Thursday, September 30, 2021

Lessons From Dad: My Philadelphia Weekly Crime Beat Column On Republican Candidate For Philly DA Chuck Peruto And The Lessons Learned From His Father, A. Charles Peruto, Sr.

Philadelphia Weekly published my Crime Beat column on Republican candidate for Philadelphia District Attorney Chuck Peruto on the lessons he learned from his legal legend father, A. Charles Peruto, Sr.

You can read the column online via the below link or the below pages:

Lessons from Dad - Philadelphia Weekly  

You can click on the above and below to enlarge.

You can also read my column on Ricard Sprague via the below link:

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

FBI Released 2020 Crime Statistics

 The FBI released the crime statistics for 20202. 

For the first time in four years, the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation increased when compared with the previous year’s statistics, according to FBI figures released today. In 2020, violent crime was up 5.6 percent from the 2019 number. Property crimes dropped 7.8 percent, marking the 18th consecutive year the collective estimates for these offenses declined. 

The 2020 statistics show the estimated rate of violent crime was 387.8 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, and the estimated rate of property crime was 1,958.2 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants. The violent crime rate rose 5.2 percent when compared with the 2019 rate; the property crime rate declined 8.1 percent. 

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

FBI Releases 2020 Crime Statistics — FBI 

Monday, September 27, 2021

My Crime Fiction: "What's In A Nickname?"

The below short story originally appeared in American Crime Magazine.

 What’s in a Nickname?

 By Paul Davis

What’s in a Nickname?

 By Paul Davis

I’ve always enjoyed comedians, as I love a good laugh. 

I recall back in the late 1970s, when I was young, single and happy, and along with my friend Buster Stracci, we were barhopping in South Philadelphia on a Friday night. 

With Buster’s car squeezed into a tight parking space, a rare find on a Friday night in South Philly, we were walking around and breezing in and out of local bars. 

On the way from one bar to another, I saw a storefront that advertised a comedy club. I suggested to Buster that we check it out. We went in. It was a small place, with a small, elevated stage, a short bar, and about a dozen tables and chairs crowded together. 

Buster sat down and ordered drinks, as I looked for the Men’s room. 

I saw a thin, goofy looking guy with glasses and unruly hair standing near the stage and I asked him where the men’s room was. He pointed to the door behind him. I opened the door and saw two young girls combing their hair. I closed the door and in anger I grabbed the goofy guy’s arm.   

“What are you, a comedian?” I yelled as he cringed and looked as if he was about to faint. “That was the Ladies’ Room!”

I heard the MC on the stage get on the mic and begin to introduce the first act, so I forgot about the goof and about washing my hands in the Men's room and sat down next to Buster. 

To my surprise, the first act was the goofy looking guy.

Buster began to laugh loudly. He slapped me on the back and said, “You asked him if he was a comedian – and he is!” 

The goofy looking guy on stage said, “I must be a good comedian, as I’m getting laughs before I even speak.” 

He was wrong. He was not a good comedian. And that initial laugh from Buster was the best one he received during his entire act. The next comedian, thankfully, was much better. 

Later, I discovered that the small club only had one restroom, which both men and women used. Those two girls hadn’t locked the door while they were in there.


Some years later, after I married my beautiful wife Dolores, we would go to the comedy clubs, as she enjoyed the comedians as much as I did. 

On one Saturday night, Dolores and I, accompanied by Mark Terranova and his wife Diane, visited “Nicky’s Number One.” The club was located up the street from “Geno’s Steaks,” the famous cheesesteak place that the tourists frequent in South Philadelphia. 

Having heard that the club was featuring comedians as well as musical acts, my friend Mark, a retired Philadelphia detective, suggested that we take our wives there. 

The club was called “Nicky’s Number One,” as it had been Nicodemo Esposito’s first club when he first entered the nightclub business some years back. Esposito was nicknamed “Nicky Number One,” as the story goes, as he had been a record promoter in the 1960s when the expression “number one with a bullet” meant a song was rising to the top of the Billboard record charts. 

The nickname also came from Esposito being a long-time soldier in the local mob, and for a time, back in the day, he had been the number one guy to call when the boss wanted to put a bullet in someone. 

Nicknames are big in South Philly. 

Either you are called the diminutive of your Christian name, as in “Paulie” for Paul, or you are given a nickname due to a characteristic of your physical looks or personality. 

While some nicknames are complimentary, many are not flattering, and those tagged with a moniker often do not care for it. But if the nickname is apt and sticks, it will be how you’re known for life. 


Terranova and I and our wives enjoyed the comedy act, which featured Albert “Cheat Sheet Al” Stevens. He was a stocky guy with an oversized head, and he had an irritating, high pitch voice. We laughed at most of his jokes, but in my view, he was not that original or innovative a comedian. 

Like Terranova and I and our wives, Al Stevens came from South Philly. Stevens was about four or five years younger than me, so I didn’t know him from the neighborhood. He was a small kid when I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1970 when I was 17. 

Terranova knew Stevens, and prior to seeing his act, he told me the guy was hilarious when he was a kid.

His stage nickname was derived from one of his gags. When a joke of his would bomb, he would pull out his “cheat sheet,” look at it, and then tell the audience that he was right, and they were wrong for not laughing. He did this gag several times during his act. 

I had seen that gag before, so it was not original. 

After the show, Mark Terranova took us all to the bar to meet Stevens. He introduced us all and told Stevens that I was a columnist for the local newspaper. 

He shook my hand enthusiastically. 

“Are you working tonight?” he asked with a wide grin. 

“No. I write a crime column, not an entertainment one.” 

He dropped my hand as the grin disappeared and he turned quickly to Terranova, dismissing me as I wasn’t able to promote his act. I felt the urge to smack the back of his big head. 

I listened as Stevens told Terranova how he had changed his stage name to “Cheat Sheet Al,” which helped him attract comedy gigs and fans. He said he gone to Hollywood and made a TV pilot, called – you guessed it - “Cheat Sheet Al.” The pilot was not picked up by the network. 

“I went for the brass ring,” he told Terranova. “But I couldn't grab it.” 

Stevens said he was thankful that Nicky Esposito had offered him a job, as he was tired of being on the road and he liked working back home in South Philly. 

Stevens hugged Terranova, nodded to our wives, and left the bar. We grabbed our coats and headed out the door. 

As we walked out the door, we stopped and shook hands with Nicodemo Esposito, a short, grim elderly man in a suit and tie. 

“Nick, you old fucking hoodlum. How are you?” Terranova asked Esposito in good humor. 

“Good, good, you rat bastard cop,” Esposito responded in kind. 

We all laughed as we left the club.


The following week I heard that Stevens had been murdered and Esposito had been charged with the homicide. I called Terranova and asked him if he heard anything. 

Terranova called me back a few hours later and told me what the detectives on the case were saying. 

The detectives assigned to the case told Terranova that Esposito had become increasingly deaf in his old age, so he didn’t much listen to the acts in his club. He was also becoming increasingly paranoid, and, apparently, he didn’t know that a cheat sheet was a small piece of paper with notes that one used to cheat on tests, or to aid a public speaker, or, as in the case of Al Stevens, simply a small sheet he used as a prop in his act. 

The detectives discovered that after Stevens’ act, the comedian and some friends and fans were drinking at the bar with Esposito nearby. According to the bartender, Joe Abramo, Esposito, despite his hearing loss, kept hearing the comedian being called “Cheat Sheet Al.” 

Abramo told detectives that Esposito had a few drinks too many, and he took offense at the men at the bar calling the comedian “Cheat Sheet Al.” 

“Is he bragging about cheating me?” Esposito asked Abramo. 

“No, boss,” Abramo replied. “It’s just his stage nickname.” 

"I'm not so sure," Esposito said. "I remember when everyone crowded around me and listened to my stories." 

"They still do, boss," Abramo said.

"In those days, no one would dream of cheating me," Esposito said. "And now here's this joker who has the balls to even call himself a cheat, joking and bragging about being a crummy, cheating bastard."

Abramo just nodded. Better to agree with the boss.

The bartender told detectives that Esposito downed a shot of whisky, pulled his .32 semi-automatic from his waistband and walked over to Stevens. 

“So, you think you can get away with cheating me, ya bum?” 

The crowd saw the gun, and knowing Esposito’s reputation, they slid away fast. Stevens couldn’t move, as Esposito had pushed him against the bar. 

“Nick, what are you talking about, man? I would never steal from you. Please.” Stevens pleaded.  

“You won’t steal from me again.” 

Nicky Number One fired a round into Cheat Sheet Al’s chest. 

The comedian fell to the floor. 

Esposito left the club calmly and walked over to Geno’s, where he ordered a cheesesteak and a coffee. He was sitting at an outside table when the police arrived and arrested him.


As it turned out, Stevens' nickname - the one he thought helped his career - had in fact ended it.  

In my column that appeared in the local paper after the shooting, I noted that William Shakespeare had written “What’s in a name?” in his famous play, Romeo and Juliet

In South Philly, one can ask, what’s in a nickname?

© Paul Davis 2021 

Friday, September 24, 2021

The Billion Dollar Bust: My Philadelphia Weekly Crime Beat Column On Historic Drug Bust In Philadelphia

Philadelphia Weekly published my Crime Beat column on the billion dollar drug bust in Philadelphia.

You can read the column via the below link or the below pages:

Billion-dollar bust - Philadelphia Weekly 

You can click on the above or below to enlarge.


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Multiple Defendants Indicted In Alleged Intellectual Property Theft Scheme

The Justice Department released the below information: 

An indictment was unsealed yesterday in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania charging a New Jersey man, a California man, and a New York man with federal crimes arising out of a wide-ranging and lucrative copyright infringement scheme. 

