Friday, October 24, 2014

Former Philadelphia Mob Boss Ordered Back To Jail For "Night On The Town"

Veteran organized crime reporter and author George Anastasia is covering the Joseph Merlino federal proceedings for

What a federal prosecutor described as a "night on the town with his mob buddies" has resulted in a four-mouth prison sentence for former Philadelphia mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino.

U.S. District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick imposed that sentence this afternoon after hearing more than three hours of testimony and argument in a probation violation hearing for the 52-year-old convicted Mafia leader.

Merlino, now living in Florida, will begin the sentence in 30 days, according to the order issued by Surrick. Once he completes that sentence, Merlino will no longer be on supervised release and will be free to meet and associate with whomever he chooses.

But that may be the least of his problems. According to testimony during the hearing, Merlino has been the focus on an ongoing investigation by an organized crime task force in South Florida. Authorities have apparently had the one-time South Philadelphia celebrity gangster on their radar since his arrival in the Sunshine State three years ago.

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

Member Of FARC Terrorist Organization Sentenced To 27 Years In Prison On Hostage-Taking Charges In 2003 Capture Of U.S. Citizens

The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:

Alexander Beltran Herrera, 38, a commander of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) terrorist organization, was sentenced today to 27 years in prison on federal hostage-taking charges stemming from the 2003 capture of three U.S. citizens in Colombia.  All told, members of the FARC held the Americans hostage for 1,967 days.

The sentence was announced by John P. Carlin, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia  and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Division.

Beltran Herrera, aka Jhon Alexander Beltrain Herrera, aka Rodrigo Pirinolo, pled guilty on March 18, 2014, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, to three counts of hostage-taking.  He was sentenced by the Honorable Senior Judge Royce C. Lamberth.

 “In February 2003, the FARC – a Colombian terrorist organization – kidnapped three American citizens and held them captive for nearly 2,000 days,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin.  With the sentence handed down today, Alexander Beltran Herrera is being held accountable for his role in those offenses.  This case underscores our resolve to pursue and bring to justice those who target our citizens with violence anywhere in the world.  I want to thank all of the prosecutors, agents, and analysts who made this result possible.”

 “This Colombian terrorist will spend the next 27 years in an American prison for his role in holding three U.S. citizens captive overseas,” said U.S. Attorney Machen.  “Our fellow citizens were held hostage for more than five years under brutal conditions.  This extradition, prosecution, and incarceration should chasten terrorists who doubt our resolve to serve justice on those who harm American citizens on foreign soil.”

 “Alexander Beltran Herrera, a former terrorist commander for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), will now be held accountable for his role in holding three U.S. citizens hostage in Colombia for 1,967 days,” said Kelly M. Darden, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Division.  “Essential to bringing Beltran Herrera to justice was our close cooperation with the Colombian National Police.”

According to the government’s evidence, the FARC is an armed, violent organization in Colombia.  Since its inception in 1964, it has engaged in an armed conflict to overthrow the Republic of Colombia, South America’s longest-standing democracy.  The FARC has consistently used hostage taking as a primary technique in extorting demands from the Republic of Colombia, and hostage taking has been endorsed and commanded by FARC senior leadership.  The FARC has characterized American citizens as “military targets” and has engaged in violent acts against Americans in Colombia, including murders and hostage taking.

The FARC was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Secretary of State in 1997 and remains so designated.

Beltran Herrera, a commander in the FARC, was involved in the hostage taking of three United States citizens: Marc D. Gonsalves, Thomas R. Howes, and Keith Stansell.  These three, along with Thomas Janis, a United States citizen, and Sergeant Luis Alcides Cruz, a Colombian citizen, were seized on Feb. 13, 2003, by the FARC, after their single-engine aircraft made a crash landing in the Colombian jungle.

Members of the FARC murdered Janis and Cruz near the crash site.  Gonsalves, Howes, and Stansell were held by the FARC at gunpoint and were advised by FARC leadership that they would be used as hostages to increase pressure on the government of Colombia to agree to the FARC’s demands.  At various times, the FARC marched the hostages from one site to another, placing them in the actual custody of various FARC fronts.

At the conclusion of one 40-day long march, in or about November 2004, the hostages were delivered to members of the FARC’s 27th Front, who imprisoned the hostages for nearly two years.  During part of this period, Beltran Herrera was responsible for moving the hostages and keeping them imprisoned.  Throughout the captivity of these three hostages, FARC jailors and guards used choke harnesses, chains, padlocks and wires to restrain the hostages, and used force and threats to continue their detention and prevent their escape. 

