Monday, July 31, 2023

Leader Of Multi-State Jewelry Theft Crew Sentenced To More Than 6 Years’ Of Federal Imprisonment

 The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia released the below:

PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney Jacqueline C. Romero announced that Duanne Pierce, 60, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was sentenced to 77 months’ imprisonment, 3 years of supervised release, and $606,394.60 in restitution and other penalties by United States District Court Senior Judge Cynthia M. Rufe for conspiring to transport stolen property across state lines and interstate transportation of stolen property.

From May 2018 through February 2020, defendant Duanne Pierce led seven others in a conspiracy to commit 12 retail jewelry store thefts throughout the United States, transporting the stolen jewelry back to Philadelphia after the thefts, where the jewelry was generally resold to stores in the “Jewelers Row” section of the city. Pierce and his crew carried out these thefts all over the country, often committing multiple thefts from different jewelry stores in a single day. This sophisticated approach reduced the likelihood that the crew would be caught because of local law enforcement’s significant challenge in investigating these out-of-state perpetrators. Pierce participated in 11 thefts, and his role was to steal jewelry—including diamond rings and gold chains, often worth several thousand dollars each—from a display case or from the rear, employee-only area of a store, while his co-conspirators “distracted” sales associates. Pierce then resold the stolen jewelry to local jewelers in Philadelphia. The total retail value of the jewelry stolen by Pierce’s crew was approximately $612,670.59.

In March 2022, a federal grand jury returned a 10-count Indictment charging Duanne Pierce and codefendants Charles Tillery, Janel Pierce, Yolanda Fife, David Tillery, Telfa Wills, and Clifton Fleming with conspiracy to transport stolen property across state lines, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (Count 1), and interstate transportation of stolen property and aiding and abetting, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2314 and 2 (Counts 2 through 10). In March 2023, Pierce pled guilty to Counts 1 through 10 of the Indictment. Each of Pierce’s codefendants has also pled guilty.

​"Thanks to the excellent work of the FBI and the many local police departments that assisted in this case," said U.S. Attorney Romero, "this prolific interstate robbery ring has been fully dismantled. Duanne Pierce’s sentence is the culmination of excellent cross-country collaboration among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies."

“Duanne Pierce and his co-defendants were both prolific and strategic in their thefts, sometimes targeting multiple jewelry stores in the same day. Then they’d move on to a different city and do it again, hauling the stolen loot back to Philly to resell,” said Jacqueline Maguire, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “Through the investigative efforts of the FBI and numerous law enforcement partners across the country, this crew has been dismantled and is being held accountable for their crimes. For his leadership role in the conspiracy, Pierce will now spend years in federal prison.”

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lancaster (PA) Police Department, Plantation (FL) Police Department, Greenville (SC) Police Department, Concord (NC) Police Department, Anderson (SC) Police Department, Jackson County (GA) Sheriff’s Office, Knoxville (TN) Police Department, Manchester (CT) Police Department, Howard County (MD) Police Department, Arlington County (VA) Police Department, Indianapolis (IN) Metropolitan Police Department, and Miami Township (OH) Police Department, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jessica Rice, Katherine Shulman, and Kevin Jayne.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

The Life We Chose: A Look Back At Mob Boss Russell Bufalino And His Successor

 I’m reading Matt Birkbeck's The Life We Chose: William “Big Billy” D’Elia and the Last Secrets of America’s Most Powerful Crime Family. 

I wanted to read the book as I’m interested in Russell Bufalino, who was portrayed by Joe Pesci in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, and because part of the book is about the South Philly Cosa Nostra crime family. 

I grew up and still live in South Philly, and as a writer, I’ve covered the local mob for a good number of years. 

Veteran organized crime reporter and author George Anastasia’s review of the book appeared in JerseyMan magazine. 

Back in 1994 when John Stanfa was under indictment and headed for a life prison sentence, he asked William “Big Billy” D’Elia to take over as boss of the Philadelphia mob.

Big Billy said no thank you.

“I didn’t want to put a target on my back,” D’Elia said by way of explanation.

It was the smart move. But then D’Elia was nothing if not smart. By that point, he had been schooled for more than 30 years in the ways of the underworld by one of the masters of that universe. It was an apprenticeship like no other and he came away much the wiser.

D’Elia has now put it all on the record in an intriguing and entertaining new book written by journalist Matt Birkbeck.

The Life We Chose comes out this month. It’s the story of D’Elia’s coming of age in an underworld that was coming undone. The situation in Philadelphia in the 1990s was a prime example and it was captured perfectly in one of the most succinct and telling lines written by Birkbeck… D’Elia watched the murder and mayhem that racked the Philadelphia crime family for years and that reached a crescendo during the war between old-world mob boss Stanfa and the young and precocious Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino.

D’Elia’s thoughts, according to Birkbeck: “The propensity for violence there reminded him of spoiled children with guns.”

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

The Life We Chose | JerseyMan Magazine

You can also read my Philadelphia Weekly Crime Beat column on George Anastasia below:

My Washington Times Review Of Mark Bowden's 'The Last Stone'

I just finished reading Mark Bowden’s latest nonfiction crime book, Life Sentence: The Brief and Tragic Career of Baltimore’s Deadliest Gang Leader.

I've interviewed Mark Bowden (seen in the below photo) several times in the past years, and I hope to interview him again about Life Sentence for my On Crime column in the Washington Times


Back in 2919, I reviewed another of his true crime books, The Last Stone.


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

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Last Stone' by Mark Bowden - Washington Times

Mark Bowden is mostly known as a writer who covers military conflict in such nonfiction books as “Black Hawk Down,” “Killing Pablo,” and “Hue 1968.” But he also wrote true crime books based on his journalism while he was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


“Doctor Dealer: The Rise and Fall of an All-American Boy and His Multimillion-Dollar Cocaine Empire,” was about a University of Pennsylvania dental student and later a practicing dentist who was the head of Philadelphia’s “Yuppie Conspiracy,” a major drug operation. “Finders-Keepers: The Story of a Man Who Found $1 Million,” was about a hapless, drug-addled South Philly man who found $1 million dollars that fell off an armored car — and lived to regret it.


Now Mark Bowden has returned to the scene of a crime he reported on in 1975 when he was a cub reporter for the Baltimore News-American. In “The Last Stone,” he offers a look back at a horrendous crime and writes the sad ending to the story.


On March 29, 1975 Katherine Lyon, age 10, and Sheila Lyon, age 12, went missing from a Washington, D.C., suburban area shopping mall. Despite full press coverage from Richmond to Baltimore and a full-court police effort, the two children were never found.

The book opens a week after the girls went missing and Lloyd Welch, an 18-year-old seventh-grade dropout with a headband over his long, thick brown hair parted in the middle and a sad effort at a mustache, walked into the Wheaton Mall in Maryland and told a security guard that he knew something about the missing girls. The security guard called the police and two detectives quickly showed up to question him.


“He was scrawny and acned and mean; life had treated him harshly, and it showed. And, man, could he talk,” Mark Bowden writes. “Lloyd was a con artist. Words tumbled from him pell-mell, as if their sheer number and urgency could persuade. Whatever was true in what he said came wrapped in slippery layers of guile.”

After the two girls vanished, area children were placed on lockdown. The case was given even more notoriety as their father, John Lyon, was a local radio personality. A week after the girls were reported missing, past the point most experts agree diminishes greatly the chance that the victims will be found alive, the cops in Montgomery County, Maryland, were desperate for information and a break in the case. They were flooded with tips, but none were useful.


Lloyd Welch was taken from the mall to police headquarters and questioned. Once a tape recorder was turned on, Mr. Bowden tells us, Lloyd did what he did best. He lied.


He told detectives that he saw two girls who fit the description talking to an older man in the mall. He was given a lie detector test and failed. He then admitted that he lied to the police. The cops probably sized him up as a knucklehead who was high, and they kicked him loose after lecturing him about lying to the police.


“After that, the department didn’t give Lloyd Welch a second thought,” Mr. Bowden writes. “Not for thirty-eight years.”


In 2013, the Cold Case Lyon Squad was looking at a notorious pedophile and murderer as the suspect in the case of the missing girls. The detectives came across Welch’s interaction with the police in 1975 and thought he might be a potential witness. Welch was serving a 33-year sentence in Delaware for the sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl. After the initial interrogations, Welch himself became the prime suspect and he would be interrogated by detectives on numerous occasions.


Mark Bowden said “The Last Stone” was built primarily around a dozen long interview sessions conducted with Lloyd Welch. He viewed 70 hours of video. When he first met the four Montgomery County detectives — Dave Davis, Chris Homrock, Mark Janney and Katie Leggett — he asked the principal investigators if they had transcripts of their interrogations.


Better, they told the writer, we’ve got video.


Most of the dialogue in the book was recorded, which Mr. Bowden said he edited for concision and clarity.


Mr. Bowden also recounts how the detectives investigated members of Welch’s family, many of whom had a history of incest, child abuse and other offenses. The Welch clan were sort of like TV’s “Beverly Hillbillies,” but without the humor or good nature.


