Thursday, August 31, 2023

Free For The Taking? We Need To Crack Down On Serial Shoplifters

 Broad + Liberty ran my piece on serial shoplifters.

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

Paul Davis: Free for the taking? We need to crack down on serial shoplifters. ( 

I accompanied my wife into a neighborhood pharmacy and convenience store, one of many such stores belonging to a popular chain across the city, as she wanted to buy a pint of ice cream.

I tried to open the freezer door where the ice cream was stored, but it would not open. Surprised that the door was locked, I saw a red button that instructed one to press for customer service to come and unlock the freezer’s door. 

I can certainly understand why some items must be placed under lock and key due to shoplifters, such as expensive cologne and perfume. But ice cream?

A store manager came over and unlocked the freezer door and allowed us to extract the ice cream we wanted. I asked her why the ice cream was locked up and she replied that a particular person regularly came into the store and stole all of the ice cream containers. So the store locked the freezer and inconvenienced customers and store workers to thwart one serial shoplifter.

That’s crazy, I said. Can’t you call the police when you see your serial ice cream shoplifter?

No, she said. She was told that the shoplifter must steal $1,000 worth of items before the police can arrest him. And she said that the store’s employees were instructed not to impede the shoplifters or touch them in any way. If they do, they will be fired. I assume the store would rather lose pints of ice cream than lawsuits. 

So, this particular serial shoplifter wandered happily into the store periodically, grabbed all of the ice cream containers, and simply strolled out.  

I suggested, somewhat in jest, that the store ought to place a $975 piece of jewelry in an empty ice cream container so when the shoplifter grabbed his armful share of ice cream containers, the items’ value would exceed the $1,000 threshold and he could be arrested and prosecuted. The manager laughed and shook her head. 

The corporate solution here and across the country is to place certain items behind locked doors and have a store employee respond to the call to unlock the freezer or cabinet for legitimate customers. The store then passes on the jacked-up price of the items to the hapless customer to cover the employees’ additional duty. 

So why aren’t serial shoplifters being prosecuted?

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office’s policy regarding prosecution of retail theft and certain other crimes were put in place in 2018 by District Attorney Larry Krasner in an effort, as the policy statement notes, “to end mass incarceration and bring balance back to sentencing.” 

But, frankly, there is no such thing as “mass incarceration.” All suspects who are arrested, prosecuted and convicted are sentenced to prison individually. 

According to the DA’s retail theft policy:

1.     Charge and dispose of Retail Theft cases as summary offenses unless the value of the item (s) stolen in a particular case exceeds $500.00 or where the defendant has a very long history of theft and retail theft convictions. 

2.     You must seek supervisory approval to charge and dispose of retail theft cases at misdemeanor or felony levels. 

3.     Remember, that a summary conviction permits a sentence of 90 days incarceration, fines of up to $250, and full restitution. These penalties are sufficient to hold a retail thief accountable. 4. In all cases, seek full restitution.

Back in April, after Krasner and police officials were grilled by City Council members about the increase in shoplifting and wanted to know how the police and the DA were handling the cases, Krasner held a press conference at 40th and Lancaster Avenue.

Krasner spoke of his policy to treat most retail theft under $500 as a summary offense, the lowest possible charge. 

“Under the policy, which we have had since the beginning, people who have minimal contacts in terms of retail thefts and who take less than $500 are going to have their cases charged as a summary offense. A summary offense can put you in jail for 90 days,” Krasner said. “Once you hit your third contact, you are no longer going to be in the bucket that is oriented towards mercy. You are going to be in the bucket where we are going to charge you at the highest levels permitted by the statutes.”

But, as any cop will tell you, most arrests for retail theft are eventually downgraded by the DA’s office to summary offenses, and the summons are ignored routinely by the repeat offenders.

One cop told me he knew all of the repeat shoplifter offenders in his district, as do the store managers and small business owners, but he was unable to keep them locked up.

As many of the repeat shoplifter offenders are juveniles, homeless, alcohol or drug-addicted, or mentally ill, another cop told me that it is easier for the corporate store owners, the police, the prosecutors, and the court to turn a blind eye to the blatant retail thefts.

