Tuesday, January 31, 2023

My Crime Fiction: Ruggerio Reimagined

The below short story originally appeared in American Crime Magazine. 

"Ruggerio Reimagined" 

By Paul Davis

I was a bit taken aback when I read about Ruggerio Martino.

I was smoking a cigar and drinking a cup of coffee in my booklined basement office, flipping through the local newspaper that carried my weekly crime column, when a photo of Martino caught my eye. 

I had not thought about Martino in years. I knew him originally from the South Philly neighborhood where we both grew up. He was an oddball. A big guy, but soft and sloppy. The guys on the corner called him “Baby Huey,” after the cartoon giant baby character. 

Martino was a quiet kid, but he was teamed up with Edward “Eddie Crow” Esposito, a fast-talking and annoying skinny kid. They were not part of our crowd, but they often came into the luncheonette where our street corner gang hung out. We thought of them as square, goofy guys, as they didn’t drink or get high or do the other things South Philly street guys generally did in the late 1960s. 

I left the corner at age 17 when I enlisted in the U.S. Navy and sailed to Southeast Asia on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. When I returned home two years later, I found that my crowd had moved exactly one block north from the luncheonette to a corner bar. Martino and Esposito also drank in the bar, but my old crowd didn’t have much to do with them. 

I broke away from the crowd in my late twenties when I began to date a beautiful woman whom I eventually married. I later began working as a crime reporter, which led to my having a crime column in the local paper. 


As I smoked my cigar and looked at Martino's photo, I thought back to the year 2000. I recalled having a drink in a corner bar where I knew the owner, Mike DeLisi. I liked DeLisi, a former boxer and a great cook. His Baked Ziti reminded me of my late Italian mother's Baked Ziti.   

On the night in question, DeLisi was behind the bar talking to me when Martino and Esposito came in. I saw that Martino’s baby fat was gone, replaced by an overly muscled body. Esposito was still a scrawny guy, and he still had a big mouth. 

Esposito saw me and rushed over to shake my hand. 

“Hey, Paulie. Do you remember me? I'm Eddie Crow?” 

“Yeah,” I replied. “I remember you. How are you?” 

“I’m good. Fucking good. Hey, Ruggerio, come over and say hello to Paulie Davis from the old corner.” 

Martino walked over slowly and shook my hand and nodded. 

“Hey, Mike, we knew this guy from the corner before he was a big-shot newspaper guy.” 

“I don’t know about that,” I said. “I’m hardly a big-shot.” 

“I read your articles every week in the paper. I love it. I tell everybody I knew you from the old corner." 

Esposito asked DeLisi for a beer and turned back to me.

"I could tell you some things, you know, confidentially like," Esposito said. "What do you call it, off the chart?” 

“Off the record,” I replied. 


Martino poked Esposito and turned his head towards a guy drinking at the end of the bar. 

“Hey, Paulie, I got business I have to take care of. Good to see you again.” 

Esposito walked down to the guy at the end of the bar. 

“You know those assholes, Paul?” 

“I knew them from the old neighborhood.” 

“They’re potato chip gangsters. Esposito is a collector for Big Rocco. You know him?” 


"He runs a gambling and loan-shark operation. When these two clowns started coming in here, I asked Rocco if they were with him, because they were throwing his name around, acting like big shots,” DeLisi said. “Rocco told me Eddie Crow collected small time for him, but he’s a nobody. I don’t like him or Ruggerio. Ruggerio is always trying to look tough. He’s big, but I don’t think he’s so tough." 

From that night on, DeLisi and I got a kick out of watching the two would-be-gangsters act out in the bar. 

One night Esposito was trying to impress a young girl at the bar. We heard her ask him why he was called Eddie Crow. 

“They call me Crow because crows are wise birds.” 

I leaned over to Mike and said he was called Crow as a kid because his black hair and hooked beak nose made him look like the cartoon crow from Disney’s Dumbo movie. 

DeLisi laughed. 

“You know, last year Eddie was parking cars for Longo’s restaurant, and I slipped him a five,” DeLisi recalled. “He followed me to the door of the restaurant and kissed my ass. Now he’s a gangster. Wise bird, my ass.” 

But as funny as Eddie Crow was, Martino, the once quiet Baby Huey, was even more amusing. 

Martino was always speaking awkwardly to the girls and trying to impress them. One night in the bar, DeLisi and I heard Martino say in his half-mumbling, half-stuttering way that he had served in Vietnam. 

“I was a tunnel rat in Vietnam.” 

“Oh, really,” the girl replied politely. “What’s a tunnel rat?” 

“I used to crawl into the tunnels and go after them Viet Cong.” 

“I’m glad to see you came home safe,” the girl said as she slid away from the hulking man at the bar. 

“Bullshit,” I said to Delisi. “He wasn’t even in the service, let alone a tunnel rat. Can you imagine that hulk crawling through a tunnel?"  

“Yeah. That pisses me off,” said DeLisi, a genuine Vietnam veteran. “I ought to say something.” 

“Well, you saw the girl wasn’t impressed. She didn’t care if he was in the war or not.” 

Delisi agreed to let it go. 

Another night in the bar we watched and listened to Martino tell two girls that he was a street tough. That image was not aided by Martino drinking a “Dirty Shirley,” a fruity mixed drink.   

“South Philly has changed, so you girls got to be careful. Back in the day, we were tough guys on the corner and we was always fighting each other in gang fights, but we didn’t bother no girls or rob old ladies.” 

DeLisi and I laughed. 

 “I'll bet the biggest fight Ruggiero ever had was with a banana sundae,” DeLisi said. 

“I don't think the big doofus ever had a fight in his life,” I said.   

On yet another night, Martino worked his so-called charm on a young woman. 

“I been with a lot of girls in my time, but ah, you got the prettiest eyes. What color is they?” 

