The Philadelphia Inquirer by Nathan Gorenstein - May 9, 2011
A former Philadelphia police officer, James Venziale, once commended for valor, was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison today for his role in a scheme to rob a drug dealer of heroin and resell it for cash. Venziale got a break from the mandatory minimum of five years, or 60 months, because of his cooperation with federal prosecutors. "Its no secret that investigations of police corruption often run into a police code of silence," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony J. Wrozek said, "I know its a real fact of life." Venziale, 33, testified earlier this year that he and a second former officer, Mark Williams, netted $3,000 each after they staged the robbery of a heroin dealer last year. The robbery was a sting operation by federal agents, and no heroin reached the street. Williams, 27, was arrested with Venziale and both were accused of cooperating with drug dealers in thea scheme to steal 300 grams of heroin during a bogus traffic stop. In part as a result of Venziale's testimony, Williams was convicted after a trial and is awaiting sentence. Venziale pleaded guilty in February. Some two dozen of Venziale's relatives and friends appeared in court to support him. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Harvey Bartle III, acknowledged that Venziale had received commendations for valor, but said it wasn't sufficient for a police officer to be honest "99 percent of the time." "I assume you wouldn't want your children to take drugs," Bartle said, "You didn't think about somebody's else's children. Very selfish." Venziale has three children, and Bartle acknowledged they will suffer with their father in jail. But Bartle stressed his dismay and regret that Venziale, a 10 veteran, had turned to crime. "I take no pleasure" said Bartle, "I wish I were not sitting her imposing sentence. Venziale in March testified that he and Williams pretended to arrest dealer Angel Ortiz, 25, moments after Ortiz had received a shipment of heroin from a courier. The staged stop took place in view of a drug courier. Venziale said he and Williams pretended to arrest Ortiz so his drug supplier would think the heroin was seized by police. "We took Mr. Ortiz around to around the corner . . . and released him," Venziale said. Later that same day Williams and Venziale met Ortiz and a federal undercover agent, posing as a money launderer, in a parking lot and received a bag stuffed with $6,000 in cash. Venziale said he split the money with Williams. Despite being suspicious of the "money launderer," the two officers staged the robbery anyway, said Venziale.