According to court documents, Bill Omar Carrasquillo, 35, of Swedesboro, New Jersey; Jesse Gonzales, 42, of Pico Rivera, California; and Michael Barone, 36, of Richmond Hill, New York, operated a large-scale cable theft scheme between at least March 2016 and at least November 2019, in which they fraudulently obtained cable television accounts and then resold copyrighted content to thousands of their own subscribers. According to the indictment, the defendants also made fraudulent misrepresentations to banks and merchant processors in an effort to obtain merchant processing accounts. The defendants allegedly earned more than $30 million from the scheme. 

As alleged, Carrasquillo converted a large portion of his profits into homes and dozens of vehicles, including high-end sports cars. When agents attempted to seize those items pursuant to judicially-authorized warrants, Carrasquillo made false statements about and attempted to hide some of those vehicles, including a Freightliner recreational vehicle and a McLaren sports vehicle. 

“We take seriously schemes for profit that infringe upon copyrights,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The charges announced today demonstrate the department’s continuing commitment to protect copyright holders from theft.” 

“These defendants are charged with engaging in a massive, years-long scheme to steal copyrighted content, which is a serious federal crime,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “As this prosecution shows, protecting intellectual property rights is an important priority of our office and the entire Department of Justice.” 

“You can’t just go and monetize someone else’s copyrighted content with impunity,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Bradley S. Benavides of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “That’s the whole point of securing a copyright. Theft is theft, and if you’re going to willfully steal another party’s intellectual property, the FBI stands ready to step in and shut you down.” 

“All income is taxable, including income derived from illegal means,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Yury Kruty of the Philadelphia Field Office for IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI). “In addition, it is a crime to knowingly engage in monetary transactions involving criminally derived property of a value greater than $10,000 that is derived from a specified unlawful activity, such as wire fraud. IRS-CI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring charges against individuals who choose to participate in illegal schemes such as that alleged here.” 

Carrasquillo was arrested on Sept. 21. He is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and related offenses; one count of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act; one count of reproduction of a protected work; 19 counts of public performance of a protected work; four counts of access device fraud; six counts of wire fraud; three counts of making false statements to a bank; 19 counts of money laundering; two counts of making false statements to law enforcement officers; two counts of removal of property to prevent seizure; and four counts of tax evasion. In total, if convicted of all counts, Carrasquillo faces up to 514 years’ imprisonment. 

Gonzalez was arrested on Sept. 21. He is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and related offenses; one count of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act; one count of reproduction of a protected work; 19 counts of public performance of a protected work; four counts of access device fraud; five counts of wire fraud; two counts of making false statements to a bank; and one count of money laundering. In total, if convicted of all counts, Gonzales faces up to 244 years’ imprisonment. 

A summons to appear in court was issued to Barone, and he is scheduled to make his initial appearance today in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and related offenses; one count of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act; two counts of access device fraud; and five counts of wire fraud. In total, if convicted of all counts, Barone faces up to 130 years’ imprisonment.

A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. 

The FBI and IRS-CI are investigating the case. 

Trial Attorney Jeff Pearlman of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher J. Mannion and Matthew T. Newcomer of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania are prosecuting the case. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

From Afghanstan To Texas: My Washington Times On Crime Column On 'Down Range,' A Compelling Crime Thriller

The Washington Times published my On Crime column on Taylor Moore’s crime thriller, Down Range. 

Garrett Kohl is a DEA special agent serving in Afghanistan when he is ordered by the CIA to return to the U.S. with the survivor and potential witness of a deadly attack on an Afghan village.  

Mr. Kohl brings the survivor, a traumatized young boy, to his former home in the High Plains of northwest Texas. He discovers that his hometown is besieged by drug smugglers that threaten his brother and father.  

Undercover, Mr. Kohl and the child stay at his father’s ranch as he investigates the violent criminals. The bad guys have no idea that they are up against a former combat Green Beret and a DEA special agent who has hunted terrorists and criminals. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

35 Minutes Of the The Late Norm McDonald On O.J. Simpson On Saturday Night Live

I just watched a 35 minute clip of the late Norm Macdonald, who recently died of cancer,  mocking O.J. Simpson and accusing him of murder on Saturday Night Live.  

When Simpson was found not guilty, Norm Macdonald said on the air, "Well, it is now official. Murder is legal in the state of California."

The Weekend Update bits got Macdonald fired, as an NBC executive was Simpson's friend.  

Funny stuff from a funny guy. He will be missed

You can watch the clip via the below link:

35 Minutes of Why Norm Macdonald Got Fired on Weekend Update - YouTube 


Two Famous Quotes About Joe Biden

No matter how things work out for the rest of President Biden's term in office, he will, I believe, always be defined and remembered by two famous quotes. 

President Obama reportedly said of his vice president, "Don't underestimate Joe's ability to fuck things up." (As noted in Bruce Tinsley's Mallard Filmore cartoon above).

And former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said of Biden in his memoir, "I think he's been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades." 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

National Health Care Fraud Enforcement Action Results In Charges Involving More Than $1.4 Billion In Alleged Losses

The Department of Justice released the below information: 

The Department of justice announced criminal charges against 138 defendants, including 42 doctors, nurses, and other licensed medical professionals, in 31 federal districts across the United States for their alleged participation in various health care fraud schemes that resulted in approximately $1.4 billion in alleged losses. 

The charges target approximately $1.1 billion in fraud committed using telemedicine (the use of telecommunications technology to provide health care services remotely), $29 million in COVID-19 health care fraud, $133 million connected to substance abuse treatment facilities, or “sober homes,” and $160 million connected to other health care fraud and illegal opioid distribution schemes across the country. 

“This nationwide enforcement action demonstrates that the Criminal Division is at the forefront of the fight against health care fraud and opioid abuse by prosecuting those who have exploited health care benefit programs and their patients for personal gain,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The charges announced today send a clear deterrent message and should leave no doubt about the department’s ongoing commitment to ensuring the safety of patients and the integrity of health care benefit programs, even amid a continued pandemic.” 

Today’s enforcement actions were led and coordinated by the Health Care Fraud Unit of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, in conjunction with its Health Care Fraud and Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force program and its core partners, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), FBI, and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as part of the department’s ongoing efforts to combat the devastating effects of health care fraud and the opioid epidemic. 

The cases are being prosecuted by Health Care Fraud and ARPO Strike Force teams from the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, in coordination with 31 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices nationwide, and agents from HHS-OIG, FBI, DEA, and other federal and state law enforcement agencies.

“Health care fraud targets the vulnerable in our communities, our health care system, and our basic expectation of competent, available care,” said Assistant Director Calvin Shivers of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “Despite a continued pandemic, the FBI and our law enforcement partners remain dedicated to safeguarding American taxpayers and businesses from the steep cost of health care fraud.” 

“We have seen all too often criminals who engage in health care fraud — stealing from taxpayers while jeopardizing the health of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries,” said Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Gary L. Cantrell of HHS-OIG. “Today’s announcement should serve as another warning to individuals who may be considering engaging in such illicit activity: our agency and its law enforcement partners remain unrelenting in our commitment to rooting out fraud, holding bad actors accountable, and protecting the millions of beneficiaries who rely on federal health care programs.” 

“Holding to account those responsible for health care fraud and diversion of prescription drugs is a priority for DEA,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “These fraudulent activities prey on our most vulnerable – those in pain, the substance-addicted, and even the homeless – those who are most susceptible to promises of relief, recovery, or a new start. Not only do these schemes profit from desperation, but they often leave their victims even deeper in addiction. We are grateful to our partners who stand with us to keep our communities safer and healthier through our collective efforts to prevent the misuse and over-prescribing of controlled medications.” 

“Every dollar saved is critical to the sustainability of our Medicare programs and meeting the needs of seniors and people with disabilities,” said Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. “CMS has taken actions against 28 providers on behalf of people with Medicare coverage and to protect the Medicare Trust Fund. Actions like this to combat fraud, waste and abuse in our federal programs would not be possible without the successful partnership of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General.”  

Telemedicine Fraud Cases 

The largest amount of alleged fraud loss charged in connection with the cases announced today – over $1.1 billion in allegedly false and fraudulent claims submitted by more than 43 criminal defendants in 11 judicial districts – relates to schemes involving telemedicine. According to court documents, certain defendant telemedicine executives allegedly paid doctors and nurse practitioners to order unnecessary durable medical equipment, genetic and other diagnostic testing, and pain medications, either without any patient interaction or with only a brief telephonic conversation with patients they had never met or seen. Durable medical equipment companies, genetic testing laboratories, and pharmacies then purchased those orders in exchange for illegal kickbacks and bribes and submitted over $1.1 billion in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare and other government insurers. In some instances, medical professionals billed Medicare for sham telehealth consultations that did not occur as represented. The proceeds of the scheme were spent on luxury items, including vehicles, yachts, and real estate.  

The continued focus on prosecuting health care fraud schemes involving telemedicine reflects the success of the nationwide coordinating role of the Fraud Section’s National Rapid Response Strike Force, the creation of which was announced at the 2020 National Health Care Fraud and Opioid Takedown. The National Rapid Response Strike Force helped coordinate the prosecution of the telemedicine initiative, Sober Homes initiative, and COVID-19 cases that were announced today. The focus on telemedicine fraud also builds on the telemedicine component of last year’s national takedown and the impact of the 2019 “Operation Brace Yourself” Telemedicine and Durable Medical Equipment Takedown, which resulted in an estimated cost avoidance of more than $1.9 billion in the amount paid by Medicare for orthotic braces in the 20 months following that takedown. 

