Wednesday, January 28, 2015
In 2003, Benny Martinez became a Confidential Informant for a member of the Philadelphia Police Department's narcotics squad, helping arrest nearly 200 drug and gun dealers over seven years. But that success masked a dark and dangerous reality: the cops were as corrupt as the criminals they targeted.
In addition to fabricating busts, the squad systematically looted mom-and-pop stores, terrorizing hardworking immigrant owners. One squad member also sexually assaulted three women during raids. Frightened for his life, Martinez turned to Philadelphia Daily News reporters Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker.
Busted chronicles how these two journalists—both middle-class working mothers—formed an unlikely bond with a convicted street dealer to uncover the secrets of ruthless kingpins and dirty cops. Professionals in an industry shrinking from severe financial cutbacks, Ruderman and Laker had few resources—besides their own grit and tenacity—to break a dangerous, complex story that would expose the rotten underbelly of a modern American city and earn them a Pulitzer Prize. A page-turning thriller based on superb reportage, illustrated with eight pages of photos, Busted is modern true crime at its finest. -- Harper
Booking Pap Pap gently reminded me that I forgot to post his review for BUSTED: A TALE OF CORRUPTION AND BETRAYAL IN THE CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE by Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker. I am so glad he caught my misstep because this book looks terrific. Here are his thoughts!
Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker, investigative reporters for the Philadelphia Daily News, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for their series on a corrupt police narcotics squad. BUSTED: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love tells the story of a real newspaper investigation.
The story begins in December, 2008 when Benny Martinez entered the newsroom to talk about his activity as a police informant, a “job” that had recently put his life in danger. Martinez claimed that he worked for narcotics police officer Jeff Cujdik who often asked Martinez to provide fake information in order to get search warrants to raid homes of suspected drug dealers. Ruderman and Laker followed up on the stories Martinez told them and were able to verify the facts sufficiently to write the initial installment of their investigation called “TAINTED JUSTICE”. The reporters learned that the narcotics squad led by Cujdik also raided bodegas where they destroyed security cameras, stole cash and merchandise and intimidated owners and their families. The owners of these small corner stores were mostly immigrants and hesitated to report these actions to the police. The fact that these owners were of different nationalities and told the same story to the reporters, coupled with a recording of one raid, added the credibility necessary to write additional stories.
Ruderman and Laker also discovered that one cop, Officer Tom Tolstoy, was accused by several women of molestation during the raids. As the reporters tracked down leads they were able to publish ten installments to the series over a ten month period. The stories led to an FBI investigation and the transfer of several officers from the street to desk duty. Ruderman and Laker met with much hate mail and threats because people saw the series as a criticism of police work at a time when the city of Philadelphia police was experiencing an all-time high in policemen deaths. The reporters also faced many serious risks on the street as they tracked leads.
BUSTED gives the reader a behind the scenes look at a real newspaper investigation with both humorous and horrible stories. Adding to the drama was the Daily News’ bankruptcy filing with its associated employee and cost cutbacks. The authors also added a human aspect to the book as the reader gets a look at their personal lives and the impact of the investigation on their family and friends.
It’s kind of sad to learn that the FBI investigation led to no criminal charges and it wasn’t until 2014 that the Philadelphia Police Department took action by firing Cujdik and placing three other officers on 30 day suspensions. Tolstoy’s sexual abuse allegations are still under investigation.
If you’re interested in reading about a real old-fashioned newspaper investigation you will enjoy reading BUSTED.
Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for his review and to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.