Friday, December 9, 2022

My Crime Fiction: "A Christmas Crime Story"

The below short story originally appeared in The Orchard Press Online Mystery Magazine in 2003: 

A Christmas Crime Story 

 By Paul Davis


To get in the true spirit of the Christmas holiday, some people go to church, some people go to the homes of family and friends, and some people go out and shop.

Me? I go to cop bars.

Cops are great storytellers. Perhaps it’s because they observe a segment of life that’s dramatic, tragic and funny. Perhaps it’s also because they spend so much time cruising on patrol that they’ve had the time to develop and hone their story-telling skills.

As a writer, I’ve talked to cops in station houses, in patrol cars, on the street and in bars. I’ve listened to their concerns, prideful boasts and sorrowful confessions. I’ve accompanied cops on patrol and witnessed them handle insane, intoxicated and incongruous citizens. I’ve observed how they console crime victims and their families. I’ve seen how they cope with the aftermath of criminal violence and man’s inhumanity to man. And I’ve come to appreciate their black humor, which like military humor, is a necessary safety valve to get them through the bad times.

I especially like to frequent cop bars during the holiday season and listen to cops at their very best. Some cops gather at bars after work to relax, drink and tell their stories. At this time of year, they are in very good spirits, a bit happier, a bit giddier and a bit more talkative.

Cops are generally in good spirits despite the fact that the holiday season is a busy one for them. It’s a sad commentary, but the holiday season is a peak time for crime.

Criminals certainly love the holiday season, but not for spiritual or sentimental reasons. It’s simply a time of grand opportunity. And criminals certainly don’t take a Christmas vacation. As joyous and hopeful people go out to worship, shop, dine and visit family and friends, criminal predators go out and pickpocket, shoplift, mug, steal and burglarize.

My recent columns in the local newspaper covered the annual Christmas crime spree and over the years I’ve reported on and chronicled a good number of crime stories during the holidays. I recall covering the story of a do-gooder delivering toys to needy families who was viciously assaulted and robbed. Another story concerned two kids playing with their Christmas gift, a paint ball gun, when an irate neighbor came out and shot them with a real gun.

One year while out on patrol with the cops, I came upon a young couple who had started out drinking and getting high for the holidays and ended up with one murdering the other. I once covered a story about a man with a car full of gifts who ran into a store for a pack of cigarettes. He came out to no car, no gifts and no Merry Christmas for him that year.

I’ve covered an assortment of other stories about armed robberies, thefts, purse snatchings and other crimes during the holidays as well.

Despite the crime and tragedies I’ve seen, I still love the Christmas season. I love the lights and decorations, the hustle and bustle and all of the trimmings. I love Christmas music and often sing along, although admittedly off-key.

This particular year, even more than others in the past, I was in very good spirits, having recently recovered from severe spine and nerve damage that crippled me and caused God-awful pain. I spent several months in the hospital and convalescing at home. I’ve suffered with a bad back for many years, dating back to my years as an amateur boxer and playing other sports, and as a young sailor working on a U.S. Navy tugboat and an aircraft carrier. The build-up of damage to my poor back finally took its toll and crippled me.

The doctors at the hospital ruled that I was not a surgical candidate, determining that any operation would be too risky. As I was deathly afraid of surgery, this diagnosis suited me fine. So they loaded me up with wonder drugs and placed me in physical therapy. The physical therapists, trained by Saddam Hussein’s secret police, I suspect, got me to my feet and ran me through a series of painful but ultimately beneficial exercises.

When I initially collapsed during the summer in my bedroom, I thought the searing pain in my groin and back was akin to being shot with a high-powered rifle. My wife called 911 and the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Rescue Paramedics rushed me to the hospital. Despite being in great pain, I managed to joke with the attending doctors and nurses that first night in the hospital.

This is the most painful day of my life, I told them - and I’ve been to Vietnam.

And I’m married.

And I have a teenage daughter.

I got a few laughs, which helped to lighten my pain, as I am a ham to the end. In addition to the fine medical professionals who cared for me, it was my wonderful wife and family - who were often the brunt of my jokes and asides – who helped me get through the worst time of my adult life.

Within the period of five months, I went from being bed-ridden in great pain, to twirling around the hospital halls in a wheelchair, to walking a few painful steps with a walker, to finally walking into a cop’s bar aided by a cane this fine Christmas season.

