Thursday, April 11, 2024

The DEA On the Enduring and Emerging Threat of Drugs

Broad & Liberty ran my piece today on the DEA and the enduring and emerging threat of drug.

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

Paul Davis: The DEA on the enduring and emerging threat of drugs (broadandliberty.com)

While discussing the drug epidemic in Philadelphia and across the nation, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent spoke to me of the damage illegal drugs do to drug users, as well as to their families.

“I remind others all the time that the hapless drug users we see stumbling along Kensington and Allegheny and elsewhere in the city are people,” the retired DEA agent said. 

“The drug user you see was probably a good person before the drugs took their body and soul. The drug users have families who are devastated by their drug addiction and horrible existence on the street.”

The retired DEA agent blames Mexican drug cartels and the street gangs who profit from the misery they inflict on drug addicts, families, neighborhoods and local businesses. He also pointed a finger at Communist China, who provides the chemicals to cartels for the making of the deadly drug fentanyl.

The former drug agent suggested that I read the DEA’s January 2024 “State and Territory Report On Enduring and Emerging Threat.” 

The report is a stark notice to how drugs are harming Philadelphia and the nation.    

“Fentanyl remains the primary driver behind the ongoing epidemic of overdose deaths in the United States,” the report stated. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 72,027 drug poisoning deaths from fentanyl in 2022. Moreover, the same provisional data shows synthetic opioids were involved in approximately 68 percent of drug poisoning deaths.” 

The report noted that the incidents of fentanyl misuse and drug poisonings, and law enforcement seizures of fentanyl, have increased steadily since at least 2013 and reached record levels in 2022. 

“DEA, along with state, local, and federal law enforcement partners, continues to seize record quantities of fentanyl each year. The Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) continue to produce fentanyl in both powder form and pressed into fake pills.” 

According to the report. fentanyl is increasingly being mixed with other illicit drugs, such as methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine and methamphetamine. Deaths from psychostimulants (primarily methamphetamine) have steadily increased for the past twelve years, and have sharply increased in the past five, which is likely due to widespread availability of highly pure and potent methamphetamine from Mexico. 

“In 2022, the CDC reported 33,190 people died due to poisoning involving psychostimulants with abuse potential, an increase of 32 percent from 2021. Xylazine, a potent animal tranquilizer, has worsened the fentanyl threat by posing yet another health challenge. 

“Xylazine is not an opioid, so naloxone/Narcan does not reverse its effects. Xylazine is not a controlled substance under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Xylazine is primarily added to fentanyl and other opioids to enhance the effects. Xylazine, also known as “tranq”, is an analgesic and muscle relaxant for veterinary use. Xylazine has harmful physical effects in the respiratory and circulatory systems, as well as muscle and soft tissue injuries that can turn necrotic or result in amputations. Xylazine has been encountered in combination with fentanyl but has also been detected in mixtures containing cocaine and heroin.” 

The report states that deaths from psychostimulants (primarily methamphetamine) have steadily increased for the past twelve years, and have sharply increased in the past five, which is likely due to widespread availability of highly pure and potent methamphetamine from Mexico. 

“The DEA has seized xylazine and fentanyl mixtures in 48 of 50 States, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Nitazenes (2-benzylbenzimidazoles) are an emerging synthetic opioid group that can be more potent than fentanyl and poses an additional opioid threat to the United States,” the report informs us. “Similar to previously identified synthetic opioids, nitazenes have appeared on the illicit market with minor chemical modifications while retaining their pharmacological profile. Etonitazene, isotonitazene, clonitazene, and several additional nitazene analogues are Schedule I substances under the U.S. CSA. Nitazenes are increasingly being identified in combination with fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine in lab submissions.”

The retired drug agent said the report is sobering. He suggests that what is needed to combat the drug epidemic is a full-frontal attack on the drug suppliers in Mexico and on the street drug gangs in America.

“The open Southern border also needs to be closed. The cartels are assisting illegal immigrants cross the border and in addition to charging a harsh fee for doing so, they are using some of them as “mules.” The mules are carrying the deadly drugs across the border, and they end up in Philadelphia and other cities,” the former DEA agent said. “The cartels are also smuggling in large quantities of drugs via other methods. The Southern border needs to be closed.”

I agree. 

City, state and federal law enforcement need to increase their efforts in shutting down the drug dealing street gangs. And prosecutors and judges ought to slam the drug dealers hard. The DEA and other federal law enforcement agencies ought to be empowered to increase their war on the cartels in Mexico and America. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suggested using American special operation forces to hit the cartels in Mexico during his presidential campaign, and former President Donald Trump has also pondered the use of U.S. special operators in Mexico.      

A Tom Clancy-like scenario of special operators hitting the cartels on their own ground would disrupt the cartels and will make them fear America. 

In my view, the cartels are as serious a threat to America as Islamic radical terrorists. They should be dealt with in the same way we countered the terrorists worldwide.           

