By Megan Kelly Correspondent
Passion. Determination. Fearlessness.
These were the words used by Professor Emilie Lounsberry to describe Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman, two Philadelphia Daily News reporters who uncovered police corruption in Philadelphia, earning them a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for their hard work. The two came to the College on Wednesday, Oct. 28, to speak about their journey and the book that spawned from the investigation, “Busted: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love.”
Ruderman and Laker began their investigation in December of 2008 when drug dealer Benny Martinez, working as a drug informant for the Philadelphia Police Department, came to Ruderman in fear that both an officer and a drug dealer wanted him dead.
Their first story was about “the slippery slope” of breaking the law to enforce the law, Ruderman said, and it warranted a significant amount of backlash from both the police department and the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police.
“We scratched the surface and kept pulling on this string, and the string had more attached to it,” Ruderman said of the story.
Seeing the journalists’ story on the police department’s illegal practices prompted the owner of a local smoke shop to come forward to Ruderman and Laker on allegations that police were acting corruptly toward him and other store owners.
Because of the journalists’ investigation on this tip, it was uncovered that one particular squad in the department had been raiding certain bodegas in Philadelphia. The police were discovered to have been cutting surveillance tapes in these mom-and-pop stores and robbing the immigrant owners of merchandise, as well as large amounts of cash. As it turns out, the squad was led by the officer connected to Martinez.
Ruderman and Laker began systematically going through hundreds of search warrants, pulling out those issued for these corner stores by this particular squad. After weeks of searching, the journalists then tracked down some of the owners, several of whom had left their stores after being raided.
“They all told us the exact same story,” Laker said. “We ended up with 22 bodega owners who told this story, from all four corners of the world, who didn’t know each other.”
It was then discovered that an officer in the squad had been preying on women during raids, pulling them aside and sexually assaulting them.
Laker and Ruderman once again began picking through search warrants, looking for the officer’s badge number, not knowing if there even was a female victim at these raids.
“It was a needle-in-a-haystack kind of thing,” Ruderman said.
Dagma Rodriguez was one of those women assaulted during a raid. Laker described searching for her and recalled that upon meeting each other, Rodriguez, in tears, opened her arms to Laker and said, “I’ve been praying for this day.” She noted how Rodriguez became overhwlemed that someone was finally letting her tell her story.
“It was one of those moments where I thought, ‘This is why you go into journalism,’” Laker said.
Laker and Ruderman went on to describe the feeling of being nominated for, and winning, the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism.
“No one really thought we would win,” Ruderman said. “It was one of those moments where it happens and you can’t believe it. I still can’t believe it.”
They also described the tiring process of writing their book.
“It is so hard to write a book,” Ruderman said. “(Picking a publisher) is kind of like speed-dating.”
Laker and Ruderman also talked about the possibility of having the book become a television series.
“We don’t really know what’s going to happen but it was fun to hang out with Sarah Jessica Parker,” Laker said of the star potentially portraying her on TV.
The pair said they look forward to writing together again, and that their favorite topic is investigating and eventually uncovering people who attack defenseless others.
“We like stories where there’s someone preying on someone else who’s vulnerable, often poor or who has no voice, or whatever it may be,” Laker said. “Those are the stories we like the best. It can right a wrong. We can write about it and do something.”