By Radley Balko
Earlier this year, I posted on a
rogue Philadelphia narcotics unit headed up by Officer Jeffrey Cujdik that was
shaking down immigrant bodegas across the city. (See updates here and here.) Cujdik's thugs would come
into the stores armed with search warrants for selling otherwise innocuous items
like small plastic bags that can also be used to package illegal drugs.
They would then cut the cords to the stores' surveillance cameras and start helping themselves to cash registers and merchandise. Members of the unit have also been accused of sexually assaulting women during drug raids.
Philadelphia Daily News reporters Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker—who have done some amazing reporting on this story—then showed how lax oversight from prosecutors and police commanders and casual dismissal of citizen complaints allowed Cujdik to continue to operate well after his shakedown tactics should have had him booted off the force. He'd likely still be shaking down bodegas were it not for Ruderman and Laker (the two reporters were of course attacked by Cujdik's police union).
Now Ruderman and Laker report an incredible new twist involving Cujdik's brother Gregory. Unlike two of his brothers and his father, Gregory Cujdik isn't a Philadelphia PD police officer. In fact, he's a convicted drug dealer. The story begins last April.
IT WAS just after midnight. Brian Westberry and a woman friend sat frozen in his bedroom, hoping the persistent pounding on the front door of his Northeast Philly home would stop. It didn't.
Westberry, 24, slipped his licensed .38-caliber revolver into his pants pocket and crept downstairs to open the door.
There stood Gregory Cujdik, 32, who demanded to see "Jen," his girlfriend. Westberry told him "Jen" didn't want to see him, and repeatedly ordered Cujdik to leave. When Cujdik refused, Westberry threatened to call police.
"'Do it. My family are cops,' " Cujdik said, according to Westberry...
Before Westberry could finish dialing 9-1-1 on his cell phone, Cujdik stepped through the doorway and punched him in the throat, Westberry said.
That's when Westberry pulled out his gun and Cujdik fled, Westberry told the Daily News.
Westberry never fired the gun. In fact, Westberry suffered the only injury when Cujdik staggered him with a punch. But rather than arrest Cujdik, a convicted drug dealer, authorities slapped Westberry with a slew of criminal charges, including felony aggravated assault, possession of an instrument of crime, terroristic threats, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.
From there, Westberry's life got worse. Westberry believes Cudjik is behind a Nov. 14 arson of his house. Detectives didn't question Cujdik until after a Daily News reporter asked a police captain about the case earlier this month.
It gets worse. The detective who arrested Westberry is the wife of Jeffrey Cujdik's former partner. The two also co-own a dunk tank (!?) rental business. Westberry is a gun collector. The police seized all 40 of his guns, all of which were legal and licensed.
All charges against Westberry were finally dismissed in October. But Gregory Cujdik has yet to be charged, for either the assault or the arson. The investigating officer said he never got around to questioning Cujdik about the arson due to a backlog of other cases. Of course, that didn't seem to stop the department from going after Westberry. The investigating officer also indicated he thinks Westberry, who has no prior criminal record, may have intentionally set fire to his own home in order to frame Cujdik.
Incidentally, since the Daily News first broke the story about Jeffrey Cujdik's thuggish narcotics unit in March, none of the officers in the unit has been charged with a crime. A few have been taken off the street and lost their police powers, and there's now a federal investigation underway. But all of the officers from the unit are still collecting paychecks.