Two Daily News reporters have won a prestigious national award from the American Society of News Editors.
Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman won the Distinguished Writing Award for Local Accountability Reporting for their series about a squad of rogue narcotics cops who systematically looted mom-and-pop stores under the guise of busting them for selling drug paraphernalia, according to the shop owners.
The award cited the two for "direct, descriptive writing - journalism that made a difference in the community."
Laker has been a Daily News reporter since 1993. Ruderman started at the Daily News three years ago, after working four years as a reporter for the Inquirer.
The reporters' series, "Tainted Justice," began last February, when a drug informant told the reporters that Officer Jeffrey Cujdik and other members of the Narcotics Field Unit sometimes lied on search-warrant applications to gain access to suspected drug homes.
The reporters later uncovered allegations that the squad routinely disabled surveillance cameras during raids of bodegas and smoke shops that sold tiny zip-lock bags, which police consider drug paraphernalia.
After the officers sliced or cut the wires, thousands of dollars in cash and merchandise vanished, the merchants told the reporters.
Ruderman and Laker also detailed allegations that one squad member sexually violated women during raids.
The series prompted an FBI investigation and resulted in major changes in police procedures. In addition, more than 50 convicted drug dealers are fighting for new trials, alleging that officers fabricated evidence against them.
Since the series began, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has split up the officers in Cujdik's squad and appointed a chief integrity officer to scrutinize drug investigations.
The department also issued a 22-page directive last Sept. 11 that places tighter controls on officers and their informants. Now, a supervisor must witness all payments to informants.
Among other winners of ASNE awards were reporters from the New York Times, Boston Globe and Denver Post.