I’d recovered sufficiently enough to go out and stop by Johnny Drum’s Bar & Grill, a great little cop’s bar in South Philly. I had a lot to be thankful for this year and I visited Johnny’s place expecting to run into some lively characters that felt likewise.

I was somewhat disappointed to first encounter Sgt. John Snyder at the bar. Snyder was known as one mean cop. He was of average height, a bit stocky and had a large, pan-shaped head topped with thinning dark hair. He was an unhappy, gruff and miserable man. A cop once made the comment that Snyder "barked" rather than spoke.

I recall previous Christmas seasons when Snyder would be at the end of the bar by himself, miserly nursing his drink. In addition to being foul-tempered, Snyder was a notorious cheapskate.

"Merry Christmas, Ebenezer," I’d greet him in jest during those holiday visits. "Bah, humbug," he’d respond, playing along begrudgingly with my take on Charles Dickens’ classic holiday story, A Christmas Carol. I joked around, but in truth he was truly as mean-spirited as Dickens’s Ebenezer Scrooge.

Sgt. Snyder was widely known as "The Cop Who Busted Santa Claus." As the often-told story goes, Snyder pulled over a man dressed as Santa on Christmas Eve a few years back. Observing that the red-suited, false-bearded man was slightly inebriated, Snyder promptly placed him under arrest.

He slapped the handcuffs on the man and then had had his car towed. The tow truck took the car, despite the jolly old soul’s somewhat slurred pleas that his car – a modern-day sleigh - was full of toys destined for children at an orphanage. A crowd had gathered on the street and booed the police officer’s actions. He cursed them and threatened to lock them all up.

"And a Merry, Merry Christmas to you as well," one bystander sarcastically remarked.

More holiday-spirited police officials quickly released the man dressed as Santa. The man, outraged by his treatment, promptly called a TV station and told his story. The mayor, the police commissioner and other police brass were not happy with the lead news story run on Christmas Day. The national press picked up the story and this did not help Philadelphia’s image. "The Cop Who Busted Santa Claus" complemented an earlier story of Philadelphia sport fans pelting Santa with snowballs at a ball field.

A cop once told me that Snyder had him out walking on South Street on a very cold and windy Christmas Eve night. Snyder sternly ordered the beat cop not to hang out in a store, sucking up heat, coffee and merriment. Of course, the cop quickly escaped the bitter wind and cold and stepped into a shoe store for hot chocolate and conversation with the store owner and customers.

When the cop looked out through the store window and saw Snyder’s car roll down South Street, he stepped out and stood in front of the store, shivering. "Have you been hiding in a store?" Sgt. Snyder barked. "No, of course not" the cop told him. "Although it is really cold out here, Sarge."

Snyder placed his bare hand on the cop’s badge and found the metal to be nearly as warm as the hot chocolate in the beat cop’s stomach.

The chastened police officer told every cop, everybody, the story. "Do you believe it? The SOB chewed me out on Christmas Eve!"

There were also tales of Snyder locking up kids whose only crime was being merry. Sgt. Snyder was a one-man crime-fighting machine during the holiday season, targeting not thieves and crooks, but rather the people whose only crime was to be too joyous.

To his credit, he still talked to me despite the two negative stories I wrote about him in the past. One of my columns covered "The Cop Who Busted Santa Claus" and I wrote another that dealt with Snyder’s arrest of a honeymooning couple who were visiting the Italian Market. Their crime? The happy couple, who were married on Christmas Eve, asked the good sergeant to pose with them for a photo. He didn’t like their attitude and placed them under arrest for disorderly conduct.


But this year, as I approached him at the bar, I saw that Snyder was clearly a changed man. Over a few drinks, he told me why.

A day earlier the gruff sergeant responded to the call of a residential burglary. The victim told the responding officers that among the stolen valuables were his military awards and other mementos of the Iraq War. He told Snyder that he had just returned from Iraq as a medically discharged soldier due to combat wounds.

"Who’d steal this stuff?" he asked Snyder. "Who would steal children’s toys at Christmas?"

The burglars stole the gift-wrapped presents from under the Christmas tree. The young former soldier was saddened by the loss of his gifts to his wife and children. He said he was not insured, and he could not afford to buy new gifts. Snyder, the well-known mean, jaded and cynical cop, was truly touched by this young veteran who had just returned from war.

Snyder felt empathy for someone for the first time in many years. He thought back to his own return from Vietnam so many years before. He recalled how he then yearned to become a cop. He also yearned to marry his high school sweetheart and to have kids with her. He accomplished all that he set out to do, and now, in the midst of a crime scene, he wondered why it had all soured for him.

