Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Cops charged with stealing, dealing heroin

Philadelphia police officers (from left) Robert Snyder, James Venziale, and Mark Williams have been charged with planning to steal heroin and sell it to a drug dealer.
Philadelphia police officers (from left) Robert Snyder, James Venziale, and Mark Williams have been charged with planning to steal heroin and sell it to a drug dealer.Read more

IT STARTED OUT as an everyday drug sting.

An undercover DEA agent had infiltrated a network of heroin dealers on the hardscrabble streets of North Philadelphia.

His investigation soon took a stunning turn.

Suddenly, he wasn't just taking down drug peddlers. He was negotiating with three men in blue.

The three baby-faced Philly cops thought that the undercover agent was a drug dealer and money launderer. The greedy cops allegedly helped steal 300 grams of heroin, with a street value of more than $100,000, and gave it to an undercover agent to sell.Yesterday, the three cops - Mark Williams, 26, and James Venziale, 31, of the 39th District, and Robert Snyder, 29, of the 25th District - were arrested in connection with a joint federal-local probe that unfolded like an episode of the FX police-corruption series, The Shield.

"I'm personally pissed off about this kind of behavior," Mayor Nutter said. "[These cops] are nothing more than the criminals that they've been associated with. We employ high-integrity, high-minded, hardworking individuals to be members of the Police Department. We do not employ criminals. That's what they are. That's how they'll be treated."

Last night, the three cops remained locked up at the Federal Detention Center at 7th and Arch streets, and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said that the officers will be fired.

"But that's going to be the least of their worries, because they're gonna do some serious time as a result of this," Ramsey said. "All three officers did more than just disgrace their badge and betray the trust. They committed very, very serious crimes, and for that they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

The DEA alerted the FBI and Police Internal Affairs to the alleged crimes of the officers, and the agencies worked together to make the arrests.

"Corruption of any type obviously erodes the public trust," said Rafael J. Garcia, an assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia office. "Police corruption is, of course, even more corrosive."

The case against the officers began three months ago when two reputed heroin dealers, Zachary Young, 51, and Angel "Fat Boy" Ortiz, 24, hatched a plan with the undercover DEA agent to steal 300 grams of heroin from a drug supplier named Miguel Santiago, 39. The scheme called for the three cops to use their badge and uniform to help them.

On May 14, while on duty, Williams and Venziale pretended to arrest Ortiz. Ortiz and the undercover DEA agent had just picked up the bundle of heroin from Santiago's drug courier. The courier watched from the shadows as Williams and Venziale pulled over a car driven by the undercover agent with Ortiz as a passenger.

The two cops handcuffed Ortiz and put him in the back of their police cruiser to trick Santiago into thinking they seized the drugs.

Instead, they let the undercover agent drive off with the heroin.

Williams and Venziale then drove Ortiz to Broad and Lehigh streets, where they released him.

Ortiz met up with them later at Hunting Park Avenue and Broad Street and paid Williams and Venziale roughly $6,000, according to the indictment.

Ortiz then met Officer Snyder's wife, Christal Snyder, 26, in the area of Memphis and York streets and gave her an unknown amount of cash.

Christal Snyder aided in the scheme by passing information, via telephone or text messages, between Ortiz, her husband, and the two other cops, according to the indictment.

Williams, Venziale, Snyder and his wife all allegedly expected to receive a cut of the drug proceeds after the undercover agent sold the heroin.

At some point, in the days leading up to May 14, the three cops grew suspicious of the undercover DEA agent. During a meeting in early May between Ortiz, the undercover agent and Williams, Williams secretly wrote down the license-plate number of the agent's car. Later that day, while on duty, Williams allegedly accessed a police computer to try to determine to whom the agent's car was registered.

Robert and Christal Snyder asked Ortiz to steal the agent's driver's license. Ortiz showed the license to Christal Snyder, who then gave identifying information to her husband. Robert Snyder, while on duty, ran a police computer check on the agent's identity, according to the indictment. Ultimately, the cops decided to trust the undercover agent.

Authorities declined to say how the police officers and Ortiz initially met, or how the three cops from two different North Philadelphia police districts joined forces.

Ramsey said that he didn't know whether other officers were involved. "We're in the process now of working this case," he said. "It's still open as far as we're concerned. I don't have anything right now to say that there are other [officers] involved. But if there are, we will find out."

Snyder and his wife, Williams and Venziale face mandatory minimum sentences of five years in a federal lockup if convicted of all charges.

Young, Ortiz and Santiago were also indicted and face the same minimum five-year sentence. The police officers and Young and Ortiz were arrested in their homes Monday night and yesterday morning. None of the cops was on the street. Williams, an officer since 2003, was recently placed on desk duty for an unrelated domestic incident; Venziale, a 10-year veteran, was out of work for a hand injury; Snyder, an officer since 2006, was doing a routine stint in the operations room, according to Ramsey.

Authorities are still looking for Santiago, who most recently lived on East Auburn Street near Amber.

Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby expressed outrage last night.

"As far as I'm concerned, if what the feds are saying is true, it casts a dark cloud on all good police officers who are out there risking their lives every day," McNesby said. "If they did what is alleged involving drug dealers, they have no business being police officers."

He said that the FOP would not provide attorneys for them. The cops were given court-appointed attorneys and are expected to appear at a detention hearing in federal court Friday. Snyder's attorney declined comment last night. The Daily News was unable to reach attorneys for the two other cops.

The three cops are not the first to run afoul of federal authorities in recent years for drug dealing, and the courts have not been lenient with them.

Malik Snell, who was convicted in June 2009 for taking $40,000 in cash from a South Philadelphia drug kingpin during a bogus police car stop, is serving a 30-year sentence in federal prison.

Alhinde Weems pleaded guilty in January in federal court to distribution of crack, attempted robbery and weapons offenses.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on July 22 and could face 15 to 18 years in federal prison under advisory guidelines.