COVID-19 Fraud Cases 

Nine defendants in the cases announced today are alleged to have engaged in various health care fraud schemes designed to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the submission of over $29 million in false billings. In one type of scheme, defendants are alleged to have exploited policies that were put in place by the CMS to enable increased access to care during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as expanded telehealth regulations and rules. Defendants allegedly misused patient information to submit claims to Medicare for unrelated, medically unnecessary, and expensive laboratory tests, including cancer genetic testing. 

The law enforcement action today also includes criminal charges against five defendants who allegedly engaged in the misuse of Provider Relief Fund monies. The Provider Relief Fund is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a federal law enacted March 2020 designed to provide needed medical care to Americans suffering from COVID-19. The defendants allegedly used the moneys for their own personal expenses, including for gambling at a Las Vegas casino and paying a luxury car dealership.  

The COVID-19 cases announced today build upon the success of the COVID-19 Health Care Fraud Takedown on May 26, a coordinated law enforcement action against 14 defendants in seven judicial districts for over $128 million in false billings. The law enforcement action and the cases announced today were brought in coordination with the Health Care Fraud Unit’s COVID-19 Interagency Working Group, which is chaired by the National Rapid Response Strike Force and organizes efforts to address illegal activity involving health care programs during the pandemic. 

Sober Homes Cases 

The sober homes cases are announced on the one-year anniversary of the first ever national sober homes initiative in 2020, which included charges against more than a dozen criminal defendants in connection with more than $845 million of allegedly false and fraudulent claims for tests and treatments for vulnerable patients seeking treatment for drug and/or alcohol addiction. 

The over $133 million in false and fraudulent claims that are additionally alleged in cases announced today reflect the continued effort by the National Rapid Response Strike Force and the Health Care Fraud Unit’s Los Angeles Strike Force, with the participation of the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Central District of California and the Southern District of Florida, to prosecute those who participated in illegal kickback and bribery schemes involving the referral of patients to substance abuse treatment facilities; those patients could be subjected to medically unnecessary drug testing – often billing thousands of dollars for a single test – and therapy sessions that frequently were not provided, and which resulted in millions of dollars of false and fraudulent claims being submitted to private insurers. 

Cases Involving the Illegal Prescription and/or Distribution of Opioids and Cases Involving Traditional Health Care Fraud Schemes 

The cases announced today involving the illegal prescription and/or distribution of opioids involve 19 defendants, including several charges against medical professionals and others who prescribed over 12 million doses of opioids and other prescription narcotics, while submitting over $14 million in false billings. The cases that fall into more traditional categories of health care fraud include charges against over 60 defendants who allegedly participated in schemes to submit more than $145 million in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, and private insurance companies for treatments that were medically unnecessary and often never provided.

Prior to the charges announced as part of today’s nationwide enforcement action and since its inception in March 2007, the Health Care Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 districts, has charged more than 4,600 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for approximately $23 billion. In addition to the criminal actions announced today, CMS, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, announced 28 administrative actions to decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

Never Underestimate An Old Man Who Served On The USS Kitty Hawk

As an old man who served on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk when I was a young man during the Vietnam War, I got a kick out of seeing a t-shirt that read "Never Underestimate An Old Man Who Served On USS Kitty Hawk."

You can purchase the t-shirt and other items via the below link:

 USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) -

You can read about the old carrier via the below link:

Saturday, September 18, 2021

My Crime Fiction: Bozo's Last Stand: A Story Of Stolen Valor

 The below short story first appeared in American Crime Magazine.

 Bozo’s Last Stand: A Story of Stolen Valor 

By Paul Davis

After I completed my most recent crime column for the local paper, which was about a fraud who posed as a former Navy SEAL in order to received unearned Veteran’s Administration benefits, I thought back to other frauds I knew who lied about being in the military and serving in combat. 

I thought of Tony Russo, an odd guy that I knew from a local taproom in South Philadelphia. One of the other guys told us, half-jokingly, that Russo's mother had dropped him on his head when he was a baby. 

“That explains things,” another bar patron said. 

I didn’t think Russo was a bad guy, just a bit weird and socially awkward. That is until he began telling the guys in the bar, and probably everyone else, that he was a Vietnam veteran. 

I knew that Russo, who was a few years older than me, had certainly not served in the Vietnam War. I knew, because like most veterans, we had discussed what we had done in the service more than once in the bar. 

I told Russo that I had served as a sailor on the USS Kitty Hawk as the aircraft carrier performed combat operations on "Yankee Station" in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam in 1970 and 1971. Russo told me that he was an MP (military police) in West Germany during the early 1960s, before the big build-up in South Vietnam. 

Being an MP in West Germany was honorable service and something to be proud of, but in his twisted mind, I suppose it was not enough. 

Previously, I had interviewed him for my newspaper column when he joined the Vietnam Veterans of America. I quoted him as stating that although he was not a Vietnam veteran, he respected those who did serve there. 