“The Last Stone” is so named as the detectives unturned the last stone to discover the perpetrator of a horrendous crime. The book is interesting and insightful and makes one sad for the unfortunate girls and their parents.


The book is well-researched and well-written, and those interested in crime and police interrogation methods will find it most interesting. 

Paul Davis covers crime, espionage and terrorism.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Yeah, Try That Stuff In A Small Town

 Broad + Liberty published my piece on the reaction to Jason Aldean’s Try That in a Small Town

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

 Paul Davis: Yeah, try that in a small town (

The late Malcom Muggeridge, a former editor of the great British satire magazine Punch, once noted that the world was so ridiculous that it was difficult for a satirist to compete. I’m reminded of his comment as I follow the controversy about country music singer Jason Aldean’s song “Try That in a Small Town.”

As usual, the best take on the subject comes from another satire magazine, the Babylon Bee. The Christian conservative satirical publication’s headlines alone often makes me laugh out loud, such as, “Being Against Crime Added to List of Things That Are Racist.”

The Babylon Bee went on to state “Country music star Jason Aldean released a controversial single this month called ‘Try That In A Small Town’ in which he laid out his belief that crime is bad. He has since been forcefully condemned by the music industry since being against crime is now considered a racist dog whistle.”

The Bee article continues: “‘I was shocked and saddened by the blatant racism in Aldean’s song that condemned violent crime,’ said CMT President Brian Philips. ‘Crime is a beloved and noble tradition of BIPOC communities, and to condemn it is to condemn our own black brothers and sisters. I am sorry we ever allowed it to be aired.'”

Clever, funny stuff.

In the song, Aldean warns big city criminals who assault the elderly, spit on cops, and burn the American flag that they will get a different reaction in a small town.

He suggests small towns would not put up with unruly, lawless crowds or rampant crime. In the song’s video, he presents news footage of the various crimes that Aldean sings about.

I don’t find his lyrics, some of which are offered below, offensive or racist.

Sucker punch somebody on a sidewalk
Carjack an old lady at a red light
Pull a gun on the owner of a liquor store
Ya think it’s cool, well, act a fool if ya like 

Cuss out a cop, spit in his face
Stomp on the flag and light it up
Yeah, ya think you’re tough

Well, try that in a small town
See how far ya make it down the road
Around here, we take care of our own
You cross that line, it won’t take long
For you to find out, I recommend you don’t
Try that in a small town

Outraged commentators on the left, who apparently equate urban crime with black criminals, have accused the country music star of racism.

Aldean took to Instagram to address his critics. Aldean said he never referenced “race or points to it.”

He added, “What I am is a proud American. I’m proud to be from here. I love our country. I want to see it restored to what it once was before all of this bullshit started happening to us. I love my country, I love my family, and I will do anything to protect that — I can tell you that right now.”

Country Music Television (CMT) pulled the video from their rotation three days after initially airing the video. They did not comment on why the video was removed.

The publicity of the criticism of the song has helped propel “Try That In A Small Town” to the second place on Billboard’s Hot 100 list.

Although I grew up in the city and not in a small town, I understand Aldean’s sentiments. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, South Philly neighborhoods like the one I grew up in were in many ways like small towns.

Growing up in a rowhome neighborhood, I rarely saw crime or criminals (other than mob guys). Heaven help the fool who tried to burglarize a home or steal a car where I lived back then. The men on the block would hand over a much-battered crook to the cops when they finally arrived. It was not until the late 1960s, when heroin use was rampant among teenagers, that crime came into our neighborhood.

Today, my South Philly neighborhood has low crime statistics and sees little crime other than the occasional mob hit, some armed robberies and burglaries, car break-ins and stolen cars. Living in a tight-knit community helps prevent crime.

I recall when a crook snatched a purse from a woman walking on my street a few years ago. The purse-snatcher ran for dear life as several men from our street chased him for several blocks.

In my South Philly neighborhood, like other tight-knit neighborhoods across the city, we tell criminals that they are not welcomed here.

Yeah, try that stuff in a small town, or in a tight-knit city neighborhood.

Paul Davis, a Philadelphia writer and frequent contributor to Broad + Liberty, also contributes to Counterterrorism magazine and writes the “On Crime” column for the Washington Times.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Poet Laureate Of The CIA: My Washington Times 'On Crime' Column On A Look Back At Spy Novelist Charles McCarry

I recently had a discussion with a friend about the origins of COVID-19 and Communist China. 

