January 714, 1999
The Detective's Story
click here to return to cover story
Tom Augustine's world started to come apart in one of the district attorney's bathrooms. Augustine was looking in a mirror, brushing his teeth. Standing behind him was "The Monsignor," John Hall, the jailhouse snitch who ratted out his stepson, Herbie Haak, and who was at the DA's office that day to go over his testimony.
For months, in his search for clues in the Ernest homicide, Augustine had run down stories told by Hall.
As Augustine brushed away the growing bad taste in his mouth, Hall repeated out loud what he'd just whispered in Augustine's ear out in the waiting room.
Herbie Haak really didn't have Kimberly Ernest's pendant, Hall admitted, months after sending Augustine off on a wild goose chase about to really turn foul.
"John, there's no pendant?" Augustine said.
"You're right," Hall answered. "There's no pendant."
"Why John?" Augustine asked. "Why'd you make this up?"
"Well, I knew your case was kind of weak," Hall told Augustine. "I knew you guys were having a problem. So I thought I'd make up something. Make it a little better for you."
Augustine was incredulous.
"John, do you know what you did here?"
After admitting he'd made up a few other items, John Hall asked Augustine to promise him something.
"I'm really sorry," Hall said. "This is just between us."
"Oh no," Augustine said, sarcastically. "I'm not going to tell anybody."
With that, Augustine walked out of the bathroom and into a maelstrom.
Asking Capt. John Biddy to watch Hall, Augustine made a beeline for prosecutor Judy Rubino, whose case was about to be further devastated.
There was already no DNA, no hair and no eyewitnesses.
Now a key witness had just admitted lying, knocking out a whole bunch of evidence.
Augustine was sick.
It would only get worse.
Already accused of beating and coercing statements out of Haak and Richie Wise, Augustine would soon find himself accused of a number of other misdeeds:
Allegedly beating three men from Kensington; becoming the target of an FBI investigation into civil rights violations; accused of being a mobster, and of aiding in a conspiracy to shield blame from the son of a prominent attorney connected to the mayor.
Augustine maintains that he's never beaten or coerced anyone. Ever. He blames Bala Cynwyd attorney Fred Ambrose and his investigator, Stephen Stouffer, and Len Wise and his attorney Sam Malat for dragging his name through the mud.
"Just to win $75 million," Augustine says.
April 15 wasn't just tax day for Augustine.
It was the day Commissioner John Timoney received a letter from the FBI informing him that it wanted to interview Augustine and his boss, Sgt. Paul Musi. About "an alleged assault on Herbert Haak by police officers on 11/28/95 and 10/25/96."
On May 21, Timoney received another letter. The FBI wanted to interview six other cops as well.
FBI spokeswoman Linda Visi says that the local FBI office was acting on behalf of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and that the local investigation is now complete.
A Justice Department spokesperson says that the investigation into charges that the police violated Herbie Haak's rights is still pending.
Augustine says he, like the other officers, met the FBI agents without lawyers.
"I told them everything," says Augustine, who welcomes the investigation, saying that the FBI will clear his name.
"You want to follow me 24 hours a day, seven days a week?" Augustine asks. "You know what you are going to do? You are going to catch me doing a couple of things. Probably drinking more beer than I should drink. And every once in a while, I'll stop, and I'll take a nap in the police car. If you want to take me for that, then you go ahead and take me."
In June, Augustine asked Timoney to do his own investigation of allegations made by Ambrose.
Augustine told Timoney that Organized Crime squad officers were being told by investigators for Haak's attorney, Fred Ambrose, "that Det. Augustine has ties to the mob."
In his letter, Augustine also told Timoney that he was being accused of kidnapping an Asian woman, who was illegally taken to homicide and beaten.
"I was getting tired of this and I wanted the Commissioner to see for himself," says Augustine.
Timoney says he did see for himself. Sort of.
"I met with Ambrose," says Timoney. "We went over [Ambrose's letter]. There were a whole bunch of issues why he thought it was this guy."
The "this guy" Timoney referred to was John Lambert, named in Ambrose's letter as the prime suspect in the Ernest murder.
Timoney says he agreed to meet with Ambrose as long as it was kept "super secret."
That was not to be.
"It was all supposed to be hush-hush," Timoney says. "Three days later [Ambrose] is in front of cameras. What is this guy, crazy? We were going to do this super secret and he went behind our backs."
Timoney says he gave the letter "to detectives to look at."
They found that the information contained in Ambrose's letter "did not pan out," Timoney says.
Ambrose says it was Timoney who broke the confidentiality agreement by inviting members of the City Solicitor's Office to the meeting.
"When the meeting was set up, it was supposed to be he and I and my investigator," says Ambrose. "Instead, I was surrounded, like cowboys of old by Indians. If there was any breach of a secret meeting, it was by [Timoney] and his staff, not me."
Augustine, who admits that he is risking his career by talking, says he is not angry that his fellow detectives won't speak out on his behalf.
"They are abiding by what the police department said" about not talking to the press, says Augustine. "No one is talking. But see, they didn't get their dick kicked in. I'm the one that got my dick kicked in."
Augustine, who often refers to himself in the third person as "Tombo" and keeps a scrapbook of his many commendations, citations and mentions in local newspapers, says he regrets not talking to the press sooner about the Ernest investigation.
He's had plenty to talk about.
"You know what this has done to me?" Augustine asks. "This has positively ruined me. How can I go to court and testify now?"
After the Ernest case, Augustinewho earned a reputation as a hardworking, honest detective who could get the toughest confessionswas reassigned to the fugitive squad. Lately, he's been tracking down who killed the infamous Boy In The Box. Still, as enjoyable as that case has been, Augustine says he'd much rather do what he does bestinvestigate current homicides.
Sam Malat, Wise's attorney, says the reassignment was a demotion.
"That's a demotion?" he asks, rhetorically. "I drive a 1999 car. I have a cell phone. I don't do shift work. I'm home on weekends. Yeah, that's some special demotion."