Pubdate: Thu, 02 Apr 2015
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2015 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Jeremy Roebuck
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


At Drug Officers' Trial, a Dealer Tells of Some Scary Moments on His 
Penthouse Balcony.

With a burly police officer on each of his handcuffed arms and a 
19-story drop below him from his penthouse apartment balcony, drug 
dealer Michael Cascioli was asked a troubling question.

"You've seen the movie Training Day?" Cascioli recalled Police 
Officer Thomas Liciardello asking, referencing the 2001 film 
featuring Denzel Washington as a dirty cop. "This is Training Day for .. real."

What followed, as Cascioli told a federal jury Wednesday, is one of 
the most disturbing instances in a case filled with allegations of 
outrageous behavior by a rogue police narcotics unit.

Prosecutors allege Liciardello, the group's leader, ordered the two 
others - Philadelphia Police Officers Linwood Norman and Jeffrey 
Walker - to hold Cascioli out over the railing and threaten to drop 
him to the asphalt parking lot below. The threat was made, Cascioli 
testified in U.S. District Court, to scare him into giving up the 
password to his PalmPilot discovered during a raid on his apartment.

"I had two big guys on me on both sides. My feet were off the 
ground," Cascioli said. "I was thinking they're just going to drop me 
right there."

Liciardello, Cascioli recalled, said: "Hey, we'll just throw you off, 
and no one will ever know."

Cascioli, a rail-thin 38- year-old with skeletal features and sunken 
eyes, testified on the third day of the racketeering conspiracy trial 
of Liciardello, Norman, and four other members of their unit - Brian 
Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, and John Speiser.

Prosecutors allege the group shook down drug suspects for years with 
ganglike tactics that netted them more than $400,000 in cash, drugs, 
and personal property - seizures they downplayed on police reports to 
cover up their takes.

Walker, one of the officers Cascioli accused of deploying the balcony 
threat, has already pleaded guilty in a separate corruption case and 
is set to testify against his former colleagues.

Jurors on Wednesday also heard from Dontay Murphy, a 29- year-old 
SEPTA bus driver, who alleged Liciardello pistolwhipped him during a 
2006 drug arrest and later lied about it on a police report. The 
police report Liciardello later filed said Murphy sustained his 
injuries after knocking his head against a cinder-block wall.

But it was Cascioli's story that drew harshest scrutiny from defense 
lawyers. They have painted their clients' accusers as opportunistic 
liars, eager to blame the police for their own criminal behavior and 
cash in with lucrative police-brutality lawsuits.

On the stand, Cascioli described himself as one of the city's largest 
wholesale marijuana dealer, who trafficked with only a handful of 
upscale clients. He grossed from $360,000 to $600,0000 a year, he said.

Under questioning from prosecutor Anthony Wzorek, he recounted the 
events that brought Liciardello and the others in November 2007 to 
his 19th-floor penthouse at City Avenue's Executive House apartment tower.

His neighbor had begun cooperating with the officers 10 days before 
and offered to buy marijuana and mushrooms from Cascioli so 
Liciardello could catch him in the act.

When Cascioli left his apartment to deliver the drugs, Liciardello 
and a half dozen other officers dressed in ski hats and dark clothing 
were waiting.

"My first immediate thought was it was the Mafia and I was getting 
robbed," Cascioli said.

The group tackled him to the ground and led him back inside. They 
tore apart his apartment looking for money and more drugs. Soon, they 
had pressured Cascioli to draw his supplier - Bronx-based dealer 
Jeremy Sarkissina - into their dragnet.

The department's top brass would later tout the Cascioli operation at 
a news conference as a major success that resulted in the seizure of 
16 pounds of marijuana, 12 pounds of mushrooms, and nearly $440,000 in cash.

But although several department supervisors stopped by the search of 
his apartment during the search, it was what happened while they 
weren't present that prosecutors now say was criminal.

Cascioli said he was never read his Miranda rights or shown a search 
warrant. He alleged Walker and Betts hit him several times throughout 
the night, while others took money from his nightstand to order pizza.

And when, days later, Cascioli retrieved his belongings from the 
ransacked apartment, he noticed more than just drugs had gone 
missing. A Versace sweat suit, two Movado watches, an iPod, and a GPS 
- - together worth about $8,000 - had all disappeared, he said. None of 
it was listed on the receipt of seized property he was given by the police.

"The first thing I said was I want an attorney," Cascioli said.

Liciardello's foul response, he recalled, was: "F- you."

Throughout his testimony Wednesday, Cascioli described the encounter 
in an assured voice and held his ground under heavy questioning from 
the defense.

Still, lawyers for the six indicted officers caught a few 
inconsistencies in his story - whether or not the officers wore ski 
masks when they tackled him outside his apartment, whether or not he 
was wearing handcuffs while being held over the balcony, and whether 
he had initially lied to the FBI about his brother, who was hiding 
drug money for him in Maryland.

But when challenged by defense lawyer Jack McMahon on his recent 
decision to consult a lawyer to potentially sue the officers, 
Cascioli stood his ground.

"I want what's right to be right," he said. "My rights were violated. 
I want to win."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom