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HomeNewsArchivesAccused VIPD Cop Stuns Courtroom in Day Four of Extortion Retrial

Accused VIPD Cop Stuns Courtroom in Day Four of Extortion Retrial

In a shocking twist to an already tangled trial, one of two V.I. police officers being retried on extortion and money-laundering charges took the stand in his own defense in District Court Thursday, denying he ever gave statements that two federal agents have testified to and denying he accepted a bribe—one he was shown taking in video footage presented to the jury.

VIPD Sgt. George Greene is accused of accepting a $5,000 payoff from Richard Motta, a suspected drug dealer-turned FBI informant, in exchange for returning seized property and for destroying a kilo of counterfeit drugs rather than turn them over to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Retrial
Greene, along with alleged cohorts VIPD Capt. Enrique Saldana and Louis Roldan, was tried in December for allegedly conspiring to extort and then finally extorting the money from Motta. The jury failed to reach a verdict, however, forcing Chief Judge Curtis Gomez to declare a mistrial on Dec. 22.

As the final witness on the final day of the second trial, Greene stunned many in the courtroom Thursday, first by taking the stand and then by so radically altering his original defense that prosecutors were left stammering, forced to ask the judge for time to regroup.

“Not now,” the judge replied, seeming as interested as everyone else in the courtroom to hear what Greene would say next.

Among other things, Greene said that he did not know Motta was giving him money at the time; that Motta dropped $4,000, not $5,000, cash in his squad car; and that he’s had the money stashed securely in a safe he’s kept at his mother’s house all along.

However belatedly, Greene even produced a receipt for the money Thursday —- albiet one he said he wrote to himself.

Head-turning testimony
Jurors, who had appeared to sleep through much of the earlier testimony, sat upright and swiveled their heads from side to side, from witness stand to lectern, like spectators at a tennis match as attorneys for the defense and the prosecution bounced questions to Greene, who kept knocking out surprise after surprise.

“Do you got the money now?” asked Thurston McKelvin, Greene’s counsel.

“Yes, sir,” Greene replied, eliciting incredulous gasps from the gallery.

At issue was the $5,000 that FBI agents gave to Motta to give to Greene, consummating a deal that had been in the works most of a month, ever since Greene and other officers in Saldana’s special VIPD intelligence unit discovered a brick of fake cocaine stashed in Motta’s vehicle on Dec. 4, 2008.

Like the phony dope, the money was never officially recorded as evidence or property in the VIPD system and had never been accounted for, although an Internal Revenue Service criminal investigator testified Thursday that Greene made an unexplained cash deposit of $1,800 into his personal bank account the day after the Dec. 23 payoff.

Missing money
In the previous trial, no one ever came out and asked Greene directly where the money was because Greene was never called to testify.

And this week, FBI agent Jackson Purkey and DEA agent Andrew Arthurton both testified that, upon his arrest on Aug. 4, Greene first denied accepting the money, and then said he took it and deposited it in his one-year-old son’s bank account for safekeeping.

Michael Harriman, the IRS investigator, testified Thursday that he analyzed five accounts Greene held at Banco Popular, including one in his son’s name. No money was deposited during that time into his son’s account, Harriman said. The only deposit of note, Harriman said, was the $1,800 cash deposited in one of Greene’s other accounts on Dec. 24.

In his surprise testimony Thursday, Greene said he met Motta in Frenchtown the night of Dec. 23, 2008, to solicit information about a vague murder-for-hire scheme in which he said he and his supervisor, Saldana, believed Motta was involved.

Video footage of that meeting, obtained by the FBI by fitting Motta with a hidden camera and body wire, showed Motta offering Greene the chance to count the money and Greene turning him down, telling him just to put it in the back of his car.

A cash gift?
During the entire video-taped meeting, Greene never asked Motta for any information, but told him after the money was exchanged that “everything’s blessed,” that the drug rap would never come back to bite him.

“Mr. Motta dropped some money in the back of the police vehicle in exchange for a black pad that he wanted,” Greene said Thursday, referring to a black binder containing paperwork belonging to Motta’s employer —- the alleged solicitor of the unsubstantiated murder-for-hire plot.

