Monday, March 30, 2015

John Palazzolo Locked Up on Parole Violation, Planning Bonanno Family Takeover?

The Bonanno crime family may have lost its youth, but its wiseguys still have plenty of chutzpah.

John Palazzolo, 77, a reputed street boss of the clan’s Bronx faction, got locked up Friday after federal law enforcement officials caught him meeting with other mobsters — a violation of his parole terms.

The feds feared the old gangster was conspiring to take over Bonanno operations in Queens — which could possibly unleash a wave of violence among rival factions.

Citing allegations of “a conspiracy to conduct a war to control the Bonanno crime family,” federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis ordered the ailing oldfella to jail pending a hearing next month.

Palazzolo, who was released in 2012 after doing 10 years for attempted murder, is barred from associating with fellow mobsters. But in past weeks, he was caught by surveillance having a suspiciously long meeting in the parking lot of a diner in Bayside, Queens with “Fat Anthony” Rabito, a consigliore of the Bonannos.

He also met with a mafioso with ties to reputed mob boss Michael “Mikey Nose” Mancuso, who has three more years left in federal prison for a murder rap and is believed to rule the family from the inside.

Those pow-wows are in violation of Palazzolo’s parole, prosecutors said in court.

“Is there still a leadership of the Bonnano family?” asked a puzzled Garaufis.

“Unfortunately, yes,” said assistant U.S. attorney Nicole Argentieri.

A source said that Palazzolo had recently lost influence in the organization’s power structure and was about to take matters into his own hands.

“He’s pissed,” the law-enforcement official said. “Once we found out, we had to stop it.”

Defense lawyer Flora Edwards argued the run-in with Rabito could have been “a casual meeting” and pointed to her client’s litany of health issues.

A resigned-looking Palazzolo, wearing track pants, a black hoodie and holding a plastic bag from Target, shuffled into the lock-up.

“I thought someone’s who’s 77-years-old and has medical problems will be happy to live a quiet life,” the judge told him.

He added that the power struggle involves another imprisoned mobster, calling it “one nightmare on top of another.”

The Bonanno family has been working to replenish its ranks following dozens of convictions in the past decade, many obtained after its boss and underboss turned into rats and testified.

New recruits and old timers are still engaged in loan sharking, racketeering and other illegal activities, said a source.

“It never ends,” he added.

Thanks to Oren Yaniv.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

U.S. Army National Guard Soldier and His Cousin Arrested, Alleged Plan to Attack Illinois Military Joliet Armory

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois and Special Agent in Charge Robert Holley of the FBI’s Chicago Division announced that two Aurora, Illinois, men were arrested Wednesday night for allegedly conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a foreign terrorist organization.

Army National Guard Specialist Hasan Edmonds, 22, a U.S. citizen, was arrested without incident at Chicago Midway International Airport by members of the Chicago FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) while attempting to fly to Cairo, Egypt. Jonas Edmonds, 29, a U.S. citizen, was arrested without incident at his home in Aurora. Both defendants were charged in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois with one count of conspiring to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

As alleged in the complaint, in late 2014, Hasan Edmonds came to the attention of the FBI. The investigation subsequently revealed that he and Jonas Edmonds had devised a plan for Hasan Edmonds to travel overseas for the purpose of waging violence on behalf of ISIL. Hasan Edmonds, a current member of the Illinois Army National Guard, planned to use his military training to fight on behalf of ISIL. As part of their plans, Hasan Edmonds booked airline travel to depart yesterday from Chicago and arrive in Cairo today, with layovers in Detroit and Amsterdam.

As alleged in the complaint, both defendants also planned for Jonas Edmonds to carry out an act of terrorism in the United States after Hasan Edmonds departed. In particular, both defendants met with an FBI undercover employee and presented a plan to carry out an armed attack against a U.S. military facility in northern Illinois, an installation where Hasan Edmonds had been training. Jonas Edmonds asked the FBI undercover employee to assist in the attack and explained that they would use Hasan Edmonds’ uniforms and the information he supplied about how to access the installation and target officers for attack.

“According to the charges filed today, the defendants allegedly conspired to provide material support to ISIL and planned to travel overseas to support the terrorist organization,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “In addition, they plotted to attack members of our military within the United States. Disturbingly, one of the defendants currently wears the same uniform of those they allegedly planned to attack. I want to thank the many agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for disrupting the threat posed by these defendants.”

“We will pursue and prosecute with vigor those who support ISIL and its agenda of ruthless violence,” said U.S. Attorney Fardon. “Anyone who threatens to harm our citizens and allies, whether abroad or here at home, will face the full force of justice.”

“The arrests today are the culmination of a successful investigation that involved a great deal of coordination and communication with our law enforcement and military partners,” said Special Agent in Charge Holley. “Throughout the course of this investigation, the defendants were closely and carefully monitored to ensure the safety of the public and our service men and women.”

Conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If convicted, the court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Gun Guys: A Road Trip

Here is armed America—a land of machine-gun gatherings in the desert, lederhosened German shooting societies, feral-hog hunts in Texas, and Hollywood gun armories. Whether they’re collecting antique weapons, practicing concealed carry, or firing an AR-15 or a Glock at their local range, many Americans love guns—which horrifies and fascinates many other Americans, and much of the rest of the world. This lively, sometimes raucous book explores from the inside the American love affair with firearms.

Dan Baum is both a lifelong gun guy and a Jewish Democrat who grew up in suburban New Jersey feeling like a “child of a bitter divorce with allegiance to both parents.” In Gun Guys: A Road Trip, he grabs his licensed concealed handgun and hits the road to meet some of the 40 percent of Americans who own guns. We meet Rick EctorGun Guys: A Road Trip, a black Detroit autoworker who buys a Smith & Wesson after suffering an armed robbery—then quits his job to preach the gospel of armed self-defense, especially to the resistant black community; Jeremy and Marcey Parker, a young, successful Kentucky couple whose idea of a romantic getaway is the Blue Ridge Mountain 3-Gun Championship in Bowling Green; and Aaron Zelman, head of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. Baum also travels to New Orleans, where he enters the world of a man disabled by a bullet, and to Chicago to interview a killer. Along the way, he takes us to gun shows, gun stores, and shooting ranges trying to figure out why so many of us love these things and why they inspire such passions.

In the tradition of Confederates in the Attic and Among the Thugs, Baum brings an entire world to life. Written equally for avid shooters and those who would never touch a firearm, Gun Guys is more than a travelogue. It gives a fresh assessment of the heated politics surrounding guns, one that will challenge and inform people on all sides of the issue.  This may be the first book that goes beyond gun politics to illuminate the visceral appeal of guns—an original, perceptive, and surprisingly funny journey through American gun culture.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Berkshires Organized Crime History

Over the past few decades, popular culture depictions in movies and television has helped elevate the idea that gambling rackets and mob crime are the sort of thing that occurs in places like New Jersey, New York, Nevada or Chicago.

The truth is, New England has seen plenty of it over the years, and some of it quite a bit closer to home than the locales in Scorcese's "The Departed." Over the course of the past century, central Berkshire County has several times been the site of organized crime activity, from petty book-making to major scandals involving local officials and prominent mafia affiliates.

As a center of population, commerce and government in the county, the city of Pittsfield has perhaps naturally also often been the epicenter of much of its major criminal conspiracies. Repeatedly, investigation of such wrongdoing has also been characterized by allegations of corruption among the city's police department, politicians and other influential citizens.

As early as the 1930s, such corruption had already been intimated, when then City Councilor Daniel Casey first sought to launch a probe of the local police department. In April of 1936, Councilor Casey introduced a motion stating that "an investigation is necessary to determine what manner various forms of illegal gambling flourish throughout the city without interference or suppression by the police department," petitioning the council to launch a probe of the department.

At the time, Casey's motion was defeated in a tie vote, though it was not the last time the budding politician would raise the issue.

"Something is rotten in Denmark," reiterated Casey 11 years later, as state representative, again in reference to the belief that corruption in the department had stymied efforts to crack down on a growing gambling trade in the city.

His comment came after the February 1947 acquittal of Daniel Caligian on the first charge of attempted bribery in the history of the Police Department.