DeLisi and I covered our mouths to prevent us from laughing aloud, as the young woman made her excuses and bolted for the door. 

“I never saw him talk with a girl when I knew him,” I said. 

We laughed as we watched and listened to Martino as he struck out with girls night after night. 


One night, I overheard Esposito talking to Martino at the bar. 

“You’re a big guy, Ruggerio. Look at you. Are you going to let that fucking guy talk to you like that?” Esposito said. “You ought to go down there and straighten him out.” 

Martino nodded and downed his fruity drink like it was rotgut whiskey from a Wild West saloon. He stepped off his bar stool and headed down the bar. 

I called DeLisi over and warned him that there might be trouble. 

“Fuck off, ya big slob,” I heard the guy at the bar tell Martino. 

The man at the end of the bar was Billy Leto. I could see that he was drunk. Leto was of average height, but he didn’t look like he was afraid of the massive guy towering over him. 

“Knock him out, Ruggerio,” Esposito said, taunting his friend. 

"Yeah, try it, Fatso,” Leto said. 

“Hey, hey,” DeLisi called out. “Take that shit outside. There’s no fighting in here.” 

“Ya want to go outside, Fatso?” 

Martino’s face reddened. No one had called him fat in years, and it stunned him. 

“Let’s go, motherfucker,” Esposito said to Leto. 

The men went outside to the sidewalk. The bar cleared out to watch the fight. I stood with DeLisi on the steps as the two men went into boxing stances. Martino stepped in and swung a wild hook at Leto, who stepped back easily to avoid the blow. Leto countered with a series of blows to Martino’s head and body. Martino was unable to block any of the blows and he began to bleed from his nose. 

Esposito, like a corner man in a movie, pushed Martino towards Leto with instructions to punch his opponent in the jaw. Martino swung again, and again he missed his target. Leto then delivered several combos to Martino's face and head. It looked like Leto was pounding on a punching bag.

Esposito, seeing that his friend was clearly outclassed, pulled a .38 revolver out of his pocket and pointed it at Leto. 

“Whoa, whoa,” DeLisi yelled. “No fucking guns here. Put that fucking thing away or I’ll shove it up your ass.”

Esposito saw the anger in DeLisi’s face, and he slipped the gun back into his pocket. 

Martino fell back heavily against a parked car as the blood flowed from his nose. Leto laughed and looked at his bloody hands. 

“Look how I fucked up my hands hitting this fucking refrigerator,” Leto said to his friends. 

They all laughed and then they climbed into a car and drove off. 

“You and Martino are barred from here,” DeLisi said. “I don’t want to see your ugly fucking faces again.” 

“Yeah? We’ll see what Big Rocco says about that,” Esposito replied. 

"I’m going to call him right now and tell him what a pair of clowns you guys are.” 

With that, Esposito took Martino’s arm and they walked down the street. 

Everyone else went back into the bar. 

“Not much of a fucking fight,” DeLisi said. “Ruggerio is still a Baby fucking Huey.”  

It was the year 2000, a new century, so I suppose Martino felt that he had to adapt from a Baby Huey doofus to his reimagined persona as a street tough and hardened Vietnam veteran. But that persona was crushed brutally in the fight outside the bar.   


As I reread the piece on Martino, I felt bad for him. The newspaper story reported that Martino attempted to stop an armed robber from holding up a store. According to the piece, Martino advanced on the armed robber, and when the robber saw this big man moving down on him, he opened fire and shot Martino in the chest. The robber fled as Martino bled out on the store’s floor.  

Esposito was quoted in the piece, stating that Martino was a true hero. He told the reporter that Martino was a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, so the headline read, “Decorated Vietnam Veteran Murdered Preventing Robbery.” 

I picked up my phone and began to call the reporter to set the record straight about Martino. But I paused, and then I laid my phone down.

© 2022 Paul Davis 

Monday, January 30, 2023

A Veteran Police Sergeant Speaks Out: My Broad + Liberty Interview With Gary Capuano

Broad + Liberty ran my interview with retired Philadelphia police sergeant Gary Capuano (seen in the above and below photos).

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

Paul Davis: A veteran police sergeant speaks out (broadandliberty.com) 

I had an interesting conversation with a veteran police sergeant. Gary Capuano, who retired from the Philadelphia Police Department after serving nearly 25 years, and is currently writing a memoir of his days as a cop, offered his take on the current state of crime in Philadelphia. 

“Philadelphia is in a dire situation. I believe the rise in crime is a direct result of the District Attorney and his policies,” Capuano told me. “When word gets out that there is little to nothing done when someone is arrested for a crime, these criminals believe they have the green light to do as they please. Since Larry Krasner has been in office, the number of homicides has risen every year.” 

Capuano went on to state that when word gets out that deals are being given out like candy by the DA office and that crimes are being ignored, what the city is experiencing right now is a result. 

I asked Capuano what he thinks should be done to drive down crime in Philadelphia.

“Driving infractions need to be enforced as they were in years past, ATV’s need to be removed from the street like they were in years past, and retail thefts need to be prosecuted again as they were in years past,” Capuano said. “Many businesses that were looted in the summer of 2020 never recovered and closed for good. More businesses are leaving the city because of the thefts as well as their employees being assaulted. This progressive way of thinking protects the criminal only. There needs to be a balance.”

Capuano added that police manpower is critically low, which not only jeopardizes public safety, but also jeopardizes police officers’ safety. The public should know that a lack of manpower is why it takes hours on end for their call to be answered.”

I asked him if he thought the mayor, the DA, and the police commissioner have the cops’ backs.

“I feel that the mayor, district attorney and the police commissioner do not have the cops’ backs,” Capuano replied. “I don’t have the exact numbers, but it’s apparent that cops have been targeted by the DA and city’s leadership. The whole idea of due process has been forgotten in many cases. The number of officers arrested and found not guilty are plentiful. 

“I’m not so naive that I believe cops do no wrong, but when there are thousands of people in any one career, there are bound to be a few bad apples. But don’t ruin people’s lives and careers with a shoddy investigation. I’d like to see a police commander stand in front of a camera and address accusations thrown at a cop by saying, ‘we should conduct a thorough investigation and have all of the facts before we make a rush to judgment.’” 

Capuano said the police department should lose their unofficial opposition to hiring veterans for fear of them having PTSD. 

“I’ve heard stories throughout the years of many willing and able bodied veterans who were passed over,” Capuano said. “The department needs to also remove the residency requirement altogether. The city should give a 50 mile radius as to where a recruit/officer can live. As long as the officer can make it to work on time, there should be no issues. The city should use a one-time signing bonus payment for $5,000. Also, make the incoming recruits a pension deal with 25 years and out.” 

Capuano began his career in the 4th District at 11th & Wharton Street in South Philadelphia in 1998, which is near where he grew up. He has worked in 5 Squad’s stolen auto detail, worked as a plainclothes officer on a burglary team, and was later promoted to detective. He led 5 Squad’s Southwest Detective’s Fugitive Task Force as the officer in charge/team leader. Capuano said he was “the breacher.” In 2014 he was promoted to sergeant.

Capuano said the highlight of his police career was the apprehension of a suspect wanted for three homicides. He was working in the Southwest Detective Fugitive Task Force when one of his officers befriended the father of one of the victims. The father called the officer with the “word on the street.” Capuano and the officer were given information that led them to capture the suspect. 

“We worked that night into the early morning hours,” Capuano recalled. “We resumed working early Saturday morning and we, along with the assistance of the U.S. Marshals, captured the defendant inside the projects at 22nd and Susquehanna Avenue.”

Capuano is proud that he took a truly bad guy off the streets. 

“Police work is an honorable profession. You can go out and do good things for your community,” Capuano said.

Paul Davis is a Philadelphia writer who covers crime.  

Sunday, January 29, 2023

'What's a Philly Thing?': Eagles Fans Have The Answer On South Broad Street

Matteo Iadonisi at WPVI Channel 6 asks Eagle fans in South Philly what’s a "Philly Thing" after Eagles' win. You can watch the video below: 

SOUTH PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Fans stormed the streets after the Philadelphia Eagles scored their way into the Super Bowl. We asked them, "What's a Philly Thing?"

'What's a Philly Thing?' Eagles fans have the answer on Broad Street - 6abc Philadelphia

You can also listen to Kevin Bacon, his brother and others sing It's a Philly Thing via the below link:

 The Bacon Brothers - Philly Thing - YouTube 

Friday, January 27, 2023

My Crime Fiction: Murder By The Park

The below short story originally appeared in American Crime Magazine. 

"Murder by the Park" 

By Paul Davis 

“I’m a criminal,” the man at the bar said to me as a way of introduction. He said this as nonchalantly as if he stating he was a salesman or lawyer. 

I was at the bar talking to an old friend from the old neighborhood in South Philadelphia when the 30ish, dark-haired, thin and short man approached me and asked if I wrote the crime column for the local newspaper. He said he recognized me from my column photo.   

I said yes. The man introduced himself and said he read my column on a recent murder by a nearby park. 

"The story was really good. Really interesting," the man said. 

I thanked him, he shook my hand, and he rejoined his friends at the other end of the bar. 

The column the man at the bar liked was about the murder of a drug dealer whose body had been discovered in a car parked next to the park at 13th and Oregon Avenue. 

The story interested me as I grew up at 13th and Oregon. Murders in that middle-class, predominantly Italian-American neighborhood were rare. And I played sports in that park as a teenager and, frankly, I did somewhat less wholesome things with girls in the park after dark. 

After the man walked away, my friend told me the man was Anthony “Tony Banana” Venditto, a local thug. My friend explained that he was called “Tony Banana,” as all of his friends described him as a banana, a South Philly euphemism for an insane person or a goof. 

I was later informed by a Philadelphia detective I knew that Venditto was the prime suspect in the murder of the drug dealer found next to the park. Small wonder that he found my column about the murder so interesting. 

The detective filled me in on the story of Venditto and the murder by the park.


Venditto was proud of being a criminal. His life-long goal was to be a “made man” in the Philadelphia-South Jersey Cosa Nostra crime family. But because he was, as his nickname indicated, a banana, he didn’t stand a chance. 

Venditto had a police record with multiple arrests and two convictions. He was convicted on two separate burglaries, and he was given parole on the first and served two years in Graterford State Prison for the second. He had been briefly married, but his wife divorced him while he was in prison. 

Venditto hung around a mob crew in the neighborhood, and they used him for assorted jobs, such as robbery and extortion. For Venditto, being an associate with the crew was the next best thing to being a made member of the local mob. 

The crew of gamblers, thieves and extortionists spent their usual days at a local bar, gossiping, bragging and scheming. The crew captain, Joseph “Big Joe” Farina, sat at a back table up against a wall and held court all day and some nights, as if he were a king. His crew would report in, hand over money, and linger as Farina, a large, overweight man with sparse gray hair, would sip Sambuca and impart his wisdom and wit to his fellow criminals. 

No one questioned his wisdom, and everyone laughed at his jokes and asides. 

The crew didn’t do much in the way of work. Mostly, they extorted money from other working criminals, such as bookmakers, drug dealers and burglary crews. The crooks paid their “street tax” to the crew as they figured it was the cost of doing business in South Philly. The crooks who didn’t pay had a visit from crew members, who wielded baseball bats or pointed guns. 

Farina waved over Venditto and Salvatore “Sonny” Grillo. Grillo was huge, muscular and tattooed. Standing next to the diminutive Venditto, he appeared even larger. 

“Did you see that drug guy about our money?” Farina asked Grillo. 