Yet, these thefts are causing some small businesses to go out of business and causing some of the corporate chain stores to pack up and move to another location where they are less likely to be hit by repeat offenders.    

The serial shoplifters, especially the huge gangs of “smash and grab” shoplifters, do not fear the police, the DA, or the courts. They think it is all a joke and they can be viewed on security footage laughing as they bolt from the store with their stolen items. These serial shoplifters love their license to steal.

All of the cops, the store managers and the small business owners that I’ve spoken to say it is high time for the Philadelphia District Attorney to crack down on serial shoplifters and properly punish them. 

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. He can be reached via

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

FBI, Partners Dismantle Qakbot Infrastructure In Multinational Cyber Takedown: Operation Marks One Of The Largest-Ever U.S.-Led Enforcement Actions Against A Botnet

The FBI released information on the takedown of a botnet operated by cybercriminals. 

On August 29, the FBI and the Justice Department announced a multinational operation to disrupt and dismantle the malware and botnet known as Qakbot.   
The action, which took place in the U.S., France, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania, Latvia, and the United Kingdom, represents one of the largest U.S.-led disruptions of a botnet infrastructure used by cybercriminals to commit ransomware, financial fraud, and other cyber-enabled criminal activity.  
"The FBI neutralized this far-reaching criminal supply chain, cutting it off at the knees," said FBI Director Christopher Wray. "The victims ranged from financial institutions on the East Coast to a critical infrastructure government contractor in the Midwest to a medical device manufacturer on the West Coast."

You can read the rest of the piece and watch a video via the below link:

FBI, Partners Dismantle Qakbot Infrastructure in Multinational Cyber Takedown — FBI 

Monday, August 28, 2023

Homicide Is The Number One Public Health Issue: My Philadelphia Weekly Crime Beat Column With Former Police Chief Mike Chitwood

South Philly looked like Dodge City of old on the evening of August 24th when two armed gangs of men fired more than 60 shots at each other at 7th and Daly Streets.


One 38-year-old man was killed in the shootout, and several others were injured from the hail of bullets. Thankfully, more people were not killed or injured, as gangbangers are notoriously bad shots, turning their pistols sideways like they do in the movies.  


Back in 2021, I discussed homicide and shootings with former Upper Darby Police Superintendent Mike Chitwood, who grew up in South Philadelphia. He told me that homicide was the number one public health issue.


You can read my Philadelphia Weekly Crime Beat column with Mike Chitwood below:


You can also read my Counterterrorism magazine Q&A with Mike Chitwood via the below link:

Paul Davis On Crime: My Q&A With Former Police Chief Mike Chitwood

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Discussed Philly DA And 17-Year-Old Terrorism Suspect On Dawn Stensland's Talk Radio Program

I appeared yesterday on Dawn Stensland’s WPHT Talk Radio program in Philadelphia yesterday. 

I was invited on the popular talk show to discuss Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and his announcement that he had charged a juvenile with terrorism-related charges, which I had covered in a Broad + Liberty piece. 

Paul Davis of Broad & Liberty joins Dawn to breakdown the latest from Krasner on the FBI investigation and arrest of a Philadelphia adolescent who was plotting to work with extreme terrorist groups. Paul expands on the case, and his article breaking down the Feds and Krasner working together. Read more from Paul on the issue here.

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. He can be reached via

You can listen to the program via the below link:

Paul Davis: Krasner announces prosecution of juvenile on terrorism-related charges - The Dawn Stensland Show - 

You can also read the Broad + Liberty piece via the below link:

Paul Davis On Crime: Philadelphia District Attorney To Prosecute 17-Year-Old Terrorism Suspect 

Friday, August 25, 2023

My Washington Times On Crime Column On Mark Bowden's 'Life Sentence: The Brief And Tragic Career Of Baltimore's Deadliest Gang Leader

 The Washington Times ran my On Crime column on Mark Bowden’s Life Sentence. 

Mark Bowden (seen in the bottom photo) is perhaps best known for books about the military, such as “Black Hawk Down,” but he has also written several books about crime. His latest is “Life Sentence: The Brief and Tragic Career of Baltimore’s Deadliest Gang Leader.” I contacted him to ask what drew him to create this well-written and interesting book.