He marriage suffered from his penny-pinching, his chronic petty complaints, and his foul temper. His wife finally drew up the courage to throw him out of the house one night after he came home drunk, mean and violent. He would never hit her or the kids, he assured me, but he often gave the inanimate objects in the house a real good beating.

The kids, grown now and on their own, rarely spoke to him. He thought of them as he watched the veteran’s children. The sight of these kids, sitting close together on the couch, perhaps wondering if the crooks would come back, if Santa were coming now, or whether Jesus still loved them, broke Snyder’s heart.

Snyder made the rounds of the local veteran’s organizations the next day and told the story of the veteran who had been victimized. He collected a good bit of money from the veterans, from his fellow police officers and he personally donated a large sum himself. Having secured the list of stolen items from South Detectives, he ventured to the stores and purchased nearly all of the stolen items.

He also called his wife, sweet-talked her, told her he was a changed man and asked her to accompany him when, like Santa Claus, he would deliver the replacement gifts to the veteran and his family.

He was truly beaming as he told me this Christmas crime story. I had never seen him smile before.

He told me how the veteran’s kids were so happy they cried. The veteran was embarrassed, but thankful. Snyder explained that his fellow veterans and the local cops wanted to help him and his family.

By helping the veteran, Snyder recalled the true meaning of Christmas. He felt the joy of giving and of goodness and loving - even in a cruel and sometimes evil world.

"I have to run," he said, finishing up his story and beer, "I’m celebrating Christmas with my wife, my kids and all of my grandkids."

Before he left, Snyder, to everyone’s astonishment but mine, bought a round for the house.

"Merry Christmas to one and all," he barked.

© 2003 By Paul Davis 

A Little Humor: MAD Magazine's Scenes We'd Like To See

 

Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Art Of The Deal? Biden Administration Trades The Merchant of Death For Pot-Smoking Basketball Player

The Biden administration traded Viktor Bout, a drug and gun trafficker called "The Merchant of Death" (seen in the above photo), for Brittany Griner, a woman basketball player imprisoned on narcotic charges. 

I’m thankful that Griner will be released, but was this a good trade?

I think not. 

Below is the DEA’s April 2012 announcement that Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison: 

DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart today announced that international arms dealer VIKTOR BOUT was sentenced today to 25 years in prison for conspiring to sell millions of dollars’ worth of weapons, including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles and over 20,000 AK-47s to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (the “FARC”), a designated foreign terrorist organization based in Colombia. BOUT understood that the weapons would be used to kill Americans in Colombia. On November 2, 2011, BOUT was convicted on all four counts for which he was charged after a three-week jury trial before U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin.

“The crimes Viktor Bout committed represent the worst-case scenario for modern law enforcement--the merger of criminal international narcotics cartels with their terrorism enablers,” Leonhart said. “But his sentencing today also reflects the best of modern international law enforcement-- sophisticated, determined, and coordinated. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of criminal investigators and prosecutors in the United States, Thailand, Romania, Curacao and elsewhere, the ‘Merchant of Death’ has finally been held to account in a court of law for his years of profiteering from death and misery around the world.” 

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Viktor Bout has been international arms trafficking enemy number one for many years, arming some of the most violent conflicts around the globe. He was finally brought to justice in an American court for agreeing to provide a staggering number of military grade weapons to an avowed terrorist organization committed to killing Americans. Today’s sentence is a fitting coda for this career arms trafficker of the most dangerous order.” 

According to the Indictment and evidence presented at the trial: 

Since the 1990s, BOUT has been an international weapons trafficker. As a result of his weapons trafficking activities in Liberia, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control within the Department of Treasury placed him on the Specially Designated Nationals list in 2004. The designation prohibits any transactions between BOUT and U.S. nationals and freezes any of his assets that are within the jurisdiction of the United States. 

Between November 2007 and March 2008, BOUT agreed to sell millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the FARC, including 700-800 surface-to-air missiles (“SAMs”), over 20,000 AK-47 firearms, 10 million rounds of ammunition, five tons of C-4 plastic explosives, “ultralight” airplanes outfitted with grenade launchers, and unmanned aerial vehicles. BOUT agreed to sell the weapons to two confidential sources working with the DEA (the “CSs”), who represented that they were acquiring them for the FARC, with the specific understanding that the weapons were to be used to attack U.S. helicopters in Colombia. 