The man Farina referred to was John “Opie” Taylor, a South Philly drug dealer who resembled the child actor Ron Howard from the 1960s Andy Griffith TV show. Taylor was told on several occasions that he had to pay a “street tax” to Farina’s crew if he wanted to sell drugs or commit any crime in the neighborhood. 

“I sent him an email.” 

“You did what?” Farina said, slapping the table. 

“I sent him an email, telling him he better get right with us.” 

“Look at you, ya mamaluke. What’s the point of being a big ugly gorilla, when ya gonna send email messages to a guy we want to scare?” 

Grillo stood there, his head held low, and kept quiet. 

“When I was a soldier back in the 1960s we didn't send emails. We looked them in the eye,” Farina told Grillo and Venditto. “We were true gangsters and racketeers then. Now look at what I have to deal with,” Farina said, throwing his hands up in the air in disgust. 

“I’ll handle the guy, Skipper,” Venditto said. 

“Oh yeah? And how will a skinny banana like you do that?” 

“I’ll scare the shit out of him.” 

“All right. But take this mamaluke with you.” 

“Two stunods,” Farina said out loud as Grillo and Venditto left the bar.


Venditto and Grillo went to the variety store where Taylor worked. They walked in and told Taylor to come outside with them. Not wanting to cause a scene where he worked, Taylor walked out with the two. 

Venditto pulled a .38 Ruger hammerless revolver out of his jacket pocket and placed it up against Taylor’s side. 

“Where’s your car?” Venditto asked.  

Taylor pointed to the Toyota on the corner. Venditto told Taylor to give the keys to Grillo. 

“Get ina car,” Venditto told the drug dealer. 

Venditto shoved Taylor into the back seat and sat next to him with the gun between them. Grillo drove them to the park at 13th and Oregon Avenue. Grillo parked the car next to the park on 13th Street between Oregon Avenue and Johnson Street.  

“You gotta come up with our money,” Venditto told the visibly shaken drug dealer. “We own this city and if you want to make money from drugs, we got to get our tax.” 

“I ain’t making all that much money,” Taylor whined. “Why do you think I’m working in the store?” 

“Bullshit. You got a new car here. So pay up, motherfucker.” 

Taylor grabbed the door handle and attempted to get out and flee. Venditto grabbed his shirt and placed the gun against his chest. He shot Taylor and the drug dealer slid down on the seat. 

The gun blast inside the car deafened the two mobsters. Grillo held his ears in pain. A minute later he said, “What the fuck, Tony?”

“He had it coming. He was disrespectful.” 

Grillo wiped down the steering wheel and door handles with a hankie and the two criminals left the car next to the park with Taylor’s dead body inside. Venditto took off his blood-stained jacket and rolled it up in a ball. They walked the three blocks to the bar.


Venditto approached Farina’s table in the back of the bar. 

“I handled the drug guy, boss.” 

“Good. Did you get our money?” 

“No, he didn’t have no money. But I whacked him.” 

“You did what?” 

“He was disrespectful to us, so I shot him.” 

“Is he dead?” 


“Then how the fuck are we supposed to get our money from him, ya fucking banana?” 

Venditto shrugged sheepishly and looked away.


A man walking his dog noticed the slumped corpse in the backseat of the parked car and called the police. A 3rd District patrol officer responded. He looked into the backseat. With blood all over the seat and the floor of the car, he knew the man was dead. 

The officer called his sergeant. The sergeant rolled up and got out of the patrol car. He looked into the back seat and opened the car door. The awful smell of the corpse drove him to step backwards, and he shut the door quickly.

The sergeant called his lieutenant as three more patrol cars pulled up and parked. The lieutenant called South Detectives. 

Two detectives rolled up and stepped out of the car. They peered into the car but didn’t touch anything. One of the detectives interviewed the dog walker as the other detective called Homicide at Police headquarters. 

A crowd of onlookers stood on the sidewalk and gawked and spoke among themselves. 

The uniformed officers tried to stop the onlookers from getting too close to the car and the two detectives walked among the gathered people, asking if they heard or saw anything. 

A half hour later, Detectives Angelo Marino and Charles Magee rolled up and took charge of the investigation. 

The two were veteran homicide detectives and worked as partners for the past five years. Both detectives were in their mid-40s. Marino was a South Philly Italian American. He was a six-footer and well-built former soldier who served in the U.S. Army in Iraq. 

Magee, a Black cop from North Philly, had a squat and solid figure and was of average height. Like Marino, he was a veteran, having served as a Marine in Afghanistan. Both detectives had seen scores of dead bodies and much blood, both overseas and in Philadelphia.

The two detectives watched as the forensics team rolled up, unloaded their gear, and began to examine the crime scene. 

“I live about six blocks from here,” Marino said to Magee. “We don’t see many murders in this neighborhood.” 

“Mob hit?” Magee asked Marino.

“Could be.”

When the forensics team finished, Marino and Magee looked for a wallet on the corpse. The found a wallet in his back pocket and they looked at the name on the driver’s license. Neither detective knew John Taylor. 

Marino and Magee added the Taylor murder to their already overloaded case load. 


The forensics report came in and established that fingerprints lifted from the car matched the fingerprints of both Grillo and Venditto, despite Grillo’s wiping down the wheel and door handles with a hankie. 

Marino and Magee ventured out and arrested Grillo and Venditto. 

In police custody, Venditto sat still and said nothing to the detectives. With a smirk on his face, he refused to answer their questions. He also refused to respond to the detectives’ claims they had him dead to rights with fingerprints and witnesses from the variety store who can testify that Grillo and Venditto walked Taylor out of the store and placed him in his car. 

Venditto, acting like a tough guy, sat back and smiled. 

"I want a lawyer," Venditto told the detectives. 

The detectives then laid out their case to Grillo in another room. Grillo sobbed and beat the table with his huge hands.