Closing the border will stop the easy flow of drugs into America. The cartels are clever, incentivized by money, so they will inevitably find other ways to smuggle in drugs, but closing the border will decrease the amount of deadly drugs now entering the country.  

Having performed security work for the U.S. Navy and the Defense Department for more than 37 years, I know that proper security needs several rings. In addition to a solid border wall, we need additional security measures, such as concertina wire, (like Texas is laying out), electronic sensors, and an increase in Border Patrol special agents and service dogs who defend the border. 

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 at pauldavisoncrime.com. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

When A 24-Year-Old Ian Fleming Went To Moscow To Cover a “Show” Trial: “Russia is ruled by an army of executioners with the Lubyanka as the headquarters of death.”


Lithub.com offers a chapter from Nicholas Shakespeare’s Ian Fleming: The Complete Man, the latest biography of the late, great thriller writer and the creator of James Bond. 

The chapter deals with the 24-year-old Ian Fleming, then a Reuters reporter who covered the Soviet spy trials in Moscow.     

In the late 1960s, the screenwriter Jack Whittingham, who had collaborated on the writing of Thunderball, started to write a screenplay based on the life of Ian Fleming. Whittingham’s daughter Sylvan says: “He had Fleming as a Reuters correspondent travelling on that train across Russia. Fleming was sitting in a compartment, and this alter ego like a ghost came out of him, and this whole adventure took place. That was how Dad played it—that Fleming had this other life that was Bond.” 

The project was aborted, yet it reveals something of Whittingham’s perception of Bond that he saw his origins in Ian’s first important foreign assignment. During his fortnight in Moscow, Ian confronted a system that crystalized in his twenty-four-year-old mind the kind of enemy Bond would take on in the 1950s and 60s. 

Ian had been forewarned from reading Leo Perutz that “Russia is ruled by an army of executioners” with the Lubyanka as “the headquarters of death.” He understood the truth behind these remarks as he sat for six days in the packed Moscow courtroom and observed from a few feet away “the implacable working of the soulless machinery of Soviet Justice.” 

In July 1956, after delivering From Russia, with Love, Ian told his editor how it was based on what he had witnessed personally, “a picture of rather drab grimness, which is what Russia is like,” and a portrait of state intimidation on a scale that he could never have imagined in Carmelite Street. 

During his time in Moscow, Ian formed a hostile picture of the Soviet state that, twenty years later in the context of the Cold War, the rest of the world was ready to gobble up. A system built on fear, routine arrests, the terrorizing of innocent men and women in a show trial dominated by a pitiless Stalinist prosecutor, who, in his appetite to break and dehumanize the accused, compared them to “stinking carrion” and “mad dogs.” 

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

When a 24-Year-Old Ian Fleming Went to Moscow to Cover a “Show” Trial ‹ Literary Hub (lithub.com)


Tuesday, April 9, 2024

A Look Back At The Infamous Boston Criminal Whitey Bulger: My Crime Beat Column On 'Whitey: The Life Of America's Most Notorious Mob Boss'


Back in 2013 I reviewed a good book on the notorious Boston criminal Whitey Bulger for the Washington Times, and I later interviewed one of the authors in my Crime Beat column. 

You can read the Crime Beat column and link to the Washington Times review below:

As I wrote in my Washington Times review of Whitey: The Life of America's Most Notorious Mob Boss (Crown), there have been many books written about James “Whitey’ Bulger, the Boston Irish mob boss currently on trial in Boston for 19 murders and other crimes, and up to now Black Mass by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill was the best of the bunch.

But with Whitey, Lehr and O’Neill have surpassed themselves.

Dick Lehr (seen in the below photo) is a professor of journalism at Boston University and a former Boston Globe reporter. He is the co-author of Black Mass and The Underboss, along with Gerald O’Neill.

I contacted Dick Lehr and my interview with him is below: 

DAVIS:  I worked for a Defense Department command in Philadelphia and for a time Boston was our regional headquarters. During those years I was a frequent visitor to Boston and I grew fond of the city.           

LEHR:  There is a small-big city feel, or a big-small city feel. 

DAVIS:  I liked the bars as well. 

LEHR: Then we have something else in common.

DAVIS:  I enjoyed your previous books, such as Black Mass and I enjoyed Whitey. Whitey Bulger is an interesting guy, although he is a God-awful criminal. I’ve covered organized crime for a good number of years now and I most recently interviewed Philip Leonetti, the former underboss of the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra organized crime family in Philadelphia and South Jersey. He said that he killed “bad guys.” They were trying to kill him, so he killed them. He said he never killed innocent people. Whitey Bulger, on the other hand, not only killed rival criminals, he reportedly strangled and murdered two innocent women. 

LEHR: His first known murder was a mistake. He intended to kill a competing gang member but he ended up killing the guy’s brother. He just shrugged it off.  

DAVIS: That’s a bad start. So it seems Bulger is in a class by himself, would you agree? 

