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Falsified evidence, lies

Philadelphia cops’ frame-ups under fire

Published Feb 19, 2009 8:45 PM

Hundreds of Philadelphia drug convictions could be overturned, and pending cases dropped, because of police falsification of evidence against people they accused of dealing drugs.

Narcotics Officer Jeffrey Cujdik has been put on desk duty and relieved of his service pistol, pending further investigations by the FBI, the district attorney and police department Internal Affairs. “The investigation includes everyone who made an arrest with Cujdik and any other informant who worked with him,” one official said. (Philadelphia Daily News, Feb. 9) At least six other police-paid informants worked with Cujdik.

Cujdik is accused of ordering longtime informant Ventura Martinez to falsify evidence in order to build cases against people Cujdik targeted. The illegal practice came to light in a Philadelphia Daily News story in which Martinez said Cujdik sometimes ordered him to buy drugs elsewhere when he was unable to make a buy from an alleged drug house. Cujdik then lied in search-warrant applications, saying he had witnessed Martinez purchase the drugs from the targeted house.

Five years of cases in question

Police began using Martinez as an informant as far back as 2003, paying him $150 to $200 for each drug or gun case he helped develop. It’s a long-standing and questionable police department practice to pay confidential informants to make drug buys and give tips leading to drug and gun arrests.

A 12-year veteran, Cujdik has been one of the busiest narcotics cops on the force. In 2007, according to city payrolls, he made nearly $50,000 in overtime, much of it from court appearances, on top of his $55,389 yearly salary. Martinez also claims he gave Cujdik more than $20,000 in informant cash to rent a house that Cujdik owned.

The scandal came to light when defense attorney Stephen P. Patrizio became suspicious of similarities with other search warrants involving “Confidential Informant Number 103” (Martinez) and Cujdik. During his investigation, Patrizio had a photograph taken of the informant leaving a house owned by Cujdik. It turned out that Martinez and his family rented the house from Cujdik from September 2005 to January 2009. The lease agreement violated police rules that require cops to keep an arms-length relationship with informants.

Once Informant No. 103’s name and address were released in court, Martinez contacted the press, Internal Affairs and the FBI in an effort to qualify for the witness protection program. FBI agent Janice Fedarcyk said, “It would be premature to outline exactly what our steps are going to be,” and Martinez, scared for his life, said the protection program has not been offered to him yet. (Philadelphia Daily News, Feb. 14)

From juvenile court to death row

The use of false testimony from witnesses and informants, in addition to the practice of preying on drug suspects, stealing their money and covering up police crimes with false arrests and search warrants, led to the arrests of five cops in the 39th Police District scandal in 1995. The city of Philadelphia had to release almost 500 prisoners and subsequently paid $4 million to settle civil rights lawsuits because of improper police conduct.

One hundred and twenty miles away in Luzerne County, juveniles with minor offences were improperly sentenced, often without access to defense attorneys, to serve time in privately run detention centers, so that two Pennsylvania judges could receive kickbacks for keeping the center full and more profitable.

Defense lawyers and supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal have long charged that false testimony from coerced witnesses and other police misconduct led to his conviction for the death of police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. Abu-Jamal still sits on death row awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the issue of racism during his jury selection, while a worldwide movement of supporters continues to argue for his innocence.