Then, only a few years later, he got it into his head that he had served in the Vietnam War, just as the veterans he hung around did. He claimed to have won a Purple Heart and other medals in the war. Some gullible guys who first met him bought him drinks and sandwiches, which he accepted. This, I knew, was a crime, although the cost of a beer and a sandwich perhaps made it a minor crime.   

As I noted in my newspaper column, under the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, it is a crime to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefits while fraudulently claiming to have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, the Air Force Cross, a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and other combat medals. 

Russo began wearing a baseball cap with “Vietnam Veteran” embroidered on it, and he also wore a jacket and a sweatshirt embroidered with “Vietnam Veteran.” I can only assume that his underwear was embroidered with “Vietnam Veteran” as well. 

I thought that his lying about serving in Vietnam was a despicable act, and an insult to those who actually served in the war. It was Stolen Valor. But I didn’t bother to expose him at the bar, or call the FBI, because I believed he had mental issues. And most of the guys at the bar didn't believe him in any case. 

I recall one time when he was telling his phony war stories in his usual stammer with awkward pauses, when he stated, “I spent eight months in, hey ya, Hell.” 

“Don’t all guys spend a full year in-country tour?” One of the bar’s patrons asked. 

Russo had a strained look on his face, and then said, “I left because I had high blood pressure.” 

“Didn’t everyone in Vietnam have high blood pressure?” I asked.


My thoughts then drifted to another time back in the late 1970s when I was a young man.  

I had gone to a jewelry store to pick up a watch that needed to be repaired. At the entrance to the jewelry store were two unarmed black security guards. They both wore black paramilitary uniforms. One of the guards was a big guy and his black uniform shirt was stretched as his upper torso bulged with muscle. He also wore a black baseball cap that read “Navy SEAL Vietnam Veteran” embroidered above the bill. 

The second guard, a smaller, thinner, and older black man, wore a simple black baseball cap and his black uniform hung loose on his lean frame. 

The bigger of the guards stood in front of me and looked me over. He was twice the size of me, but having been an amateur middleweight boxer, I was not intimidated. 

I stared up at the big man and looked him in the eye. 

The thinner guard nudged his bigger partner aside and said, “C’mon in, man.” 

“Thanks,” I replied and walked over to the counter. 

A pretty young black girl was behind the counter. I smiled, said hello, and handed her my slip. She smiled back and walked towards the back room, once looking over her shoulder and smiling again at me. 

“What you looking at, pretty boy?” 

I turned and saw space mountain standing next to me. My flirtatious good humor vanished, and I responded like a good son of South Philly. 

“Fuck you.” 

“That girl there is my girl. And you don’t want to fuck with me, boy, I’m a Vietnam veteran. 

So am I,” I said. “Sort of.” 

“I was a fucking Navy SEAL in the shit. What was you?” 

“I was on an aircraft carrier.” 

“Pussy,” he said curtly. “This here jewelry store hired me because I fought in Vietnam as a SEAL and won the Silver Star in combat.” 

My bullshit antenna raised. I didn’t believe him. 

“Go back to the circus, Bozo.” 

“Are you calling me a clown? I’ll rip your head off!” 

“Or die trying,’ I said, my right fist balled and ready. 

Bozo ripped his shirt open, struggled to get it off, and then tossed it with a fury to the floor. 

“Do I look like I’m afraid of you?” I asked calmly. “Do you see me running?”   

“Come outside, Motherfucker, and I’ll fuck you up.” 

He yanked the store’s door open and stepped out, and I followed. 

Bozo stood on the sidewalk, flexing his muscles. 

I wasn’t impressed, as I knew that steroid-induced muscles made one strong, but not fast. 

The second security guard came out and stood between us. 

“Man, there ain’t no need for violence.” 

“Get out the way, Harry, I’m going to fuck this pretty boy up.” 

With that he came at with a slow, clumsy roundhouse. 

One did not need to be a former boxer to slip that telegraphed punch. I leaned my head back and turned it slightly to the right and felt the air of the missed punch sail by.  

I countered quickly with a hard right cross and Bozo dropped to the cement. He lay there holding his head and moaning and rolling from side to side. 

The pretty counter girl came out of the store and stood over Bozo. 

“Please don’t hit him again!” She pleaded. “He wasn’t a Navy SEAL. He wasn’t even in the service.” 

I nodded.

She handed me my repaired watch in a bag, and I handed her a $20 dollar bill, which gave her a $5 dollar tip. I turned and walked away. 

Harry rushed up to me. 

“Thank you, man.” He said. “I’ve been listening to his shit for almost a year. He’s always putting me down as I was a Marine in Nam, even though I was shot and almost died. He always saying SEALs is tougher than Marines.” 

“Well,” I said to Harry. “Thank you for your service.” 

“You too,” he said as I walked away. 

© Copyright Paul Davis 2021

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Stolen Valor: My Philadelphia Weekly Crime Beat Column On A Fake Navy SEAL Who Stole From The VA

Philadelphia Weekly published My Crime Beat column on a fake Navy SEAL who stole from the Veteran's Administration.

