Drug Dealer: “I Thought I Was Being Robbed” by Police

Testimony started against six former Philly narcotics unit officers.

Testimony started today in the trial of six former Philadelphia Police officers accused by federal prosecutors of conspiring to rob and shake down the very drug dealers they were investigating.

First witness: Robert Kushner, now a 32-year-old part-time high school basketball coach living with his mother — but in fall 2007 a full-time pot dealer pulling down “a couple thousand” dollars a week.

He testified today he was stopped by police in October 2007 while driving to his girlfriend’s house: He was carrying a half-pound of marijuana to drop off with a friend, and $30,000 in cash to pay off a drug connection. 

Kushner said he was confronted by a trio of officers: Thomas Liciardello and Brian Reynolds, who are defendants in the federal case, along with Jeffrey Walker, who has pleaded guilty to related charges and will testify during this trial. Kushner said officers cuffed him, then looked through his car and found the bag, but that he was never shown a warrant or told a reason he was stopped. A police report later said the smell of marijuana was coming from Kushner’s vehicle, but Kusner denied he was smoking while driving.

“I thought I was part of an elaborate robbery scheme. I thought I was being robbed,” Kushner said of the police stop. “They were yelling at me, cursing at me, very aggressive.”

He was eventually locked up while the officers went to search his house. Kushner said that when he arrived home, his apartment had been turned upside-down, and a number of items were missing — including a safe where he had stored $80,000 of his pot-dealing proceeds.

Kushner said he understood why the money and paraphernalia, like scales, were seized, but said of other missing items — “I couldn’t understand how some Jordan shirts and a few DVDs had anything to do with the scope of the investigation.”

He received a receipt for some of the evidence seized from his car: The half-pound of pot and just $13,000 of the $30,000 he had with him. There was never a receipt given for the safe and the $80,000. Kushner said the experience left him traumatized.

“I had to seek therapy afterwards,” he said. “I felt robbed. I felt depressed.”

Reynolds’ attorney, Jack McMahon, was first to cross-examine Kushner — and began the pursuit of what he and other defense attorneys promised would be an effort to demonstrate the unreliability of the drug dealers who will be most of the prosecution’s case.

He pointed out that Kushner had begun drug-dealing while living with his parents, but Kushner protested that he never intended to be a pot “kingpin.”

“I was smoking marijuana, decided I didn’t want to pay for it,” Kushner said. “So I’d buy some, sell half, and keep the rest for myself.”

He added: “Never intentionally did I plan on getting to the point I got to.”

McMahon was unsympathetic, though, when Kushner seemed to lament the loss of his $80,000.

“It’s unfortunate you lost $80,000 in drug money?” McMahon pressed

“I guess so,” Kushner responded.

“It’s a shame,” McMahon shot back.

Also on trial are Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and John Speiser, all former members of the Philadelphia Police Department’s elite Narcotics Field Unit. Kushner is expected to be the first of 19 witnesses against the group.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.