Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman won the 2010 Pulitzer for a series, called Tainted Justice, in the Daily News. The duo was awarded the prize by the Pulitzer jury “for their resourceful reporting that exposed a rogue police narcotics squad, resulting in an FBI probe and the review of hundreds of criminal cases tainted by the scandal.”
The stories detailed the tales of several Philadelphia convenience store owners who all told the same story: Philadelphia narcotics cops entered their stores, cut the wires to security cameras and stole several thousands of dollars, food and merchandise. Three women said they were sexually assaulted. The stories recently became a book, A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love, that has since been optioned for TV.
The FBI probe and case review appears to be all that will happen as a result of the stories, as federal and local prosecutors declined to charge the five police officers under investigtion. The Inquirer’s Aubrey Whelan and Mike Newall report that, while the police officers face an internal review, they are likely to return to the force. (One has since retired.) Sources told the Inquirer the case suffered from “weak witnesses and a lack of evidence.”
The Daily News turns up the outrage today, with a strong column from Ronnie Polaneczky that opens with, “Disgusting. Unbelievable. Sickening.” Sources tell Polaneczky that none of the convenience store owners were ever called to a grand jury. “The only way a cop can lose his job in this city is if he shoots another cop during roll call,” a former police officer tells her.
The city paid out $1.7 million to settle 33 lawsuits stemming from the series. If the officers receive back pay, that will be another $1 million or so.
Meanwhile, Ruderman and Laker are back on the story again, telling the stories of disappointed bodega owners.
Lady Gonzalez, who told the Daily News that Tolstoy lifted up her shirt and bra and groped her breasts, said she has lost faith in the criminal-justice system.
“Cops get locked up for a lot less than this. There was sexual contact, harassment and lies. I just don’t get it,” she said, her voice shaking with emotion.
“They raided people’s homes based on lies. There was a pervert — a cop — who was sexually molesting women and they were robbing stores. They’re caught on camera, yet they get away with it,” she said.
“They knew all along that they hadn’t done anything wrong,” Fraternal Order of Police head John McNesby said. “I said from Day One that all of these guys were aboveboard.” He claims the officers were “persecuted” by the Daily News.