Caligian, a counterman for North Street's Majestic Restaurant, allegedly tried to pay Sgt. Raymond Coakley $500 to look the other way on his "bookie" activities, for which he had two previous convictions already.

According to Casey, Coakley "probably didn't report the first alleged bribery offer to some superior officers at headquarters because he was afraid of a leak in the department."

The Berkshire Eagle also voiced concerns over the not-guilty verdict, suggesting that local law enforcement had become "politics-ridden" and "susceptible to corruption, and that the case amounted to "a sad commentary on respect for law and order, and a severe indictment of the Pittsfield Police Department."

Not long after, Caligian went into the pinball machine business with Peter G. Arlos, a controversial figure who would later become the city's longest reigning city councilor. Together, they ran Automatic Vendors Inc. until 1950, when Arlos severed ties to begin his own pinball machine distribution business, Pace Merchandising Co. When their respective licenses to sell the machines expired at the end of 1951, their re-application to the Licensing Board launched the dramatic "Pinball Hearings," which dragged on before the board for the first several months of 1952.

Pinball machines had been a matter of local controversy for a number of years at that time and the licensing authority had been a matter of some legal gray area. In North Adams, all pinball machines had been removed, along with slot machines, in 1937, but by early 1938 the popular entertainment devices were already creeping back into circulation there.

In March 1946, the Supreme Judicial Court had ruled that only pinball machines that did not have a cash pay-off of any kind attached were legal in the commonwealth, and in October of that year, Pittsfield's Chief John Sullivan issued an order to local establishments for the removal of such gaming apparatus, even five taverns that had been issued permits by the city's Licensing Board just three months earlier.

Subsequent legislation from Boston in 1949 further clarified the legality of non-gambling pinball machines, though local authorities were still very much of the opinion that the industry surrounding their use was being used as some kind of front for other forms of illegal gambling, probably because of the reputation of their primary distributor as a known bookie.

The administration of the time at City Hall was adamant about the need to crack down on such infraction fand, at the start of 1952, the local Licensing Board enacted a far-reaching policy that no permit to supply the machines would be granted unless the applicant was willing to submit all records of their business, and submit to any questioning the board saw fit.

A provision that any attempt by the applicant to invoke the constitutional 5th Amendment to such questioning would be grounds for denial gave these hearings a much broader leeway to conduct fishing expeditions than any court of law could have. It was thought that the implementation of such strict procedure would automatically drive Caligian out of the business. "But Mr. Caligian along with his former associate in AVI, Peter Arlos, astonished the trappers by swallowing the bait and applying for the licenses," wrote Roger Linscott in The Berkshire Eagle.

A series of proceedings commenced, with City Solicitor Francis Quirico summoning records from telephones and business transactions, and conducting probing questioning of a multitude of witnesses. Many stone-walled the attorney under examination, as unlike the applicants themselves, they were under no obligation to waive their right to silence.  Several of these witnesses would eventually be arrested on various charges by the anti-gambling vice squad formed by Mayor Robert Capeless later that year.

The Pinball Hearings, which played to packed audiences in City Hall chambers, lasted from February to early May. Sparks flew as Quirico repeatedly contended that the operations of the two applicants were being used as fronts for horse-betting and lottery schemes, while in response accusations of witch-hunting were lobbed by Thomas Noonan, a high profile Albany lawyer who'd won Caligian's case in '46 and joined these proceedings as additional counsel to local attorney Anthony Ruberto in March.

Considerable testimony from police officers and other witnesses alleged instances of book-making and other "questionable enterprises" had been occurring at places rented by Caligian and Arlos, and the board ultimately denied their permits.

Over the rest of the decade, local authorities continued efforts to rein in feared "organized gambling" in the county, with periodic raids on local businesses and private homes, such as one in Dalton in 1951 at which 31 high-stakes card players from around the Berkshires were arrested.

As the 1960s dawned, however, a new venture would introduce the involvement of major mafia figures to the Berkshires on a level never seen before.

In 1960, the Berkshire Downs racetrack was opened in Hancock by B.A. Dario of Rhode Island, who was also proprietor of the Lincoln Downs racetrack just north of Providence. Licensed pari-mutuel betting on horse races had been legal in the commonwealth since the 1930s, and at the time, state government permitted 90 days worth of racing in Massachusetts. The bulk of those days went to Suffolk Downs, but Berkshire Downs ran a 24-day cycle during its short period of operation as a track.

