|D.A.: City crew acted like 'band of brigands'
Philadelphia Daily News | December 17, 2009
Nine city workers who were assigned to clean up blight in Northeast Philadelphia instead acted like a "band of brigands" by illegally entering homes and ransacking them of cash, jewelry, TVs and guns, District Attorney Lynne Abraham said yesterday.
The nine are current or former employees of the Department of Licenses and Inspections or the Mayor's Office of Community Services who were assigned to the Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP), an anti-blight program supervised by the Managing Director's Office.
From June 2006 to January 2008, the nine conspired "to invade people's homes" to steal whatever they could, Abraham said at a news conference while announcing the results of a grand-jury investigation into the case.
CLIP was implemented in Northeast Philly in 2002 to deal with quality-of-life issues, such as a homeowner who didn't mow his lawn, who left trash on his property or who didn't fix a broken window. If an owner failed to fix a problem after having been given notice, a city crew was sent to fix it and the owner was billed.
The grand jury's investigation centered on five homes from which items were allegedly raided. In each case, L&I inspectors failed to get a court order to enter the home, Abraham said.
Instead, L&I inspectors and CLIP crew members either broke into the homes or abused their position as city employees to throw residents out of their homes, while alleging that they were at the homes to check on property-code violations, Abraham said.
Once inside, the CLIP crew stole whatever it could, hauling out furniture and other valuables and dumping them into city trucks, she said. This was "a clean-and-seal operation, which very rapidly became a clean-and-steal operation," Abraham said.
In one case, city workers broke into a home on Convent Avenue and forced the elderly residents and their disabled daughter out of the house, she said. The crew stole $25,000 from the house and virtually all of the furniture, Abraham said.
Firearms were also stolen from a few homes. In one case, an elderly widow on Greymont Street whose deceased husband was a gun collector was victimized by the theft of safes containing guns, as well as her husband's tools and other items, Abraham said.
The widow testified to the grand jury that a couple of months after CLIP "cleaned" her house, she received a $17,854.72 bill from the city and had to take out a second mortgage on her house to pay it.
Abraham said of the guns stolen from houses, seven were recovered, but at least 25 are still missing. One was recovered from a murder suspect, she said.
The nine defendants are being charged with corrupt organization, theft, conspiracy, burglary and related offenses.
The two alleged leaders were Rycharde "Rick" Sicinski, 55, of Germania Street near Arendell Avenue, an L&I employee who was head CLIP inspector; and Henry Turrentine, 52, of Brighton Street near Whitaker Avenue, an L&I employee who served as CLIP crew chief.
Crew members testified that these two supervisors would go through the properties first and "take a look around and then tell the workers what was in the houses and where to find it," the grand jury's presentment says.
Others being charged are:
* Algie Cuffee Sr., 57, of Tulpehocken Street near Baynton, a former L&I employee, who was one of two sub-crew chiefs overseen by Turrentine.
* Algie Cuffee Jr., 23, of Upper Darby, Cuffee Sr.'s son. Cuffee Jr. was employed by the Mayor's Office of Community Services and had worked on a CLIP crew. He is accused of selling guns stolen from the "cleaned" houses to other people or giving the guns away in exchange for marijuana.
Five others being charged worked as CLIP crew members:
* Anthony Scarcia, 31, of Knorr Street near Walker;
* Jermaine Adderly, 33, of Wanamaker Street near Media;
* Lamont Williams, 37, of Woodlawn Street near Chew Avenue;
* Wilfredo Cintron, 40, of B Street near Ontario; and,
* William Roldan, 29, of Rising Sun Avenue near Tyson.
Abraham contended that this "crime wave" was encouraged by a lack of oversight by L&I and the Managing Director's Office.
Deputy Managing Director Thomas Conway, who oversees CLIP, did not return a call.
Mayor Nutter said in response to the D.A.'s news conference: "We want to re-emphasize that we have a zero-tolerance policy in our government for corruption of any kind."
Two former managing directors, Pedro Ramos and Loree Jones, who served under then-Mayor John Street during the period the grand jury investigated, said yesterday that they had not been aware of any CLIP complaints.
Councilwoman Joan L. Krajewski, who came up with the CLIP idea with her staff, said yesterday she was "disheartened" to hear of these allegations because CLIP "is a good program" with numerous accomplishments.
The grand-jury investigation stemmed from an investigation by the Gun Violence Task Force.
Anyone believed to have been victimized by a CLIP worker is asked to contact Assistant District Attorney Sharon Piper at 215-686-9582.
Staff writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.