Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.
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July 27–August 3, 2000

cover story

The Dominican Connection


photo: Trevor Dixon

In 1995 a local narcotics squad warned the CIA that a Dominican political party was raising campaign funds in Philadelphia through sales of heroin and coke. Now the investigators’ careers are in ruins. What happened?

by Howard Altman and Jim Barry

First of a Two-Part Series

October 20, 1995 was a big day in the lives of State Attorney General narcotics investigator John McLaughlin and his crew.

That’s the day they stopped two Dominican nationals in North Philadelphia and began to learn how cocaine and heroin were being pumped into Philly to help fund a candidate for the presidency of the Dominican Republic.

Eventually, McLaughlin and the other members of the Bureau of Narcotics Investigations and Drug Control (BNI) would learn how the DEA had its own investigations into similar drug-funded campaign financing operations in New York and New England. They would discover that the CIA was fully aware that the U.S.-embassy-backed candidate was suspected of drug smuggling. The BNI also would learn that some Dominican political party members under investigation for narco-trafficking and money laundering wound up contributing thousands at a September 1996 New York State Democratic Committee fundraiser attended by Al Gore.

Then, two weeks after BNI’s thwarted attempt to seize more than a half-million dollars in allegedly drug-tainted campaign funds from the Dominican presidential candidate, who was on a fundraising trip to the States, federal and local prosecutors said they would no longer work with McLaughlin or his team.

After uncovering the Dominican Connection, McLaughlin found that, like other officers around the country, there was a complete shutdown of his investigations by prosecutors, who accused him and his partners of lying and conducting illegal searches and seizures.

Like other officers around the country who found their investigations thwarted after encountering Dominican drug dealers, McLaughlin and crew eventually sued law enforcement — in this case their employer, the State Attorney General’s Office, and their chief doubter, the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The suit was filed after two separate investigations — one by a top deputy AG and one a federal grand jury probe by the FBI— found McLaughlin and his squad guilty of no crimes or misconduct.


The path finders: BNI narcotics investigator John "Sparky" McLaughlin in the Nissan Pathfinder his unit seized from a drug suspect.

Earlier this month, a Third District Court of Appeals judge ruled that McLaughlin, Charlie Micewski and Dennis McKeefery — barring intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court — can have their day in court.

What follows is a depiction of events leading up to that lawsuit pieced together from thousands of pages of federal and local court documents, internal memos from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, confidential CIA, State Department and Interpol documents and McLaughlin’s personal diary.


By the fall of ’95, John "Sparky" McLaughlin had already had a very interesting career in law enforcement when he came upon two Dominican gentlemen standing near a blue Oldsmobile 88 outside of a tire store at the corner of American and Somerset, the crossroads of Philadelphia’s narcotics pipelines.


The Bastard Squad’s organizational chart of PRD at the time of Pena Gomez’ candidacy.

The 42-year-old narcotics investigator for the State Attorney General’s Office had worked his way up from patrolman in the Philadelphia Police Department’s 17th District to Highway Patrol to the Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control, which was always referred to simply as the BNI, because, face it, there’s not much you can do to control drugs.

Those who knew McLaughlin say that the day he signed on with the bureau the gruff, fu-manchued ball buster was as happy as a cop can get.

It did not take long for Sparky to get a reputation, both in the bureau and the barrio.

McLaughlin and his longtime buddy Charlie Micewski, a tall, gaunt, balding version of Gary Cooper, made a formidable team. They became part of a unit that confiscated tens of millions of dollars worth of cheap, highly pure cocaine and heroin that was flooding into Philly from Colombia via the Dominican Republic.

Day after day, hour after hour, they rode around North Philly and Kensington in a big blue Pathfinder seized from dealers, blaring Clapton’s "Cocaine" and Glenn Frey’s "Smuggler’s Blues" before making arrests.

Working a dozen hours a day, sometimes more, McLaughlin was a fixture in the largely Latino community, where people called him Callahan because they couldn’t pronounce McLaughlin.

For all the drugs and guns they seized, for all the dealers arrested, McLaughlin and the boys had their problems as well. A number of their cases were overturned because judges didn’t believe them, or defense attorneys raised enough doubts about the context of he-said-she-said situations narcotics officers wind up in.

It was an interesting career indeed.

And it would only get more so on October 20, 1995.


The more busts McLaughlin and the BNI made, the more investigators discovered that Dominicans were gaining a larger share of Philly’s coke and heroin distribution. And that many of the dealers were in this country illegally. Which is why, on this day, McLaughlin and Micewski were traveling around the barrio with Special Agent Barry Steward of the INS.

What sparked Sparky’s interest, according to BNI investigative files and McLaughlin’s personal diaries obtained by City Paper, were the Dominicans and the car. As Dominican drug trafficking organizations gained a greater share of the coke and heroin distribution market, the Olds 88 was becoming the trafficking vehicle of choice, because the big hulking cars could be easily fitted with secret compartments used to smuggle dope into Philly.

Suspicious of both the car and its former occupants, McLaughlin, who was parked around the corner, radioed Harry Fernandez, a bilingual Philadelphia Housing Authority cop on loan to BNI, and told him to take a walk and listen to what the Dominican gentlemen were saying.

Fernandez, nicknamed Pineapple by BNI members, ambled over, listened a bit and reported back.

"Spark, they are real nervous," said Fernandez. "They’re saying they hope you don’t stop them because the one guy is illegal."

That’s all McLaughlin needed to hear. He and Steward walked over to the Dominicans.

"Hola, amigos," said McLaughlin. "Tiene su identification?"

There was no reply.

"Baaaary, they don’t want to play," McLaughlin whined, in mock annoyance.

"That’s because you spoke to him in Spanish, Spark," said Steward. "Watch this."

Steward turned to the Dominicans and spoke very bluntly in English.

"I’m from Immigration and Naturalization and you’re on a plane in the next 24 hours if you don’t give me some ID."

With that, Daniel Croussett reached into the Olds and produced his alien registration card.


Life of the party: PRD director of communications and public relations Daniel Croussett, identified by the Bastard Squad as the local PRD member "responsible for collecting funds for the campaign of Jose Pena Gomez." Croussett was never charged with any crimes in the BNI investigation.

"See, Spark, I spoke the universal language, AIRPLANE," said Steward.

Jose Primivito Liriano-Ortega, who was in this country illegally, was not nearly as lucky as Croussett — who has been suspected of, but never charged with, involvement in drug trafficking.

As Steward, also known as the "Stew-man" to McLaughlin, worked his cell phone making arrangements for Mr. Liriano-Ortega’s one-way trip back home, McLaughlin asked Fernandez about the meaning of a pile of papers marked Triunfo ’96 he found in the front seat of the Olds.

"All I can make out are bits and pieces," McLaughlin said to Fernandez. "Something about the Revolutionary Dominican Party."

McLaughlin told Fernandez to question Croussett. Croussett told Fernandez that the documents belong to a "political party back in the DR and they’re running Jose Francisco Pena-Gomez for president in the elections in May."

After Fernandez explained the document’s significance, McLaughlin cuffed Liriano-Ortega, put him in the car and drove off.

Later that day, Liriano-Ortega was deported via an airplane out of Newark, headed for Santo Domingo.

It was the end of the line for Liriano-Ortega.

But the beginning of a big mess for McLaughlin’s team, whom a supervisor would later dub "The Bastard Squad."


Triunfo ’96 was essentially a guide for "organizing an estimated 1.2 million Dominicans who presently reside outside The Dominican Republic to overthrow the present regime in the elections scheduled for May 1996," according to a supplement report McLaughlin filed in January 1996.

Armed with this knowledge, McLaughlin called for two of his better informants, "6’s" and "P-Man."

"I’m going to see what they know about this Revolutionary Dominican Party," McLaughlin said to his partner, Dennis McKeefery, whose brush-cut hair went nicely with his crisp, military demeanor. "You know, this guy we stopped, Daniel Croussett, is the brother of Carmen Croussett. We pinched her on October 3 in possession of 86 grams of cocaine and over 4,000 crack vials."

McLaughlin set up a meeting between "6’s" and Wilson Prichett, a short, reedy man who spoke in a nervous staccato. Prichett was a former State Department field observer and Operations Officer for the Central Intelligence Agency hired by the BNI to serve as an intelligence analyst.

If anyone could figure out the meaning of Triunfo ’96, it was Prichett.

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