I suggested that he read Charles McCarry’s spy novel, The Shanghai Factor

I covered the novel and the late, great spy novelist in my Washington Times On Crime column in 2020.


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

A look back at spy novelist Charles McCarry - Washington Times

I wonder what the late, great spy novelist Charles McCarry (seen in the above photo) would make of the COVID-19 outbreak and the Chinese connection, be it the Wuhan “wet markets” or the science labs near Wuhan.


McCarry, who died last year at the age 88, set his 2013 novel “The Shanghai Factor” in China.


“China, hidden and mysterious, has always interested me,” McCarry said in an interview with Publisher’s Weekly. “I’ve written about it in other novels before ‘The Shanghai Factor,’ and in order to save the life of my series hero, Paul Christopher, locked the poor fellow up for 10 years in a one-prisoner jail in a desert in Xianjing province.”


In “The Shanghai Factor,” the narrator, a 29-year-old American intelligence officer in China, explained how he first encountered a Chinese woman named Mei.


“One day, as I pedaled along Zhonghan Road, she crashed her bicycle into mine. In those days I was new to the life as a spy, so my paranoia wasn’t yet fully developed, but I immediately suspected that this was no accident. My first thought was that Chinese counterintelligence had sniffed me out and sent this temptress to entrap me. Then I took a look at the temptress and wondered why I should mind.”


Later in the novel, McCarry writes, “I was sure from the start that she was on duty, that she reported everything, that she had bugged my room. The funny thing was, she never asked for information, never probed.”


Mei, McCarry wrote, showed no curiosity about his past history or life.


“Probably this was because she had been briefed about this matter by the folks at Guoanbu, the Chinese intelligence service (within Headquarters called “MSS,” short for Ministry of State Security) and had no reason to ask.” 


I enjoyed “The Shanghai Factor,” as I have his other novels, including “The Tears of Autumn” which in my view is his finest novel. This brilliant novel covers the assassination of President Kennedy and the Vietnam War, and although I don’t subscribe to the conspiracy he portrays in the novel, I recommend highly this most interesting and insightful spy novel.


McCarry knew something about espionage, having served as a deep cover CIA officer for 10 years in the 1950s and 1960s. The New Republic called Charles McCarry “the poet laureate of the CIA.” He has also been called the American John le Carre, a spy novelist he is often compared to.


Writing in The Weekly Standard, P.J. O’Rourke noted, “unlike le Carre, McCarry knows right from wrong. His theme is never that the other side is just like our side except on the other side.”


Melanie Kirkpatrick wrote in National Review that “Charles McCarry is sometimes called a ‘conservative John le Carre’ for his highly intelligent espionage thrillers. The difference is that while le Carre presents George Smiley and his Soviet foe Karla as moral equivalents, McCarry believes in the superiority of Western ideals. His spy novels depict the unpleasant, even tragic, actions that are sometimes necessary to preserve those ideals.”


Otto Penzler, the publisher and editor of crime and spy fiction, has stated that Charles McCarry was “inarguably the greatest espionage writer that America ever produced.” He also said that McCarry was the most poetic of all American spy writers.


Mr. Penzler, whom I interviewed in a previous column, published a Charles McCarry short story for his collection of stories about espionage, “Agents of Treachery,” in 2010. I suspect McCarry will also appear in Mr. Penzler’s upcoming “Big Book of Espionage Stories.”


Mr. Penzler also noted, “although there was no nicer or more brilliant man on the planet, McCarry’s gift of prophecy, or anticipating things to come, was chilling.” For example, in his 1979 novel, “The Better Angels,” McCarry anticipated suicide bombers and offered a fictional terrorist plot that predated 9/11 by 20 years.


Although he never received the popular fame that Ian Fleming or John le Carre enjoyed, by all accounts he had a full and satisfying life, personally and professionally.


McCarry was born in 1930 in Massachusetts, and he served in the U.S. Army as a correspondent for the Stars and Stripes newspaper. He later served as a speechwriter for President Eisenhower and then became a CIA officer. As a deep cover officer, McCarry traveled around the world, both as a spy and as a part-time journalist. He left the CIA in 1967 and wrote his first novel, “The Miernik Dossier,” in 1971.


Charles McCarry should be read by every student of espionage and by every reader that loves spy fiction.


• Paul Davis On Crime column covers true crime, crime fiction, mysteries and thrillers. 


Monday, July 24, 2023

Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan Is America's James Bond

Broad + Liberty published my piece on Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character and the Amazon Prime Video series.