LEHR: Yes, I think it shows the extreme depravity and viciousness that you referred to when you said he was God-awful. In the last month or so, through his attorney, he is putting out a new line - it sounds like Leonetti – that the people he killed deserved to be killed and he never killed those girls. It’s just Whitey being Whitey.        

DAVIS:  That’s been a mob thing for years, saying we only kill each other.       

LEHR: Whitey is trying to take back those murders, saying that I didn’t kill those girls. I wouldn’t do that. He is trying to get himself back to being what is more gangster-respectable. His problem is that the evidence seems overwhelming against him in connection to those two murders and already federal court judges have ruled that he killed them.      

DAVIS:  His partner-in-crime, Steven “the Riflemam” Flemmi, testified that Bulger killed the girls, right?

LEHR:  Yes, and Kevin Weeks. 

DAVIS:  Philip Leonetti recently wrote a piece in the Huffington Post. He wrote that when he was the Philadelphia underboss and Nicodemo Scarfo, his uncle and the Philadelphia boss, was in prison, he met with the New England Cosa Nostra guys and they were complaining about Bulger. Leonetti said they were described him disdainfully as a drug dealer and not a mob guy or true gangster. Do you think that is an accurate view of him by the Boston mob? 

LEHR: I think that is a true view of how someone in their shoes would look at someone like Whitey Bulger. He was a drug dealer in the 80’s and he made a ton of money off of cocaine. I think they underestimated him if they considered him just a nasty little drug dealer. They are underestimating or under-evaluating his position and his standing in the underworld. He was “it” in the 1980’s. So whether you are from New England or Leonetti from Philadelphia, that is a snapshot that does not capture the scope of this man’s power at the time, partly rooted from the power of the FBI watching his back. 

DAVIS: Bulger is unique in the annuals of crime in that sense as well.

LEHR: Totally, totally.
 

DAVIS:  Being an informant to gain police protection is not uncommon in crime and organized crime, but in that Bulger was able to manipulate the FBI agents and have them protect him so well over the years is unique, I think, in crime history. 

LEHR: I think so. We say in the book that is why history will view him as one of the more significant crime figures in America. You can’t mention him without saying in the same breath, corrupt FBI. 

DAVIS: How big was his crime empire? In terms of dollars and business, was he a rival and competitor to Cosa Nostra?     

LEHR: Well, certainly in the Boston branch, which reported to Providence, yes, I think so. This was unique too, in the sense that it was a cult of personality – Whitey’s. We describe it in the book as a closely-held corporation, where he surrounded himself with an immediate circle of unbelievably ruthless killers - Martorano, Weeks, and Flemmi – who were loyal and trusting. Just like his own physique, he kept it lean. He didn’t bother with some kind of extended organization. 

DAVIS: Yes, it was small in numbers compared to other organized crime outfits. 

LEHR:  Yes, and yet he controlled plenty because he was feared and powerful and vicious. There were all these sort of affiliates. All of these drug dealers in “Southie” were under his thumb. He had a drug operation, but they rarely saw him. There was all this insulation in between. So he ran an organization and then beyond the organization he accomplished and had the knack to intimidate major New England drug traffickers. They paid him a tax in order for them to do business. There are estimates of $10 million to $50 million, but who knows? 

DAVIS:  And where is that money today?

LEHR: Exactly. That is the big final question. But he would get a half of million dollar cut out of some major pot load moving through Boston heading up New England. So that speaks to his presence in a big way, even though he had no extensive organization and no lines of succession like the mafia. It was a cult of personality.      

DAVIS: All based on his reputation that he can and will kill you, and kill you viciously. Those stories of him torturing people before he killed them.     

LEHR: Yeah, and this all reinforced the myth of Whitey being the ultimate “stand-up guy,” which was his reputation.  

DAVIS: The Robin Hood of Boston.

LEHR: He despised and hated informers. Psychologically, he was projecting. He was known for that viciousness and torturing. When he was killing an informant, a rat, he brought a special viciousness to bear. That helped feed the notion that Whitey absolutely can’t stand a rat. It was such an anathema to him, such a horror – in part because he hates himself.      

DAVIS: Where did the phrase “Whitey is a good bad guy” come from? 

LEHR: The first time I heard that was from the mouth of FBI agent John Connelly back in 80’s. Isn’t that funny?  We heard that before we knew what we know today. Connelly was simply an FBI agent who was describing this kind of Robin Hood mythic Whitey Bulger crime boss.  

DAVIS:  Connelly was saying this to reporters like you? 

LEHR: Yes. Looking back in hindsight, John Connelly was one of Whitey’s best marketers and PR agents. He was spinning the myth of Robin Hood. Sure he’s a bad guy, but he’s does nice things for people. And we show in the biography, it is an extension of what Whitey has always tried to project all of his life. When he went away to prison he was trying to say I don’t belong here. It jumps off the page, some of these assessments from Alcatraz. How Whitey was complaining about the vulgarity of his cell mates. Give me a break!      