For most of its time in business, Berkshire Downs lost money as a venue, at least on paper, but it held a certain appeal for both locals and visitors and was often well attended. It also attracted the interest of some high-profile individuals, and a general reputation of being "mobbed up."

Within its first couple of seasons, the track had become the subject of investigation by state gaming authorities, who suspected that it was largely controlled by mafia don Raymond Patriarca Sr., boss of the New England "family" operating out of Providence and Boston. Later, FBI wiretapping helped substantiate Patriarca's involvement, and a 1973 congressional committee report ultimately concluded he was a key investor in the Berkshire venture.

Singer Frank Sinatra was another major investor, though he would later testify before the House committee that he had no idea the reputed mafia don was involved, and had withdrawn his $55,000 investment in the venue after finding he had been named vice president of the business without his knowledge.

The involvement of the New England mafia in Berkshire Downs may have helped, in part, to explain a perceived rise in apparent organized crime in nearby Pittsfield which would last throughout the 1960s.

Illegal activity was on the rise, ranging from the proliferation of bookies to the suspicious deaths of two Berkshire County men within a six-month period in 1962. Harold Boland, of Pittsfield, was found in a canal off Onota Lake in May, having had his wrists tied to a heavy stone. Joseph Klein, a West Stockbridge native who worked in Pittsfield, was found beaten to death outside his car by an assailant who had apparently struck after waiting for him to exit a bar in Canaan, N.Y. While the cases remained unsolved, suspicions ran high that the two men may have gotten in over their head in gambling and run awry of mob enforcers.

Local police were also under the lens again for possible corruption, with a state police probe initiated after three patrolmen were convicted in the robbery of a local hardware store, and allegations that other officers may have also been involved in illegal activities, including tips that had arisen from investigation of activity at the nearby race track.

The state police probe began in March 1963, and grew more intense as local media got wind of some of vague but sensational rumors stemming from the investigation. On April 3, the North Adams Transcript wrote that connections between the recent deaths and "a possible tieup between some city police officials and the criminal underworld stunned the city of Pittsfield today with the announcement that the alleged connections between gangsters, gamblers and city officials was under investigation by the Massachusetts State Police."

According to Commissioner Frank Giles, state police investigators had received information that more than one ranking officer had been taking bribes from bookies, and that a "high ranking police official" had been the liaison between the department and a "gaming rackets czar." After several months of surveying the department during which lurid headlines were rampant in newspapers from Pittsfield to Boston, the probe concluded that many of the tips had proven false, while others could not be substantiated.

In November, Giles admitted that there was no "positive information of wrongdoing by Pittsfield police." Later that month, the City Council approved a higher-than-requested raise for all department personnel.

Implied associations between law-enforcement officials and perceived underworld activity — particularly at the questionable racetrack — continued to trouble area residents, though, and the sense that corruption was still a problem would not soon dissipate. Even in 1976, when Berkshire Downs was all but dismantled, an editorial in The Eagle voiced concerns about this underlying perception.

"There is nothing illegal about Judge John A. Barry's serving as director and spokesman for a third-rate agricultural fair that serves as an excuse for a fourth-rate racing operation in Hancock. The same can be said in defense of Carmen C. Massimiano, the chief probation officer of the Berkshire Superior Court, who is evidently moonlighting at Berkshire Downs, too," wrote the Eagle's editor. "But there is a very serious question as to the good judgement of law-enforcement officials who allow themselves to be identified with any race track - and particularly a track so economically marginal that jockeys have to be saintly to stay honest."

While no indictments came out of the 1963 probe, not every cop on the force at the time turned out to be squeaky clean; in early 1968, a 17-year veteran of the force was charged as one of seven conspirators in a local stolen car ring connected to a major underboss in the Patriarca mafia.

