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Former Camden police officer sentenced to 10 years for stealing cash, drugs

A former Camden City police officer convicted of stealing cash and drugs, planting evidence, and lying to a grand jury was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday by U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler.

A former Camden City police officer convicted of stealing cash and drugs, planting evidence, and lying to a grand jury was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday by U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler.

Kugler also revoked bail for Antonio Figueroa, 36, and ordered the former member of an elite antidrug squad taken into custody.

Kugler said Figueroa and three other members of the squad awaiting sentencing "had shattered the community trust" in law enforcement and "cast a pall" over hundreds of honest police officers working in the city.

Several times during the 90-minute hearing, Kugler shook his head and said he could not understand what motivated Figueroa and the others.

The case has spawned dozens of lawsuits brought by defendants whose convictions were vacated or overturned after details of an FBI investigation into the corruption charges were made public - though several of those cleared have been rearrested on new charges, including one for homicide.

Figueroa fought back tears before sentencing as he offered an explanation for his actions.

Born and raised in Camden, he said he had seen the effect drugs had on the city and "on some of my own family members."

He told Kugler he became a police officer to combat that problem and that although he feared for his own safety when he took to the streets in uniform each day, "I was more afraid of what drugs were doing to the city of Camden. That's why I went into police work."

Ralph Jacobs, Figueroa's lawyer, described his client's actions as "misguided," but argued that the motivation was "an effort to get drugs and guns off the streets."

In asking for the maximum 10-year sentence, Deputy U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick, who prosecuted the case, said Figueroa "corrupted and perverted the justice system. . . . He had the trust of the community and he betrayed that trust."

After a two-week trial in December, Figueroa was convicted of three counts of conspiring to violate the rights of city residents.

Three other members of the antidrug squad pleaded guilty and cooperated with authorities. A fifth police officer, Robert Bayard, was tried with Figueroa and found not guilty.

The charges stemmed from an FBI investigation into allegations that members of the police unit routinely stole drugs and cash from suspected drug dealers and users. The investigation focused on a period from July 2008 through November 2009, according to court documents.

Authorities alleged the corrupt officers planted some of the drugs they stole on other suspects in an attempt to get them to cooperate or to enhance the charges against them. They also alleged that the investigating officers filed false police reports and lied to grand juries.

The others charged in the case are Dan Morris, 48, a retired police sergeant, and former officers Jason Stetser, 33, and Kevin Parry, 31. All three are free on bail pending sentencing before Kugler.

The scandal resulted in the Camden County Prosecutor's Office's deciding to vacate or dismiss charges against nearly 200 defendants, many of whom had been convicted or pleaded guilty. Some were serving jail terms.

Even though he believed many of the freed defendants were guilty, Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk said his office had no alternative because those cases had been "tainted" by the actions of the corrupt officers.

About 100 of those defendants have filed legal claims and lawsuits against the city and the New Jersey Attorney General's Office.

Those cases are wending their way through federal court and a state arbitration system.

According to statistics compiled by the Prosecutor's Office, at least 24 of the defendants cleared in the corruption scandal have been rearrested. Most have been charged with narcotics offenses. There are also two robbery charges and a domestic-violence case in addition to the one homicide rap.