“I don’t wanna go to prison,” Grillo said. “I can’t do hard time.”  

“Tell us what went down,” Magee said. “And maybe we can help you.” 

So Grillo gave up Venditto.   

Venditto pled guilty on advice of counsel. He was sentenced and shipped off to prison.

Venditto, the man who introduced himself to me as a criminal, said he liked my column on the murder by the park.  

I don’t know what he thought about my follow-up column, which covered his arrest and imprisonment.

© 2021 Paul Davis 

Justice Department Announces Charges Ad New Arrest In Connection With Assassination Plot Directed from Iran

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

A federal court in New York today unsealed murder-for-hire and money laundering charges against three members of an Eastern European criminal organization for plotting the murder of a U.S. citizen who has been targeted by the Government of Iran for speaking out against the regime’s human rights abuses.

According to court documents, Rafat Amirov, aka Farkhaddin Mirzoev, aka Pᴎᴍ, aka Rome, 43, of Iran; Polad Omarov, aka Araz Aliyev, aka Polad Qaqa, aka Haci Qaqa, 38, of the Czech Republic and Slovenia; and Khalid Mehdiyev, 24, of Yonkers, New York, are charged with money laundering and murder-for-hire in a superseding indictment unsealed today in the Southern District of New York. Amirov, who resides in Iran, arrived in the Southern District of New York on Jan. 26, and will be arraigned on charges before Magistrate Judge Sarah L. Cave today. Mehdiyev was arrested on July 29, 2022, on charges contained in an underlying criminal complaint and will be arraigned on the charges in the superseding indictment before the Honorable Colleen McMahon on Jan. 31, 2023, at 4 p.m. ET. Omarov was arrested in the Czech Republic on Jan. 4, 2023, and the United States will request his extradition on the charges in the superseding indictment.

“The Victim in this case was targeted for exercising the rights to which every American citizen is entitled. The Victim publicized the Iranian Government's human rights abuses; discriminatory treatment of women; suppression of democratic participation and expression; and use of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and execution,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The Department of Justice will not tolerate attempts by an authoritarian regime to undermine those protections and the rule of law upon which our democracy is based.  We will not tolerate attempts by a foreign power to threaten, silence, or harm Americans. We will stop at nothing to identify, find, and bring to justice those who endanger the safety of the American people.”

“Today’s indictment exposes a dangerous menace to national security – a double threat posed by a vicious transnational crime group operating from what it thought was the safe haven of a rogue nation: Iran,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco. “As national security and criminal threats continue to blend, the Department of Justice will use all its tools to zealously protect freedom and hold accountable all those who would use violence to undermine it.”  

“The indictment unsealed today reflects the FBI’s commitment to follow the facts wherever they lead, to work our way up to the leaders of criminal plots wherever they are, and to use our long reach to bring those responsible here to face justice in the United States,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The conduct charged shows how far Iranian actors are willing to go to silence critics, even attempting to assassinate a U.S. citizen on American soil. We are determined to safeguard the rights of all Americans from the oppressive reach of hostile regimes.”

“Today’s charges underscore the Department’s commitment to protecting Americans and our fundamental values in the face of all forms of transnational repression,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “To foreign actors who plot violence on our soil believing they are out of our reach, know that we will pursue you, wherever you may be, until we deliver justice.”

“As alleged, the defendants are members of an organized crime group hired to assassinate, right here in New York City, a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin who has been critical of the regime’s autocracy and its disregard for human rights,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “This is the second time in the past two years that this office and our partners at the FBI have disrupted plots originating from within Iran to kidnap or kill this victim for the ‘crime’ of exercising the right to free speech, to independent political thought, and to advocating for the rights of the oppressed and disenfranchised inside Iran. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the career prosecutors and FBI agents who led the investigation, this new plot to silence the victim has been disrupted and the defendants will face justice in an American court.”

According to the allegations contained in the superseding indictment, other court filings, and statements made during court proceedings:

Amirov is a leader in an Eastern European criminal organization (the Organization) who resides in Iran. Omarov also holds a leadership role in the Organization and resides in Eastern Europe. Mehdiyev, a member of the Organization, resides in Yonkers, New York. The Organization has ties to Iran and is violent, engaging in murders, kidnappings, assaults, and extortions, and members typically identify themselves with tattoos and other displays of eight-pointed stars.

Since at least July 2022, the Organization was tasked with carrying out the murder of a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin (the Victim), who previously has been the target of plots by the Government of Iran to intimidate, harass and kidnap the Victim. The Victim is a journalist, author and human rights activist, residing in Brooklyn, New York, who has publicized the Government of Iran’s human rights abuses and suppression of political expression, including in connection with continuing protests against the regime across Iran. As recently as 2020 and 2021, Iranian intelligence officials and assets plotted to kidnap the Victim from within the United States for rendition to Iran in an effort to silence the Victim’s criticism of the regime. That plot was disrupted and exposed by the FBI and led to the filing of federal kidnapping conspiracy and other charges in the Southern District of New York against several participants in the plot in United States v. Farahani, et al., 21 Cr. 430.

About one year after the Farahani charges were filed, the Organization was tasked with carrying out the Victim’s assassination on U.S. soil. Beginning in approximately mid-July 2022, Amirov sent targeting information – which Amirov had received from other individuals in Iran – about the Victim and the Victim’s residence to Omarov. Omarov, in turn, communicated the targeting information to Mehdiyev in order to begin conducting surveillance of the Victim and reconnaissance of the Victim’s residence and surrounding neighborhood. Mehdiyev sent photographs and videos of the Victim’s residence to Omarov for further sharing with Amirov and the plot’s orchestrators in Iran.