“I am from Baltimore, and the story of ‘Life Sentence’ takes place about 10 miles from my childhood home of Timonium, Maryland,” Mr. Bowden replied. “Though close geographically, the communities could not have been more different, given the long history of racial separation in that city. So, I have always been curious about neighborhoods like Sandtown, where this story takes place. These are places with few of the advantages I enjoyed growing up.


“There and in communities like it all over America, there is an ongoing epidemic of murder, mostly young Black men killing other young Black men. Like most, I find this both alarming and bewildering. ‘Life Sentence’ examines one neighborhood gang of killers in West Baltimore that called itself ‘TTG,’ for ‘Trained to Go’ — ‘go’ being a euphemism for murder — who have been locked up either for life or long prison terms.


“It tells the story both of the remarkable police effort to document the gang’s crimes and also the story of its members, most of them teenagers. It explains how and why the epidemic persists.”


What kind of research did you do for the book?


“I plumbed the voluminous files of the successful prosecution of ten TTG members, rich with audio and video surveillance. I received full cooperation from the local and federal law officers involved. I interviewed extensively in the Sandtown community, with family members of the convicted killers their victims.

“I read extensively about the history of Baltimore and the community and explored the academic research into modern gang violence. I also interviewed some of the Baltimore scholars and city officials — present and former — who have struggled with the problem. I was also able to draw upon my own life growing up nearby and my early work as a reporter in the city.”


How would you describe Montana Barronette, whom you describe as Baltimore’s deadliest gang leader?


“He was described by Baltimore’s police commissioner as “The Number One Trigger-puller” in the city. Barronette is smart, disciplined, ambitious, polite, amoral, ruthless, and at heart hopeless. Convinced, I think, that he would end up either dead or imprisoned at a young age, he was fearless and easily dominated his neighborhood crew. He appears to have enjoyed his notoriety as much or more than any money he made.


“The gang members are normal teenagers raised in an aberrant environment. They are all drawn to the money, women, and excitement of drug dealing and the violence of their world, and, like many teens, were either convinced that they would never be victims themselves, or, like Barronette, accepted that their lives or freedom would be short, and were determined to live it up while they could.”


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

BOOK REVIEW: 'Life Sentence' - Washington Times

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Philadelphia District Attorney To Prosecute 17-Year-Old Terrorism Suspect

Broad + Liberty ran my piece on the Philly DA announcing that he was prosecuting a 17-year-old suspect on terrorism-related charges.

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

Paul Davis: Krasner announces prosecution of juvenile on terrorism-related charges ( 

The arrest of the son of a prominent attorney in Philadelphia on various terrorism-related charges has made news around the world.

On August 14th, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announced the arrest of the seventeen-year-old suspect. 

According to Krasner, the juvenile, not named due to his age, was arrested by FBI SWAT agents at his home in West Philadelphia. An investigation by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes detailed Philadelphia Police detectives, led the FBI to the activities of the youth. 

The District Attorney’s Office has charged the juvenile with Weapons of Mass Destruction, Criminal Conspiracy, Arson, Causing/Risking Catastrophe, Attempt to Commit Criminal Mischief, Possession of an Instrument of Crime, and Recklessly Endangering Another Person.

“The work of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force potentially thwarted a catastrophic terrorist attack in the name of a perverted ideology that in no way, shape, or form represents the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of peace-seeking people of faith, including Muslims,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said. “The charges we have filed against this individual represent the most serious alleged terrorist activity prosecuted in Philadelphia County court in recent history. We intend to pursue full accountability for these crimes and will continue to work vigilantly with our law enforcement partners to protect all of our communities from hateful, ideologically driven acts of violence.”

Jacqueline Maguire, the FBI Special Agent in Charge of Philadelphia Office, added, “Protecting the United States from terrorist attacks is the FBI’s number one priority, and I think it’s very fair to say that lives were saved because of this investigation. 

“Investigations like this one – with the amazing work that continues and the successful mitigation of such a significant threat – are exactly why we do what we do, and yet another reminder of what a privilege it is to serve with such dedicated colleagues. I’m so proud of my team for their incredible work on this case, and thankful to our partners for their significant and continued assistance.”