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

Paul Davis: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is America’s James Bond (

This past weekend I watched the final two episodes of the final season of “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” on Amazon Prime Video.

I enjoyed the four seasons of the series, which rebooted the Jack Ryan character, much like the 2006 film “Casino Royale” rebooted Ian Fleming’s James Bond character.

I’ve been a fan of Tom Clancy (seen in the above photo) and his Jack Ryan character since the publication of his first novel, “The Hunt For Red October,” in 1984. The Naval Institute Press published the thriller, which was the first fiction the publisher had ever published.

Clancy, an insurance salesman who loved naval history but had no military experience (he had bad eyes and wore thick glasses), based his debut novel on extensive research and the stories he heard from his neighbor, a retired Navy submarine captain.    

Clancy’s novel introduced Jack Ryan, a former Marine and CIA analyst who is an expert on Marko Ramius, the Soviet submarine commander who wished to defect to the United States, bringing along his submarine, the Red October, with him.

I was especially interested in reading this submarine spy novel, as I served two years on a Navy harbor tugboat at the U.S. nuclear submarine base at Holy Loch, Scotland in 1974 and 1975 after serving two years on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War.

I bought the novel but put off reading it as I wanted to read it while on vacation in Jamaica with my wife. After a bout of freediving in my mask and fins in the clear and warm water off Ochos Rios in Jamaica, I grabbed a drink and settled into a chair on the beach next to my wife and began to read the novel. 

I was enjoying the military “techno” thriller until one passage made me pause. Tom Clancy described the underwater telephone that surface boats and ships lowered into the ocean to communicate with submerged American submarines. He even got the nickname the American sailors called the communication device right. 

I knew of the device, as the tugboat I served on often went out into the Irish Sea and operated with submarines on classified missions, and we used the device during those operations. I was aghast as I read the passage, as the communication device was Top Secret. 

Years later, I interviewed former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, a Philadelphia native, who told me he too thought Tom Clancy had published classified information. He had someone check it out, and he was told that the communications device had been declassified. 

As Tom Clancy, a dedicated American patriot like his character Jack Ryan, said later, “If someone gave me classified information, I’d call the FBI.”

“The Hunt for Red October” launched Tom Clancy’s career, especially after President Ronald Reagan read the novel and publicly praised it, much like President John Kennedy aided Ian Fleming’s sales in America after praising Fleming’s “From Russia With Love” in the early 1960s. 

As a young teenager in the 1960s, I was a huge fan of the James Bond films with Sean Connery as Bond, which led me to read the Ian Fleming novels. I was pleased to discover that Fleming’s Bond novels were darker and more complicated than the films, and I’ve been an Ian Fleming aficionado ever since. 

Unlike Bond, a sophisticated, debonair, womanizing bachelor, and a ruthless intelligence operative with a license to kill, Jack Ryan is more of an average, decent guy, a cerebral intelligence desk analyst who is happily married with a daughter. Circumstances forced Ryan to become a field operative and engage in close combat with America’s enemies.

Tom Clancy bucked the trend in most spy novels, films and TV shows that portrayed the CIA in a negative light, with duplicitous, corrupt and amoral men working for self-satisfaction and against the best interest of the American public.  

Tom Clancy‘s Jack Ryan is a dedicated CIA officer whose primary mission was protecting the American public from terrorists, international criminal organizations and foreign spies. In Clancy’s novels, the CIA is a force for good.

Jack Ryan was first portrayed by actor Alec Baldwin in the fine 1990 film adaptation of “The Hunt For Red October,” with the late, great Sean Connery as Marko Ramius. Tom Clancy liked the film, although he picked out two errors. 

Harrison Ford took over the role in the 1992 film “Patriot Games” and 1994’s “Clear and Present Danger.” Ben Affleck portrayed a younger Jack Ryan in 2002’s “The Sum of All Fears,” and Chris Pine portrayed Ryan in a reboot of the character in 2014’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”

Although I dislike actor Alec Baldwin personally, as he appears to be an arrogant, angry man, I think he was the best Jack Ryan.    

Tom Clancy, who died in 2013 at the age of 66, also liked Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan.

In 2018, Amazon Prime Video aired “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” with John Krasinski as a rebooted Jack Ryan. Krasinski was the fifth actor to portray Tom Clancy’s character. 

Krasinski, most known for his comedic role in the TV series “The Office,” bulked up for his role as a former Navy SEAL in the 2016 film “13 Hours: The Secret Soldier of Benghazi,” which no doubt prepared him for portraying Jack Ryan. 

