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Ex Hatboro cop surrenders on charges of abusing his position to get drugs

Calkins Media, Inc.,
BYLINE: Matt Coughlin Staff Writer,
Link to Article

Hatboro, PA

Becker prelim: Former Hatboro policeman, John Becker, 42,(center) is led out of District Court in Hatboro and arrested on charges of theft and coersion. Art Gentile

Cops are supposed to seize the drugs, not use them.

But a former Hatboro cop faces time in state prison after being accused of using his former position to coerce informants into getting him drugs.

Last year, when then-Detective Sgt. John Becker approached an admitted drug dealer in a parking lot and demanded she buy him drugs, she doubted he was even a cop, according to court records.

He threatened her with arrest, and then threatened, ordered and begged her supplier for drugs, police said.

It wasn’t part of a sting or undercover investigation, but it sparked a 17-month investigation that ended in Becker’s arrest Thursday.

Becker, 42, of Saw Buck Circle in Horsham, was just feeding his own addiction, according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.

The former officer, who’d been with the borough department for 17 years, surrendered to state investigators at District Court in Hatboro on Thursday morning. Becker is charged with multiple counts of theft, drug possession, official oppression, unlawful restraint and criminal coercion. According to the AG’s office, Becker was coercing informants into buying drugs under the guise that it was part of an investigation. He also allegedly stole cash, guns and a watch from the police department’s evidence lockers, officials said.

“These non-existent investigations allegedly created by Becker to obtain drugs put unsuspecting informants in harm’s way and also tarnished the legitimate work of police departments in Montgomery and Bucks counties,” Attorney General Linda Kelly said in a statement released Thursday.

Becker was arraigned on the charges before District Judge Paul Leo. During the arraignment, Becker sobbed and at times held the hand of his fiancée, who was seated in the first row of the courtroom in Hatboro. Senior Deputy Attorney General John Flannery said that while Becker cooperated with investigators and surrendered without incident, he wanted a $10,000 bail. Becker’s fiancée paid 10 percent of his bail while he was taken to the Warminster police station to be fingerprinted before his release. Becker declined to comment.

“We are confident that no amount of planning could have predicted the actions which Sergeant Becker undertook to compromise the integrity of the Police Department evidence room, or his oath of office,” a statement from the borough council reads. Becker had been placed on unpaid suspension in March 2011 after the council learned of the investigation and he resigned in June 2011.

Becker had been a decorated cop; hired in 1994, he was promoted to corporal and then sergeant. He served on the county’s drug task force and emergency response team, according to borough officials. In 2008, he received an award for his investigation of a sexual assault case, and, in 2010, was commended for his work on a burglary case. But things had begun to go downhill for Becker long before that, according to his attorney, Vincent DiFabio.

DiFabio said his client became addicted to prescription painkillers after a foot injury in 2003. That year Becker was also diagnosed with TRAPS, an immune deficiency disease that causes severe joint pain, according to court records. DiFabio said his client’s pain grew worse and worse until it reached a point he was addicted to pain medications.

“Addiction affects family life,” DiFabio said. “Not just with Officer Becker, but it has significant impact on the family life of all addicts.”

The earliest evidence that Becker turned to crime to support his addiction was in 2009, according to court records.

But the investigation didn’t begin until a woman went to Warminster police in January 2011. That woman, identified as Courtney Strawder in court records, told police that a man pretending to be an officer tried to get her to buy him drugs, according to court records. Warminster police turned to Bucks County detectives.

Strawder told detectives she’d agreed to sell oxycontin to a local couple, police said. She’d taken their money while at a parking lot of a sandwich shop in Warminster and planned to call them when she had the drugs, she told police. What she didn’t know was that the couple had been Becker’s informants since 2009 and that he’d been watching, according to court records.

When she got back in her car, Becker got out of his and demanded drugs, she told investigators.

“’I just saw what you did,’” she quoted him saying in court records. “’You just did a (expletive) drug deal. … Where are the pills?’”