DAVIS: I read Black Mass when it came out years ago and I thought it was outstanding. It was a comprehensive look at Whitey Bulger’s criminal career and his FBI connection. So why did you and your co-author decide to write a biography of Whitey Bulger? And how does the biography differ from Black Mass?

LEHR: That’s a good question. And the answer is the bulk and the focus of Black Mass is the Whitey Bulger/FBI years, basically two decades from 1975 to 1995. It has been called the “Unholy Alliance,” and the “the Devil’s Deal.” So when Whitey was captured, we realized that this guy actually now warrants a biography. Part of it was realizing that in 1975 when he cut his deal with the Boston FBI, he was already 48. He lived half a life that we barely scratched in Black Mass and no one else has. There was this whole life that had not been explored and the sense that we talked about – he’s unique now. He has a place as a significant crime figure in American history. We wanted to put the Black Mass years in a larger context of his life story, of a biography, in which we try to not just tell this dramatic and horrific story, but get more into the why and how in the making of this monster. I think the challenge of any biographer, regarding any subject, is to go behind the “he did this and he did that” and try to reveal some insight and meaning.              

DAVIS: I thought Whitey was outstanding. The prison years and the LSD tests were particularly interesting. How were you able to get Bulger’s prison records?   

LEHR: That was a huge breakthrough. In the original outline, we had one chapter for his nine years in prison. Two months later we got hold of his prison file because it has become a public record and one chapter became four, four and a half. It is fascinating.   

DAVIS: I knew he was connected to his Boston politician brother, but from your book I learned that the U.S. Speaker of the House was writing letters for Bulger as well.    

LEHR: Around here we knew that the family had a connection to House Speaker John McCormack, but that’s all we knew. But from the prison file, and also the McCormack papers at Boston University where I teach, we suddenly have all this meat and muscle to put on that skeletal fact. Whitey had a benefit in prison that no other inmate did, which is access to power like that.     

DAVIS: You’ve been covering Whitey Bulger since you were a Boston Globe reporter. How long has it been? 

LEHR: Go back to the late 80’s, that’s when we started and broke the story about some kind of special thing going on between Whitey and John Connelly and the Boston FBI. 

DAVIS: That was your first story? 

LEHR: That was it. It was historic in the sense that it was the beginning of the end. It is another reminder how journalism can play a role in history.  

DAVIS: Have you met Whitey Bulger?

LEHR: No. I was in court when he came back to Boston and I’ve written him at least five times since he’s been back about the biography. Boy, did I want a meeting for the biography but he refused. He wants everything on his terms. He writes letters to a friend of his, a guy we mention in the book named Richard Sunday and then Sunday gives the letters to the Globe. It’s news in the sense that it is Whitey’s letters, but it is the world according to Whitey. It’s like he has open mike time. It’s not a question of anyone challenging him in any way. That’s where he puts out things like I don’t kill girls and things like that.            

DAVIS: Do you think he is going to write a book or have someone ghost a book for him?
 

LEHR: He was writing one while he was in Santa Monica, which I think he had stopped. I hope that it gets released because it will be fascinating to read, although not so much for its truth. I think he got almost a hundred pages out, but the government has it. He needs to find someone who will close their eyes and hold their nose.          

DAVIS: And cash the check. Are you covering the trial? 

LEHR: I’ll be there and we’ll probably write a new chapter about the trial for the paperback.  

DAVIS: Do you plan on writing another Bulger book? 

LEHR: I don’t think so. But I think one can get a book out of a trial that goes three months.  

DAVIS: The trial is already making headlines. 

LEHR: Oh, sure. It is a big story. I’ll be there and maybe do some commentary and maybe some op-ed stuff. I’ve already written one op-ed piece.    

DAVIS: I read that director Barry Levinson is going to film Black Mass. Are you involved in the film production?     

LEHR: Yes, in a consulting way. We have heard quite regularly from Barry and his people. They finished the script and they are polishing it now. They are asking all kinds of interesting questions.

DAVIS: I heard there is also another Whitey Bulger film in the works with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.  

LEHR: We hear that it is a back burner project now.   

DAVIS: You write in Whitey that Bulger is an avid reader. Do you think he read Black Mass and Whitey?   

LEHR: We’ve been told that he had just about all of the books written about him when they raided his apartment they discovered nearly all of the books written about him in his library.

DAVIS: That's not real smart. I guess he figured that no one would raid his apartment. I read somewhere that you consider Whitey to be the third part of a trilogy with Black Mass and The Underboss, your book on the Boston Cosa Nostra. I read The Underboss a couple of weeks ago and I was curious to find that John Connelly was featured in the book in a much better light than he was in Black Mass and Whitey. Did you meet him when you were researching The Underboss?

