3 city officers charged in heroin scheme

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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.

Three Philadelphia police officers have been charged with planning the theft of 300 grams of heroin from an alleged drug supplier and then selling it to another person they believed to be a drug dealer and money launderer who, in actuality, was a DEA special agent.

"I'm personally pissed off about this kind of behavior," Mayor Nutter said at a news conference at police headquarters this afternoon. "We do not employ criminals. That's what they are. That's how they will be treated."

Robert Snyder, 30, of the 25th Police District; Mark Williams, 27, and James Venziale, 32, both of the 39th District, were charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin and related counts, U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger announced today.

Four other people, including Snyder's wife Christal and three reputed drug dealers, were also charged.

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said he became aware of the investigation about two months ago. The three officers, he said, had previously been investigated by police internal affairs for minor matters.

Snyder, Williams and Venziale are in police custody, Ramsey said.

"We are in the process of terminating all three," Ramsey said. "Those three are history, but that will be the least of their worries."

The scheme was hatched in April 20, when Venziale met with reputed drug dealer Angel "Fat Boy" Ortiz near the North Philadelphia Amtrak station, according to the indictment. Venziale and Ortiz discussed a plan to steal, with the illegal assistance of Philadelphia police officers, 300 grams of heroin from Miguel Santiago, the indictment states.

According to the indictment, the officers and fellow conspirators believed the heroin they stole from Santiago would be sold for further distribution to the undercover agent, who they believed to be a drug dealer and money launderer.

The officers met at various times during the next weeks with Ortiz and another reputed drug dealer, Zachary Young. The plan called for officers to perform a staged vehicle stop to make it appear to Santiago that the drugs were seized by law enforcement, the indictment states

On May 14, Williams and Venziale were on duty and in uniform when they stopped a car occupied by Ortiz and the undercover agent. A courier working for Santiago, who had just delivered 299 grams of heroin to Ortiz, was nearby and watching, the indictment states.

Williams and Venziale handcuffed Ortiz and allowed the other man to drive off with 299 grams of heroin. Williams and Venziale then drove Ortiz in their cruiser to Broad and Lehigh where they released him, the indictment states.

Later, Ortiz met with Williams and Venziale near Broad St. and Hunting Park Ave. where Ortiz paid the officers $6,000, the indictment states.

Ortiz also met with Christal Snyder and gave her an unknown amount of cash, the indictment states.

Majeedah Rashid, director of the Nicetown Community Development Corp, said the indictment of the officers from the 39th District damages the community's trust in police.

"It's just unfortunate that something like this has come up at a time when we're really heavily dependent on the integrity of the 39th. We've had some recent shootings and we've been working the community trying to establish a sense of safety and security, and our first point of contact is always the 39th District . . .. We work very closely with the community relations people there. It's a long running relationship. Its unfortunate that this happens because you're going to end up losing the trust of the community and we worked so hard to establish that.

Especially with the young people. You come down on the young people and you say 'Don't do this, don't do that.'" And then you have police officers who are role models basically. And they are the ones enforcing the laws and some of them are breaking the law.

Ralph Wynder, an activist in the Allegheny West section and chairman of the Residents Coalition, a coalition of community groups in the Allegheny West and East Falls, said the indictment was troubling.

"If the charges prove to be true, this will become a very disturbing series of events. For officers to take drugs off of some dealers and then give them to another one for their own benefit and profit, it would be a really bad thing," Wynder said.

He said his community has worked closely with the 39th District over the past 10 years.

"It would be a shame for a few bad apples to begin to spoil that image," Wynder said. "It almost takes us back to the time when rogue cops were running amok, and running free. I thought that we had moved from that point to a much better time. And I still think we have. I just think we're always going to have imperfection. This does not in anyway, to me, cover the entire 39th District. But it doesn't help the image."

The three officers, Christal Snyder, Ortiz, Young and Santiago have been charged with conspiracy to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin, distribution of heroin and related counts.

Christal Snyder stands accused of passing information between Ortiz and the three officers.

Santiago remains at large and is being sought by the FBI. Considered armed and dangerous, he is described as Hispanic, 5-foot-6 and last known to be living on the 2000 block of East Auburn Street in Philadelphia.

Anyone with information is asked to call the DEA at 215-861-3474, the FBI at 215-418-4000, or the Philadelphia Police Department.


Inquirer staff writers Vernon Clark and Sam Wood contributed to this article.

Contact the online news desk at online@phillynews.com or 215-854-2443