Pubdate: Mon, 03 Aug 2009
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2009 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Authors: Wendy Ruderman, Barbara Laker & Bob Warner
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


THE CITY IS still paying thousands of dollars in  court-related 
overtime to four narcotics officers taken  off the street after being 
accused of fabricating  evidence and other crimes.

The officers are being paid to go to court for cases  that are 
delayed or withdrawn. They show up at the  Criminal Justice Center 
and do nothing.

Officers Jeffrey and Richard Cujdik, Robert McDonnell  Jr. and Thomas 
Tolstoy, in addition to their  $58,000-a-year salaries, have 
collectively earned more  than $15,500 in overtime since being taken 
off the  street, city payroll records show.

The city District Attorney's Office continues to  subpoena the 
officers to appear in court, even though  prosecutors routinely ask 
judges to postpone or drop  the cases.

Jeffrey Cujdik, 34, was placed on desk duty in  February. His 
35-year-old brother, Richard, and  McDonnell, 38, were taken off the 
street in April, and  Tolstoy, 35, followed in May.

Defense lawyers say that the overtime payments are a  waste of 
taxpayer money and city resources at a time  when the city is trying 
to curb court-related overtime,  which totaled almost $25 million in 
fiscal year 2008.

"In a city scrambling for money, in an economic crisis,  why [is the 
D.A.'s office] saying, 'Let's subpoena  witnesses to come to court' 
for cases they know are not  going to go on?" questioned defense 
lawyer Guy R.  Sciolla, a former assistant district attorney. "It's 
flat-out wrong to be spending money like that."

Scores of drug cases are in legal limbo pending the  outcome of a 
joint FBI and police Internal Affairs  investigation into allegations 
that the officers  fabricated evidence to make drug arrests and then 
lied  under oath in court.

Authorities launched the probe after a Daily News  article Feb. 9 in 
which Cujdik's longtime informant,  Ventura Martinez, alleged that 
Cujdik had instructed  him to lie about some drug buys so that 
officers could  obtain search warrants to enter homes of suspected 
drug  dealers.

The investigation expanded in March after the Daily  News reported 
allegations that Cujdik and fellow squad  members cut wires to 
video-surveillance cameras during  raids of corner grocery stores 
selling tiny ziplock  bags, which police consider drug paraphernalia. 
After  the cameras went dark, thousands of dollars in cash and 
merchandise went missing, store owners alleged.

In June, the Daily News described claims of three women  who said 
that they had been sexually violated by  Tolstoy during drug raids in 
their homes.

No officer has been charged with a crime. The officers,  all members 
of the elite Narcotics Field Unit and  veterans of the Police 
Department for 10 years or more,  have declined to comment. Jeffrey 
Cujdik's attorney has  maintained that his client did nothing wrong.

As the FBI-led investigation enters its sixth month,  the District 
Attorney's Office is trying to keep afloat  criminal cases stemming 
from arrests made by the  officers.

"We want to maintain the status quo," said Deputy  District Attorney 
John Delaney, who heads the trial  division.

"We can't behave as if the allegations [against the  officers] don't 
exist. And we can't behave like the  allegations are automatically 
true just because they  were made," Delaney said.

The District Attorney's Office continues to subpoena  the four 
officers to appear in court just in case a  judge denies the 
prosecutor's request for a  continuance, he said.

"The District Attorney has to be prepared," Delaney  said. "We can't 
try the case if the officer isn't  there."

Yet prosecutors and defense lawyers interviewed by the  Daily News 
could not name a single case that has gone  forward since the 
officers were taken off the street.  In fact, prosecutors have chosen 
to withdraw charges in  cases where defense lawyers balked at 
postponements and  judges agreed that a delay would be unfair to the defendant.

"The bottom line is, the D.A.'s office can't call them  as witnesses 
because of the cloud they're under,"  Sciolla said.

"It defies logic," defense lawyer Jeremy Ibrahim said.  "It's almost 
like a shell game. On one hand, the city  can't proceed with the 
cases, but is paying these  officers to come to court."

In just a three-month period ending July 12, McDonnell  earned nearly 
$4,000 and Richard Cujdik made more than  $4,500 in court overtime.

Jeffrey Cujdik - the first officer put on desk duty in  connection 
with the expanding FBI probe - has collected  nearly $4,800 in court 
overtime from Feb. 13 to July  12, payroll records show.

The extra earnings are far less than what the officers  had made in 
overtime in previous years, when they  arrested hundreds of drug 
suspects while on street  duty. Last year, for example, three of the 
four  officers almost doubled their salaries in overtime pay,  each 
grossing more than $100,000.

Many of the drug arrests that led to the overtime are  now under 
scrutiny as part of the probe.

One case in question involves Albert Nunez, 32, whose  Kensington 
house was raided in December 2007.

In an application for a search warrant, Officer  McDonnell said that 
he watched Martinez, known as  Confidential Informant No. 103, buy a 
packet of cocaine  from Nunez as the two men stood on the front 
porch. Martinez, however, has told the Daily News that he  never 
bought drugs from Nunez.

During the raid, Jeffrey Cujdik said that he found 47  packets of 
cocaine in a teddy bear inside the home.  Nunez admits that he had a 
small amount of marijuana,  but insists he never had or sold cocaine.

Nunez wasn't home at the time, but his wife, Lady  Gonzalez, said 
that an officer, whom she later  identified as Tolstoy, pulled up her 
shirt and fondled  her breasts. She said she feared that he was going 
to rape her.

Gonzalez has filed a civil suit against Tolstoy and the  eight other 
cops who participated in the raid.

Nunez's drug case has been continued until Sept. 15,  with a trial 
date set for Sept. 28.

"They [the officers] still get paid when my life is on  hold," Nunez 
said. "I'm struggling to pay my bills and  pay my lawyer, and these 
guys get overtime. I don't  understand."

Delaney said that the District Attorney's Office has no  control over 
whether officers get paid overtime for  going to court.

"That's up to the Police Department," Delaney said. "If  the Police 
Department put the officers on daywork only,  they would make zero 
overtime. That's not our  decision."

Officers working an 8 a.m.-4 p.m. shift do not receive  overtime for 
court appearances. But under the police  contract, the city is 
required to pay officers a  minimum of two hours of overtime, even if 
the case is  postponed, if they're scheduled to work a night shift. 
Officers received a minimum of four hours of overtime  if they're 
subpoenaed on a day off, according to police  spokesman Lt. Frank Vanore.

"By contract, if they are subpoenaed and they are on a  tour of duty 
that warrants overtime, then they get it,"  Vanore said.

Although the Cujdik brothers, McDonnell and Tolstoy are  currently on 
desk duty, they still are assigned to the  Narcotics Field Unit and 
their hours must continue to  match those of their fellow squad 
members under terms  of the police contract, Vanore said.

"If a particular officer is in one platoon and they're  scheduled to 
work 4 p.m. to 12 a.m., we couldn't  arbitrarily shift them to day 
work just because they  have a court notice," Vanore said. "That 
would cause a  contractual issue."

In fiscal year 2008, the city spent about $24.9 million  on 
court-related police overtime. It expects to pay  about $22.8 million 
in the fiscal year that ended June  30, Vanore said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom