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In 2010, Milique Wagner was arrested for a murder he says he had nothing to do with. The night of the shooting, Wagner was picked up for questioning and spent three days in the Philadelphia Police Department’s homicide unit, mostly being questioned by a detective named Philip Nordo. 

Nordo was a rising star in the department, known for putting in long hours and closing cases – he had a hand in convicting more than 100 people. But that day in the homicide unit, Wagner says Nordo asked him some unnerving questions: Would he ever consider doing porn? Guy-on-guy porn? 

Wagner would go on to be convicted of the murder in a case largely built by Nordo — and Wagner’s experience has led him to believe Nordo fabricated evidence and coerced false statements to frame him.

For years, Philadelphia Inquirer reporters Chris Palmer and Samantha Melamed have dug into Nordo’s career, looking into allegations of his misconduct. In this episode, they follow the rumors to defense attorney Andrew Pappas, who subpoenas the prison call log between Nordo and one of his informants. It’s there he finds evidence that something is not right about the way Nordo is conducting his police work. 

It’s Pappas’ findings that prompted the Philadelphia district attorney’s office to launch an investigation into Nordo. The patterns that prosecutors found by reviewing Nordo’s calls and emails with incarcerated men, examining his personnel file, and interviewing men who interacted with him showed shocking coercion and abuse.

Almost 20 years after the first complaint was filed against Nordo, the disgraced detective’s actions became public. He was charged and his case went to trial. Palmer and Melamed analyze the fallout from the scandal, and seek answers from the Philadelphia Police Department on how they addressed Nordo’s misconduct and how he got away with it for so long. 

Dig Deeper

Read the Philadelphia Inquirer’s reporting on Philip Nordo’s case:

Philly detective benched as attorney alleges improper payments to key witness

Under secrecy, another Philly murder case tied to ex-detective is tossed. Will more follow?

Former Philly homicide detective charged with rape and intimidation in the course of his investigations

Former Philly homicide detective Philip Nordo was found guilty of sexually assaulting witnesses while on the job

A Philly detective was convicted of raping witnesses. What happens to those he locked up?

Credits

Reporters: Chris Palmer and Samantha Melamed | Lead producer: Najib Aminy | Editor: Jenny Casas, with help from Jim Neff and Queena Kim | Fact checker: Nikki Frick | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Episode illustration: Molly Mendoza | Score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda | Post-production team: Steven Rascón and Kathryn Styer Martinez | Interim executive producers: Taki Telonidis and Brett Myers | Host: Al Letson 

Special thanks to Nancy Phillips. Support for The Philadelphia Inquirer is provided by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. It’s February 2010 at the Philadelphia Police Headquarters and 21 year old Milique Wagner is in a room in the homicide unit. He’s being questioned about a fatal shooting that happened that night. Before I go on, I want to let you know that this hour contains material that may not be appropriate for some listeners. Not far from where Milique lived, a 29 year old named Braheem King had been shot 11 times. Milique says he was buying weed a few blocks away when he was picked up by police.
Milique Wagner:I didn’t try to run, I didn’t do anything. I put my hands up. I didn’t have any weapons or anything, so how can I be involved in this case? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.
Al Letson:When Milique left his house, he says he expected to be gone for just a few minutes, but he ended up spending three days in the homicide unit, mostly sitting across from a detective named Phillip Nordo.
Milique Wagner:He was short, a little chubby. If I had to guess, I think he Italian because of the way he carries. He talked real slick, and he reminded me of Joe Pesci.
Al Letson:At first, Nordo is talking about the shooting and says he knows Milique has information.
Milique Wagner:He kept saying, “I know I about you. I know what I knew you had something to do with this case.”
Al Letson:Then as Milique tells it, the detective takes the conversation in a bizarre direction.
Milique Wagner:That’s not his real job. He has a porn ring out in New Jersey.
Al Letson:A porn ring? This detective was bringing up porn?
Milique Wagner:He asked me. He’s like, “You’re handsome. Do you ever think you would be able to do something like that? Would you ever consider doing guy on guy porn,” stuff like that, but it was in a sneaky way. He was trying to be sneaky about it, fishing just to see what I was saying.
Al Letson:Milique says it was just him and this detective in a small room with the door closed.
Milique Wagner:I was uncomfortable because I didn’t expect anything like that to happen, and I really felt like I was at a disadvantage because anything could happen in this room, and he would get away with it.
Al Letson:Nordo was considered a highly effective homicide detective in the Philadelphia Police Department. He had a hand in convicting more than 100 people and was allowed to work with little supervision. He thrived under the pressure to close cases, but as Milique experienced firsthand, Nordo’s detective work was also suspect.

Chris Palmer and Samantha Melamed are reporters for the Philadelphia Inquirer. They’ve been following Nordo’s career for years. This hour, we’re teaming up with them to look into who Nordo is, who he hurt, and how he got away with it for so long. Samantha has been talking to Milique for the past few months. She starts his story at Milique’s childhood home, where she went to meet his grandmother.
Samantha Melame…:Lisa Wagner Rogers raised Milique starting from when he was nine years old. She remembers visiting his school where she learned that Milique was always disappearing under his desk where he’d play with little paper soldiers. She laughed about it with his teacher, who it turned out was an old friend.
Lisa Wagner Rog…:The pastor’s wife that I grew up with, she was his teacher, and she looked at me, and I looked at her, and we’re laughing.
Milique Wagner:She looked at my name. She’s like, “Yeah, you Lisa’s grandson?” I’m like, “Oh, oh.” I had to be off my best behavior when I was in there.
Lisa Wagner Rog…:She said, “Well, he’s good.” She said, “He’s not a bad child.” She said, “He doesn’t give me any trouble at all, but I just don’t understand why he withdraws like that.”
Samantha Melame…:Looking back, Milique says he was struggling to cope when he was three, Milique was hit by a car and doctors had to use metal plates to repair his skull. He suffered from migraines ever since. His father was absent. When he was nine, his mother died, and he and his three siblings were scattered to different households. It was Lisa who took him in.
Milique Wagner:When I was younger, I liked doing art and stuff like that, and I was good at fixing things, but once I got older and reality started happening, everything started happening so fast, I started losing people and stuff like that, I really didn’t have time to think about what I wanted to do with myself. I was just trying to navigate everything that was going on in my life.
Samantha Melame…:When he was a teenager, he started self-medicating with marijuana, opioids, and cough syrup. He began skipping school and wouldn’t come home to his grandmother’s house for days on end.
Lisa Wagner Rog…:He’ll act one way, and he’ll hide different things as far as his feelings. He always makes sure his feelings are cheerful, but he was hurting. Trust me.
Samantha Melame…:Milique also had multiple run-ins with Philadelphia police, though his only conviction at that point was a DUI when he was 20, but he says he was picked up a number of times for cases he had nothing to do with.
Milique Wagner:I got found not guilty on every single case that they charged me with. It was just a pattern over the years in the same district.
Samantha Melame…:Because of Pennsylvania’s laws around record sealing, I wasn’t able to verify any information about these arrests. When Milique was brought in for questioning about the killing of Braheem King, he says he figured it was more of the same police harassment.
Milique Wagner:I’m like, “Here we go again. Same situation.”
Samantha Melame…:After the three days of questioning, Nordo eventually let Milique go, but he was shaken. He was already on probation for that DUI, and he didn’t want to end up in jail.
Milique Wagner:I’ve never been in that type of situation, so I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have a lot of people in my corner back then.
Samantha Melame…:Milique decided to leave town. He stayed with a girlfriend who lived about 100 miles north of the city. A few months later, he was arrested for the murder of Braheem King and brought back to Philadelphia.
Lisa Wagner Rog…:Milique ain’t shoot nobody. That was my first thought process. They had to have other people involved in this because that was, that’s not even Milique’s character, and I’m going to leave it like that. That was not his character.
Samantha Melame…:Here was the prosecution’s theory of the case. They said Milique was a drug dealer, and the night Raheem was killed, milique was with one of his associates, a guy named Kelvin Bryant. They were hanging out at Kelvin’s mom’s apartment. Prosecutors said a third man, Amin Payne, was there too, heat sealing bags of drugs while Kelvin and Milique stepped outside. Amin told police that he went out front in time to see Milique and Kelvin shoot Braheem.

Now here’s where it gets complicated. Prosecutors said that a third alleged drug dealer had helped plan the murder and that he and Kelvin had killed another man earlier that same day. Prosecutors said both killings were over drug turf. They merged Milique’s case with the murder cases against the two other men, meaning all three would be tried together. The jury would hear evidence of both murders at the same time.
Milique Wagner:I have no idea. I’m so confused about the whole situation. It just seems like, “We’re going to put y’all all together and make it seem like y’all’s gang that y’all all can get convicted.”
Samantha Melame…:Milique says he and his co-defendants were complete strangers, and I reached out to both of them. They all told me the same thing. They met for the first time in jail. The key evidence against Milique came from two witness statements taken by Nordo. At the trial, both witnesses recanted.

The first witness was Kelvin’s stepfather. He said he was high on crack when detectives detained him overnight. He said he had never met Milique, that his entire statement placing Milique at his home that night was a lie fabricated under police pressure. The other witness was Amin Payne, the man who said he’d been at the apartment packing drugs and saw Braheem’s murder. In court, he said that statement was false, that he was the one who killed Braheem. On the stand, he said quote, “When you said these gentlemen did it, I told you that I did it. You don’t want to listen. I told y’all about the shootings, the murders that I committed, and you want to sit here and blame these people. For what? I don’t know.”

I spoke with Kelvin’s stepfather and mother. They reiterated that they didn’t know Milique and that he wasn’t at their apartment that night. Kelvin’s mother said she witnessed the shooting, and she said that Amin was the killer. Amin declined my request for an interview. In court, Milique felt a sense of dread waiting for the jury to return the verdict.
Milique Wagner:I don’t know if I told you this, but I had the hiccups, and I haven’t had the hiccups in a long time, so I was like, “Something’s not right,” because I woke up with the hiccups
Samantha Melame…:That seemed like a bad omen?
Milique Wagner:Yeah. While I was in the courtroom, I was just like, “Hiccup, hiccup.” I knew something is wrong.
Samantha Melame…:Despite the conflicting statements and one witness testifying that he was the real killer, the jury believed the version of events offered by the prosecution. They found Milique and his co-defendants guilty. All three men were sentenced to life in prison without parole. Milique has been incarcerated for 12 years, more than a third of his life. His grandmother, Lisa, remains convinced of his innocence.
Lisa Wagner Rog…:I’m going to stick to what I said. My grandson did not shoot anybody, nor did he hurt anybody. I don’t believe it, and I’m never going to believe it. I’m going to tell you God’s going to get my grandson through this because I pray all the time that he looks never back that way, so that’s the bottom line of that one.
Samantha Melame…:Milique says he’s spent years mulling it all over, especially that bizarre conversation when he says Nordo asked him if he would do porn.
Milique Wagner:Some days I would walk during yard by myself just to think about everything that’s going on. Yeah. I used to try to analyze the situation to try to figure out what could have happened. I just tried to put everything together.
Samantha Melame…:Milique says he came to believe that whatever Nordo was up to, he wasn’t the only one the detective had targeted.
Milique Wagner:I think that he was just using his position just to target certain types of people that he was interested in. There’s no way that I was the only person that this happened to.
Al Letson:Milique didn’t think he was the only one that Nordo had propositioned. Still he couldn’t prove it, but years later, someone else was looking for proof.
Andrew Pappas:I get the disc, I stick it in my computer. I’m like, “Well, I got a minute. Let me listen to a couple of these.”
Al Letson:That’s coming up next on Reveal.

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. As a Philadelphia public defender, Andrew Pappas works 50 to 60 cases at any given time, but no case is more memorable than one involving a repeat client, a man named Gerald Camp.
Andrew Pappas:Gerald was convicted and was facing a sentence of 10 to 20 years. Both Gerald and I were pretty devastated.
Al Letson:In 2016, Gerald was found guilty of illegally possessing two guns that were found in his girlfriend’s house.
Gerald Camp:When the judge said guilty, I had already wrote it off with my family. I’m going away for a long time. It was over for me.
Al Letson:Gerald has a lengthy criminal record. In 2008, he was convicted of manslaughter for the fatal shooting of a 16 year old mother. He’s also been convicted of multiple assault and drug charges.
Gerald Camp:Here I go in jail, completely innocent this time. Any the other time I may have been guilty, may have played a part, may have played a role, but this time is 100% innocent.
Al Letson:But, it was Gerald’s word against the arresting officer, Detective Philip Nordo. At the trial, Nordo testified that the guns belonged to Gerald.
Andrew Pappas:In fact, Judge Cunningham at the end of the trial as he was delivering his verdict, made it clear that his verdict was entirely based on the testimony of Detective Nordo.
Al Letson:Sitting in jail waiting for his sentencing, Gerald hears a rumor about Nordo. It’s the kind of rumor that he thinks can help get him out of jail, so he calls Andrew.
Andrew Pappas:I think my reaction was, “Come on, Gerald. Yeah, I’m sure there’s stories about lots of detectives, lots of police, but there’s no way that this could possibly be true.”
Al Letson:Today reporters, Samantha Melamed and Chris Palmer of the Philadelphia Inquirer are taking us inside Nordo’s career as a homicide detective. A quick warning, this episode contains descriptions of sexual violence that may be triggering to some listeners. Chris has been covering Nordo’s story since the beginning. He picks it up with Gerald and the rumor.
Chris Palmer:It all started because Gerald saw a familiar face in jail. His girlfriend’s brother, Raheem. They say hi, start talking, and in that conversation, Raheem tells Gerald he’s getting official visits from a detective.
Gerald Camp:I said, “What detective coming to see you on an official visit?” He said, “The white guy, Nordo, that I been talking too.”
Chris Palmer:Detective Nordo, Gerald’s arresting officer.
Gerald Camp:I said, “What the F he be coming to see you for?”
Chris Palmer:Gerald didn’t know it at the time, but Raheem was a key witness in one of Nordo’s murder cases. It was his first hint that Raheem might be an informant.
Gerald Camp:I thought somehow he must be telling Nordo stuff that got Nordo bringing him stuff in. That’s what I’m thinking.
Chris Palmer:If Raheem was an informant, that was bad news for Gerald. As far as he knew, Raheem didn’t like him. Not too long before he was arrested for the guns, Gerald had gotten into a violent altercation with his girlfriend, Raheem’s sister, and when Raheem found out, he wanted Gerald out of his sister’s life, but Gerald and his girlfriend had patched things up and were still talking while he was in jail, and it’s on one of those calls that she tells Gerald about Raheem and Nordo.
Gerald Camp:She was telling me that they was messing around. They had some type of sexual relationship, romantic relationship going on. They was going to hotels and stuff, that Nordo had asked him before to see if they could do a threesome.
Chris Palmer:Gerald’s girlfriend denied my request for an interview, so I couldn’t confirm this with her, but it got Gerald thinking about his gun case. This was his theory. The guns he figured were Raheem’s. Raheem wanted Gerald locked up and away from his sister. Raheem and Nordo were also in a relationship, both as cop and informant and maybe romantically? Either way, Nordo would want to protect Raheem, so it would benefit both of them to frame Gerald for the guns. From then on, every time Gerald has the chance, he’s telling his lawyer, Andrew Pappas, to look at Raheem’s prison records to find anything that could show Raheem and Nordo had an inappropriate relationship, anything that might prove that Nordo helped frame Gerald.
Gerald Camp:Subpoena all his phone call records, his visit records, his commissary records, everything.
Chris Palmer:But, Andrew wasn’t as hopeful. He didn’t think this rumor was true to begin with, and even if it was, why would a homicide detective say anything about it on a recorded prison line?
Andrew Pappas:It’s the kind of thing that the first time you hear it, you’re like, “Okay, can’t possibly be true,” just the idea that someone I think would be so brazen about it.
Chris Palmer:Nordo was a third generation cop. He made detective in 2002, and he was known in the department as a relentless investigator who worked around the clock to solve difficult cases. Andrew had first encountered Nordo at Gerald’s trial.
Andrew Pappas:He does not lack for confidence. He is a larger man, Caucasian, bald, has the look of what you would expect of a 20 plus year veteran homicide detective.
Chris Palmer:Nordo got promoted to homicide in 2009. It’s the most prestigious unit in a police department of around 6,000 cops. Soon after that promotion, he was handpicked to serve on a special task force that handled complex or high profile cases. Nordo had an unusually rich network of sources and informants, both on the streets and in prison. He worked without a regular partner and often met with informants alone, unsupervised, at odd hours, or offsite.

Commanders raved about Nordo’s dedication, which was reflected in his earnings. His salary was more than $80,000 a year, but he usually doubled that with overtime pay, and most importantly, Nordo helped close cases. During eight years in homicide, he helped secure nearly 100 convictions. With Gerald’s sentencing approaching, Andrew finally got Raheem’s recorded phone calls. He wasn’t holding his breath.
Andrew Pappas:I get the disc, I stick it in my computer. I’m like, “Well, I got a minute. Let me listen to a couple of these.”
Speaker 1:You have a prepaid call. You will not be charged for this call. This call is from…
Raheem:It’s Raheem, babe.
Andrew Pappas:The very first phone call was Raheem calling his girlfriend, talking. It’s the day he gets booked into the prison or the first phone call he’s able to make.
Milique Wagner:I wish I could say so much over the phone, but I can’t.
Andrew Pappas:After some back and forth about whatever day to day normal stuff, he ends up saying the words…
Milique Wagner:My sister’s boyfriend is locked up for a gun right now, a [inaudible]. Plus, when he fractured her shoulder, he broke her collarbone. He locked up for all that right now.
Speaker 6:How’d do you get him locked up?
Milique Wagner:Because, it was either me or him.
Chris Palmer:“It was either me or him.” When Andrew heard those words, it proved to him that Gerald was set up.
Andrew Pappas:It’s that moment that you never believe you’ll have in your career where you literally just found the smoking gun, proved that Gerald had been telling me the truth the whole time. It was pulling the thread that ultimately unraveled that whole sweater.
Chris Palmer:Andrew kept pulling.
Andrew Pappas:The end of the first phone call, he says, “Hey, babe. How long have we been on the phone? I need to save a few minutes. I got to call that detective.” The second phone call he makes that day is to Detective Nordo.
Raheem:Hello?
Philip Nordo:Yo.
Raheem:Hey, what’s going on? I don’t have that much time left, but listen, I need you to get me out of here, man. Let Judge Means know what I’ve done so far and what I’m going to continue to do.
Philip Nordo:Yeah, I will.
Raheem:Please.
Philip Nordo:I will. I’m working on it.
Raheem:Listen, I have a million bad guys, a million guns, and a million drugs I can get you guys. Just please get me out of here.
Philip Nordo:Don’t worry about all that. I’m working on it.
Raheem:All right. Listen, I will call you back tomorrow. I don’t have that much time left. All right?
Philip Nordo:Bye.
Raheem:Please pull some strings, man, and get me out of here.
Philip Nordo:I told you what I was going to do.
Raheem:All right. Thanks, man. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.
Philip Nordo:Okay. All right.
Chris Palmer:Andrew keeps going through the calls, and he finds dozens with Nordo. Each one seems stranger than the last. The detective talked about putting money into Raheem’s commissary account, sometimes begrudgingly.
Philip Nordo:When did you become one of my dependents?
Raheem:Yeah.
Philip Nordo:You know what I mean? I woke up, and I found out I had another kid.
Chris Palmer:The detective asked personal questions about other men in jail.
Philip Nordo:I want to know what he looks like, though.
Raheem:Dark, Spanish.
Philip Nordo:I’m going to have to look him up. Tall, short, fat, thin?
Raheem:Yeah. He’s probably about 5’7″. He’s a little shorter than me.
Philip Nordo:You’re going to take care of me too, right?
Raheem:Absolutely.
Chris Palmer:Andrew also found Nordo making jealous comments.
Philip Nordo:You’re being taken care of in there, selling and all that. In other words, you got yourself a little something something right there.
Raheem:Listen, listen.
Philip Nordo:I already know you think I’m stupid. You know what I mean?
Raheem:No, I don’t think you’re stupid.
Philip Nordo:That’s okay. That’s cool. That’s cool. Okay.
Chris Palmer:Raheem and Nordo declined my interview requests, so I’ve never gotten to ask either of them about these calls or their relationship. What I can say is none of this is normal behavior for a Philadelphia homicide detective.

Andrew takes these recordings to the DA’s office, and then they both take the calls to the judge in Gerald’s case. They argued that the calls raise all kinds of questions about Nordo’s relationship with Raheem and cast doubt on whether Nordo was telling the truth when he testified against Gerald. The judge agreed and threw the whole case out.

What was your reaction? What did that feel like?
Gerald Camp:Oh, man. It was like a breath fresh air because ain’t nothing like being in trouble for something you didn’t do.
Andrew Pappas:From the moment that we got the phone calls and we knew Detective Nordo’s involvement, my concern was Gerald and getting Gerald out.
Chris Palmer:Andrew’s next concern was helping other defendants in cases built by Nordo. He starts telling defense attorneys about the tapes, including one named Robert Berg.
Robert Gamburg:My name is Robert Gamburg. I’m a criminal defense attorney. I’ve been a criminal defense attorney for the past 29 years.
Chris Palmer:Robert was representing a client who was allegedly caught on video committing a murder. Nordo was the lead investigator in that case, and Raheem was supposed to testify against Robert’s client. After hearing from Andrew, Robert also subpoenas the phone calls between Nordo and Raheem.
Robert Gamburg:The more we listen to, the worse it got. Why is a homicide detective having an extremely personal relationship with a kid that’s 20, 30 years younger than him?
Chris Palmer:Robert goes a step further. He subpoenas Raheem’s jail commissary accounts and finds eight $50 payments from Nordo to Raheem, payments Nordo made in his own name and with police headquarters listed as his address. Again, this is not normal behavior for a Philadelphia homicide detective.
Robert Gamburg:He was so, I’ll call it, arrogant. He was so arrogant that he’s literally depositing that money in his own name and using the address of homicide as where the money came from. Brazen, absolutely brazen.
Chris Palmer:Robert presented the prison audio and commissary deposits in court. Prosecutors believed they had a strong case against Robert’s client with video evidence that he had committed a murder. The judge still ruled that Nordo’s misconduct had tainted the investigation beyond repair. She threw the whole case out before trial.
Robert Gamburg:He was so comfortable doing it that he didn’t even try to hide it, didn’t even try to hide it, so there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this was a pattern.
Chris Palmer:I started reporting on the eventual collapse of that murder case in 2017. After that, I kept hearing other rumors about Nordo and began looking into them. I wasn’t the only one. The DA’s office had launched an investigation into Nordo, and they were bringing their findings to a secret grand jury. With the help of the police department, the investigation started by reviewing hundreds of phone calls and emails between Nordo and incarcerated men. Two of the people listening were Brian Collins…
Brian Collins:My name is Brian Collins
Chris Palmer:… and Vincent Corrigan…
Vincent Corriga…:My name is Vincent Corrigan.
Chris Palmer:… both assistant district attorneys in the Special Investigations unit. Brian was the lead, and during the investigation, Brian and Vince would go back and forth between each other’s offices to talk through patterns they were seeing…
Vincent Corriga…:Come a Look at this video. What do you think of this? What is this video look like to you?
Chris Palmer:… like how Nordo repeatedly called men freaks and told them to keep an open mind. Vince remembered being struck by a Nordo tagline that came up again and again, the initials LLR.
Vincent Corriga…:Love, loyalty, and respect. Nordo said it a lot to different guys all the time.
Brian Collins:Basically, the theory that we came up with was that this is just the way of him signaling, “I’m going to take care of you, you take care of me.” It’s just you don’t see a detective talk like that usually to anyone.
Chris Palmer:The porn business was another pattern. Nordo would write in emails and promise and calls to get men jobs in porn or encourage them to consider it. Brian never found any proof that Nordo was involved in such a business, but he had this theory about it.
Brian Collins:It was a way of testing to see how people reacted to having a sexual component of the conversation come up. If I talk about porn, are you going to completely shut down, or are you going to keep talking to me?
Chris Palmer:A warning here, the material Brian found next is graphic and involves descriptions of sexual violence and abuse.

The next step in the investigation was to call witnesses who had encountered Nordo to testify before the grand jury. More than a dozen people testified about strange or inappropriate interactions with Nordo. Some witnesses said Nordo was flirtatious and suggestive during arrests or in interrogation rooms. Others accused the detective of sexually harassing and abusing them.

There were several witnesses whose accounts stood out to investigators. One was a man Nordo met while looking into the fatal shooting of an off-duty city police officer in 2012. The grand jury initially wanted to interview the man because it looked like Nordo helped him get $20,000 in city reward money even though he seemed to have virtually no role in solving the case. He told the grand jury Nordo stayed in touch with him for years, sometimes flirting with him, sometimes threatening him, and he told the grand jury that in 2017, he met Nordo in a Chinatown hotel room where he said the detective raped him.
Brian Collins:It was extremely emotional, it was extremely credible, and it matched up with the MO, the language that was used, the place.
Chris Palmer:Another man was a repeat informant of Nordo’s. He said the detective tried to kiss and grope him in an elevator at police headquarters while he was handcuffed. The third witness was a state prison guard who met Nordo during a murder investigation.
Brian Collins:He described what sounded like a pretty terrifying and difficult encounter in Nordo’s car where Nordo tried to sexually assault him in the car, but he was able to fight him off and get out.
Chris Palmer:The men who testified about being harmed by Nordo painted a disturbing portrait of a serial predator who used a police badge to sexually violate witnesses and informants. There was one other alarming discovery in Nordo’s personnel file. It was a complaint against him from 2005, years before he was promoted to homicide and long before he encountered most of the people interviewed before the grand jury. The 2005 complaint was made by a man whom Nordo questioned about a robbery. The man accused Nordo of kissing him in an interrogation room, groping him, and forcing him to masturbate. Internal affairs investigated. Nordo denied the allegations, and the police department sent the case to the DA’s office for potential charges.
Brian Collins:It was particularly striking because there was DNA evidence in that case. They tested it. It was semen. The DNA matched the complainant, so I mean, there was some somewhat substantial corroboration for what he was saying.
Chris Palmer:But, the DA’s office declined to prosecute. The paperwork closing the case doesn’t explain why. One police commander I spoke to years after the case told me this theory. Even with DNA evidence, the only proof that Nordo forced the man to do anything was his word, and why would prosecutors believe a suspect over a cop? Prosecutors now say Nordo went on to exploit that power imbalance for the rest of his career.
Vincent Corriga…:Sexual predators go where the vulnerable are, and some of the victims said to us, “Well, he kept saying that he could go back to this two year old homicide and put this case on me through conspiracy,” and so they meet with him when it makes no sense for them to meet with him, those kinds of manipulations. In the end I’m like, “This is a perfect place for a sexual predator to be, is in the middle of this massive vulnerable population.”
Chris Palmer:After months of investigating in secret, the grand jury in 2019 recommended charges against Nordo.
Speaker 2:A former Philadelphia police detective is charged with sexually assaulting male witnesses and suspects for more than a decade.
Speaker 3:Using his influence to control inmates using sex, intimidation, and coercion…
Speaker 4:Philip Nordo was arraigned on rape, indecent assault, and other sexual offenses. He was placed…
Chris Palmer:Nordo was also charged with official oppression, which is using your public position to violate someone’s rights.
Speaker 1:Press one. To refuse this free call, press two.
Chris Palmer:Remember Milique Wagner, the man convicted of murder in the case Nordo helped build in 2010, and the one who said Nordo asked him about doing porn?
Speaker 1:Thank you for using Securus. You may start the conversation now.
Milique Wagner:Is this a good time?
Chris Palmer:By this time, he told his family about how the detective came on to him and how practiced it all felt. Milique found out about the charges against Nordo on the phone with his aunt.
Milique Wagner:She’s like, “Remember when you told the story about the cop?” She’s like, “Yeah, he got arrested and everything, and it was for what you said.”
Chris Palmer:Milique hoped that a judge would overturn his conviction based on the detective’s pattern of misconduct.
Milique Wagner:I also knew like, “All right, well, it’s going to be a long shot.”
Chris Palmer:A long shot because he didn’t trust the system to hold a police officer accountable and because the system never really worked for him to begin with.
Milique Wagner:I’m so used to seeing that cops got away with certain stuff, especially in Philadelphia. They don’t care what a cop do. You know the union…
Speaker 1:Thank you for using Securus. Goodbye.
Chris Palmer:Nordo was arrested in 2019, but his trial wouldn’t begin until this year.
Al Letson:Would the Philadelphia court system prove Milique right? What would a jury think of the allegations against Nordo? Would Nordo serve time for what he’d done?
Michael van der…:I believe in his innocence. Yes, I do. I do.
Al Letson:That’s up next on Reveal.

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.
Chris Palmer:Okay. It is the afternoon of Wednesday, May 18th, and I am just leaving the criminal courthouse in Philadelphia…
Al Letson:The case against former Detective Philip Nordo began this past spring, almost 20 years after the first sexual complaint was filed against him.
Chris Palmer:Another really disturbing day of testimony from a witness who again accused Phil Nordo of assault.
Al Letson:Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Chris Palmer had a front row seat. Pennsylvania doesn’t allow recording inside its courtrooms, but Chris kept voice memo diaries as he covered every day of the trial for about three weeks.
Chris Palmer:Today is something was along the lines of a bookkeeping day, what I would call a parade of suits. Today we are closing in on the end of the prosecution’s case. I do not think at this moment that Phil Nordo himself is going to testify.
Al Letson:This hour we’ve been hearing from Chris and his reporting partner, Samantha Melamed. They’ve been covering Nordo since reports of his misconduct first became public. Nordo was charged with a number of violent crimes including rape and sexual assault. Just a reminder, as Chris takes us through the case, there will be some graphic material that’s not appropriate for all listeners. Here’s Chris with how the trial went.
Chris Palmer:The case against Nordo rested on the testimony of three men. Each one spent nearly an entire day on the witness stand testifying that the Philadelphia detective sexually assaulted them. One witness said he was so ashamed about what happened, he’d never told his family. Another covered his ears as his recorded jail calls with Nordo were played for the jury.

Going into the trial, the prosecutors were nervous. Even with the emotionally powerful testimony they had, sexual assault cases with alleged crimes that happened years ago are often difficult to win. Nordo’s lawyers sought to pick apart the three witnesses’ stories highlighting inconsistencies that could undermine their credibility. One lawyer called a sobbing witness an actor who cried crocodile tears. Nordo never took the stand himself, but his lawyers portrayed him as an exceptionally dedicated detective, always working, always following up on tips from his vast network of sources. “If his methods appeared unconventional at times,” they said, “that’s because solving murders can be messy.” Homicide investigations are full of fraught interactions with people who may not be willing to talk or may not be telling the truth, and they called to the stand more than a dozen character witnesses: Nordo’s wife, his two kids, family members, and neighbors. Asked if he was a law abiding, truthful, and peaceful person, all said yes. It took the jury less than two days to reach a verdict.
Speaker 5:Our top story takes us to guilty verdicts across the board against the former Philadelphia homicide detective charged with sexual assault and corruption. We’re joined live now…
Chris Palmer:Guilty on all 18 counts including the rape, sexual assault, and official oppression charges. Nordo was facing years in prison. After the verdict, a few people milled around in front of the courthouse.
Michael van der…:You guys come in. Come on.
Chris Palmer:I stopped to talk with Nordo’s lawyer Michael van der Veen.

You just start with your reaction to the verdict today.
Michael van der…:I was disappointed with the verdict. We respect the jury, but strongly disagree with their verdict. We’ll be looking towards appeals.
Chris Palmer:You say you disagree with the jury’s verdict. Do you still believe Phil Nordo is innocent of these crimes?
Michael van der…:I believe in his innocence. Yes, I do. Okay, I do.
Chris Palmer:You think they were telling false stories about what happened?
Michael van der…:I think that the jury got the verdict wrong.
Chris Palmer:After his trial, I sent letters asking to speak with each of Nordo’s character witnesses. No one replied. Same goes for Nordo, he hasn’t responded to any of my requests for comment. Throughout the trial, Nordo’s attorneys denied that he sexually abused anyone. They suggested that part of his job involved having conversations with witnesses that might sound inappropriate to an outsider. “Nordo’s role,” his lawyer said, “was to build rapport and get people to talk when they were reluctant or even hostile, and part of his method was saying whatever it took to keep that conversation going.” To some experts though, that approach is flawed, even if it’s how homicide detectives across the country have been trained to interrogate.
Marissa Bluesti…:The entire interrogation is designed to get a statement. That is the goal.
Chris Palmer:Marissa Bluestine is the former head of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project where she helped free 14 people who were wrongfully convicted. She’s now on faculty at the Quattrone Center, part of the University of Pennsylvania’s a law school.
Marissa Bluesti…:In the United States, police are allowed to lie to somebody in an interrogation. They’re allowed to lie and say they have evidence that they don’t actually have. It’s not about understanding the crime, it’s not about getting information. It’s about trying to manipulate you as the suspect into giving me that answer.
Chris Palmer:We obtained emails Nordo wrote to an interrogation expert about his method, which he called rapport manipulation. He said, quote, “I’ve taken it very seriously for many years now,” and he added that it was a real science.
Marissa Bluesti…:There’s no science behind that whatsoever.
Chris Palmer:We showed the emails to Marissa, and she saw Nordo describing some of the same pressure techniques detectives in the US have been trained in since the 1950s.
Marissa Bluesti…:The email is pretty indicative of a mindset of I’m right, they’re wrong. I’m going to justify what I do, and it’s that tunnel vision. There’s no discussion in there about listening to that person, building rapport, understanding where they’re coming from.
Chris Palmer:Marissa said that although Nordo’s crimes of sexual abuse may sound unique and extreme, she sees parallels between what he was convicted of and the way he describes his interrogation tactics.
Marissa Bluesti…:We know that sexual abuse is not about sex, it’s about power. Interrogating somebody in an interrogation room is often about power.
Chris Palmer:Nordo is far from the only homicide detective who abused his position of authority. Similar high profile cases have surfaced in cities across the country, including New York, Chicago, Norfolk, and Kansas City. Detectives have been accused of serial misconduct, everything from fabricating confessions to torturing suspects in cases going back decades. Marissa says it’s the lack of accountability from the entire system, police departments, prosecutors, and court officials, that allows this misconduct to keep happening decade after decade.
Marissa Bluesti…:It’s still that issue of why wasn’t that behavior detected earlier? We need to be able to, as a system, respond when there’s an allegation of error or blatant misconduct and so engaging in something like a root cause analysis, not just to sit down and go, “Oh, well Detective Nordo is a bad one,” but to look at the system. How did the system let that go on, and how do we prevent it from happening again?
Chris Palmer:That question remained. Had the Philadelphia Police Department responded to its own failures? Had it created any reforms to prevent the next Nordo? I went with my reporting partner, Samantha Melamed, to find out.
Samantha Melame…:We’re at Broad and Callow Hill Streets in Philadelphia. I’m with Chris Palmer, our reporting partner, and we’re about to go into…
Chris Palmer:This fall, we met outside the Philadelphia police department’s new headquarters, in a building that used to be the home of our newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer
Samantha Melame…:It used to be called the Tower of Truth.
Chris Palmer:I mean, I made a lame joke in a story that it’s now the Tower of Power, but I don’t know if that’s quite caught on yet.
Samantha Melame…:I think that remains to be seen.

Once we’re inside, an officer escorts us to a large empty conference room to meet Frank Vanore.
Frank Vanore:My name is Frank Vanore. I’m the Deputy Commissioner of Investigations for the Philadelphia Police Department.
Samantha Melame…:Vanore has been in the department for more than 30 years, though he never worked with Nordo directly.
Frank Vanore:Obviously, it’s a disgrace. It’s a disgrace, so it’s all I could say is moving forward, we’re very, very, very in tune to what’s happening and what the detectives are up to.
Samantha Melame…:He says what Nordo got away with couldn’t happen today. He points to reforms that were made in 2014. The reforms required detectives to video record interrogations, and they set a limit on how long someone can be held for questioning. Detectives must also tell witnesses that their participation is voluntary, but those reforms happened three years before Nordo was fired. We asked again, had the department taken any measures to prevent another Nordo?
Chris Palmer:In other institutions or other cases where if there’s a failure within, they might look and say, “Do a sentinel review. How did this happen, and what can we do to prevent it from happening again?” Was there anything on that level that occurred here as a result of the Nordo situation?
Frank Vanore:I don’t know if it was a result of Nordo, but there are policy reviews every week. I promise you many of these new policies that we have, whether it be informants, interviews, video recording, all that stuff, if it needed to be updated, it was updated, and I couldn’t give you the timeline of that, nor was I involved in it back then. I’m involved in it now. We’re looking very closely at every policy.
Samantha Melame…:Vanore couldn’t point to a single reform made specifically in response to Nordo’s wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia district attorney has committed to reviewing all cases involving Nordo. Prosecutors are going through one by one, assessing whether or not each of the convictions he secured was tainted by his misconduct. It’s the first time a Philadelphia DA has reviewed a detective’s entire body of work. So far, five people have been fully exonerated, and two others got reduced sentences. The DA agreed that five more cases should be overturned, but judges have either disagreed or have delayed their decisions, and prosecutors still haven’t decided what to do with the rest of the cases, including Milique Wagner’s.
Speaker 1:This is a call from Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution, Brockville. This call is subject to recording and monitoring.
Samantha Melame…:All right, can you hear me?
Milique Wagner:Yeah, I can hear you.
Samantha Melame…:Milique was convicted of murder in 2013, even though one eyewitness found by Nordo had admitted on the stand that he was the killer. This past summer, Milique had a meeting with an attorney from the DA’s office. His lawyer was angling for a plea agreement that would make Milique eligible for parole right away.
Milique Wagner:Basically, I was under the impression from my lawyer that I would be getting a 12 to 24 year sentence, so I will be released.
Samantha Melame…:Going into that meeting. Milique had planned to agree with the story the prosecution told about his case, that he was part of the drug ring and that he had colluded in the murder, but then the conversation turned to Nordo.
Milique Wagner:When we started talking about Nordo, that’s when I stopped because I was feeling uncomfortable with speaking on it.
Samantha Melame…:Milique said he’s still angry about what the detective had done, and so he went off his lawyer’s script.
Milique Wagner:I was like, “Look, man, I’m really innocent of this.” The only witness that was used against me, he admitted to committing this crime. Who’s determining what is true and what is false?
Samantha Melame…:Milique says his lawyer told him that by speaking up, he’d thrown the prospect of a plea agreement into jeopardy. When I talked to Milique a few weeks ago, he wasn’t sure what kind of agreement might still be on the table. We asked the DA’s office, but they didn’t get back to us. Milique also isn’t sure he would even take a deal if it’s offered. He could stay in prison and fight for full exoneration, but that feels like a big risk.
Milique Wagner:I have no faith in the system. It’s crazy because I lean more towards taking a deal instead of going back to court and prove my innocence because I know how corrupt the system can be, and I don’t want to take that chance with my freedom again.
Samantha Melame…:Milique said his family wants him to take a deal and come home. They’re worried about his health. In prison, he’s developed dangerously high blood pressure. He also wants to get out so he can be there for his grandmother who’s been confined to a hospital bed in her living room. He worries that any relief from the courts won’t come soon enough.
Al Letson:On December 16th, Philip Nordo was sentenced to 24 and a half years in prison. Judge Giovanni Campbell said Nordo exhibited a disturbing capacity for cruelty. The judge added that Nordo had weaponized his power and influence as a police officer.

