PHILADELPHIA — A former Philadelphia homicide detective was arrested Tuesday and accused of grooming and raping male witnesses during criminal investigations, then intimidating them to keep them silent — part of what prosecutors concluded was a pattern of misconduct during nearly a decade in one of the Police Department's most prestigious units.
The accusations against Philip Nordo, 52, who was fired in 2017 after 20 years on the force, were unveiled in a grand jury presentment following a long-running probe into the ex-detective's conduct. The charges include multiple counts each of rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and sexual assault.
Some of the allegations were redacted, with entire pages of the 38-page document blacked out. But according to the presentment, the grand jury said Nordo "cultivated" relationships with male witnesses "by grooming the individuals, engaging in conduct to make the targets of his advances more susceptible to his sexually assaultive and/or coercive behavior. He also used intimidation and manipulation to keep his victims from coming forward."
Ben Waxman, a spokesman for District Attorney Larry Krasner, said Nordo was taken into custody Tuesday morning. He declined to comment further.
Nordo's attorney could not immediately be reached Tuesday morning.
The allegations are likely to serve not only as the backbone of a criminal prosecution against a once-prolific homicide detective, but also could imperil an untold number of convictions that Nordo helped secure.
Even before charges were filed, prosecutors had quietly been dismissing or altering cases connected to Nordo, the Inquirer and Daily News reported last month. Much of the recent activity had been conducted under seal due to the ongoing investigation.
The decision to charge Nordo serves as another example of how Krasner — formerly a defense attorney who specialized in lawsuits targeting police misconduct — has been willing to investigate and prosecute law enforcers in ways that his predecessors did not. Last year, for the first time in two decades, Krasner charged another former officer with murder over an on-duty shooting, a decision that drew immediate condemnation from the police officers' union.
Krasner did not immediately comment on the case against Nordo.
Nordo's downfall began in April 2017, when a defense attorney in a pending murder case discovered that the detective had been improperly placing money on the books of an imprisoned witness. The attorney, Robert Gamburg, said the transactions were never disclosed to him and argued that the case against his client Darnell Powell should be dropped.
Four months later, Nordo was fired for departmental violations including "knowingly and intentionally associating, fraternizing, or socializing" with people connected to criminal conduct, police said at the time. They did not offer further details.
In July 2018, Common Pleas Court Judge Diana L. Anhalt dismissed the case against Powell over what she called Nordo's "outrageous" misconduct. In addition to the undisclosed payments, Anhalt said, it seemed to her as if Nordo had drafted a statement for another man and simply gotten him to agree with it, and she questioned why a different witness was recorded telling Nordo on the phone: "I love you."
Two weeks after that decision, another man charged in the same homicide — who had already pleaded guilty and faced the potential of decades behind bars — was instead granted immediate parole and given five years' probation.
Then, two more cases connected to Nordo were altered under seal.
In August 2018, Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Ehrlich agreed to drop the prison sentence in a gun and drug case and place the defendant, Adriel Alverado, on eight years' probation instead. Nordo's role in that case was not immediately clear, but Alverado referenced his name in appeal documents.
In December 2018, Common Pleas Court Judge Steven Geroff agreed behind closed doors to vacate the third-degree murder conviction of Jamaal Simmons. Geroff did not explain his decision in public, but the District Attorney's Office declined to try Simmons again.
Simmons, who was arrested in 2009 and was convicted and sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison, had consistently maintained that he was innocent.