LEHR: Yes, that was when we met all of these guys. We wrote the FBI's bugging operation of the Boston mob underboss in a series in the Globe and then expanded it into the first book. That was a "high five" moment for the FBI. The framework of The Underboss is a dramatic reconstruction of the bugging operation.  

DAVIS: At that time you had no idea that the Boston FBI was shielding Bulger.

LEHR: No. The Boston FBI cooperated for that project so they would look good. Journalistically, we interviewed the entire organized crime squad extensively, taping interviews in order to get all the details to do the drama. So we met all of these guys and fast forward a year and a half and we are going down the Whitey/FBI road. We knew all of these players and it’s no secret now, one in particular, became our source. The history-making stuff might not have happened had we not done that first story. There were unforeseen collateral benefits.  

DAVIS: Was Connelly a source?            

LEHR: He was a source for a lot of reporters for what was going on in law enforcement and the Boston underworld. In Black Mass we identify the two FBI sources that confirmed our story so we could publish that special relationship fact. One was John Morris and one was a retired supervisor named Robert Patrick, who also has a book out. We could not have written that breakthrough story in 1988 without confirmation inside the FBI. Our editors wouldn’t have let us. 

DAVIS: What do you think of John Connelly? 

LEHR: He still has quite a following of “free John Connelly” type of supporters. These are people who have their head in the sand. They are in denial. In my view, he desires to be in prison. He is just corrupt as they come. 

DAVIS: Well, it is not just a case of taking money, he was also convicted of setting up murders, am I right? 

LEHR: Yes. He’s taken money and he’s got blood on his hands. That’s what the Miami jury verdict was all about. He was, as the government proved in that Miami case, a member of the Bulger gang. But that said, it is doing an injustice to Connelly and to the story to say only Connelly and John Morris were the problem. We’re talking about a lawlessness that permeated at least the Boston office of the FBI for years. Too many other agents and supervisors, maybe all the way to Washington, have skated on this scandal. 

DAVIS: I know a good number of detectives and federal agents and all of them have informants and all them protect their informants as best as they can. Most criminals become informant to receive that protection, I’ve been told. What was different with Connelly and Bulger?

LEHR: I think that the detectives and agents you know would look at this relationship and they would see that the power dynamic was all off. They would never let their informants call the shots. At that is what’s become clear in the history of the Connelly/Whitey thing – Whitey was in charge. 

DAVIS: I also enjoyed reading about the history of Boston you included in Whitey. It was interesting how you included the Bulger family within that history. 

LEHR: The idea was to give the readers some context.

DAVIS: Was Whitey Bulger a unique Boston story? Do you think he could have achieved the same success in Philadelphia or New York?

LEHR: I don’t know. There was, to use a cliché, a perfect storm of events in Boston in the mid-70’s. You may have had in New York or Chicago a crime boss who has an agent from the neighborhood. I think it is possible. But it did require an unusual and unique set of factors that blended together. 

DAVIS: New York had the Westies. I can picture Bulger as a member of the Westies.

LEHR: New York is big and has five mafia crime families. There is something focused about Boston, where you have one mafia family and one unique and powerful Irish crime guy. 

DAVIS: How do you think the Bulger trial will end?

LEHR: I don’t think he’ll ever see the light of day. He’s stuck behind bars for however much time he has remaining. I can’t imagine a jury, despite the best and very creative efforts of a very able defense attorney, coming up with any other verdict other than guilty. 

DAVIS: Thank you for talking to us and good luck with Whitey and the upcoming film. 

Note: Bulger was murdered in prison in 2018.

You can read my Washington Times review of Whitey (Crown) via the below link:

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jun/13/whitey-bulgers-horrific-crime-span/?page=all#pagebreak

And you can read my interview with Philip Leonetti via the below link:

http://www.pauldavisoncrime.com/2013/01/crime-beat-column-mafia-prince-q-with.html

The above photos were provided by Dick Lehr and Crown Publishing.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

A Flawed Buckley Documentary

I have read and watched William F. Buckley Jr., conservative author, National Review editor, newspaper columnist, and TV host of Firing Line, since I was a teenager. He was a huge influence.   

Sadly, I never met or interviewed Mr. Buckley, but I reviewed two of his books for the Philadelphia Inquirer

He was alive when I published the first, and I hope he read my favorable review.    

So I eagerly tuned into the PBS American Masters documentary, I watched the PBS American Masters documentary on him. 

There was much to like and there was much to dislike. 

The current editor of National Review agree.

PBS, the home of the late William F. Buckly Jr. the home of William F. Buckley Jr.’s Firing Line from 1971 to 1999, has chosen our founder as the subject of the latest installment of its American Masters documentary series. The two-hour film, aptly titled “The Incomparable Mr. Buckley,” airs tonight. More WFB on our televisions is welcome, especially in these times. But the film ends on a tendentious and discordant note that detracts from the whole. 