Our lead producer for this week’s show is Najib Aminy. Jenny Casas edited the show with help from Jim Neff at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Queena Kim. Special thanks to Nancy Phillips. Support for the Philadelphia Inquirer is provided by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Nikki Frick is our fact checker. Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel. Our production manager is Amy “The Great” Mostafa, and this is the last episode that we’ll have Amy with us. Amy, you’ve been amazing, and we wish you nothing but the best. Thank you so much for your work.

Original score and sound design by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda. Our post-production team this week also includes Claire Mullen and Katherine Styer Martinez. Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. Our COO is Maria Feldman and our CEO is Robert Rosenthal. Our interim executive producers are Brett Myers and Taki Telonidis. Our theme music is by Camerado/Lightning.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson, and remember, there’s always more to the story.

Najib Aminy is a producer for Reveal. Previously, he was an editor at Flipboard, a news aggregation startup, and helped guide the company’s editorial and curation practices and policies. Before that, he spent time reporting for newspapers such as Newsday and The Indianapolis Star. He is the host and producer of an independent podcast, "Some Noise," which is based out of Oakland, California, and was featured by Apple, The Guardian and The Paris Review. He is a lifelong New York Knicks fan, has a soon-to-be-named kitten and is a product of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Aminy is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Jenny Casas is a senior radio editor for Reveal. She was previously a narrative audio producer at The New York Times developing shows for the Opinion Department. She was in the inaugural cohort of AIR's Edit Mode: Story Editor Training. She has reported on the ways that cities systematically fail their people for WNYC, USA Today, City Bureau and St. Louis Public Radio. Casas is from California and is based in Chicago.

Amy Mostafa (she/they) is the production manager for Reveal. She is a UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum, where she focused on audio and data journalism as a Dean's Merit Fellow and an ISF Scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on NPR, KALW and KALX. Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She has most recently reported on housing and aging in the Bay Area. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Nikki Frick is the associate editor for research and copy for Reveal. She previously worked as a copy editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and held internships at The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times and Washingtonpost.com. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was an American Copy Editors Society Aubespin scholar. Frick is based in Milwaukee.

Sarah Mirk (she/her) is a digital engagement producer for Reveal. Since 2017, she has worked as an editor at The Nib, an online daily comics publication focused on political cartoons, graphic journalism, essays and memoirs about current affairs. She works with artists to create nonfiction comics on a variety of complex topics, from personal narratives about queer identities to examinations of overlooked history. Before that, Mirk was the online editor of national feminist media outlet Bitch, a podcast host and a local news reporter. She is also the author of several books, including “Year of Zines,” a collection of 100 handmade zines, and “Guantanamo Voices,” a collection of illustrated oral histories of the world’s most infamous prison. Mirk is based in Portland, Oregon.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is a sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. As a multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the original music, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. He has held four O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary abilities. His work has been recognized with Peabody, duPont-Columbia, Edward R. Murrow, Gerald Loeb, Third Coast and Association of Music Producers awards, as well as Emmy and Pulitzer nominations. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio for media and TV ads, and co-founded a film-scoring boutique called the Manhattan Composers Collective. He worked with clients such as Marvel, MasterClass and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck+Company, BUCK and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles, such as SFJAZZ Monday Night Band, Art&Sax quartet, Krychek, Dark Inc. and the New York Arabic Orchestra. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 Percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker,” Wondery’s “Detective Trapp,” MSNBC’s “Why Is This Happening?” and NBC’s “Born to Rule,” to name a few. Arruda also has a wide catalog of composed music for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which has premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. The original music he makes with Jim Briggs for Reveal can be found on Bandcamp.

Steven Rascón (he/they) is a production assistant for Reveal. He is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism with a Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy Fellowship. His focus is investigative reporting and audio documentary. He has written for online, magazines and radio. His reporting on underreported fentanyl overdoses in Los Angeles' LGBTQ community aired on KCRW and KQED. Rascón is passionate about telling diverse stories for radio through community engagement. He holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater arts and creative writing.

Kathryn Styer Martínez

Kathryn Styer Martínez (she/ella) is a production assistant for Reveal. She studies audio and photojournalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She is also a Greater Good Science Center reporting fellow, focusing on Latino well-being.

Martínez was the 2020-21 Toni Randolph reporting fellow at Minnesota Public Radio, the 2019-20 New Economy Reporting Project fellow and the former director of KGPC-LP FM, Peralta Community Radio. Her work has appeared in El Tecolote, The Oaklandside, MPR News, National Public Radio, Outside Online, Talk Poverty, New Life Quarterly and Making Contact.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in Raza studies and political science from San Francisco State University.

Taki Telonidis is an interim executive producer for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.