Car thefts had been rampant throughout Berkshire County in the late '60s, and by 1967 authorities began to suspect a coordinated effort was involved in some of these. After months of investigation by state police and the FBI, they zeroed in on Edmund Crown, an automobile salesman from Lanesborough, arresting him on Dec. 21 in connection with the transport and sale of at least 31 stolen cars. Four more Berkshire residents were soon arrested in the stolen car conspiracy, including Pittsfield patrolmen Anthony Crea, and three eastern Massachusetts suspects, including Vincent Teresa of North Reading.

All but the latter were tried, convicted, and already paroled from jail less than two years later; though Crown had been charged with as many as 62 counts for which the maximum sentence could have been up to 20 years. Two and a half years was the maximum that inmates could be sentenced to the local House of Correction, which prosecutor William R. Flynn urged for Crown's safety "because of the people he has been involved with."

The sort of people he referred to were no doubt associates of Vincent "Fat Vinnie," Teresa, believed the be the ringleader of the car ring, who was also by his own admission the No. 3 man in the New England mafia.

Teresa's own trial in Pittsfield did not begin until July 1969, and ultimately resulted in a mistrial after it was realized that one of the jurors was a relative of the prosecutor. A new trial was planned for February 1970, by which time Teresa was already serving a brief sentence on an unrelated offence in Maryland.

Something changed in Teresa's perspective during this time, a change that was part of an emerging shift in the internal culture of the mob that would ultimately grow to become a serious Achilles' heel to its entire internal structure.

In earlier years, when a "made" man went to jail, he was well looked after by his associates.  His legal fees were paid, his family well looked after, and in the case of major players, his territory and financial interests were protected by colleagues on the outside. At the time of Teresa's incarceration, both Patriarca and underboss Henry Tameleo, who controlled the Boston branch of the New England family, were already serving time. With the organization in the hands of younger, less respectful mobsters, Teresa found his family neglected, his secretary the victim of an attempted murder, and millions of dollars he'd gathered in various scams taken.

This and the probable consequences of his impending retrial in Pittsfield was enough to make him turn state's evidence, one of the first accredited mafia members who opted to "rat," in what would soon become an epidemic for crime families around the country. A $500,000 price was placed on his head, and while his sentence was commuted in 1971, he and his wife and children spent the next few years under witness protection. Later, he published three books based on his days in the mafia.

While at the time, Lucchese family soldier Joe Valachi was the most prominent Cosa Nostra informant in the public mind, Teresa's decision to "sing" for the Feds was far more significant. From his position as one of Patriarca's key lieutenants, he provided information that devastated the Patriarca family and did damage to other mafia families as well. His testimony led to the indictment of at least 50 mob figures, and valuable leads in the pursuit of hundreds of others.

While Teresa's turn on his compatriots dealt a disastrous blow to the mafia in the Northeast, it was not the last time that mob influence would be felt locally, nor was it the last time Pittsfield officials would become implicated in illegal gambling activity.

In the mid-1980s, organized crime was still reaping major profits from gambling activity in Berkshire County, primarily in the form of sports betting. A multiple-year investigation coordinated by District Attorney Anthony Ruberto, in which the local DA's office utilized wiretaps for the first time, led to a number of indictments but narrowly missed netting "major sports betting figures in Massachusetts."

It did result in the 1983 arrest of Pittsfield Police officer William Zoitos and his wife, who authorities alleged had allowed their home and phones to be used for registering bets. The following year, Ruberto's office led a 13-home raid in which suspects were arrested across Western Massachusetts and into Connecticut.

Ruberto told The Eagle that the proceeds from these rackets "ultimately ends up in the coffers of organized crime, which uses that money to infiltrate other areas of society."

These profits fueled the booming narcotics trade, which by then was firmly established as the mafia's most lucrative enterprise, and left ample funds for exerting influence over law enforcement and political figures.

"If anybody in this town doesn't know that organized crime is here, then shame on them," Pittsfield Police Sgt. Richard Henault, head of the department's special investigations unit, told The Eagle.

Police Chief Stanley Stankiewicz concurred, adding that "mob related beatings" were not uncommon in the city.

According to newspaper reporting at the time, a bookie could be found as easily as hanging around any one of a number of local bars, and these individuals almost always paid a cut on to the larger latticework of the New England mafia.