Maguire went on to state that the juvenile is alleged to have been in contact with individuals and groups designated by the U.S. State Department as global terrorists, including Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (“KTJ”), which is believed to primarily operate in Syria and is responsible for attacks including the deadly April 2017 attack on the St. Petersburg, Russia, metro and the 2016 suicide car bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force investigators were able to connect a social media account that communicated with an account affiliated with KTJ in March and April of 2023 to the juvenile. The juvenile’s phone number was also found by investigators to have a banner of Riyad-us-Saliheen Martyrs’ Brigade, a Chechnya-based terrorist group, as its profile photo. On August 6, according to the Task Force, the juvenile’s WhatsApp profile photo was changed to the image of the ISIS banner.

“Self-radicalization by young people via the internet is a threat to all families. Parents: Keep an eye out for violent cults that would lure in your kids under the guise of politics or religion,” Krasner stated. “The juvenile is further alleged to have received messages related to construction of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and to have purchased materials online such as chemical cleaners that are used to construct IEDs, as well as outdoor or tactical gear.”

FBI special agents surveilling the juvenile observed him purchasing materials that can be used to make IEDs, and recovered from his household trash materials including electric wiring that can be used to construct IEDs. U.S. Customs and Border Protection provided records revealing fourteen international shipments of military and tactical gear to the juvenile’s address.

A warrant for the juvenile’s arrest was approved on August 11th, and the juvenile was arrested, and two residences tied to him were searched by federal agents.

Krasner stated that if the juvenile’s case is transferred by a judge to adult criminal court, more information related to the allegations against him will be available to the public.

I was curious as to why the suspect was being prosecuted by the Philadelphia DA rather than the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Cases like this are usually prosecuted at the federal level. 

I contacted both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the DA’s office and inquired why the case was being prosecuted by the Philadelphia DA, but neither office has responded to my question.

I reached out to investigative reporter Ralph Cipriano, who offers his comprehensive reporting on crime, court cases and the Philly DA in his Big Trial articles on Substack. I asked him if he knew why Krasner was prosecuting the case.

“I am told that the feds want nothing to do with prosecuting juveniles, so they are happy to leave it to the DA’s office to handle,” Cipriano replied. “I’m hearing the feds may want to charge the parents of the terrorist, especially the Mom, but Krasner has already expressed publicly no interest in doing that, saying his office doesn’t believe in ‘guilt by association.’ However, I imagine the feds, if they decide to charge the parents, could do so without having to bother with dealing with the DA’s office.”

Cipriano noted that the suspect’s mother co-signed her son’s passport application and also took her son to Lowe’s to shop for chemicals that might be used in a homemade bomb. 

“Dad gave him access to more than 50 guns. Both Mom and Dad had to be aware that their son was setting off homemade bombs in the backyard, as even the D.A. charged him with arson. Seems understandable to me that the feds might decide to pursue charges against one or both of the parents. But don’t expect Krasner to do anything,” Cipriano said.

I suspect and hope that the juvenile will be prosecuted as an adult due to his being nearly eighteen and the seriousness of the crimes. He is certainly old enough to be held accountable.

When I was seventeen, I was in the U.S. Navy, serving on an aircraft carrier. 

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. He can be reached via

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Operation Sunrise: A Look Back At How The Cops And The Feds Tried To Take Back The North Philadelphia "Badlands" From the Drug Gangs

Back in 1999, I visited the “Roundhouse,” the nickname of the Philadelphia Police headquarters, and interviewed then-First Deputy Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson for Counterterrorism magazine.    

I spoke to Johnson, who would go on to become the police commissioner, about Operation Sunrise, the joint Philadelphia Police-DEA operation to rout the drug gangs that dominated the “Badlands” in Noth Philadelphia. 

I later toured the Badlands with a veteran detective. 

