For most of his four years as a Memphis police officer, Arthur Sease IV financed his dream of becoming a record producer by stealing large sums of money and drugs from dealers whose reward was not being arrested, a federal court jury was told Thursday.
Federal prosecutors said Sease got greedy, however, taking $32,000 in one stop and on another occasion robbing a particularly dangerous dealer in a white BMW who was so angry he chased Sease's squad car through the streets of Whitehaven.
"You're going to hear 16 separate trials about 16 separate robberies," federal prosecutor Steve Parker told jurors. "This case is about a cop, several cops, who instead of doing good work were stealing and dealing."
Sease, 31, is one of more than three dozen law enforcement officers charged with corruption over the past five years and is the first to go to trial.
Others, including several expected to testify against Sease, have pleaded guilty or are awaiting trial.
His 50-count indictment outlines conspiracy charges involving drugs, extortion, civil rights violations, kidnapping, money laundering and illegal use of firearms.
Sease faces up to life in prison if convicted in the trial, which is expected to last nearly three weeks.
He grew up in Orange Mound, joined the Navy and then, on July 19, 2001, he became a Memphis police officer.
He was fired in January of 2005, after state robbery charges were filed, but he continued the shakedowns by directing former colleagues still on the force to make the stops.
"His primary goal was the high life," Parker said. "He wanted to be a rap record producer and, in fact, High Life Inc., was going to be the name of his record company. He wanted to raise money for his rap label so he'd get friends who were drug dealers to set up drug deals and then he and other officers would rob them."
The prosecutor said that after taking drugs, money and cell phones from the dealers, he would tell them "this is your lucky day" and that he wasn't going to arrest them.
In one 2004 case, labeled "The Pop-a-Lock Robbery," Parker said a dealer with drugs and money quickly locked his keys in the car so the officers could not search it.
But Andrew Hunt, a reserve officer, called a locksmith and paid him $40 to unlock the vehicle, said Parker, adding that Sease then showed up to share in the money and cocaine.
After several dealers finally complained to the police department, a months-long investigation was conducted that ended with the arrest of Sease in an April 2006 sting.
Defense attorney Michael Stengel urged jurors to be skeptical of the former police officers, drug dealers and other government witnesses who either were not prosecuted for their crimes or who are hoping for light sentences for cooperating with prosecutors.
"That gives these witnesses a powerful motive to slant their testimony," Stengel said. "They have been compensated with freedom."
The trial before U.S. Dist. Court Judge Jon McCalla resumes today.
By Lawrence Buser
Memphis Commercial Appeal
Thursday, January 22, 2009