He threatened to have 20 police cars there if she didn’t cooperate and go into the store to make a drug deal for him, according to court records. She walked up to the store and called a deliveryman from the sandwich shop asking if he had pills, according to police. She said she just got stopped by an undercover cop, police said. The deliveryman hung up, according to police.

Strawder told Becker she was unsuccessful, but when the deliveryman returned to the shop, Becker accosted him, according to court records.

The deliveryman told detectives that Becker searched him and his car, police said. During the confrontation, Becker’s mood was rapidly changing, he said in court documents.

“ ‘You’re going to cop for me!’ “ Becker ordered the deliveryman, using slang for buying drugs. Then he begged, “ ‘Here’s my money, go get me some pills,’ “ court records quote Becker as saying.

Lastly, he threatened the deliveryman with 10 years in prison. The deliveryman described Becker to investigators as “crazed,” “nuts” and “frantic,” according to court records.

As they continued their investigation, Bucks County detectives tracked down the couple who were Becker’s informants, according to court records. The informants told police they’d been cooperating with drug investigations since 2009 and that Becker had told them he would, “ ‘move up the distribution ladder,’ “ until arresting the main suppliers, according to court records. The informants told the investigators that they bought illegally obtained pain medications and cocaine for Becker as part of the “investigations.”

Detectives from Montgomery County joined the investigation and they found at least one other informant that Becker used to make drug purchases with whom no drug investigation was legitimately undertaken. That informant told police she’d purchased drugs for “investigations” by Becker and always believed other police were helping keep her safe. She said on one occasion the dealer had tried to get her to have sex for the drugs.

When detectives interviewed Becker, he admitted he’d been using the informants to obtain drugs, including pain medications and cocaine, which he used for his own pain relief, according to court records. Becker told the detectives that he never generated any reports or submitted evidence as a result of these “investigations,” the records show.

Becker also told them he had been in charge of the department’s evidence lockers from August 2010 to January 2011. Becker admitted taking pain medications from the evidence locker on several occasions, the court records show. About that point in the investigation, county detectives turned over the case to the Attorney General’s Office.

When Hatboro police checked their evidence inventory, they found they were missing drug evidence from 11 cases, a $2,700 watch, $18,186 cash which had been seized as part of six different cases, and a total of 10 guns. Of the 10 guns, nine have been located. Police said Becker was reselling the guns to legitimate gun dealers. However, they have not been able to locate a 12-gauge Harrington and Richardson shotgun.

In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, borough officials said that their evidence room policies were changed swiftly after learning of the investigation. The borough also said it had “complete confidence in our Chief of Police and the officers….”

Chief James Gardner declined to comment beyond thanking the district attorney’s offices and the Attorney General’s Office for their work in the case.

Becker’s attorney, DiFabio, said that about the time the investigation began his client was seeking help for his addiction. Doctors changed his prescription for the immune disease to a non-narcotic drug, DiFabio said. Becker entered an in-patient treatment program at Mirmount Treatment Center and followed that up with a long-term outpatient program, according to the defense attorney. Mirmount has a program specifically designed for first-responders, DiFabio said.

“He is at a point that aside from these charges, he has done a wonderful job of turning his life around,” DiFabio said, noting that Becker is now working as an intern at the treatment center.

Officials said Becker could be looking at 50 years in state prison if convicted on all counts. At the conclusion of the arraignment Thursday, Becker agreed to waive his preliminary hearing in advance. He is scheduled to be formally arraigned in Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas on July 5.

John Becker - Agents from the Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation have filed charges against former police officer John Becker from Montgomery County. He is accused of using police department informants to make drug purchases on his behalf, along with the theft of valuables from the evidence room of his police department, including firearms, cash and narcotics.

Former Hatboro Detective Sargeant John Becker dusts for prints at the Commerce bank at the corner of Lehman and South York Road in Hatboro in June of 2005. By Rich Pietras Staff Writer

Related Documents:
* Criminal complaint for John Becker
* Official Press Release
* Statement from Hatboro Borough

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