should be heard until the criminal investigation ends.
Bridge has maintained that, especially in the cases of people in prison, it would be "untenable" to leave an innocent man behind bars when a serious challenge has been made to the arrest, prosecution and conviction.
Besides nine imates originally scheduled for today's hearings, two others among the 52 are also in prison.
They were not scheduled for bail hearings because they are facing trial on other, unrelated charges. The remaining 41 cases involve people on probation or who have completed their sentences.
The probe by the FBI and police Internal Affairs investigators began in February after Cujdik's long-time confidential informant, Ventura Martinez, publicly alleged that he and Cujdik sometimes created facts used to convince judges to approve search warrants for drug suspects.
No officer has been charged but, since Martinez went public with his allegations, Cudjik, 34, has been assigned to desk duty and surrendered his service weapon.
The investigation subsequently resulted in three of Cujdik's fellow officers in the Narcotics Field Unit being taken off the street: Richard L. Cujdik, 35, a 13-year police veteran who is Jeffrey's brother; Robert McDonnell Jr., 38, an officer since 1993; and Thomas J. Tolstoy, 35, an officer for almost 10 years.
None has commented on the allegations although Jeffrey Cujdik's attorney has called Martinez a liar and a career criminal who cannot be believed.