After Mehdiyev’s initial surveillance of the Victim’s residence, Amirov and Omarov arranged for the delivery of a $30,000 cash payment to Mehdiyev in New York City in furtherance of the plot. Mehdiyev used a portion of this cash payment to buy an AK-47-style assault rifle along with two magazines for ammunition and at least 66 rounds. Mehdiyev bragged in electronic communications that he had procured for himself a “war machine.”

Between July 20 and 28, 2022, Mehdiyev repeatedly traveled to the Victim’s neighborhood to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance, sending reports of the Victim’s activities, photographs, and videos to Omarov for further distribution to Amirov. On July 24, 2022, after arriving at the Victim’s residence, Mehdiyev reported to Omarov that Mehdiyev was “at the crime scene.” Omarov encouraged Mehdiyev, “You are a man!”  Mehdiyev described to Omarov that “we blocked it from both sides, it will be a show once she steps out of the house.” Omarov forwarded this report to Amirov, who responded, “God willing.”

Mehdiyev was unable to carry out the assassination that day and returned on several subsequent days to seek out opportunities to complete the murder mission. Amirov, Omarov and Mehdiyev schemed different strategies to attempt to draw the Victim out, including by attempting to ask the Victim for flowers from the Victim’s garden. On July 28, 2022, Mehdiyev sent Omarov a video taken from inside the car Mehdiyev was driving showing the assault rifle, along with the message that “we are ready.” The Victim, after observing suspicious activity outside the residence, left the area, and Mehdiyev drove away shortly afterwards. After Mehdiyev drove away from the Victim’s residence, he was stopped after a traffic violation, and during a subsequent search of the car, police officers found the assault rifle, 66 rounds of ammunition, approximately $1,100 in cash, and a black ski mask.

Amirov, Omarov, and Mehdiyev are charged with: (1) murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; (2) conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; and (3) conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Mehdiyev is additionally charged with possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The FBI and its New York Field Office Counterintelligence-Cyber Division, the New York FBI Iran Threat Task Force, the New York FBI Counterintelligence Task Force and the New York FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force are investigating the case, with valuable assistance provided by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the NYPD Intelligence Bureau, as well as the Justice Department’s National Security Division and Office of International Affairs.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael D. Lockard, Jacob H. Gutwillig, and Matthew J.C. Hellman for the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case, with valuable assistance provided by Trial Attorney Christopher M. Rigali of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Time To Declare War On Mexican Drug Cartels

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro and T. Michael Andrews explain why the United States should declare war on Mexican drug cartels in a piece in the Washington Times.  

“The United States of America is under attack.”

That was the lede of a Washington Times column these authors wrote nearly a decade ago making the case the U.S. needed to use military force against Mexican drug cartels for “exploiting the immigration crisis by recruiting gangs, transporting terrorists, distributing drugs and facilitating sex-trafficking while diversifying their businesses into oil theft, piracy and illegal mining and laundering their stolen money through commercial banks.” As such, we argued that the cartels had become a clear and present danger to the United States.

That was almost nine years ago.

Even back then, we asserted that the inevitable result of “this highly orchestrated, vicious criminal enterprise” was “the collapse of law, order and safety.” We reported that the FBI had reported the cartels were operating in more than 1,000 cities across the United States and that the Department of Homeland Security had assessed that Mexican trafficking organizations were earning between $19 billion and $29 billion a year from selling marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. 

Since then, the cartels have all but dissolved the southwestern U.S. border by orchestrating mass migration border crossings and amped up the drug war by trafficking of fentanyl — a synthetic opioid up to 100 times as powerful as morphine, causing more deaths of Americans ages 18 and 45 than COVID-19, and now the leading cause of death in that age group. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 106,000 fatal overdoses occurred in the U.S. in 2021, more than 70% of which involved opioids, including fentanyl. Nine years after our call for action, Republican Reps. Mike Waltz and Dan Crenshaw have introduced a congressional resolution that, if passed, will empower the president for five years "to use military force against cartels based on their fentanyl trafficking (and) their use of force... to gain control of territory to use for their criminal enterprise.    

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Retired FBI Executive Charged With Concealing $225,000 In Cash Received From Former Russian Intelligence Officer

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

Charles F. McGonigal, 54, a former FBI Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office, has been arrested on charges relating to his receipt of $225,000 in cash from an individual who had business interests in Europe and who had been an employee of a foreign intelligence service, while McGonigal was serving as Special Agent in Charge of FBI counterintelligence efforts in the New York Office. McGonigal retired from the FBI in September of 2018.

According to the nine-count indictment, from August 2017 and continuing through and beyond his retirement from the FBI in September 2018, McGonigal concealed from the FBI the nature of his relationship with a former foreign security officer and businessperson who had ongoing business interests in foreign countries and before foreign governments.  Specifically, McGonigal requested and received at least $225,000 in cash from the individual and traveled abroad with the individual and met with foreign nationals.  The individual later served as an FBI source in a criminal investigation involving foreign political lobbying over which McGonigal had official supervisory responsibility.  McGonigal is accused of engaging in other conduct in his official capacity as an FBI Special Agent in Charge that he believed would benefit the businessperson financially.

McGonigal’s initial appearance in the District of Columbia has not yet been scheduled.

McGonigal is charged with concealing material facts and with six counts of making false statements, each of which carries a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment. McGonigal is also charged with two counts of falsification of records and documents, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years of imprisonment.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia, Assistant Director in Charge Donald Alway of the FBI Los Angeles Field Office and Assistant Director in Charge David Sundberg of the FBI Washington Field Office made the announcement.

The FBI Los Angeles Field Office is investigating the case, with significant assistance provided by the FBI Washington Field Office.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elizabeth Aloi and Michael Friedman for the District of Columbia and Acting Deputy Chief Evan Turgeon of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case, with assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

My Crime Fiction: 'The Count And The Cook'

 The below short story first appeared in American Crime Magazine in 2018: 

The Count and the Cook

 By Paul Davis

I carry my father’s Scot-Welch name and his blood proudly. I’m proud of my Italian blood as well.

