March 14, 2000|
Camden police records subpoenaed
By FRANK KUMMER and CLINT RILEY
The Camden County Prosecutor's Office has subpoenaed the personnel records of all city police officers since 1997, signifying that a corruption investigation of the department is under way.
Although Prosecutor Lee A. Solomon said he could not comment, city Police Chief Robert Allenbach confirmed he was told of the subpoena.
Allenbach said he was not informed about the focus of the investigation, but believes it grew, in part, from a recent drug trial in which several convicted drug dealers said officers shook them down or alerted them to raids. Indeed, several dealers said they were more afraid of being shaken down than arrested when encountering some officers.
"I'm more than willing to cooperate," Allenbach said of any investigation.
Allegations of police corruption emerged during the federal drug trafficking trial of Jose "JR" Rivera and Luis "Tun Tun" Figueroa, who were convicted Feb. 29 of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Rivera and Figueroa, said to be leaders in the city's largest drug syndicate in the 1990s, are awaiting sentencing. Rivera was also convicted of money laundering.
At the time of the conviction, Solomon promised he would thoroughly investigate allegations that corrupt police helped the syndicate flourish for nearly a decade.
He refused to elaborate Monday when asked about the scope of the investigation or its targets. In keeping with policy, Solomon would not confirm an investigation exists.
A new county grand jury began meeting last week. The 23-member panel typically would meet for four months.
News of the subpoena caught officers off guard.
"You just dropped a bomb on me," said Dan Morris, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, which represents Camden's rank-and-file officers. "You're talking about 500 files, including retirees."
Camden now has 406 officers on its force, and about 50 officers have retired since Jan. 1, 1997.
Timothy J.P. Quinlan, attorney for the FOP, said officers are worried that highly personal information in the files could leak out.
"Maybe the loss of privacy is the price they pay for a few corrupt officers," Quinlan said. "I just hope it turns out to be a very few guys."
"They have to do what they have to do to restore the integrity of the department, but at the same time, we are concerned about the privacy of our officers," said Lt. Lou Hannon, president of Camden Organization of Police Superiors, which represents 83 superior officers.
The subpoena, issued to the city's department of personnel, was signed by Joel Aronow, deputy section chief of the special prosecutions unit in the prosecutor's office. Aronow specializes in reviewing allegations of police corruption.
It remained unclear Monday which officers were targets.
Several of the 13 convicted drug dealers who testified for the government at the recent trial named more than a dozen city police, county investigators and even a federal drug enforcement agent as assisting them or shaking down associates for cash and drugs during the 1990s.
A half-dozen officers were called late in the trial by the defense as possible witnesses but Rivera's attorney, Marc Neff, never called them to the stand.
At the time, Neff said his decision not to call city police officers he subpoenaed had nothing to do with a box of documents prosecutors had turned over to the defense. Several law enforcement sources identified the documents as police department internal affairs records of the subpoenaed officers, but Neff declined to say what the boxes contained.
During the trial, Saul Febo, who admitted overseeing the city's largest drug market for a decade, testified he was sometimes warned of raids by authorities. He said five city police officers - whom he identified by partial or full names - either tipped him off or shook down his dealers for money.
Admitted cocaine trafficker Kenneth Waller and other dealers testified that numerous Camden police officers were regularly in the company of Rivera.
Rivera, 40, owned JR's Custom Auto Parts in East Camden. The dealers testified that the auto parts store and Rivera's adjoining gym were regular hangouts for the police.
"The ball is in our court," Solomon said the day Rivera was convicted. "If any information (about corruption by law enforcement) is disclosed, it will be dealt with."
Solomon has maintained that the police department has been clean under the leadership of Allenbach, who took the post in December 1998 following the abrupt retirement of former police Chief William Hill. After Hill retired, the department was the focus of a scathing state report alleging widespread mismanagement. The state Attorney General then appointed Solomon as "monitor" of the department.
A Courier-Post investigation into police ties to drug traffickers in December uncovered evidence that at least 10 city police officers had been investigated or named in never-disclosed law enforcement records as assisting in the illegal sale of drugs, guns and ammunition as long as a decade ago.
At least six of those officers remain on the job, while four others have been ousted, either for drug offenses or lesser administrative charges, during the past 10 years.
For the six still on the force, no records have been made public about whether they were the subject of any criminal or administrative charges or convictions.
At one police substation, drug traffickers grew so cozy with some officers throughout the 1990s that the entire Fifth Platoon was tainted with the nickname "The Filthy Fifth."
A picture of Rivera hung in the main trophy case of police headquarters on Haddon Avenue, confidential law enforcement sources told the newspaper.
Rivera even sponsored an intramural police basketball team made up mainly of officers who once served in the Fifth Platoon in East Camden, two police sources said. A picture of the championship basketball squad hung for at least two years in a trophy case at police headquarters - not far from another photo of Rivera and a group of officers in paint ball gear, the sources said.
All the while, Rivera was being investigated by city police, as well as state and federal authorities, for running a multimillion-dollar drug operation.
Former city police Detective Pierre Robinson, who also served as police bodyguard for Mayor Milton Milan, was a member of the Fifth Platoon. He was suspended in March 1998, days after FBI agents found a banned IntraTEC-9 assault pistol in a safe at Rivera's business office during a raid.
Robinson pleaded guilty to selling Rivera the weapon and three 30-round ammunition clips for $800 in June 1996. Robinson resigned from the department in November 1998. He awaits sentencing in state Superior Court.