Two cops charged in heroin scheme expected to plead guilty today

Snyder
Snyder
Posted: February 07, 2011

Two of the three Philadelphia ex-cops charged last summer in a plot to steal 300 grams of heroin from a drug dealer plan to plead guilty in federal district court today, the Daily News has learned.

Change-of-plea hearings have been set for Robert Snyder, 30, of South Philadelphia, and James Venziale, 32, of the Far Northeast, before U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III, according to the court docket.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Snyder, Venziale and a third ex-officer, Mark Williams, 27, agreed to help two reputed heroin dealers in a scheme to steal 300 grams of heroin from their alleged supplier, Miguel Santiago. All three ex-officers worked in two North Philly police districts.

Unknown to them, an undercover DEA agent was working the case, which called for the ex-cops to use their badges and uniforms to help. (Snyder, Venziale and Williams, all of whom are free on bail, were dismissed from the force last year.)

On May 14, 2010, then-officers Williams and Venziale, while on duty, pretended to arrest one of the alleged drug dealers, Angel "Fatboy" Ortiz.

Ortiz, 25, and the undercover DEA agent had just picked up a bundle of heroin from Santiago's drug courier. The courier watched from nearby as Williams and Venziale pulled over a car driven by the undercover agent with Ortiz as a passenger, the indictment said.

The two ex-cops allegedly handcuffed Ortiz and put him in the back of their police cruiser to trick Santiago into thinking they seized drugs. Instead, the undercover agent drove off with heroin.

Williams and Venziale allegedly drove Ortiz to Broad Street and Lehigh Avenue, where they released him. The feds said that Ortiz later paid Williams and Venziale about $6,000, and paid Snyder's wife, Christal, an additional sum.

According to the court docket, Ortiz has a plea-agreement hearing set for tomorrow.

Christal Snyder allegedly facilitated the conspiracy by passing information via telephone or text message between Ortiz and Snyder, Williams and Venziale.

After the undercover agent sold the drugs, Williams, Venziale and the Snyders allegedly expected to get a cut of the proceeds, which authorities estimated had a street value of $100,000.

The three ex-officers later were charged with attempting to distribute heroin within 1,000 feet of a school.

In addition, the Snyders, Williams and co-defendant Marcus Branker face charges of, on July 9, 2010, conspiring to rob somebody who they thought was a Mafioso but was really another federal undercover agent.

Santiago, Williams, Christal Snyder and another alleged drug dealer, Zachary Young, all have pleaded not guilty in the case. Their trial is set for Feb. 28.

It is unknown whether Robert Snyder and Venziale are cooperating with prosecutors. Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen McCartney was unavailable for comment.

Prosecutors may be loathe to put two soon-to-be admitted dirty cops on the witness stand, particularly when they have evidence that includes audio and video recordings. During a pretrial detention hearing last summer, the feds said that evidence in the case was "literally overwhelming."

Snyder's attorney, William R. Spade, said that his client plans to plead guilty today but declined to comment further.

Attorneys for Venziale, Williams and Ortiz could not be reached for comment.

Snyder and Ortiz each face a mandatory minimum of 10 years in a federal lockup if convicted of drug conspiracy and firearms charges related to robbery.

Venziale faces a mandatory minimum of five years if convicted of drug conspiracy.

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