I'm half-Italian – Sicilian, in fact. My mother’s maiden name was Guardino, and her parents came over to America from Sicily in the 1930s.  

I was reminded of this side of the family when I was contacted by a cousin that I remember only as a baby when I was a teenager. My cousin, Mike Guardino, read my newspaper crime columns online and sent me an email message.  

Like me, my cousin had served in the U.S. Navy. We emailed each other for a while and exchanged photos. I have little memory of him, but I recall clearly his father, my Uncle Sal, who was my mother’s brother. 

My uncle used to visit my house in the 1960s when I was a teenager. I recall a wiry guy of average height, with a rugged face and a strong voice. He and my father would sit at the kitchen table, drink beer and argue about World War II.  

My father had served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific as a chief petty officer and Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) frogman and my uncle served in the U.S. Army in Europe as a rifleman. The two would share their war experiences and rib each other. Often the exchanges would get heated, but the nights always ended on a friendly note.  

My father died of cancer in 1976 and my uncle died of heart failure in 1988.

Mike emailed me and suggested we meet in person. He lived in South Jersey, not far from my South Philly home, so we met at Russo's bar in South Philly. Mike knew the owner and we were served great Italian sausage sandwiches and red wine.  

Mike said he felt like he knew me, as he was a regular reader of my crime column in the local newspaper. He also recalled his father speaking lovingly about his beautiful sister Claire, my mother. 

Originally from South Philadelphia, my cousin moved to South Jersey after getting out of the Navy. He told me that he was a New Jersey state trooper, having followed in the footsteps of his father, who had been a Philadelphia police officer.   

Like our late fathers, we swapped stories about our time in the military. I served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War and afterwards on a Navy harbor tugboat at the nuclear submarine base in Holy Loch, Scotland. My cousin told me he served more than a decade later on a Navy Destroyer in the Mediterranean. I also discovered that like me, my cousin was an amateur boxer while in the Navy.   

We spoke eventually of Sicily, which we both visited while in the Navy. We both have fond memories of our time in Sicily. My cousin also told me of the time he visited Sicily as a young boy with his mother and father and his father’s friend and family.  

He could not recall the name of the town, which was near Palermo, nor could he remember the name of the seaside resort where they spent a wonderful week. But he did recall that the fine vacation was marred somewhat by an altercation with a powerful local man known as “The Count.”  

The Russo and Guardino families had a great first day at the resort. They eat fabulous Sicilian food, drank wine, basked in the warm sun, and swam in the ocean and the pool. 

Also at the resort was a large party of local men and their wives. The leader of this group was a man in his late 30s that everyone called “The Count.” He was darkly handsome, athletically fit and possessed a regal bearing. He gave all of the instructions to the resort staff and did most of the talking among the men. 

Mike Guardino, all of 10-years-old, first understood the expression “looking down one’s nose at someone,” as the man called the Count did indeed rear his head back and look down his nose at people. 

The man, Luigi Di Salvo, who was called Count Luigi, was the center of attention that first day, showing his prowess as a diver and swimmer as he leapt from the diving board and dove into the pool. He also showed his prowess as a fencer, as the resort had set up an area near the pool where Di Salvo and a friend matched fencing swords. Di Salvo won the match and his group of friends all applauded.   

At dinner that first night, Sal Guardino and his wife and small child sat with his friend, Angelo Russo, known as “Ange,” and his wife and young son. Russo owned and operated a small bar and grill in South Philadelphia. Russo, who came from a poor family, was proud of his success as a cook and bar owner.  

Russo was a big and heavy man with a large belly from eating his own food, and huge muscular arms and legs from the physical work he performed in the bar and grill.  

It was Russo’s idea that he and his good friend Sal Guardino visit the island where their two families had come from originally. The two men had visited the island once before, as they were both veterans of the Allied invasion of Sicily in World War II. Russo had been Guardino’s sergeant and as the two men both hailed from South Philly, they became good friends. 

Russo, thrilled to have returned to Sicily, ordered a local wine and gave a toast in Sicilian. 

At a table nearby, Di Salvo sat with his party. He heard the toast, and he called over the resort’s manager. Loudly in Sicilian, he upbraided the manager for allowing "fat, loud and ignorant American tourists" to sit near his table. The manager apologized and said he would arrange more appropriate sitting in the future.  

Young Mike Guardino did not understand what was said but he saw Russo’s face turn dark red and saw his powerful, big hands grip and twist his napkin. Sal Guardino, who didn’t understand Sicilian, didn’t know what was said, but he too saw Russo’s anger.  

Russo rose out of his chair and walked up to Di Salvo and shot him an angry look. 

“Meet me on the beach – now!” Russo said to Di Salvo in Sicilian. 

Di Salvo got up from his chair, slowly and disdainfully. He waved his arm, bidding Russo to go first. Sal Guardino told the wives and children to stay at the table and he would find out was happening.  

On the beach, Russo told Di Salvo that he heard his remark, and if his wife and family understood Sicilian they would have been insulted and humiliated. He then would have to do something.  

Di Salvo, surrounded by three men, laughed and said in perfect English, “Do what exactly?” 

Guardino stepped behind Russo and Di Salvo’s men looked at each other and backed up a bit. 

Mike Guardino had broken free from his mother’s grip and ran to the beach after his father. He watched the men face off against each other.  

“This conversation is over. I have nothing more to say to someone like you,” Di Salvo said, looking down his nose at Russo. He then simply walked away, his three men in tow. 

The manager ran up to Russo and Guardino and he looked as if he were going to cry. 

He pleaded with Russo to not make a scene. Russo countered by saying that the man had insulted him, his family and friends. The manager apologized for Count Luigi and said the resort was large enough to accommodate both parties - separately, but equal in service.  