You can read the Counterterrorism magazine piece below:

Monday, August 21, 2023

My Crime Beat Column: Drugs Drive Crime: A Look Back At My Radio Interview With DEA Special Agent in Charge Of Philadelphia Office

The below column originally appeared in the South Philadelphia American in 1998:

South Philadelphia has its share of the drug problem, to be sure, but we are blessed in comparison to the "Badlands" of North Philadelphia.

"Operation Sunrise," the joint Philadelphia and federal government counter-drug action mounted to combat the severe drug issue in the Badlands and elsewhere, was the idea of Philadelphia Deputy Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson and Lawrence P. McElynn, the Special Agent in Charge of the Philadelphia Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

I spoke to McElynn about the anti-drug operation recently when he was my guest on Inside Government, a public affairs radio program that I produce and serve as an on-air host. The radio interview program, sponsored by the Philadelphia Federal Executive Board, airs on Sunday mornings at 6:30 on WMGK 102.9 FM and repeats at 7:00 on WPEN 950 FM.

"When Deputy Commissioner Johnson was appointed, we met at a diner and had a discussion about making a real partnership between the DEA and the Philadelphia Police Department to address the drug problem," McElynn told me on the air. "Our focus was to go to an area in the city that had the biggest problem and create a task force to operate there."

McElynn said Johnson took it a number of steps further, realizing that they had to deal with much more than just the drug problem in trying to return the neighborhood back to the people who live there. Johnson brought in a number of other departments that could two cars, seal houses and remove graffiti. But both agree that drugs remain at the core, noted McElynn. Drug addicts steal, rob and murder to make money to buy drugs.

"Normally, you drive up to the neighborhood, roll down your window, you give them money, someone gives you heroin, and you drive away," McElynn said. "But two days after Operation Sunrise, it took us six hours to find someone to sell us heroin. But the real test will be in the long run. The drug traffickers are testing us, waiting to see how strong our commitment is. But we're here to stay."

McElynn said the DEA agents are working at different levels in Operation Sunrise. Some of them are visibly assisting the police officers and some are operating covertly to develop information that will take the operation to a national and international level. A classic case of partnership, McElynn said.

"Drugs are coming at us at every level of sophistication. Drugs are coming in commercial cargo shipments in the thousands of pounds and people are bringing pounds in suitcases," McElynn explained.

McElynn recounted an incident they had recently where someone had swallowed 99 condoms tied with dental floss and filled with 10 grams of heroin each.

"High purity levels, high demand and high availability, plus low prices, always cause addiction to rise. There are probably a million addicts in the U.S., up from 600,000," McElynn said.

McElynn said that the marketing strategy of the drug traffickers is to have high quality heroin at low prices and addict as many people as they can, and then over time lower the quality and raise the prices. Heroin is the most serious health threat in the U.S., McElynn told me.

"There has been a dramatic shift in control of the drug market in the U.S. in the past couple of years. Right now, the Colombians sit at the top. They are in charge of cocaine traffic in partnership with the Dominicans coming through the Caribbean basin and the Mexicans coming through the western and southwestern part of the U.S.," McElynn explained.

The Colombians have also started to take over the U.S. heroin market, forcing out the Southeast Asian traffickers, McElynn added.

"Users have a romantic notion of heroin being the chic thing to do, something that is fashionable as portrayed by parts of the media, but they are being sold a bill of goods that just isn't so. When the drug takes hold of you, life becomes unbearable."

Sunday, August 20, 2023

My Crime Beat Column: A Look Back At A Philadelphia Police Inspector's View Of Crime In Center City

The below column originally appeared in the South Philadelphia American in 1997. 
Last week I overheard an elderly woman tell a friend that her car had been stolen that morning.

"The Devil's alive," the woman sadly told her friend.

In my time I've seen much of what this woman calls the "Devil's Work." I've long been a student of crime, dating back to my days as a 12-year-old South Philly street kid and aspiring writer.

I went on to do security work as a young sailor in the U.S. Navy and later as a Defense Department civilian employee. As a writer, I've specialized in crime reporting and commentary for newspapers and magazines.

I've grown up on the mean streets of South Philly and I've been to the "Badlands" of North Philly, as well as those tough areas of Olongapo in the Philippines, Tijuana, Mexico and a number of other exotic and dangerous cities.