In early 1986, one such bar in particular was the site of a police sting that sent major ripples through the community. On Jan. 11, the three-member SIU conducted a raid on the Beer Garden on Wahconah Street, during which then City Council President Angelo C. Stracuzzi was arrested along with several other members of his family on charges of allowing gambling on the premises.

Stracuzzi and fellow councilors denounced the raid as an act of political retribution for his push to disband the special unit and establish an independent committee to review the department's operation. The city councilor was ultimately acquitted of charges during a jury trial after testifying that he had sold his interest in the bar to his father and brother weeks prior to the raid. Three other family members plead guilty, with father Angelo R. and sister Donna Stracuzzi Smith paying fines, while brother Anthony Stracuzzi served a sentence of 10 days in the local jail.

The controversy following the raid made headlines in the New York Times, with allegations of racism, falsified pay records, and on duty drunkeness by its chief leveled at the Pittsfield Police Department. Chief Stankiewicz was hospitalized for chest pains during the ensuing scandal, ultimately resigning and moving to Florida later that year.

The SIU was immediately disbanded, and an ordinance establishing the Police Advisory Committee was passed by the council just days after the Beer Garden raid. According to the ordinance, the committee's role is "to advise the Mayor and the City Council on non-operational and non-investigatory matters relative to the Police Department in the City, and in advising with regard to rules and regulations in conformity with law."

By the late 1980s, the role of organized crime in Berkshire County was diminishing, as the New England mafia family has continued to decline following the 1984 death of Raymond Patriarca Sr., its most successful boss. Today, its membership of full-fledged "made" men has dwindled to less than a third of what it was during its peak, and those members that now remain are largely elderly, and increasingly being snapped up for prosecution. Patriarca family boss Peter Limone was placed on five years probation with an ankle bracelet in 2011, followed by the arrest of his successor Anthony DiNunzio the following year.  Antonio Spagnolo, the next acting boss in line, is currently awaiting trial following his arraignment this past fall, along with another longtime member, on extortion charges.

Occasional incidents of local gambling activity and alleged organized crime have occurred sporadically in recent years, such as the 1998 prosecution of Dalton resident Shaun Delmolino, and the 2003 money-laundering conviction of Giovanna Trotti, a Pittsfield man with purported ties to Springfield mob auspices. More recently, the owner of the former Hermann Alexander's bar was sentenced to probation for illegal gambling machines and conspiracy to distribute cocaine, following an April 2012 raid that also led to the arrest of eight other individuals.

Overall, though, the age of gambling rackets and traditional "mob" crime has all but died off in the Berkshires over the past quarter century. Today, concerns about mafia infiltration have been replaced by a new, arguably more troubling kind of "organized crime," in the form of youth street gangs. Affiliation with these, say many officials as well as local educators, has seen a dramatic rise of late, ushering in a new kind of danger which community leaders have only just begun to confront.

Thanks to Joe Durwin.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church


In Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church, the Sunday collection in every Catholic church throughout the world is as familiar a part of the Mass as the homily and even Communion. There is no doubt that historically the Catholic Church has been one of the great engines of charity in history. But once a dollar is dropped in that basket, where does it go? How are weekly cash contributions that can amount to tens of thousands of dollars accounted for? Where does the money go when a diocese sells a church property for tens of millions of dollars? And what happens when hundreds of millions of dollars are turned over to officials at the highest ranks, no questions asked, for their discretionary use? The Roman Catholic Church is the largest organization in the world. The Vatican has never revealed its net worth, but the value of its works of art, great churches, property in Rome, and stocks held through its bank easily run into the tens of billions. Yet the Holy See as a sovereign state covers a mere 108 acres and has a small annual budget of about $280 million.