In July 2008, the Colombian military conducted a daring operation which resulted in the rescue of the hostages.

Beltran Herrera was indicted in February 2011 and was extradited to the United States from Colombia in March 2012.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Miami Division.  The prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anthony Asuncion and Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez from the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, and Trial Attorney David Cora, from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.  The case was indicted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Kohl, of the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

The FBI’s Miami Division partnered in the investigation with the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Department’s Judicial Attachés in Colombia, and the FBI’s Office of the Legal Attaché in Bogota, Colombia.  The Directorate of Intelligence (DIPOL) and the Anti-Kidnapping Unit (GAULA) of the Colombian National Police also provided valuable support during the investigation.

FBI: Child Sexual Exploitation Case As Serious As It Gets

The FBI web site offers the below story:

According to the federal judge who heard the case, the defendant’s conduct was “about as serious as it gets,” and that on a scale of one to 10, she believed the case was “way past 10.” Then she sentenced the defendant—James Alfred Beckman, Jr. of Grand Rapids, Michigan—to 30 years in prison.

What crimes moved the judge in this case to hand down such a substantial prison term? Multiple counts of attempted sexual exploitation of a child, attempted coercion of a child, and receipt and distribution of child pornography. And in addition to the lengthy prison stay, the judge also imposed a lifetime term of supervised release on the defendant once he gets out, ordering that he register as a sex offender.

The success of this case, as with many investigations involving the FBI, can be attributed to the close working relationship between Bureau investigators and our partners—in this instance, troopers from the Michigan State Police (MSP) and prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan. The agencies’ seamless interactions resulted in the incarceration of an individual who posed a very dangerous threat to children.

The investigation into the illicit activities of Beckman began in September 2012, when a woman came to the MSP with allegations that Beckman had sexually abused her young child. The youngster reported that during the abuse, a computer and webcam had been present. Troopers opened a case and involved the state’s Child Protective Services to conduct interviews of the young victim and another child by an expert who is specially trained to interact with children who are victims of crime.

MSP investigators interviewed Beckman and performed forensic exams on his computers. The examination of Beckman’s work laptop turned up not only photos of child pornography but also evidence of a network of individuals trafficking in child pornography. It was at that point—when the MSP determined that Beckman’s activities had spread outside the state of Michigan—that FBI assistance was solicited, and we opened a case in October 2012.

Continuing to work together, the MSP and FBI obtained evidence of online chats that Beckman had with others in his child pornography network. During many of the chats, Beckman was soliciting individuals who were conducting sexual acts with children, usually encouraging conversations about these activities and exchanging pornographic images and videos with them. Working to identify those in the network, the Bureau sent out leads to a number of our field offices around the country and several of our legal attaché offices overseas.

A unique set of circumstances surrounded the sexual exploitation charges. Evidence presented at trial showed that Beckman sexually abused and exploited two young children, and he streamed and attempted to stream live video of this abuse and exploitation to others. Because he streamed his child pornography via webcam, we had no images or videos to enter as evidence. However, we managed to track down a number of people Beckman streamed to—and two of them testified against him in court. One of those two individuals was charged, pled guilty, and was sentenced to a 12-year prison term. Charges are pending against the second.

After a two-week trial during which one of the young victims testified against Beckman from a room outside the courtroom, a jury found the defendant guilty on 15 of the 16 charges against him. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Daggers, Pistols And Blood Bonds: How The Mafia Works

Oliva Goldhill at the British newspaper the Telegraph interviews John Dickie, author of Blood Brotherhoods: A History of Italy's Three Mafias and other books on Italian organized crime, about the current state of the secret criminal society La Cosa Nostra.

A strict moral code, archaic initiation ceremonies and… Uxbridge? When a Mafia criminal known as “The Professor” was discovered living in a West London suburb, his humdrum semi-detached house seemed an odd fit for a notorious Cosa Nostra boss.
Domenico Rancadore, who was a member of the Sicilian Mafia Cosa Nostra from 1987 to 1995, has been convicted of Mafia association and extortion.
Though he fought his first extradition attempt on human rights grounds, the former fugitive is now waiting to hear whether he’ll be sent to Italy for a seven-year sentence.
But does the criminal group he belonged to deserve its chilling reputation? Mafiosi receive automatic status and notoriety – in part because of the many films and tv shows that depict mob life. But how does The Godfather measure up to real life as a mafia godfather?    