One area I've often visited is a place that one does not normally think of as a hot-bed of crime.

While many Philadelphians and tourists call Center City, our business and cultural center, "downtown," when I was growing up in South Philly, we who were located geographically as far south as one can be within the city limits, called Center City "in-town." As in "I'm going in-town this afternoon."

I ventured in-town to pay a visit to Philadelphia Police Inspector Frank M. Pryor, the commanding officer of the Central Police Division in Center City. Pryor has commanded the Central Division for five years and he is responsible for a five square mile area that encompasses the 6th, 9th and Center City Police Districts. He also commands the Central Detectives Division.

I sat across from Pryor's desk in his office near 21st and Pennsylvania Avenue. He told me that Center City's crime is down 7.4% in all part-one crimes (such as murder, rape, robbery).

"In my five years we have seen a 24% decrease in crime," Pryor said. "I like to think that community policing has made some impact."

Pryor said they pushed down the responsible duties of a captain and inspector to a sergeant. He noted that a month ago the mayor had a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce, and he asked the inspector to accompany him.

"I brought a sergeant with me because he's the guy who solves our problems," Pryor said. "He's in charge of a 12-officer service detail trained to deal with the homeless. A sergeant meeting with the mayor was unheard of years ago."

Pryor said each district has a community policing team made up of a community relations officer, a victim assistance officer and a statistician who does crime mapping.

"Community policing has put a name on the face of the cop," Pryor said.

Pryor said they have a major problem with the homeless. It's not a crime to be homeless, Pryor explained, but many people don't want them in their neighborhood.

"Unless they do something illegal, we are not going to bother them," Pryor said. "In the winter and during hot weather we transport them to shelters. But we have zero tolerance for aggressive panhandling."

Pryor explained that many of the so-called homeless are in fact street hustlers.

"We have identified 70 to 80 hard-core drug and alcohol abusers on the street. They don't want to be in a shelter, so we are looking at their conduct. They have their constitutional rights, but when they infringe on other's rights it is time to take appropriate action."

Pryor offered a bit of some common-sense crime prevention advice.

"Car phones left visible on the console are often stolen. Put your phones and laptops in the trunk," Pryor said. "It only takes 30 seconds to hit that window and get your valuables."

Pryor said drugs were a problem in Center City, but it was not as severe a problem as other parts of the city.

"There are approximately 15 to 18 drug locations, and we are working with the community and making a lot of arrests. I have a narcotics field unit that has beepers, and the community people contact them directly."

Pryor said that male and female prostitution is a problem around certain areas. He said they also have a big problem with what they call retail theft, or shoplifting. He said that last year they arrested 2, 800 people.

Pryor told me that he is assigning more foot beat patrols back into the community. Bike patrols are also very successful. He had the idea to go to CoreStates, who sponsors the bike race, and ask for a grant to provide bikes for the police. There are now 150 bikes in the city.

"From my perspective, I've seen the renaissance of Center City," Pryor said. "There are more restaurants, more businesses and more hotels. There is the Avenue of the Arts and the Convention Center. Most people don't realize that 40% of all taxes are generated from Center City residents and businesses," Pryor concluded.        

Friday, August 18, 2023

Foreign National Sentenced To More Than 21 Years For Mailing Ricin To President Of The United States In 2020

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

Pascale Cecile Veronique Ferrier, 55, a dual citizen of Canada and France, was sentenced today to 262 months in prison, followed by a lifetime of supervised release, for sending threatening letters, containing homemade ricin (a toxin), in September 2020, to then-President Donald J. Trump at the White House, and to eight Texas State law enforcement officials.

Ferrier pleaded guilty on Jan. 25 to prohibitions with respect to biological weapons in two separate criminal cases. One case was brought in the District of Columbia, and the other was brought in the Southern District of Texas and transferred to the District of Columbia for purposes of plea and sentencing.

According to court documents, Ferrier admitted that she made ricin at her residence in Quebec, Canada, in September 2020. Ricin is a deadly poison made from castor beans. Ferrier placed the ricin toxin in envelopes containing letters she wrote to then-President Trump at the White House and to eight Texas State law enforcement officials.