There is much to recommend the documentary, which spans WFB’s well-lived life from beginning to end, covers the major episodes in his career from his time as a student at Yale to the fall of the Soviet empire, and aptly situates him within the context of his times. The nearly two dozen people interviewed include many hostile left-leaning historians, but also Christopher Buckley, Matt Continetti, Peter Robinson, Alvin Felzenberg, Lee Edwards, and our own Rick Brookhiser and Jay Nordlinger. There is extensive archival footage of WFB, which captures his wit, eloquence, gentlemanliness, and joyous mischievousness. 

… WFB would have been the first to warn that nothing in our politics ever ends, and no victory is permanent but that of the Cross. The disgraceful events of January 6 were at odds with his decades of advocacy against riot and disorder and in favor of America’s founding charters. To equate Buckley’s conservatism with darkness, grievance, and conflict for its own sake is a smear based on any fair reading of the record. 

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

William F. Buckley Jr. PBS Documentary Flawed | National Review  

And you can watch the documentary via the below link:

American Masters | The Incomparable Mr. Buckley | Season 38 | PBS  

You can also read my Philadelphia Inquirer reviews of two of Mr. Buckley’s books below: 



FBI Warns Of International Organized Theft Groups

The FBI releases the below information:

INDIANAPOLIS—With warmer weather in sight, many Hoosiers are planning vacation travel. But ahead of packing up the car and heading out for some fun, FBI Indianapolis warns residents to take precautions to avoid falling prey to break-ins by international criminals.

International theft groups are typically comprised of individuals from South American countries who travel to the United States to participate in organized theft rings and are likely responsible for select organized burglaries and thefts in Indiana. These theft groups usually target homes in affluent neighborhoods when the residents are out of town, concentrating on the master or main bedroom and taking high end jewelry, accessories, and cash. Instances of the groups targeting homes in Indiana report a similar method of operation, to include surveillance of their victims to learn their schedules.

Not only have the groups been known to target homes in affluent neighborhoods, they also are likely responsible for select distraction robberies at grocery stores and similar establishments. Methods include surreptitiously removing credit cards from victims’ wallets, or the theft of the entire wallet, resulting in purchases of pre-paid gift cards at commercial retailers.

“This crime is definitely on the FBI’s radar, and we are tracking identified international organized theft groups to intercept them as they move between targets and are working with our law enforcement partners to mitigate the threat,” said FBI Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge Herbert J. Stapleton.

Staying aware is key to avoiding becoming a victim. Tips include:

  • Vary your daily routine
  • Don't post on social media that you're on vacation
  • Utilize a doorbell camera with an alarm system
  • Keep inside lights on with timers
  • Take photos of valuables and keep those items in a safe
  • Don’t leave large amounts of cash in the home

Anyone with information can contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or online at tips.fbi.gov

Friday, April 5, 2024

Once A Prince Of The City: A Look Back At Robert Leuci, Crime Writer & Former NYPD Detective

In a recent conversation with a Philadelphia detective, I mentioned Prince of the City, a fine police drama directed by Sidney Lumet. 

The detective, who is much younger than I, did not know about the 1981 film, or the true story of the late Robert Leuci (seen in the above and below photos). 

Back in 2009, I interviewed Robert Leuci, the subject of the film and Robert Daley’s true crime book. 

You can read my Crime Beat column on Robert Leuci below:     

Robert Leuci, the former New York City detective who was the subject of the book and film Prince of the City, is a crime writer who lives in Rhode Island, far from the mean streets of New York City.

Robert Daley’s Prince of the City: The True Story of a Cop Who Knew Too Much, was a first-rate true crime book and Sidney Lumet’s film based on the book with Treat Williams portraying Leuci when he was a young detective, and a member of the elite narcotics Special Investigating Unit (SIU), was brilliant and haunting.


The SIU narcotics detectives had city-wide jurisdiction and little supervision over their selected cases, which was unusual in a bureaucracy like the New York Police Department (NYPD). These “Princes of the City” were the most aggressive and talented detectives in the war on drugs in the 1960s and 1970s. And some of them were corrupt.

Leuci, as he recounts in his memoir All the Centurions: A New York Cop Remembers His Years On the Street - 1961-1981 (Harper), committed acts of corruption, but he came forward and volunteered to make cases for the prosecutors (including a young Rudolph Giuliani) against corruption in the criminal justice system.

He was not, he stresses, caught in a criminal act and forced to do so, which is the path taken by so many crooked cops and assorted criminals.

And he says he was not an oddball and outcast like Frank Serpico, the NYPD undercover narcotics cop who was the subject of both the book and film Serpico. Leuci said he was all cop. He belonged.

He wanted to go after corrupt lawyers, political fixers and judges, but tragically for Leuci; he was ultimately forced by prosecutors to also testify against his former partners and other cops. 

Leuci, now 68, retired from the NYPD in 1981. In addition to his memoir, he writes crime novels.