... The Sicilian Mafia is 150 years old and has historically seen several hundred murders per year. In 1992, all Italian Mafias were responsible for more than 300 murders, though this fell by 80 per cent between 1992 and 2012 - down to 70 reported mafia-related homicides in 2012. And in the last few years, Cosa Nostra's number of members has dropped from 5,000 to 3,500.
The Mafia is still linked to drug trade – though not as much as they’d like – but make their living from protection rackets. “Managing protection rackets are the day-to-day business of the Mafia boss, that’s what he gets up in the morning and does,” says Dickie.
Under these rackets, the Mafia insist that businesses pay them regular fees as “protection” from crimes, while also demanding that criminals give the mafia a cut of any takings. And while the number of murders are down, that doesn’t mean that extortion is a peaceful affair.
“That kind of arrangement is the real blight of southern Italy,” says Dickie. “You don’t have to kill people to do an extortion racket. You can kill their dog and burn their shop.”

On top of their lucrative extortion rackets, Cosa Nostra is defined by its political links. In 2011, the former President of Sicily Salvatore Cuffaro was convicted of aiding the Mafia, and the criminal group is keen to make political friendships. “The Mafia wouldn’t be the Mafia without political links,” says Dickie. “The story of the last 20 years is of them trying to re-connect with politics because their bombing campaign didn’t go down terribly well.”

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

For a look at the American side of La Cosa Nostra, you can read my interview with Philip Leonetti, the former underboss of the Philadelphia-South Jersey La Cosa Nostra crime family via the below link: 

Haroon Aswat Extradited From The United Kingdom To The Southern District Of New York To Face Terrorism Charges

The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:

Assistant Attorney General for National Security  John Carlin, United States Attorney Preet Bharara for the Southern District of New York, Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Commissioner William J. Bratton of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), announced the extradition of Haroon Aswat from the United Kingdom to face charges of conspiring to provide and providing material support to al Qaeda and terrorists for attempting to establish a terrorist training camp in the United States.

Aswat was arrested in Zambia in July 2005, and in August 2005, Aswat was deported from Zambia to the United Kingdom, where he was arrested pursuant to a provisional warrant that was issued in response to a request by the U.S. government in connection with this case.

On Sept. 4, 2014, the United Kingdom ordered Aswat extradited to the United States on the charges described below.  In coordination with British authorities, Aswat was extradited from the United Kingdom to the Southern District of New York on Oct. 21, 2014.  Aswat will make his first court appearance later today before U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest.

According to the allegations contained in the Indictment, statements made at related court proceedings, and evidence presented at prior trials:

In late 1999, Aswat, along with co-defendants Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, aka Abu Hamza (Abu Hamza), Ouassama Kassir, and Earnest James Ujaama, attempted to create a terrorist training camp in the United States to support al Qaeda, which has been designated by the United States Secretary of State as a foreign terrorist organization. 

Aswat conspired with Abu Hamza, Kassir and Ujaama to establish the terrorist training camp on a rural parcel of property located in Bly, Oregon.  The purpose of the Bly, Oregon, camp was for Muslims to receive various types of training – including military-style jihad training – in preparation to fight jihad in Afghanistan.  As used by the conspirators in this case, the term “jihad” meant defending Islam against purported enemies through violence and armed aggression, including, if necessary, by using murder to expel non-believers from Muslim holy lands.

In a letter faxed from Ujaama, in the United States, to Abu Hamza, in the United Kingdom, the property in Bly was described as a place that “looks just like Afghanistan,” and the letter noted that the men at Bly were “stock-piling weapons and ammunition.”  In late 1999, after transmission of the faxed letter, Abu Hamza directed Aswat and Kassir, both of whom resided in London, England, and attended Abu Hamza’s mosque there, to travel to Oregon to assist in establishing the camp.  On Nov. 26, 1999, Aswat and Kassir arrived in New York, and then traveled to Bly.

Aswat and Kassir traveled to Bly for the purpose of training men to fight jihad.  Kassir told witnesses that he supported Usama Bin Laden and al Qaeda, and that he had previously received jihad training in Pakistan.  Kassir also possessed a compact disc that contained instructions on how to make bombs and poisons. 

After leaving Bly, Aswat and Kassir traveled to Seattle, Washington, where they resided at a mosque for approximately two months.  While in Seattle, Kassir, in Aswat’s presence, provided men from the mosque with additional terrorist training lessons – including instructions on different types of weapons, how to construct a homemade silencer for a firearm, how to assemble and disassemble an AK-47, and how an AK-47 could be altered to be fully automatic and to launch a grenade. 