Ferrier had been detained in the State of Texas for approximately 10 weeks in the spring of 2019, and she believed that the law enforcement officials were connected to her period of detention. In early September 2020, Ferrier used the Twitter social media service to propose that someone should “please shoot [T]rump in the face.” The letters in the envelopes contained threatening language, and the letter addressed to then-President Trump instructed him to “[g]ive up and remove [his] application for this election.” Ferrier mailed each of the threatening ricin letters from Canada to the United States. Ferrier then drove a car from Canada to the Peace Bridge Border Crossing in Buffalo, New York, on Sept. 20, 2020, where border patrol officials found her in possession of a loaded firearm, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and other weapons, and arrested her. Ferrier has remained in custody.

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 and Assistant Director Susan Ferensic of the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate made the announcement.

The FBI Washington and San Antonio Field Offices investigated the case. Assistance was provided by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Friedman for the District of Columbia; Assistant U.S. Attorneys Rob Jones, David Coronado and David Lindenmuth for the Southern District of Texas; and Trial Attorney David Smith of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section prosecuted the case.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

True Crime Philadelphia: A Look Back At Philly Bootleggers, Kidnappers, Mobsters And Murderers

A reader recently wrote and asked me about Chicago gangster Al Capone and his year in a Philadelphia prison. I responded to the reader, offering the basic information about Capone’s eight-month incarceration in 1929-1930 at Eastern State Penitentiary. 

I've visited the prison, now a museum, and noted that the wealthy criminal lived in relative luxury while incarcerated. His cell had oriental rugs, fine furniture and a cabinet radio (see bottom photo). 

I also suggested that the reader check out Kathryn Canavan’s True Crime Philadelphia: From America’s First Bank Robbery To the Real-Life Killers Who Inspired Boardwalk Empire. 

I interviewed Kathryn Canavan about her outstanding book in two of my Philadelphia Weekly Crime Beat columns. 

You can read the columns below:

Note: You can click on all of the above to enlarge.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Former Special Agent In Charge Of The New York FBI Counterintelligence Division Pleads Guilty To Conspiring To Violate U.S. Sanctions On Russia

 The FBI released the below information:

Former Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the FBI Counterintelligence Division in New York, Charles McGonigal, 54, of New York City, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and to commit money laundering in connection with his 2021 agreement to provide services to Oleg Deripaska, a sanctioned Russian oligarch.

According to court documents, on April 6, 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska for having acted or purported to act on behalf of a senior official of the Government of the Russian Federation and for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia affirmed the sanctions against Deripaska, finding, among other things, that OFAC’s determination that Deripaska had acted as an agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin was supported by the evidence.

“After his tenure as a high-level FBI official who supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs, Charles McGonigal has now admitted that he agreed to evade U.S. sanctions by providing services to one of those oligarchs, Oleg Deripaska,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “This office will continue to hold to account those who violate U.S. sanctions for their own financial benefit.”

“Charles McGonigal broke his oath to defend the Constitution and turned his back on his duty to protect the American people in favor of his own greed by working for a sanctioned Russian oligarch,” said Assistant Director Suzanne Turner of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “Every day, the men and women of the FBI protect the American people and uphold the Constitution. No matter the perpetrator, even if it’s one of our own, the FBI will go to great lengths to investigate individuals who put their own interests above U.S. national security.”

As an FBI official, McGonigal had helped investigate Deripaska and other Russian oligarchs. In 2018, while serving as SAC, McGonigal received a then-classified list of Russian oligarchs with close ties to the Kremlin who would be considered for sanctions. In 2021, McGonigal conspired to provide services to Deripaska, in violation of the U.S. sanctions imposed on Deripaska in April 2018. Specifically, following his negotiations with an agent of Deripaska, McGonigal agreed to and did investigate a rival Russian oligarch in return for concealed payments from Deripaska. As part of their negotiations with Deripaska’s agent, McGonigal and the agent attempted to conceal Deripaska’s involvement by, among other means, not directly naming Deripaska in electronic communications, using shell companies as counterparties in the contract that outlined the services to be performed, using a forged signature on that contract, and using the same shell companies to send and receive payment from Deripaska.