I contacted Leuci and talked to him about drugs, organized crime, crime fiction, and his life as a cop and a writer. Below is my Q&A with him:

Davis: I read two of your novels, Odessa Beach and Captain Butterfly and I read your memoir All the Centurions. I thought they were very good. 

LeuciOdessa Beach and Captain Butterfly are my early books. My later books are much better.

Davis: I’ll have to read them as well.

Leuci: My favorite is Fence Jumpers. It’s a bit autobiographical. For Odessa Beach I spent about nine months at Brighten Beach among the Russian immigrants. That was fun.

Davis: Was that as a detective or later as a writer?

Leuci: It was after I retired. I wanted to write something about these Russian immigrants, whom I found fascinating. I lived down there and wrote the book. Russian guys have been around since 1979. They left the old Soviet Union and were allegedly going to Israel, but they never got there. They are mostly Jews, but they were not Jewish in any sense. They knew nothing about Judaism and they knew nothing about Karl Marx. They were not communists, they were just Russians. They were tough guys. A lot of them were ex-prisoners who had been in jail for all sorts of different reasons. The first wave that first came here were some of the toughest guys you would want to meet. They are very violent and they are into almost everything. They are much more powerful today than the Italians.

Davis: Have the Russians become the bigger organized crime element in the country?

Leuci: For a hundred years, Italian organized crime held sway in the streets in all the big cities, especially in eastern cities, and some in the west. New York alone had five major crime families. They were all over the place and they controlled drugs, gambling, prostitution, and a lot of stuff. But they’re done, pretty much.

Davis: Italian organized crime is still active around the country, including here in Philadelphia – I’m part-Italian and I live in South Philly - but you’re right, their influence has greatly diminished. 

Leuci: I know a lot of people like to say that organized crime kept crime down, and without organized crime, disorganized crime would take over the streets, but these guys were responsible for most of the drugs that were in the streets. They were responsible for a lot of that street crime. I write about this in Fence Jumpers

Davis: Have you written about anything other than crime?

Leuci: No, I’ve thought about it, but crime is what I know. 

Davis: I find crime to be one of the most interesting of human endeavors. 

Leuci: There can be a lot of really good things in a crime novel.

Davis: I truly liked Prince of the City, both the book and the film. Were the book and film accurate? Is there anything that you would change if you could?

Leuci: I had a certain amount of input there, but not a whole lot. The book was written by Bob Daley, who is a wonderful writer and a good friend, and then it was turned into a film by Sidney Lumet, who is a wonderful film director who made Serpico and Network and other wonderful movies. 

But you know it was not exactly an uplifting movie. I’ve never sat through the entire movie, but I saw bits and pieces of it - it’s too hard for me. People still say to me why did you do this? What was the reason? It’s not really explained very well in the book, and it’s not explained at all in the movie. I mean it sort of gives you an idea of why I got involved in that investigation, but it was hard to do it, I suppose. In All the Centurions, I really do explain what brought me to that place and why I did what I did. I’m not sure it was a great decision, by the way. 

Davis: That’s my next question. Do you think you did the right thing by coming forward?

Leuci: Certainly, at the time. I was probably on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and I didn’t even realize it. I was a bit loony and all kinds of things were going on in my life. I was very depressed about the work I was doing in the police department. I went into the police department because I very much wanted to be a cop. 

I found myself within a short period of time, after five or six years, behaving in ways that were foreign to my nature. I was behaving in ways that were much like the people I was investigating. It made me sick, and it started to make me crazy. The people I cared most about were the other cops I worked with, and most of them were great guys, but they were crooks. We all rationalize our behavior. It made sense to me at the time, but when I really thought about it and really took it all apart, I realized it was so hypocritical and so opposed to anything I believed in. I should have quit or transferred to another unit, but I didn’t do that and I got caught up in this crazy investigation that was a horror in many ways. It was a decision that changed my life certainly, and maybe changed it for the better in some ways, but the price I paid and the price that other people paid for my fucking feeling sorry for myself, was way too high.

Davis: Are there different levels of corruption? Is there a difference between a cop taking a meal and a cop taking drug money?

Leuci: For years many cops believed there was “clean money” like gambling, and “dirty money” like drugs, but the problem with that kind of mentality is that most of the money really comes out of drugs. It ends up in one big circle. I would never sell drugs. I would never sell to an informant. I had a line that said I would never cross. A lot of guys I worked with said they would never cross that line, but a lot of guys did. You can’t draw those lines; it’s beyond your control. You shouldn’t do that. Once you do it you’ve screwed yourself. It’s a sensual world you’re working in. It really rubs off on you. There is no cop born, ever, that changed the street. But the street has changed every single cop.

Davis: Drugs are rampant today, and they fuel many other crimes. Can you tell us what it was like to a narcotics detective in your day in New York?

