Bodegas are convenience stores, usually owned by immigrants, that sell groceries, calling cards, and other sundries, and also sometimes cash paychecks or provide wire services for immigrants to send home remittances. In March the Philadelphia Daily News reported that a rogue narcotics officer and his squad had been terrorizing the shops.
Bodega owners have described at least a dozen shakedowns disguised as drug paraphernalia raids conducted by Officer Jeffrey Cujdik and his colleagues. In each account, Cujdik and his men storm the store with a search warrant, looking not for drugs but for the small resealable plastic bags favored by drug dealers. Under Pennsylvania law, it's a crime to sell ordinary products if the merchant knows or should know that a customer will use them to package illegal drugs.
During the raids, Cujdik's team reportedly disabled the shops' security cameras and confiscated the computers that recorded video from them. The cops then ransacked the bodegas, stealing cigarettes, snacks, soft drinks, and other items. In several cases, they filed police reports that bodega owners say significantly understated the amount of cash the police seized from the stores.
These accounts were corroborated when one store, which sent its camera feeds off site, released audio and video of a raid to the Daily News. On the video, immediately after conducting the raid, the cops cut the wires to several video cameras. They can then be heard badgering the store's owner about whether there was an off-site feed.
Cujdik is already under investigation. Last year one of his confidential informants alleged that he and Cujdik regularly conspired to lie on search warrant affidavits, claiming to have conducted controlled drug buys that never happened. Earlier this year, a woman named Lady Gonzalez said one of Cujdik's men sexually assaulted her during a raid authorized by a falsified search warrant. Cujdik is now on desk duty, with pay, while local and federal officials investigate the allegations.