During a covertly recorded meeting in Thailand on March 6, 2008, BOUT stated to the CSs that he could arrange to airdrop the arms to the FARC in Colombia and offered to sell them two cargo planes that could be used for arms deliveries. He also provided a map of South America and asked the CSs to show him American radar locations in Colombia. BOUT said that he understood that the CSs wanted the arms to use against American personnel in Colombia, and advised that, “we have the same enemy,” referring to the United States. He also stated that the FARC’s fight against the United States was also his fight and that he had been “fighting the United States…for ten to fifteen years.” During the meeting, he also offered to provide people to train the FARC in the use of the arms. 

The evidence presented at trial included a recording of the March 6, 2008, meeting between BOUT, the CSs, his former associate Andrew Smulian, and others. Smulian was charged along with BOUT in March 2008 and pled guilty in July 2008. Smulian cooperated with the Government and, along with the two CSs, provided testimony at the trial.  

In addition to his prison term, Judge Scheindlin sentenced BOUT to 5 years of supervised released and ordered him to forfeit $15 million. 

BOUT was arrested in Thailand in March 2008 based on a Complaint filed in Manhattan federal court. He was subsequently charged in a four-count Indictment in April 2008 and extradited to the Southern District of New York in November 2010. At trial, he was convicted of (1) conspiring to kill U.S. nationals; (2) conspiring to kill U.S. officers and employees; (3) conspiring to acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles; and (4) conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. 

Besides the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Southern District of New York, the Royal Thai Police was instrumental in the success of the Bout case. In addition, the Romanian National Police, the Romanian Prosecutor’s Office Attached to the High Court of Cassation and Justice, the Korps Politie CuraƧao of the Netherlands Antilles, and the Danish National Police Security Services assisted, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.

Hey, China. Say Hello To My New Friend: U.S. Air Force Unveils New Nuclear Stealth Bomber, The B-21 Raider

Developed by Northrop Grumman, the B-21 Raider is a long-range strike bomber carrying both conventional and nuclear payloads. The B-21 will replace the older B-1 and B-2 aircraft. 

“The B-21 will join the nuclear triad as a visible and flexible nuclear deterrent; supporting national security objectives and assuring our nation’s allies and partners,” said a Northrop Grumman spokesperson. “The B-21 will be capable of penetrating the toughest defenses to deliver precision strikes anywhere in the world.” 

“The B-21 Raider will provide formidable combat capability across a range of operations in highly contested environments,” said General C.Q. Brown Jr, the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff. 

The above photo of the B-21 was taken by Staff Sergeant Jeremy Mosier

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

On This Day In History The Imperial Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor


As History.com notes, on this day in 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appears out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:


Below is a photo of my old ship, the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, circa 1970, as she passes the USS Arizona Memorial at the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii:


Monday, December 5, 2022

It's Your Funeral: My Broad + Liberty Piece On The Major Kensington Drug Boss Sentenced To Prison For Distributing Narcotics Labeled ‘Funeral’

Broad + Liberty published my piece today on the open-air drug market in Kensington and the Feds' takedown of a major drug dealer.

You can read the piece via the below link or the below text:

Paul Davis: It’s Your Funeral (broadandliberty.com)


The late Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde said that his father once told him that he was good for nothing. Wilde replied, “That’s not true, Father. I can serve as a bad example for others.”

It appears that Kensington’s major open-air drug market can serve as a bad example for Mexico.

According to an Associated Press report, Mexico is using a video of homeless and drug-addicted people in Kensington in their national anti-drug campaign. Although the ad does not identify the city or neighborhood, Philadelphians recognize the area as our very own Kensington.

A while back, I went on a ride-along with a Philadelphia detective and we passed the area under the El near the Market-Frankford train station. I saw the homeless and hopeless mentally ill and alcohol and drug-addled people mulling and staggering along the graffiti-tainted and trash-littered streets. Apparently, the sight of this neighborhood and the near-zombie inhabitants can even shock people in a third-world country. 

The irony of Mexico using an anti-drug ad depicting Philadelphia is that much of the drugs the people in Kensington are using hail from Mexico, including the Fentanyl that is sending drug users to the morgue

Many years ago, while serving in the U.S. Navy, I was a frequent visitor to Tijuana, Mexico. Traveling beyond Avenida Revolucion, the main area for bargain shops, bars and restaurants, I passed through some of Mexico’s worst poverty-stricken areas. I recall the poor people and the primitive villages, but I don’t recall seeing many drug addicts walking the roads. I suppose the Mexican government wants to discourage their people from actually taking the drugs their cartels produce and ship to places like Kensington. 

