A high-ranking Philadelphia police officer seen as one of the department's rising stars was arrested Friday on federal charges of extortion and bribery, bringing a stunning end to the career of an ambitious 25-year veteran.
The accusations against 47-year-old Inspector Daniel Castro, detailed in an indictment unsealed Friday, stem from a real estate deal that failed, causing Castro to lose a $90,000 investment. He is accused of asking someone to hire an enforcer to use threats of violence to recoup the money.
Castro sought help from the wrong man: a witness who was cooperating with the FBI, the indictment states. The witness told Castro he would find someone to forcibly collect the debt, and the FBI arranged for an undercover agent to pose as that enforcer. The FBI witness acted as a go-between for Castro and the "enforcer," which Castro believed would protect him from getting caught.
As Castro and the FBI witness planned the scheme last July, Castro said the enforcer shouldn't be too aggressive. "I can't get myself in trouble," Castro said, according to the indictment. "I want to be police commissioner."
Some in the department had long speculated that Castro had a chance at becoming the city's top cop. Castro, who this year was appointed head of the Traffic Division, was ranked three levels below Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and was paid a salary of more than $90,000.
He served as captain of some of the city's roughest districts, and has worked in Internal Affairs. He has two master's degrees and was the recipient of an international fellowship, on which he studied community policing in Scotland.
And when Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski's killer, Eric DeShawn Floyd, led police on a five-day manhunt in 2008, Castro was in charge of the operation that reeled him in.
"Prior to this, people looked at him as having a bright future in the department," Ramsey said at a news conference Friday.
Later, Ramsey said, "He ain't that . . . bright if he did this."
Castro has been suspended for 30 days with intent to dismiss. He is charged with attempted interference with interstate commerce by extortion, attempted extortionate collection of credit, making a material false statement to the FBI, and related offenses. If convicted, he faces up to 80 years in prison.
Dressed in a gray sweatshirt, with his hands cuffed behind him for part of his brief court appearance Friday, Castro said he had not yet retained an attorney. He was released on house arrest until Monday, when lawyers will seek a permanent bail arrangement pending trial.
Castro said he was not sure he could afford an attorney and asked that one be appointed, but Magistrate Judge M. Faith Angell denied that request after reviewing his financial records.
Ramsey, who has vowed to root out corrupt officers, informed his commanders of the arrest in a citywide conference call Friday morning, shortly after Castro was taken into custody.
Mayor Nutter said the arrest was particularly disturbing, given Castro's rank.
"I could not be more angry, be more disappointed, if not furious," Nutter told reporters outside his City Hall office.
Castro is the 15th police officer to be arrested since March 2009, a figure that includes two officers charged with murder in off-duty shootings. Castro is the highest-ranking officer in recent memory to be arrested, Ramsey said.
Officials would not say where Castro was taken into custody, but law enforcement sources said he was arrested at his home.
The alleged shakedown was not the only way Castro tried to recoup his losses. In June he sued local businessman Wilson V. Encarnacion as well as a local law firm and several real estate companies, asking for the return of his money.
Encarnacion, who owned the Old City restaurant Cebu, could not be reached for comment.
The real estate deal was arranged in the spring of 2006, when Castro made an agreement with Encarnacion and several others to invest $90,000 in a project to build single-family homes in Millsboro, Del.
In his lawsuit, Castro claims he was told that his money would be safe, and that he would be given dividends and regular statements. A lawyer involved with the deal predicted that Castro could make as much as $400,000, according to Castro's suit.
In May 2007, after the land sale fell through, Castro began asking for his investment back, according to his lawsuit.
The FBI investigation began in April, shortly before Castro filed the suit. Investigators have not said how Castro came into contact with the witness who was cooperating with the FBI, but said that at some point Castro approached that person about hiring a "collector" who would recoup Castro's investment, plus $50,000 in interest, from Encarnacion.
Investigators said Castro emphasized that he did not want to be in direct contact with the enforcer because of his position in the Police Department. In return, Castro said he would pay the FBI witness 10 percent of the money collected.
According to the indictment, Castro provided Encarnacion's home address in New Jersey so that the enforcer could go there, saying Encarnacion had a wife and child and would "get scared."
"Get my money," Castro said, according to the indictment. "That's all I care about . . . I've waited too long . . . I just want, I want my money."
Several times over the next few months, the witness gave Castro money, purportedly after it had been collected from Encarnacion. According to the indictment, the witness implied at least once that the enforcer had used violence to get it.
Last month, Castro grew leery that authorities were onto him. FBI agents questioned him about his efforts to collect his debt, but Castro denied any involvement with extortion, according to the indictment.
In addition to the extortion plot, Castro is charged with bribery for accepting a 42-inch television from the FBI witness in exchange for looking up a license plate number in a police database.
Castro is also accused of referring another person who needed the help of an enforcer to collect an unpaid debt. According to the indictment, Castro told a friend, "I know a guy that'll get your money back."
Castro's years on the force have not been free of controversy. In 1999, as captain of the 16th District, he got into trouble for pressuring subordinates to doctor incident reports so his West Philadelphia district would appear safer.
The incident got Castro moved into a night-shift command, then viewed as an undesirable position. Then-Police Commissioner John F. Timoney also issued Castro a written reprimand, though there was never a formal probe.
A year later, Timoney gave Castro a job at Police Headquarters, helping overhaul the department's disciplinary system. Timoney said that Castro had "suffered enough" and that he deserved a second chance.
"I believe in redemption," Timoney said then. "While you may screw up and be punished, unless it's something of a criminal nature, that will not be the end of your career."
Castro's personal life has also been troubled. His son, Daniel Jr., was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison for an attempted murder a judge called "egregious and calculated." Castro's son and two accomplices were sentenced in 2002 for luring a Philadelphia man to a deserted area, shooting him twice in the head, and leaving him for dead.
At his son's sentencing, Castro asked the judge for fairness.
"I don't know where things went wrong," Castro told the judge, according to an Inquirer story. "It's so easy to say Danny hung out with the wrong crew, but I must put blame on myself."
Contact staff writer Allison Steele at 215-854-2641 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributing to this article were staff writers Troy Graham, Barbara Boyer, Marcia Gelbart, and Miriam Hill.
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