In the Amazon series we are introduced to a young Jack Ryan and other characters from the Tom Clancy novels. Ryan is once again a desk analyst who is forced into the field after he discovers suspicious bank transfers that he suspects were done by an Islamic extremist terrorist.

For four seasons, we’ve watched the patriotic, intelligent, resourceful and tough CIA officer Jack Ryan take on the enemies of America. 

I think the late Tom Clancy would have liked the series and John Krasinski as Jack Ryan. 

Jack Ryan is America’s answer to Britain’s James Bond.

Paul Davis, a Philadelphia writer and frequent contributor to Broad + Liberty, also contributes to Counterterrorism magazine and writes the “On Crime” column for the Washington Times

Friday, July 21, 2023

A Little Humor: Being Against Crime Added To List Of Things That Are Racist

 The very clever and outrageously funny satirical Babylon Bee offers their take on the condemnation of Jason Aldean’s song, Try That In A Small Town. 

U.S. — Country star Jason Aldean released a controversial single this month called "Try That In A Small Town" in which he laid out his belief that crime is bad. He has since been forcefully condemned by the music industry since being against crime is now considered a racist dog whistle.

"I was shocked and saddened by the blatant racism in Aldean's song that condemned violent crime," said CMT President Brian Philips. "Crime is a beloved and noble tradition of BIPOC communities, and to condemn it is to condemn our own black brothers and sisters. I am sorry we ever allowed it to be aired."

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

Being Against Crime Added To List Of Things That Are Racist | Babylon Bee

You can watch a video of the song via the below link: 

Jason Aldean - Try That In A Small Town (Official Music Video) - YouTube

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

A Look Back At Warrior Cop Shot In Philadelphia: My Piece On The Inherent Danger Police Officers Face On The Front Lines In The War On Terrorism

Back in 2016 I went out on a ride-along with Philadelphia Police Officer Lynne A. Zirilli some months after Philadelphia Police Officer Jesse Hartman was ambushed and shot by a madman. 

(The shooting, shown in the above photo, was captured by a street camera).  

You can read my piece on the danger police officers face on the street that I wrote for Counterterrorism magazine via the below pages. 

(Click on the page to enlarge).  

Monday, July 17, 2023

One Pill Can Kill: My Threatcon Column On The Justice Department Announcing Charges Against China-Based Chemical Manufacturing Companies and Arrests of Executives in Fentanyl Manufacturing

My Threatcon column on China and fentanyl was posted on Counterterrorism magazine's website. 

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

IACSP - ThreatCon Articles

Twenty years ago, I was crippled with spine and nerve damage. 

The severe damage to my back was caused by extreme wear and tear, having been an amateur middleweight boxer from my teens to my late 20s, and having performed rigorous physical work in cold and wet weather on a Navy harbor tugboat for two years at the nuclear submarine base at Holy Loch, Scotland after serving two years on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. 

The pain was God-Awful, and after being released from the hospital to recuperate at home, my doctor prescribed a fentanyl patch. Although the patch relieved some of the pain, I hated the near coma drowsy feeling of the drug. A visiting nurse did like the look of my vitals, so she called an ambulance to take me to the hospital. The ER doctor took me off the fentanyl and thankfully placed me on other pain medicine. 

But unfortunately, many drug addicts are attracted to the near-coma high that fentanyl and other opiates produce for them. You can see these sad drug addicts stumbling along streets in most cities, looking like zombies from the “Walking Dead” shows.   

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) overdose deaths in the United States tied to the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl soared 279% from 2016 to 2021.

In just five years, deaths involving fentanyl rose from 6 per 100,000 people to 22 per 100,000, according to the CDC. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It is a major contributor to fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the U.S.1

There are two types of fentanyl: pharmaceutical fentanyl and illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Both are considered synthetic opioids. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain, especially after surgery and for advanced-stage cancer, but most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose are linked to illicitly manufactured fentanyl, which is distributed through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect. It is often added to other drugs because of its extreme potency, which makes drugs cheaper, more powerful, more addictive, and more dangerous.

Illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) is available on the drug market in different forms, including liquid and powder. Powdered fentanyl looks just like many other drugs. It is commonly mixed with drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine and made into pills that are made to resemble other prescription opioids. Fentanyl-laced drugs are extremely dangerous, and many people may be unaware that their drugs are laced with fentanyl.

“Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths. Even in small doses, it can be deadly. Over 150 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl,” the CDC stated.

The fentanyl mixed with other drugs that killing Americans comes from Mexican drug trafficking cartels, and the cartels get their fentanyl from China.

