Tarnished Badges—Philly Cops Accused of Robbing Dope Dealers

Tarnished Badges—Philly Cops Accused of Robbing Dope Dealers

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Two Philadelphia police officers were arrested and released on $1 million dollars bail this week in connection with a scheme to rob a drug dealer who turned out to be an undercover officer.

But these two officers accused of dishonoring their badges are just the latest in a seemingly increasing number of police who have broken the law they have sworn to uphold.

According to District Attorney Seth Williams, Sean Alivera 31, from the 7300 block of Palmetto Street and Christopher Luciano 23, from the 2000 block of Riverside Drive, were arrested Monday. Both were charged with criminal conspiracy, robbery, kidnapping and theft by deception and related offenses.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has suspended both men with intent to dismiss.

Williams said Alivera and Luciano were taken into custody just after 7 p.m. on Monday. The arrests were part of a joint investigation by the DA’s office, the Philadelphia Police Department and the attorney general’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigations.

According to Williams, the two former officers tried to rip off a drug dealer. But the victim turned out to be an undercover narcotics officer. Alivera and Luciano allegedly took 20 pounds of marijuana and $3,000 in cash. Their alleged intent was to re-sell the marijuana to another dealer. The estimated street value of the marijuana was $24,000.

Law enforcement officers found the money in possession of the defendants when they were placed under arrest.

“The swift and joint action by the DA’s office, the Police Department and the Bureau of Narcotics Investigations shows that any illegal activity in Philadelphia is our top priority, no matter who is responsible,” Williams said. “We will find you and arrest you. These two men are a disgrace to their badges, but they should not reflect on the hard working men and women in the police department. The defendants are now where they belong, behind bars and their arrests should serve as another warning to criminals on our streets, we will use every resource available to catch you and lock you up.”

But Williams and Luciano are just the latest Philadelphia police officers to step over the line from law enforcement to law breaking.

Over recent months “rouge” officers have either been accused or convicted of trying to rob drug dealers or commit other crimes. One officer is charged with stealing $825 from a tavern and two, Frank Tepper and Rudolph Gary Jr., have been charged with murder.

In July three Philadelphia police officers were arrested and are now facing federal charges in connection with an elaborate scheme to steal and re-sell 300 grams of heroin

The indicted officers, Robert Snyder, Mark Williams and James Venziale, allegedly planned and executed a conspiracy to steal 300 grams of heroin from Miguel Santiago, an alleged drug dealer. The ultimate goal was to re-sell the heroin to another dealer the officers also thought was involved in money laundering.

That person turned out to be an undercover narcotics officer working for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Also named in the indictments were Miguel Santiago, Zachary Young, Angel Ortiz and Snyder’s wife, Christal Snyder. The now former police officers were assigned to the 25th and 39th Districts.

After the incident came to light, Mayor Michael Nutter said he was personally angered and disgusted after learning of the conspiracy and how the officers disgraced the department and abused their authority.

“We are disgusted by what we have read,” Nutter said. “These indictments reaffirm that those who disgrace the badge will be arrested, they will be prosecuted and they will to go prison. We will not stand for this. It is completely unacceptable.”

According to the indictment, Young and Ortiz were involved in the distribution of heroin, which they obtained on a periodic basis from Santiago and other sources. In mid-April, the two co-defendants hatched a scheme to steal 300 grams of heroin from their alleged supplier, Miguel Santiago.

Federal investigators allege that Snyder, Williams and Venziale agreed to help Young and Ortiz and discussed various ways that they could use their positions as police officers to steal the heroin from Santiago while making it look like a legitimate arrest.

According to federal investigators, Williams and Venziale conducted a traffic stop on Ortiz while he was in possession of 300 grams of freshly delivered heroin on May 14, 2010. While Santiago’s courier was watching nearby, Williams and Venziale allegedly made it appear as if they were seizing the heroin and arresting Ortiz.

Also in July, three officers allegedly broke into Pat’s Café in the northeast section of the city, the same bar where Police Officer Gary Skerski was gunned down during a robbery in 2006. Allegedly in the early morning hours, the three officers drank beer and then one of them, Kenneth Crockett, allegedly stole at least $800 dollars from a safe.

The officers’ actions were captured by surveillance video cameras.

“Anytime an officer engages in an act of corruption, if they in fact engaged in an act of corruption, it doesn’t matter where it happens it’s wrong. It should not happen, and there will be consequences if in fact it turns out to be true,” said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey during a press conference following the incident.

In April former Sgt. Robert Ralston was fired from the force after investigators determined a gunshot wound he had sustained was self inflicted and falsely reported he had been wounded by two Black males.

Before that, off-duty Philadelphia police officer Frank Tepper allegedly shot and killed William Panas Jr. on Nov. 21, 2009.

In May of this year Officer Anthony Floyd was arrested and charged with assault, terroristic threats, stalking and harassment following an investigation by Internal Affairs of allegations of domestic violence.

Also in May, Rudolph Gary Jr. shot and killed his brother-in-law, Howard Williams, following a dispute during a water fight. Witnesses said that after shooting Williams in the neck at point blank range, he stood over him and fired several more shots into the victim’s chest.

In 2009 investigators learned that Alhinde Weems was an alleged drug dealer before becoming a member of the Police Department and continued dealing drugs while he was on the force.

In January of this year Weems pleaded guilty to drug and gun charges. Investigators also learned that Weems planned to use his authority as a police officer to rob another drug dealer.

In the mid-1990’s a crew of narcotics officers assigned to the 39th District known as Five Squad made national headlines when allegations of corruption and brutality surfaced. Officer John Baird, Sgt. Thomas DeGovanni, Officer Steven Brown, Officer James Ryan and Officer Thomas Ryan were at the center of the scandal that left a black eye on the Department that took several years to remedy.

According to a recent Department of Justice report, police abuse erodes public confidence, but also obscures the good work of law enforcement and those daily incidents when police officers make arrests without violence.

“When police go beyond reasonable force to use excessive force during an arrest or in precipitous response, as during the decades of protest demonstrations involving labor, civil rights, or other controversial issues, citizens become victims of police, and the public’s confidence in a police force can plummet,” said the report. “Known abuses of force rightfully receive extensive attention from the public, politicians, media, and, in some cases, civil and even criminal courts. While condemning the incidents of excessive force, law enforcement officials note that not enough attention and credit is given to the police when they successfully resolve situations without any use of force or with only minimal force.”

As part of the department’s increasing scrutiny of itself, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey ordered the transfer of 26 officers to Internal Affairs. The transfers will increase the size of the Internal Affairs bureau by about 25 percent, bringing it to just under 130 people and will take place later this month.