Leuci: There was a heroin epidemic in the 1960s, 1970s, and part of the 1980s. The drug of choice was heroin, not cocaine or crack cocaine. Heroin killed thousands of drug addicts. The 60s and the 70s were a crazy time, and when you added this drug, it made the whole world seem topsy-turvy. But there was less violence as that drug doesn’t produce violence. People go out and rob to get the drug, but heroin is an opiate. It makes people tired, it makes them sleep. Heroin addicts are not threatening people. When the drug of choice changed to crack cocaine it became extremely violent. That drug produces violence and paranoia. Meth is another violent drug. 

Davis: I’ve long been interested in your era, as I was a young guy then, and I read Robin Moore’s The French Connection in 1969 and went on to read a lot of books and see a lot of films about crime in New York, including Prince of the City, and your books. In your era the SIU produced many legendary detectives like Eddie Egan, Sonny Grosso, and Joe Nunziata. Nunziata was an interesting man who came to a tragic end with his suicide. Even though he was apparently corrupt, my heart went out to him and his family when I saw Prince of the City.

Leuci: Joe Nunziata looked like Dean Martin. He was a very handsome, a very gregarious guy. He was all those things. There were a lot of good things about him, and I was one of his big admirers. Joe made some big mistakes. We all did. I think the film did him justice. I talk to his son every now and again. Papa's Game is a great book that tells the story of that time and the French Connection rip-off. That was the most horrendous thing imaginable.

Davis: Yes, after confiscating all that heroin in the French Connection case, the biggest drug bust at the time, someone simply stole it from the NYPD property room. Did you know the people written about in Papa's Game, the criminal Vincent Papa and Detective Frank King?

Leuci: I knew Frank King pretty well. Frank King was a good cop in a lot of ways, but he was thoroughly corrupt. He was a gangster as a cop. 

Davis: How are you treated by law enforcement officers today? 

Leuci: It depends on where they are and who they are, what generation they are from. I lecture at every police department in the country, with the exception of New York, on corruption, ethics and morality. The cops are very nice. But what old school guys say, and it’s true, is that you violated something that can’t be forgiven. When you turn in a cop for whatever reason, it’s unforgivable. I understand it as I come from that generation. That has changed nowadays. It exists in cases of police brutality, but I think that if there is a cop out there who is going off on his own and doing corrupt things, other cops will report it. Police today have different kinds of education, background and world views. I don’t think you can get away with that kind of stuff today.

Davis: I have one last question about your era. Did you see the film American Gangster? It has been reported that the corrupt detective was based on you.

Leuci: I won’t go see it. I read the magazine piece and this guy has got to be kidding. Josh Brolin called me up and said he was playing me in a movie. I said you’re not playing me.

Davis: Did you know the Black heroin dealers Frank Lucas or Nicky Barnes?

Leuci: I never worked in Harlem, and I didn’t know Lucas. I worked in Brooklyn.

Davis: I talked to a retired DEA agent who worked in New York at the time, and he said the movie was false and Lucas is a liar. Lucas never did any of that stuff he claimed. When he was caught, he ratted out his gang and family members, but he never made any cases against corrupt cops or DEA agents. The writers and filmmakers naively believed everything Lucas told them. 

Leuci: The people who wrote that spent no time doing any kind of research on it. They had this great story and they turned it into a movie. This guy Jacobson, who wrote the magazine piece and wrote the screenplay, is totally full of shit. I had federal protection during the time he was talking about. I know the detective he was talking about, a guy named Albano. He was a real bad guy who worked Harlem. He was involved with the French Connection case. But if they didn’t spend any time trying to get it straight, if they didn’t get my story straight, how can they get the rest of that movie straight?

Davis: Do you think Lucas used your name because you are known? 

Leuci: Yes, of course. My daughter wanted to sue, but I said no.

Davis: They didn’t use your name, but they used your street name “Babyface.”

Leuci: No, when he gives Lucas his card, that’s my name on it. 

Davis: I didn’t catch that.

Leuci: I’ve never seen it, but people told me about it. I was working for Giuliani at the Southern District of New York, and if any of that was true, Giuliani would have crucified me. Those guys should be ashamed of themselves. It’s all bullshit. 

Davis: One of the things I liked in your memoir was your portrayal of Sean Connery, one of my favorite actors. You wrote that at a party people were smoking pot and Connery told them to respect you and stop. “This man is a police officer.” I can hear his commanding voice.

Leuci: Sean Connery is a very straight shooter. He was very kind to me when I was out of my level in Hollywood with these characters. He was very supportive. Some guys started smoking pot in front of us and he got pissed off.

Davis: Who influenced you as a writer?

Leuci: Robert Stone is a big influence, and he is my mentor. I like Joseph Wambaugh, Dennis Lehane, Richard Price. There are so many writers that I really like.

Davis: Any last thoughts? 

Leuci: I’ve written seven books, taught at the University of Rhode Island for ten years, and I’ve lectured around the world. I’m a much more complicated character than you see in the movie. 

Note: Below are photos of Treat Williams from the 1981 film Prince of the City