Diplomatic efforts to have China curb the sale of fentanyl to Mexican criminals has failed, but finally the U.S. government has taken action.     

The Justice Department announced on June 23rd the arrest of two individuals and the unsealing of three indictments in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York charging China-based companies and their employees with crimes related to fentanyl production, distribution, and sales resulting from precursor chemicals.

According to the Justice department, these indictments represent the first prosecutions to charge China-based chemical manufacturing companies and nationals of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for trafficking fentanyl precursor chemicals into the United States.

“Specifically, the indictments allege the defendants knowingly manufactured, marketed, sold, and supplied precursor chemicals for fentanyl production in the United States in violation of federal law.”

During these investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized more than 200 kilograms of fentanyl-related precursor chemicals, a quantity that could contain enough deadly doses to kill 25 million Americans.

The Justice Department noted that fentanyl is a highly addictive synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl and its analogues have devastated communities across the United States and are fueling the ongoing overdose epidemic, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently estimated killed approximately 110,000 Americans in 2022. Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 49. Fentanyl analogues, similar in chemical makeup and effect to fentanyl, can be even more potent and lethal than fentanyl.

When I announced in April that the Justice Department had taken significant enforcement actions against the Sinaloa Cartel, I promised that the Justice Department would never forget the victims of the fentanyl epidemic,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “I also promised that we would never stop working to hold accountable those who bear responsibility for it. That includes not only going after the leaders of the Cartels, their drug and gun traffickers, their money launderers, security forces, and clandestine lab operators. It also includes stopping the Chinese chemical companies that are supplying the cartels with the building blocks they need to manufacture deadly fentanyl.”

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram added, “Today’s announcement is a considerable step forward in our unrelenting fight against fentanyl, targeting the threat where it starts. These companies and individuals are alleged to have knowingly supplied drug traffickers, in the United States and Mexico, with the ingredients and scientific know-how needed to make fentanyl – a drug that continues to devastate families and communities across the United States, killing Americans from all walks of life. Targeting entire criminal drug networks, from the source of supply to the last mile of distribution, is critical to saving American lives. DEA will not stop until this crisis ends.”

The Justice Department announced that an indictment was unsealed in the Southern District of New York charging the China-based chemical company Hubei Amarvel Biotech Co. Ltd., aka AmarvelBio, (Amarvel Biotech), as well as its executives and employees Qingzhou Wang, 35, aka Bruce (Wang); Yiyi Chen, 31, aka Chiron (Chen); and Fnu Lnu, aka Er Yang and Anita (Yang), with fentanyl trafficking, precursor chemical importation, and money laundering offenses. Wang and Chen, both nationals of China, were expelled from Fiji on June 8, arrested by the DEA, and presented before U.S. Magistrate Judge Wes Reber Porter in Honolulu federal court on June 9. Wang and Chen were ordered detained in Honolulu and will appear in Manhattan federal court following their arrival in the Southern District of New York. Yang, also a national of China, is at large.

“The indictment unsealed today in the Southern District of New York is the next step in our fight against fentanyl,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “Today, we target the very beginning of the fentanyl supply chain: the Chinese manufacturers of the raw chemicals used to make fentanyl and its analogues. We’ve charged a Chinese precursor chemical company. And that’s not all. We’ve charged and arrested some of the individuals who work at the company. That includes a corporate executive and a marketing manager. They’re in American handcuffs. And they’re going to face justice in an American courtroom.”

According to the allegations contained in the indictment and other court filings, Amarvel Biotech is a chemical manufacturer based in the city of Wuhan, in Hubei province, China, that has exported vast quantities of the precursor chemicals used to manufacture fentanyl and its analogues.

“Amarvel Biotech has openly advertised online its shipment of fentanyl precursor chemicals to the United States and to Mexico, where drug cartels operate clandestine laboratories, synthesize finished fentanyl at scale, and distribute the deadly fentanyl into and throughout the United States. Through its website and a host of other storefront sites, Amarvel Biotech has targeted precursor chemical customers in Mexico, including by advertising fentanyl precursors as a “Mexico hot sale;” guaranteeing “100% stealth shipping” abroad; and posting to its websites documentation of Amarvel Biotech shipping chemicals to Culiacan, Mexico, the home city of the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the dominant drug trafficking organizations in the Western Hemisphere and which is largely responsible for the massive influx of fentanyl into the United States in recent years,” The U.S. Attorney’s Office stated.

