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Six Philadelphia narcotics officers arrested for robbing dealers

By Daniel Kelley

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - U.S. government agents arrested six Philadelphia narcotics officers on Wednesday on charges they robbed and in some cases kidnapped drug dealers, including dangling one over an 18th story balcony to force him to give up a computer password.

The men are accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and items including a Rolex watch and a designer suit. In one instance, they are accused of seizing cocaine and reselling it on the street.

β€œThe conduct is really egregious,” said U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger.

The officers: Perry Betts, 46; Thomas Liciardello, 38; Linwood Norman, 46; Brian Reynolds, 43; John Speiser 46; and Michael Spicer, 46, were taken into custody early on Wednesday at their homes, authorities said.

Charges include robbery, racketeering, civil rights violations and falsifying records. Speiser faces up to 40 years in prison while the other officers face life sentences.

The case stems from the arrest of Officer Jeffrey Walker during an FBI sting in 2013. According to court documents, Walker, working with an informant who was also cooperating with federal investigators, planted cocaine in a dealer's car, then stole his house keys during a traffic stop.

Walker stole $15,000 from the dealer's home and was arrested as he was leaving, authorities said.

After pleading guilty to robbery in February, he agreed to testify against his fellow officers, prosecutors said. Sentencing is scheduled for November.

The 42-page indictment describes scenes that Hollywood would have trouble topping, including a 2007 robbery during which Norman allegedly held a man over an 18th floor balcony to get him to divulge the password to his handheld computer.

In other instances, the officers are accused of kicking detainees in the teeth, hitting them in the head with metal bars and ordering takeout food with suspects' cash.

One victim told investigators that Reynolds and Betts stole $6,000, not from drug proceeds but from a federal payment to compensate her for flood damage, the indictment said.

Five of the men – all but Norman - were removed from the narcotics unit in December 2012, after Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams wrote a letter saying he could not rely on their testimony at trial.

Hundreds of drug cases were withdrawn as a result of the letter, according to prosecutors.

The District Attorney's Office said it will now go back and review cases the men worked on to see if post-conviction relief is warranted.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Walsh)

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