No major book has examined the church’s financial underpinnings and practices with such journalistic force. Today the church bears scrutiny by virtue of the vast amounts of money (nearly $2 billion in the United States alone) paid out to victims of clergy abuse. Amid mounting diocesan bankruptcies, bishops have been selling off whole pieces of the infrastructure—churches, schools, commercial properties—while the nephew of one of the Vatican’s most powerful cardinals engaged in a lucrative scheme to profiteer off the enormous downsizing of American church wealth.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

U.S. Air Force Veteran, Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, Charged with Attempting to Provide Material Support to ISIL

U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch of the Eastern District of New York, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, Assistant Director in Charge Diego G. Rodriguez of the FBI’s New York Field Office and Commissioner William J. Bratton of the New York City Police Department announced that a federal grand jury in New York City returned a two-count indictment charging Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, an American citizen and veteran of the U.S. Air Force, with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a foreign terrorist organization, and obstruction and attempted obstruction of justice. The defendant will be arraigned on the indictment on March 18, at 11 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York.

“Born and raised in the United States, Pugh allegedly turned his back on his country and attempted to travel to Syria in order to join a terrorist organization,” said U.S. Attorney Lynch. “We will continue to vigorously prosecute extremists, whether based here or abroad, to stop them before they are able to threaten the United States and its allies.” U.S. Attorney Lynch extended her grateful appreciation to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), which comprises a large number of federal, state, and local agencies from the region. U.S. Lynch also thanked U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of New Jersey, the Asbury Park, New Jersey Police Department and the Neptune, New Jersey, Police Department for their assistance.

“Pugh, an American citizen and former member of our military, allegedly abandoned his allegiance to the United States and sought to provide material support to ISIL,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “Identifying and bringing to justice individuals who provide or attempt to provide material support to terrorists is a key priority of the National Security Division.”

“As alleged, Pugh, an American citizen, was willing to travel overseas and fight jihad alongside terrorists seeking to do us harm,” said Assistant Director in Charge Rodriguez. “U.S. citizens who offer support to terrorist organizations pose a grave threat to our national security and will face serious consequences for their actions. We will continue to work with our partners, both here and abroad, to prevent acts of terrorism. This investigation demonstrates the importance of law enforcement coordination and collaboration here and around the world.”

“We thank the members of the NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force and our Federal law enforcement partners for their work in this case and for their tireless efforts to identify threats of terrorism here and abroad,” said Commissioner Bratton. “It is this type of collaboration that results in swift investigative work to stop individuals such as this from making any further contribution to terrorist organizations such as ISIL.”

As alleged in the complaint, indictment and other court filings, the defendant served in the Air Force as an avionics instrument system specialist and received training in the installation and maintenance of aircraft engine, navigation and weapons systems. After leaving the Air Force, the defendant worked for a number of companies in the United States and Middle East as an avionics specialist and airplane mechanic. The defendant lived abroad for over a year before his arrest in this case.

Earlier this year, weeks after being fired from his last job as an airplane mechanic based in the Middle East, the defendant attempted to join ISIL. On Jan. 10, 2015, the defendant traveled from Egypt to Turkey in an effort to cross the border into Syria to join ISIL and fight violent jihad. Turkish authorities denied the defendant entry, however, and sent him on a return flight to Egypt. Upon his arrival in Egypt, the defendant was carrying multiple electronic devices, including four USB thumb drives that had been stripped of their plastic casings and an iPod that had been wiped clean of data. The defendant also had a cellular telephone that contained, among other things, a photograph of a machine gun. The defendant was soon thereafter deported to the United States.

On Jan. 14, 2015, JTTF agents obtained a search warrant for the defendant’s electronic devices, including his laptop computer. Subsequent exploitation of the laptop revealed, among other things, the following:

  • Recent Internet searches for “borders controlled by Islamic state”,
  • Recent Internet searches for “who controls kobani,” “kobani border crossing,” and “jarablus border crossing,” all references to Syrian cities under ISIL’s control near the Turkish border,
  • A chart of crossing points between Turkey and Syria indicating the areas on the Syrian side of the border controlled by ISIL and other groups, and
  • Internet searches for “Flames of War,” an ISIL propaganda video, as well as downloaded videos, including one showing ISIL members executing prisoners.

The defendant was arrested pursuant to a federal complaint on Jan. 16, 2015, in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and he has been in custody ever since. After the defendant’s arrest, JTTF agents seized and later obtained warrants to search two backpacks that the defendant had when he was overseas. Agents recovered from the backpacks, among other things: two compasses, a solar-powered flashlight, a solar-powered power source, shards of broken USB thumb drives, a fatigue jacket and camping clothes.

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