“Amarvel Biotech has also endeavored to thwart law enforcement interdiction of its precursor chemical shipments. Amarvel Biotech has advertised, for example, the company’s ability to use deceptive packaging – such as packaging indicating the contents are dog food, nuts, or motor oil – to ensure “safe” delivery to the United States and Mexico. Over the past eight months, during an undercover investigation by the DEA, Amarvel Biotech and its principal executive, Wang, its marketing manager, Chen, and its sales representative, Yang, shipped more than 200 kilograms from China to the United States of precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl and its analogues. Amarvel Biotech, Wang, Chen, and Yang shipped the precursors to the United States intending that the chemicals would be used to produce fentanyl and its analogues in New York, and they agreed to continue supplying multi-ton shipments of fentanyl precursors despite being told that Americans had died after consuming fentanyl made from the chemicals that the defendants had sold.”

DEA’s Special Operations Division Bilateral Investigations Unit investigated the case, with assistance from the DEA Bangkok Country Office, DEA Wellington Country Office, DEA Beijing Country Office, DEA Honolulu District Office, DEA New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), DEA Riverside District Office, DEA Special Testing Laboratory, the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Royal Thai Police Narcotics Suppression Bureau, the Fiji Police Force Narcotic Bureau, the Fiji Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Hawaii.

The Southern District of New York’s Office’s National Security and International Narcotics Unit is prosecuting the case.

The Justice Department also announced that two indictments were unsealed in the Eastern District of New York that detail criminal conspiracies by companies and employees based in China to manufacture and distribute fentanyl in the United States.

According to the Justice Department, the first indictment charges Anhui Rencheng Technology Co. (Rencheng) Ltd.; Anhui Moker New Material Technology Co.; Shutong Wang; and Shifang Ruan, aka Eva, with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute fentanyl, manufacture of fentanyl, and other related offenses. In addition, the indictment charges those same defendants, as well as Xinyu Zhao, aka Sarah, and Yue Gao, aka Ellie, with illegally concealing their activities, including through customs fraud and introducing misbranded drugs into the U.S. marketplace. The indictment also charges Rencheng, Wang, and Ruan with conspiracy to distribute butonitazene, a controlled substance.

The second indictment charges Hefei GSK Trade Co. Ltd, aka Hebei Gesuke Trading Co. Ltd. and Hebei Sinaloa Trading Co. Ltd.; and Ruiqing Li with similar offenses, including conspiracy to manufacture and distribute fentanyl, manufacture of fentanyl, conspiracy to distribute a List I chemical, distribution of a List I chemical, customs fraud conspiracy, introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce, and distribution of metonitazene, a controlled substance.

“As alleged, the defendants knowingly distributed the chemical building blocks of fentanyl to the United States and Mexico, even providing advice on how they should be used to manufacture this dangerous drug which inflicts untold tragedy in New York City, Long Island, and across the nation,” said U.S Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York. “This prosecution shows that the companies and individuals who fuel our nation’s deadly opioid epidemic – wherever they are located – will be found and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

As alleged in the indictments, the defendant companies supplied precursor chemicals to the United States and Mexico, among other places, knowing they would be used to manufacture fentanyl. The defendant companies openly advertised their products all over the world, including to the United States and Mexico, on social media platforms. They also sent their chemical products to the United States and Mexico by boat and by air, using public and private international mail and package carriers. To prevent detection and interception of chemical products at the borders, the defendant companies employed deceptive and fraudulent practices, such as mislabeling packages, falsifying customs forms, and making false declarations at border crossings. The chemicals distributed by the defendants included all the materials necessary to manufacture fentanyl via the most common pathways.

“Mexican drug trafficking organizations, including but not limited to the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), have increasingly availed themselves of the fentanyl precursors and masked fentanyl precursors developed and distributed by the defendant companies and companies like them. The chemicals provided by the defendant companies have enabled such cartels and other drug trafficking organizations to produce fentanyl in clandestine laboratories in Mexico on a massive scale, for subsequent distribution in the United States and elsewhere. The materials and instructions provided by the defendant companies and companies like them have directly caused and contributed to the influx of deadly fentanyl into the United States,” the Justice Department stated.

DEA New York, DEA Mexico, DEA Diversion Control Division, DEA Special Testing and Research Laboratory, U.S. Customs and Border Protection New York Field Office, IRS Criminal Investigation New York Division, and U.S. Postal Inspection Service New York investigated the case. The New York City Police Department, the New York State Police, and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance on the case.

The Eastern District of New York’s Office’s International Narcotics and Money Laundering Section is prosecuting the case.

This effort is part of an OCDETF operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. 

Paul Davis, a long-time contributor to the Journal, covers crime, espionage and terrorism in his Threatcon column.