The manager put his arm around Russo and said in a low voice that Count Luigi was not truly a count, but he had come home from the university showing airs. He was, however, truly the son of an important man in Palermo - "a Man of Honor." 

Cosa Nostra?” Guardino, the South Philly cop, asked. “We got those guys where we come from as well.”  

The manager again pleaded for peace.  

“OK,” Russo said. “I can see that this guy is an athlete and I’m an old, fat guy now. But in my day, before the war, I was a professional boxer, and I can still throw a good combo. You tell the Count that.” 

The manger did not know that a “combo” was a combination of left and right punches, but he understood the idea. And he had no intention of telling Di Silva anything of the sort.  

But one of Di Silva’s men was standing nearby and he heard every word.                  

The next day Russo was getting drinks for his group at the poolside bar when one of Di Salvo’s men sided up to him.  

“The Count wishes to speak to you,” he said, pointing towards Di Salvo at a nearby table.  

“I’ll be right there,” Russo replied.  

Russo dropped the drinks off to his family and walked over to Di Salvo. Di Salvo rose and looked Russo up and down disdainfully.   

“I heard you threatened me with your boxing skills,” Di Salvo said. “Well, as it happens, boxing is among my skills as well. I boxed at university. If you were not a fat, old man, I would challenge you to a boxing match.”  

“Challenge accepted,” Russo said flatly. “I’ll take you in the first.” 

Di Salvo looked confused until one of his men explained that Russo meant that he would end the match in the first round in his favor. Di Salvo smiled and said they would meet on the beach that night. Lights and a boxing ring would be set up. He would make all of the arrangements with the resort manager. 

Later, as Russo nursed a drink with Guardino, the manager came up to him and asked if he was insane. 

“The Count is a world-class athlete, and you are old! The Count’s father, Don Antonio, is here,” the manager said, pointing surreptitiously to an elderly man sitting by himself at a table with a big man standing nearby. 

“Make the arrangements he ordered,” Russo said. “The fight is on.”  

The manager stormed off waving his arms and muttering. Russo walked back to his room. Guardino walked over to Don Antonio’s table. The big man moved in front of the table. 

"Get out of the way," Guardino told the man. 

The man at the table barked an order in Sicilian and the big man moved. 

Guardino sat down and faced the Sicilian Cosa Nostra organized crime boss. Guardino pulled out his wallet and slapped his police badge on the table.  

“I hope this will be a fair fight between your son and my friend,” Guardino said. 

 Don Antonio slowly sipped his coffee. He looked directly at Guardino.

“I do not fight my son’s battles. He is capable of fighting the foolish fights he himself begins, " Don Antonio said in English. “Frankly, I hope your friend knocks him on his ass, as you Americans say.”  

The two men laughed. 


Later that night, Russo and Guardino arranged for a car to take their wives and sons to a restaurant in Palermo, but Mike Guardino slipped away and hid behind a low wall near the beach to watch the fight. 

Lights were strung over a makeshift near-regulation boxing ring. Di Salvo came out in boxing gloves and a pair of shorts, his bare torso and arms thick with toned muscle. The large crowd cheered for him. 

Russo and Guardino walked towards the ring. Russo had on boxing gloves and was in shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt, which covered his protruding belly and showed his big arms. His bare legs were as thick as tree stumps.  

The fight began with Di Salvo delivering a series of solid blows to Russo’s face and middle. Although Russo’s left eye was closed, and his nose bloodied, he stood toe-to-toe with his younger opponent and traded punches.  

Then Russo delivered a good left to Di Salvo’s nose and a strong right hook to Di Salvo’s ear, which dropped him hard to the canvas. 

The crowd gasped, and some brave souls even cheered. Di Salvo got up quickly and showed that he was not injured. It appeared that only his pride was hurt. He rushed Russo and pounded him, but the old cook took the beating and stayed on his feet.  

Round two saw the two hit each other repeatedly and both were bloodied. Russo looked the worst of the two, as he had blood coming from his eyes, ears and nose. The referee the resort had hired tried to stop the fight.  

Russo would not have it. He waved Di Salvo on.  

Like Rocky Marciano, Russo’s boxing hero, Russo dropped his right hand low to the canvas and then brought it up swiftly where it connected under Di Salvo’s chin. Di Salvo collapsed on the canvas floor.  

The referee gave Di Salvo an “eight count” and then Di Salvo rose slowly to his feet. 

He came at Russo slowly, cautiously. Russo leaned on the ropes with his hands up. His left eye was closed, and his right eye was filled with blood, so he had trouble seeing Di Salvo. But when Di Salvo came in slugging, Russo wrapped his left arm around his opponent and drove his right hand repeatedly into Di Salvo’s middle.  

Di Salvo tried to break free as well as block the powerful blows to his body, but Russo had swung him around and pinned him against the ropes. Russo rained down punches into Di Salvo. The referee tried to break up the fighters, but he was not strong enough. 

Finally, Di Salvo collapsed in Russo’s grip and Russo let him drop to the canvas.             


The next day a much humbled and bruised Di Salvo walked up to Russo’s table and bowed to the two families assembled for lunch. He brought a bottle of fine wine and offered it to Russo. 

“My father suggested that I apologize for my rude behavior and congratulate you on your win in the boxing ring,” Di Salvo said. “As always, my father offers wise advice. I am truly sorry if my boorish behavior spoiled your vacation.”  

“Apology accepted,” Russo said gruffly. “Sit down and have a drink with us.”  

Di Salvo sat down. This time, Di Salvo offered a Sicilian toast.  

“If you and I recover sufficiently during your stay, I’d like to once again challenge you," Di Salvo said. "But not in the boxing ring!”  

Everyone at the table laughed.  

“We can set up targets here. How are you with guns?” Di Salvo asked Russo. “Can you shoot?”  

“Ask the Nazis he kicked off this island,” Guardino said.  

 © 2018 Paul Davis