On another occasion, with Aswat sitting by his side, Kassir announced to the men in Seattle that he had come to the United States for martyrdom and to destroy, and he informed his audience that some of them could die or get hurt.

In September 2002, special agents from the FBI recovered a ledger, among other items, from an al Qaeda safe house in Karachi, Pakistan.  The ledger listed a number of individuals associated with al Qaeda, including Aswat. The al Qaeda safe house was used by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al Qaeda’s chief operational planner and the alleged planner of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

*                              *                             *

The indictment charges Aswat, 40, a British citizen, with four offenses that carry the following maximum penalties:

ChargeStatutory ViolationMaximum Prison Term
Conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists18 U.S.C. § 371Five years
Providing material support to terrorists18 U.S.C. §§ 2339A, 210 years
Conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization (al Qaeda)18 U.S.C. §2339B10 years
Providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization (al Qaeda)18 U.S.C. §§ 2339B, 210 years

The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
On May 12, 2009, after a four-week jury trial in the Southern District of New York, Kassir was found guilty of charges relating to his efforts to establish the terrorist training camp in Bly, and his operation of several terrorist websites. 

On Sept. 15, 2009, U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan sentenced Kassir to life in prison.

On May 19, 2014, after a four-week jury trial in the Southern District of New York, Abu Hamza was found guilty of charges relating to his role in the conspiracy to establish the terrorist training camp in Bly, as well as his role in a hostage-taking in Yemen in 1998 that resulted in four deaths, and his support of violent jihad in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001.  Abu Hamza is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 9, 2015, before U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest.

U.S. Attorney Bharara praised the outstanding efforts of the FBI’s Manhattan-based Joint Terrorism Task Force, which principally consists of agents and detectives of the FBI and the NYPD, the United States Marshals Service, and the Metropolitan Police Department of London, England.  U.S. Attorney Bharara also thanked the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Security Division and Office of International Affairs, and the United States Department of State for their ongoing assistance.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys John P. Cronan and Ian McGinley are in charge of the prosecution.

The allegations contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

South Philly One-Time Mob Boss Joseph Merlino Ordered Back To Philadelphia For Parole Violation

Veteran organized crime reporter and author George Anastasia is covering Joseph Merlino's federal hearings for

It looks like an encore is planned for U.S. District Court in the ongoing Skinny Joey Merlino saga.

U.S. District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick issued a one-page ruling this morning denying a motion by Merlino's lawyer seeking to have his probation violation voided. Instead, Surrick set a hearing on the issues for Friday at 10 a.m.

Merlino, who has been living in Boca Raton for the past three years, drew a media horde when he appeared earlier this month for the first hearing in the case. That proceeding focused on a motion filed by defense attorneys Edwin Jacobs Jr. and Michael Myers who argued that federal authorities had failed to properly notify Merlino of the alleged violations.

Merlino, they said, had not been given a summons to appear in court prior to the expiration of his three-year probation. Prosecutors argued that the practice in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania was to file a notice of a violation rather than issue a summons. That notice was filed on Sept. 2, five days before Merlino's probationary period ended.
Surrick provided not details in his order, but simply denied the defense motion, setting the stage for a return trip to Philadelphia by the one-time celebrity mob boss. 
You can read the rest of the piece via the below link: 

Airstrikes Continue Against ISIL Targets in Syria, Iraq

The U.S. Central Command released the below:

TAMPA, Fla., Oct. 21, 2014 - U.S. military forces continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria yesterday and today, using fighter and bomber aircraft to conduct four airstrikes, U.S. Central Command officials reported.

Separately, officials added, U.S. and partner-nation forces conducted three airstrikes using fighter and attack aircraft against ISIL terrorists in Iraq. In Syria, four airstrikes near Kobani destroyed ISIL fighting positions, an ISIL building, and a large ISIL unit. In Iraq, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL fighting position south of the Bayji oil refinery.

Another airstrike southeast of Mosul Dam destroyed an ISIL fighting position, and an airstrike north of Fallujah suppressed an ISIL attack.

All aircraft exited the strike areas safely, officials said, and airstrike assessments are based on initial reports.

The U.S. strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the terrorist group ISIL and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community.

The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group's ability to project power and conduct operations, Centcom officials said.