You can read the column online via the below link or the below pages:

 Stolen valor - Philadelphia Weekly   

You can click on the above and below to enlarge.

14 Defendants Indicted, Including The Entire Administration Of The Colombo Organized Crime Family: Colombo Crime Family Boss, Underboss, Consigliere And Captains Are Among The Defendants Charged With Labor Racketeering, Extortion And Money Laundering

The U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District of New York released the below information:

On September 14, 2021, U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District of New York announced in federal court in Brooklyn, a 19-count indictment was unsealed charging 14 defendants, including 10 members and associates of the Colombo crime family of La Cosa Nostra and a member of the Bonanno organized crime family, with various offenses including labor racketeering involving multiple predicate acts of extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and extortion, extortionate collection of credit conspiracy, extortionate collection of credit and money laundering conspiracy.  

The charges in the indictment against the Colombo crime family members relate to multiple charged schemes in a long-running effort by the crime family to infiltrate and take control of a Queens-based labor union (the “Labor Union”) and its affiliated health care benefit program (the “Health Fund”) that provides medical benefits, including dental, optical and pharmacy benefits, to the members of the Labor Union, and to a conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with workplace safety certifications.

Among those charged with racketeering are Andrew “Mush” Russo, the boss of the Colombo crime family, Benjamin “Benji” Castellazzo, the underboss, and Ralph DiMatteo, the consigliere.  Alleged Colombo crime family captains Theodore Persico, Jr., Richard Ferrara and Vincent Ricciardo are charged with racketeering, along with soldier Michael Uvino and associates Thomas Costa and Domenick Ricciardo.  In addition, alleged Bonanno family soldier John Ragano is charged with loansharking, fraud and drug trafficking offenses. 

Thirteen defendants were arrested today in New York and New Jersey and are scheduled to be arraigned via videoconference this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Taryn A. Merkl at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn.  Vincent Ricciardo was arrested in North Carolina and will be arraigned before United States Magistrate Judge David C. Keesler in federal court in Charlotte.  DiMatteo remains at large.

Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Michael Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI); Jonathan Mellone, Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, New York Region (DOL-OIG); Patrick J. Ryder, Commissioner, Nassau County Police Department (NCPD); Dermot F. Shea, Commissioner, New York City Police Department (NYPD); and Margaret Garnett, Commissioner, New York City Department of Investigation (DOI), announced the charges and arrests.

“Today’s charges describe a long-standing, ruthless pattern by the administration of the Colombo crime family, its captains, members and associates, of conspiring to exert control over the management of a labor union by threatening to inflict bodily harm on one of its senior officials and devising a scheme to divert and launder vendor contract funds from its health care benefit program.  In addition, for their own enrichment, the defendants conspired to engage in extortionate loansharking, money laundering and fraud, as well as drug trafficking,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Kasulis. “This Office and its law enforcement partners are committed to dismantling organized crime families, eliminating their corrupt influence in our communities and protecting the independence of labor unions.”

Ms. Kasulis also thanked the U.S. Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration, Atlanta and New York Offices (DOL-EBSA), the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor and the Department of Justice’s Organized Crime and Gang Section for their valuable assistance in the investigation.

“Everything we allege in this investigation proves history does indeed repeat itself. The underbelly of the crime families in New York City is alive and well. These soldiers, consiglieres, under bosses, and bosses are obviously not students of history, and don't seem to comprehend that we're going to catch them. Regardless of how many times they fill the void we create in their ranks, our FBI Organized Crime Task Force, and our law enforcement partners, are positioned to take them out again, and again,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Driscoll.

“An important mission of the Office of Inspector General is to investigate criminal allegations relating to organized crime and their illicit influence over labor unions and their affiliated employee benefit plans.  We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate these types of allegations,” stated DOL-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Mellone.

“The indictment of 14 defendants, including members of the Columbo crime family on labor racketeering, extortion and money laundering charges should send a clear and concise message that these types of crimes will never be tolerated by law enforcement.   By infiltrating and taking control of a Queens-based labor union and its affiliated health care benefit program these defendants were able to extort a substantial amount of money which should have been used for the members of the union. These benefits included medical, dental, optical and pharmaceutical.  Congratulations to all of the investigators and their affiliated agencies on a job well done during this extensive investigation,” stated NCPD Commissioner Ryder.

“This indictment is another example of the NYPD’s long-term commitment, working with its law enforcement partners, in making sure those accused of organized crime are held accountable. I commend those who carried out the investigation as well as the office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District in New York for its work in ensuring there is justice in this case,” stated NYPD Commissioner Shea.

“Every time construction certifications are faked, every time bogus records are created and used to manipulate the facts, building in this City is undermined and New Yorkers' safety is compromised. This investigation is evidence of how corruption can erode the integrity of construction in New York City. And these charges reveal how DOI is working with its law enforcement partners to uncover and stop the illegal conduct,” stated DOI Commissioner Garnett.  “DOI thanks the City Department of Buildings for reporting allegations related to this conduct, and the Office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, the FBI, and the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Labor for their partnership.”