McGonigal faces up to five years in prison for each count and is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 14. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI New York Field Office investigated the case, with valuable assistance provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the New York City Police Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Hagan Scotten, Rebecca T. Dell, and Derek Wikstrom for the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case with valuable assistance provided by Trial Attorney Christina A. Clark of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

Monday, August 14, 2023

A Veteran Police Sergeant Offers Tips On How To Avoid Being Carjacked

Broad + Liberty published my piece on carjacking. 

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

Paul Davis: A veteran police sergeant offers tips on how to avoid being carjacked (

A friend of mine was recently carjacked. 

He was parked on a corner waiting to pick up his daughter from her workplace late one evening when he saw two armed young men come up swiftly, one on each side of his car.

My friend is a genuine South Philly tough guy, and under other circumstances, he would have fought back. He has a license to carry, and his firearm was in a holster on his hip, but he thought better of it. He told me that he didn’t know if his daughter was at that moment walking out of her workplace, and he didn’t want her to get hurt in a crossfire.

He got out of his car and handed over his car keys.

Sadly, carjackings happen too often in Philadelphia.

I reached out to Gary Capuano, a retired Philadelphia Police sergeant, and asked him if he had any experiences with carjackings during his time as a cop, and if he had any tips on how to avoid becoming a carjacking victim.  

“I had direct contact with an eighteen-year-old carjacker back in 2003,” Capuano recalled. “I was working plainclothes and detailed to finding the criminal who at the time was exposing his genitalia to the St. Maria Goretti High School girls. My partner and I heard the carjacking radio call and we proceeded into the area where it took place and actually stumbled upon the suspect and his new set of wheels sitting at a red light.” 

The carjacker immediately made Capuano and his partner as police officers, and he took off. The plainclothes officers pursued him, announcing the pursuit over their police radio. Capuano and his partner apprehended the suspect on the Expressway just past the Penrose Avenue exit. The carjacker smashed into the divider wall, ran from the vehicle, and went up and over the wall into oncoming traffic with Capuano in pursuit. 

“He couldn’t get over a chain link fence which was topped with razor wire that allowed me to close the gap between us. I injured my knee and was out of work for some time, eventually needing surgery. He pled guilty and served some time,” Capuano said. “Six days after the carjacking, Goretti girls spotted the flasher and gave chase. They caught him and held him until police arrived.” 

To avoid being carjacked, Capuano said that drivers should be aware of their surroundings at all times and keep an eye out for people who appear to be hanging about with no clear purpose.

“Try to park in a well-lit area. Take a friend or relative with you while driving and always leave enough space between your car and the one in front of you,” Capuano advised. “This gives you some wiggle room in case you have to maneuver your way out of a bad situation. If you need to use an ATM, try to do so during the day including gassing up your vehicle. After food shopping, don’t become distracted and side-tracked and worried about loading your vehicle. Keep your eyes open. These criminals know just when to strike. It only takes seconds.” 

Capuano said that when leaving a casino stay vigilant, especially if you happen to be going home a winner. 

“Many a person has been followed out of a casino and into the parking lots, where they are robbed, assaulted and carjacked. There are also numerous incidents where people are followed home and then assaulted, robbed and carjacked.” 

Capuno also suggests that if you happen to become a victim in a carjacking, don’t fight back. Give them your car. You can replace your car, but your family can’t replace you. 

“If you see someone who appears to be broken-down on a street, continue on and call 911,” Capuano said. “Don’t be a Good Samaritan. Your calling 911 to get them help is sufficient. If your vehicle is struck and bumped from behind, call 911 immediately and give them any information you have on the striking vehicle. Stay on the phone with the 911 operator and give them your location as you drive on.” 

Capuano suggested that you drive to a well-lit spot or if you happen to know where the nearest police station is located, drive there. These are some of the ruses that some criminals use to get their next victim. 

“It is sad what our society has become. We can argue what has caused this, but in my opinion, the breakdown of the family as well as criminals not being held accountable for their actions are the main two reasons,” Capuno said. “We have to think like a criminal and be on guard 24/7.” 

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. He can be reached via

Sunday, August 13, 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 a 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