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Ex-detective on trial in perjury case that sank convictions

January 20, 2023 Associated Press
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A former New York City narcotics detective went on trial Thursday on charges that he lied about witnessing drug deals — allegations that prompted the dismissals of hundreds of drug convictions.

Prosecutors say video contradicted several of Joseph Franco’s claims to have seen illegal drug sales. His lawyer says the former detective might have muffed some details about where he saw the alleged transactions but didn’t deliberately lie, and the lawyer maintains the video doesn’t prove otherwise.

Franco worked for the New York Police Department from for about 20 years, until 2020. He was charged in Manhattan in 2019 with perjury and other offenses and has pleaded not guilty.

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The charges involve a handful of cases, but the allegations prompted prosecutors in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx to disavow hundreds of convictions in cases involving Franco. The prosecutors didn’t say they had found evidence that he lied in those cases, but they said they couldn’t stand by his work.

In an opening statement at trial Thursday, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Samantha Dworken said some people ended up behind bars on convictions based on Franco’s alleged lies.

“This was not a mistake. It was a pattern,” Dworken said.

While some suspects did indeed sell or have drugs, “his lies were a poison that tainted any fair or legitimate case that could have been made against them,” she told jurors.

Franco’s attorney, Howard Tanner, said Franco was dedicated to trying to get drugs off the streets. He couldn’t take notes or make recordings while on surveillance and may have erred at times in recounting exactly where alleged drug took place, but “that still doesn’t make it a crime,” Tanner said.

“Joe’s on trial for doing his job,” Tanner said in his opening. He described the case as “second-guessing, Monday morning quarterbacking by an overzealous district attorney’s office.”

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