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Ex-Penn Hills police official gets probation in drug thefts

Pittsburgh Tribune Review
BYLINE: Bobby Kerlik

Penn Hills, PA

A retired Penn Hills police lieutenant will spend the next five years on probation for stealing thousands of dollars worth of heroin and cocaine from the department's evidence lockers, a judge ruled Wednesday.

William S. Markel, 55, of Monroeville became addicted to drugs as a result of severe back pain from three dislo-cated disks and began taking the drugs for relief, his lawyer told Common Pleas Judge John A. Zottola.

"He started taking this heroin and cocaine. He felt he was getting relief from pain from his back as well as stress from his job," attorney James Wymard said.

Markel pleaded guilty to six criminal charges in exchange for probation as part of a deal with prosecutors.

"I just wanted to get this straightened out and get my life back on track," Markel told the judge.

Markel worked 34 years as a police officer, 29 with Penn Hills, before he was arrested in March 2008. His implication in the theft stunned colleagues.

"He was an excellent officer. That's why this was so difficult," said police Chief Howard Burton said. "It was really out of character for him. There was no indication he had a problem."

Wymard said Markel wore a fentanyl patch for back pain prior to taking drugs from the evidence locker. He started using the drugs like snuff in his mouth for the analgesic effect and got hooked, his attorney said.
Markel twice underwent drug treatment and hopes to work as a counselor for people with chemical dependency. His convictions will not allow him to work as a police officer again.

Markel stole 46 grams of heroin, 110 stamp bags of heroin and 313 grams of cocaine, according to court records.

Penn Hills Detective Michael Hudek notified Burton in December 2007 that he noticed the stamp bags were missing from the evidence locker.
Only Hudek, Burton and Markel had access to the evidence room. All three men submitted to a drug test, and Markel tested positive for opiates, according to an affidavit.

Markel initially denied taking the drugs, then lied saying he took the drugs to pay an informant. In March 2008, Markel admitted to detectives from the district attorney's office that he used them for his own addiction. He admitted to stealing the drugs several times beginning in mid-2007.

Prosecutors said there was no evidence Markel sold the drugs.

Burton said he has taken steps to tighten security around the evidence, including the installation of cameras and a more tightly monitored logging system.

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