Like the drugs, prosecutors say the contents of the notebook became bargaining chips in an extortion scheme run by Saldana, handled by Greene, and facilitated by Roldan.

“You were totally surprised?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nolan Paige asked Greene about Motta’s money during cross-examination.

“Yeah,” Greene said. “It was in a wad. He just rest [sic] the wad in” the car, he said.

Paige asked him to admit that he took the money in exchange for destroying the fake drugs.

“There was never any talk about any substance,” Greene said defiantly. “It was all about getting the black pad back that was part of the murder-for-hire.”

Forbidden ground
With those final words, Greene had crossed out of bounds, beyond testimonial territory that the attorneys had agreed upon since no one was on trial for murder-for-hire —- an unsubstantiated sideshow that has sidetracked much of the trial so far.

Paige, in turn, let slip a faux pas of his own while they were outside the lines.

“By the way,” Paige said to Greene, appearing to be giving up and walking away. “Do you have any felony convictions?”

Before anyone in the courtroom could stop him, Greene answered, “Yeah. Yes I do.”

Greene was convicted last week on two federal weapons charges and faces up to 11 years in prison —- if he beats the charges against him now.

After Greene’s voluntary admission before the jury, heads fell in hands. People on the defense side grimaced and sneered. Whispering huddles formed among the federal agents and U.S. Attorney’s office personnel on the prosecution side.

The judge called for a long sidebar, and then, after much discussion and head-shaking, returned all the players to their positions and cautioned the jury to disregard what they’d just heard.

Saldana takes the stand
Perhaps reflecting his age and rank, Saldana offered few surprises a la Greene Thursday, but instead stuck to his story that he was investigating Motta for the murder-for-hire plot and that he had authorized Greene to pursue him.

Saldana explained his presence at an initial meeting between Motta, Roldan and Greene on the afternoon of Dec. 23, as that of an overseer and back up in case something went awry. Aftter that, he said he turned his alleged investigation over to Greene.

“I told him I had to leave,” said Saldana, who all along has had an airtight alibi on the night Greene accepted Motta’s payoff in Frenchtown. He was eating dinner with family and friends at the time, he and other witnesses have said.

“I told him, ‘If you want to continue into this investigation, you could do so, but proceed with caution,’” Saldana said, recalling what he told Greene.

“I went out to dinner and right about the time I finished I received a call from Sgt. Greene,” Saldana said, adding that Greene told him about the meeting with Motta and about the cash. He said the first thing he did was ask Greene whether he had arrested Motta for bribery, and told him to get a statement from Roldan, who had facilitated the deal.

“I told him that he was responsible for that money,” Saldana said Thursday. “Don’t drop it in no desk or no cabinet. I don’t want to hear about it if it disappear.”

Accountability
Saldana’s ultimate responsibility as chief of detectives and Greene’s immediate supervisor took the lead in the questioning Thursday before Greene’s climactic cart-tipping testimony made it seem somewhat moot.

Prosecutors argued that beginning with the fake drugs that were never logged, down to the money that was taken under questionable circumstances and never located again until Thursday, possibly, Saldana should be held accountable even if it was Greene who broke the rules.

They say that after nearly 23 years on the force and as one of only two VIPD captains on St. Thomas, Saldana, of all people, should have known how to operate within those rules.

“I relied on my knowledge. I relied on my judgment. I relied on my SOP (standard operating procedures),” Saldana said, describing how he makes decisions in the field and on the fly.

“You must utilize considerable independent judgment,” he said. “You have to maintain a balance.”

With both the prosecution and defense cases put to rest late on Thursday, the jury will have to decide whether the events they’ve heard replayed from different angles for more than 30 hours this week amount to extortion or legitimate undercover police work.

And with so many contradictory statements made on the record and under oath, they will have to decide who is telling the truth.

Judge Gomez said he would instruct the jury Thursday morning before attorneys give their closing arguments, which, given the stakes, are sure to be dramatic.

After that, it will be up to the jury to decide.

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