Witness at Drug-squad Trial Confuses Officers, Amount of Money Stolen

The Philadelphia Inquirer
by Sarah Smith, Inquirer Staff Writer

Between misidentifying officers and changing the amount of money he said was stolen from him, Michael Procopio did not have a good Friday on the witness stand.

Procopio, 40 and hearing-impaired, testified with the aid of a sign-language interpreter in the second day of the corruption trial of six members of the Philadelphia police narcotics unit, telling of run-ins he had with the squad.

He was open about his own vices, describing himself as a con artist and gambler who could, at the peak of his drug addiction, take up to 10 OxyContin pills each day. But he also said he had been clean for 39 days.

The first incident, in December 2008, began when Procopio was on his way to a bar in South Philadelphia to sell OxyContin. He told jurors Thursday former police officer Jeffrey Walker approached him.

“He didn’t identify himself,” Procopio said. “I thought I was being robbed.”

But when the admitted drug dealer bolted down a nearby street, he said, other officers from the Narcotics Field Unit swept in, including Thomas Liciardello, identified by prosecutors as the group’s ringleader.

Procopio recognized Liciardello for another reason: They played on the same Little League baseball team. Prosecutors say Liciardello and his five co-defendants stole money from drug dealers for years, often using excessive force and falsifying reports.

The officers brought Procopio back to his house on Jessup Street. As Procopio told it, the officers lounged around as Liciardello pressured him to cooperate. They agreed to let him have a Suboxone pill to help wean him off his addiction to oxycodone. He remembers passing out. He said he remembered Liciardello going to a bedroom where Procopio had stashed $18,000 in cash – a gift from his wedding seven months before.

Later, he said, Liciardello returned to order pizza and chicken wings for the drug squad, taking $700 from Procopio’s pockets to cover the $48 tab and a $22 tip.

When Procopio returned home from jail a day later, his wedding-gift nest egg was gone, he said. Property receipts from the day of his arrest, however, list only $4,750 seized from the house.

The civil suit Procopio filed against the city and several of the narcotics officers in November 2014 alleged that $4,200 was taken from his pocket, rather than $700.

That discrepancy is not the only problem with his civil suit, the defense said. In testimony Thursday, Procopio pointed to Liciardello, Linwood Norman, and Perry Betts as the narcotics officers at his home when the money was taken. But his civil complaint lists John Speiser rather than Betts, as a defendant. Procopio could not seem to tell whether Speiser or Betts was at the scene.

“You look like a John to me,’ ” Procopio said of Betts.

“Who looks like a John to you?” defense attorney Jack McMahon asked.

Judge Eduardo Robreno interrupted: “Do you see the one you refer to as John in the courtroom today?”

Procopio pointed to Betts. Speiser and Betts stood. McMahon asked Speiser to take off his glasses.

“They look the same if you take off the glasses,” Procopio said, looking out at the bald Speiser and Betts, who has a full head of graying hair.

“They look like twins,” McMahon said. The courtroom laughed.

After December 2008, Liciardello was not finished with Procopio. Over the next four years, Procopio testified, he received several text messages from an old baseball buddy, whom he had programmed into his phone under the name “Tommy Narc.”

Liciardello stopped him more than five times on the streets afterward and harassed him, Procopio said. In the next major shakedown, in November 2010, he said, the officers took $3,500 in cash from him. Procopio claimed he had come by the money from honest work.

“Isn’t part of your anger because you’re embarrassed you got locked up by Tommy, a guy you knew from South Philly?” Speiser’s attorney, Michael Diamondstein, asked.

“I wasn’t embarrassed,” Procopio said. “I put my foot in Tommy’s ass.”

Testimony is expected to resume Tuesday.
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Inquirer staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this article.


Published: April 10, 2015 — 6:36 PM EDT | Updated: April 11, 2015 — 1:09 AM EDT
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