As set forth in the indictment and other court documents, the defendants and their co-conspirators committed a variety of crimes – including extortion, loansharking, fraud and drug trafficking – on behalf of the Colombo organized crime family.  First, the Colombo crime family’s administration, including Russo, Castellazzo and Dimatteo, as well captains Persico, Ferrara and Vincent Ricciardo, used extortionate means, including direct threats of bodily harm, to control the management of the Labor Union and caused it to make decisions that benefitted the Colombo crime family.  Since approximately 2001, Colombo captain Vincent Ricciardo and his cousin, associate Domenick Ricciardo, have collected a portion of the salary of a senior official in the Labor Union (“John Doe #1”) by threatening to harm John Doe #1 and his family.  At the direction of the Colombo crime family’s leadership, beginning in late 2019, the defendants broadened the extortion effort to force John Doe #1 and others at the Labor Union and its affiliated Health Fund to make decisions that benefitted the Colombo crime family, including by forcing them to select vendors for contracts who were associated with the Colombo crime family.  The defendants sought to divert more than $10,000 per month from the Health Fund’s assets to the administration of the Colombo crime family. 

For example, on June 21, 2021, in a consensually recorded conversation, Vincent Ricciardo threatened to kill John Doe #1 if he did not comply with Vincent Ricciardo’s demands.  He explained that John Doe #1 knows, “I’ll put him in the ground right in front of his wife and kids, right in front of his f-----g house, you laugh all you want pal, I’m not afraid to go to jail, let me tell you something, to prove a point? I would f-----g shoot him right in front of his wife and kids, call the police, f--k it, let me go, how long you think I’m gonna last anyway?”

Further, Colombo crime family members Russo, Castellazzo, Dimatteo, Ferrara, Persico, Vincent Ricciardo, Uvino joined with defendants Thompkins and Bellantoni, among others, to devise a scheme to launder money from Health Fund contracts and payments through third parties and eventually to the Colombo crime family’s leaders.  The defendants attempted to re-bid Health Fund vendor contracts for claims administration, pharmaceuticals and other health services to persons and companies affiliated with the defendant Joseph Bellantoni.  Bellantoni and others agreed that in exchange for the new vendor contracts, they would pay kickbacks to the Colombo crime family and would use various intermediaries to hide the payments.

The indictment also charges Bonanno organized crime family soldier John Ragano with leading a scheme to issue fraudulent workplace safety training certifications.  As alleged, Ragano operated two workplace safety schools in the New York area that claimed to provide Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (“OSHA”) training courses and certifications, along with various New York state certifications, to construction industry workers.  Rather than provide training, Ragano along with his business partner John Glover and Domenick Ricciardo, falsified paperwork to the U.S. Department of Labor and other government agencies which represented that hundreds of workers had completed required safety courses when in reality they had not.  Instead, various defendants used Ragano’s “schools” to conduct meetings involving members of La Cosa Nostra and to store illegal drugs and fireworks.

Vincent Ricciardo, Uvino, Ragano and Costa are also charged with loansharking.  As alleged, these defendants participated in extending and collecting on extortionate loans totaling $250,000 to an individual identified as “John Doe #2.”  The defendants charged and collected a weekly 1.5% interest rate that did not reduce the principal owed and divided the proceeds between themselves.  Further, Vincent Ricciardo, Ragano, Costa, Glover and Vincent Martino were charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana by transporting large shipments of marijuana in vehicles from New York to Florida.  Vincent Ricciardo and Costa were also charged, as previously convicted felons, with possessing and transporting ammunition, and Persico, who is currently on federal supervised release following his release for a prior racketeering conviction, was charged with lying to federal court officers about his dealings with other Colombo crime family members. 

The charges in the indictment are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.  If convicted, the defendants each face up to 20 years’ imprisonment.

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s Organized Crime and Gangs Section.  Assistant United States Attorneys James P. McDonald and Devon Lash are in charge of the prosecution.

The Defendants:

ANDREW RUSSO (also known as “Mush”)
Age: 87
Glen Head, New York

Age: 39
Massapequa, New York

BENJAMIN CASTELLAZZO (also known as “Benji”)
Age: 83
Manahawkin, New Jersey

Age: 52
West Islip, New York

Age: 66
Merrick, New York

Age: 59
Brooklyn, New York

Age: 62
Queens, New York

Age: 43
Medford, New York

THEODORE PERSICO, JR. (also known as “Teddy”)
Age: 58
Brooklyn, New York

JOHN RAGANO (also known as “Bazoo” and “Maniac”)
Age: 59
Franklin Square, New York

Age: 56
Franklin Square, New York

VINCENT RICCIARDO (also known as “Vinny Unions”)
Age: 75
Franklin Square, New York

Age: 53
Franklin Square, New York

Age: 56
Garden City, New York