But there is some good news coming out of Kensington. On November 29, the U.S. Attorney Jacqueline C. Romero announced that a major drug trafficker named Ricardo Carrion, a.k.a “PR,” was sentenced to 19 years and four months in federal prison for selling crack and heroin in Kensington. 

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Carrion’s drug trafficking organization operated two blocks from the notorious intersection of Kensington and Allegheny Avenues that was featured in the Mexican ads. 

The arrest and conviction of Carrion originated from a joint investigation into the scourge of drug trafficking and overdoses in the Kensington area conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Philadelphia Police Department.

“After a series of search warrants were executed in 2019, the DEA developed information that the defendant was the supplier of narcotics for an organization selling heroin stamped with the word “Funeral” to advertise its potency and lethalness to addicted consumers,” stated the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office offered covert surveillance that showed Carrion repeatedly carrying large bags into stash houses. When investigators initiated a traffic stop of a cab in which Carrion was the sole passenger, they recovered a bag containing over 3,300 flip-top containers of crack cocaine.  

“This years-long drug trafficking enterprise impacted more than just this one block in one neighborhood; it left a path of destruction across Kensington and throughout Philadelphia,” said U.S. Attorney Romero. “This sentence sends a clear message that, in order to halt the flow of deadly drugs into our communities, our office and our law enforcement partners are committed to investigating and prosecuting prolific drug dealers pedaling poison to those suffering from addiction.”

Carrion is a bad guy, the cops and the feds say. During the sentencing hearing, prosecutors presented evidence demonstrating Carrion’s lengthy criminal record and life of drug dealing.

“Carrion ran a drug-trafficking organization in the heart of Kensington, an area in Philadelphia that has been so adversely affected by the illicit drug trade.  His drug-trafficking activities were so nefarious that he distributed bags of heroin stamped “Funeral,” said Thomas Hodnett, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Philadelphia Field Division. “For his conviction on multiple federal drug charges, Carrion is rightly and deservedly spending the next 20 years of his life in a federal prison cell.” 

The Carrion arrest was conducted by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF). The law enforcement group identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. 

That Carrion sold drugs labeled “Funeral” does not surprise me. I recall a narcotics officer telling me that drug addicts are drawn to illegal drugs advertised as deadly, as these drugs will produce a better high – if they don’t kill you.       

The takedown of a Kensington drug boss is a step in the right direction. But more needs to be done to have Kensington stop being used as a bad example for others.  

Paul Davis is a Philadelphia writer who covers crime.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Partnering With Ukraine On Cybersecurity Paid Off, Leaders Say

David Vergun at the DOD News offers the below piece:

A year ago, a hunt forward 10-member team of the U.S. Cyber Command's Cyber National Mission Force arrived in Kyiv, Ukraine.

The Marine Corps major leading that team called back and she said, "We're gonna be here for a bit," said Army Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, commander, U.S. Cyber Command and director, National Security Agency/chief, Central Security Service. 

Nakasone spoke on a panel today at the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. 

That team grew from 10 to 39 people, working with Ukraine to strengthen its cyber defenses and provide reassurance. It paid off big-time as Russia launched its invasion, he said. 

The lesson: presence, persistence and the value of partnerships is what matters most, he said. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, industry, academia, as well as foreign allies and partners are among those that the Defense Department works with closely, he said. 

A prime example is Cybercom partnering with the FBI and CISA, to ensure safe and secure elections, he mentioned. 

"We generate really good insights. We share intelligence and information with the FBI and CISA. And then, we take action against adversaries who are going to try to do us harm," Nakasone said. 

The past year, the NSA released 24 unclassified cybersecurity advisories regarding what to expect in terms of Russian attacks on such things as the U.S. critical infrastructure, he said. 

Frank Kendall, secretary of the Air Force, who also spoke on the panel, said regarding military cyber systems, "If we put the resources into them, we can be reasonably cybersecure. … But tactics will continue to evolve. They're going to get more sophisticated over time as we build better defenses." 

Over the last few decades, America's ability to secure against cyberattacks has improved pretty dramatically, he added. 

"You're never going to be perfect, but you can be highly resilient and you can be at a point where you if you get an unexpected attack, you can recover," Kendall said. 

When Russia attacked, Ukraine was not able to entirely defeat the cyber threat but they were able to block a lot of its impact, he said.