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Thirteen Arrested for Gang-Related Thefts of 93 Guns

From a press release

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele, Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub, Special Agent-in-Charge EricDeGree of ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division; and Springfield Township Police Chief Michael Pitkow announce the arrests two adults and 11 juveniles on charges related to three burglaries and one attempted burglary of federal firearms licensed dealers, i.e. gun  stores, in Montgomery and Bucks Counties.

In total, 93 firearms were stolen. Just 33 firearms have been recovered by law enforcement, leaving 60 firearms on the streets and unaccounted for.

In adult court, two adults and two direct-filed juveniles, all from Philadelphia, were charged: Angel Mason, 40, of Poplar Street, Elijah Terrell, 16, also of Poplar Street, Donte Purnell, 22, of Olympus Place, and Liv Hall, 18, of Parish Street. Nine juveniles from West Philadelphia, who ranged in age from 14 to 17 years old, were charged in Juvenile Court and their names were not released.

The three burglaries and an attempted burglary of gun stores occurred between Sept. 24, 2022, and Nov. 20, 2022. All were overnight burglaries that occurred between 2 and 4:30 a.m. In each successful burglary, a group of the defendants gained access to each gun store, smashed glass display cases and grabbed numerous firearms before fleeing. The details of each burglary are:

· Sept. 24, 2022 (4:22 a.m.): Founding Fathers Outfitters, Lafayette Hill section of Springfield Township, Montgomery County: 26 firearms stolen, 6 recovered to date by law enforcement, including one used in a shooting incident in Philadelphia and one found on a suspect involved in a Sept. 29, 2022 homicide in Philadelphia. Also of note regarding this burglary, the burglars drove a 2020 Kia Forte that had been stolen in Philadelphia just prior to the burglary.

· Nov. 12, 2022 (4:20 a.m.): Target Word Gun Shop, in Chalfont, New Britain Township in Bucks County: 32 pistols, 8 rifles and one suppressor stolen, 10 firearms recovered to date by law enforcement through search warrants.

· Nov. 20, 2022 (2:15 a.m.): Attempted Burglary of Continental Armory in Hatboro in Montgomery County; burglary was interrupted when an individual heard breaking glass and called 911.

· Nov. 20, 2022 (2:41 a.m.): Tanners Sports Center in Warwick Township in Bucks County; 27 firearms stolen, 16 recovered by law enforcement, including one used in an armed robbery in Pennsauken, N.J. on Dec. 14, 2022. The getaway vehicle fled at speeds over 100 mph.

The joint investigation into these gun store burglaries was led by the Montgomery County Detective Bureau, Bucks County Detective Bureau, the ATF—Philadelphia Field Division and Springfield Township Police, with critical participation by Philadelphia Police, Hatboro Police, New Britain Township Police, Warwick Township Police. The investigators also  received assistance from the FBI, the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General and the Delaware State Police.

Through the use of numerous investigative techniques including interviews, physical surveillance, video surveillance, social media analysis and cellphone data and records, the investigation found that several members of a known, neighborhood-based juvenile street gang in Philadelphia—called “54th Street”—were responsible for the three completed gun store burglaries and one attempted gun store burglary in Montgomery and Bucks counties. The evidence found that the group also planned and had not yet executed two additional gun store burglaries. Criminal activity commonly associated with “54th Street” includes, but is not limited to, car-jackings, robberies, burglaries and gun violence, especially directed at rival groups.

The completed gun store burglaries resulted in 93 stolen guns. Detectives found that those stolen firearms were rapidly distributed and illegally transferred between members of the corrupt organization and to others, which led to the use of these stolen guns to commit crimes.

Of the 33 recovered stolen firearms, several have been recovered by law enforcement during the commission of crimes.

· Sept. 26, 2022: a Glock 17 firearm stolen two days earlier was recovered by Philadelphia Police in the possession of Ellijah Terrell on scene of an armed robbery at 5500 Poplar Street in Philadelphia;

· Oct. 5, 2022: an H&K 9mm firearm stolen during the Sept. 24, 2022 burglary was recovered by Philadelphia Police when they executed a search warrant related to a Sept. 29, 2022 shooting at 54th Street and Willows Avenue where a 16-year-old died of a gunshot wound to the head and a 14-year-old was also shot but survived,

· Dec. 14, 2022: a firearm stolen from the Tanner Sports Center burglary was recovered by Pensauken, N.J. Police after it was used by juvenile in an armed robbery.

“These defendants brazenly broke into gun stores and stole nearly 100 firearms, then sold and transferred them widely throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. With 60 firearms unaccounted for, we still don’t know the extent of the damage by this corrupt organization’s criminal activities, including shootings and murders,” said Steele.

“These arrests have made our communities safer and came about because of the excellent joint investigation with our numerous local, state and federal law enforcement partners.”

“DA Steele took the word that I would use to describe this organized criminal rampage right out of my mouth: ‘Brazen,” said Weintraub. “Together, we fight hard every day against lawless criminals that steal and use crime guns to terrorize our communities, regardless of whose borders they cross. And we will not rest. More to come.”

One of the key partners in this joint investigation was the ATF. “Burglaries of federal firearms licensees are a top priority for ATF, and we are eager to hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions,” said ATF SAIC DeGree. “The theft of firearms from FFLs and their diversion into the illegal firearms marketplace is a very serious crime that affects all the citizens of the Commonwealth. We will continue to work alongside our local, county, state and federal partners to seek justice for anyone who violates the federal firearms laws.”

Charges vary by defendant, but all include felony charges related to operating a corrupt organization, conspiracy, criminal use of a communications facility and firearms trafficking charges. Other charges against defendants include burglary,  criminal trespass, robbery, theft, receiving stolen property, aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer and possessing an instrument of crime.

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Lawyer: Arrest of Bucks County Pro-Lifer Meant to Intimidate

Sen. Pat Toomey joined the chorus of lawmakers who signed a sharply critical letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray over the unorthodox arrest of a prominent Bucks County pro-life advocate. And his attorney says the entire operation is designed to intimidate pro-life Americans into silence.

Mark Houck, 48, of Kintnersville, was charged with violating the federal Freedom of Access of Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) regarding an October 2021 incident outside an abortion clinic in Philadelphia. Philadelphia police and the district attorney’s office had declined to charge Houck at the time. A private legal action by the pro-abortion activist was dismissed in July.

Houck pleaded not guilty to the federal charges this past week. If convicted, he faces up to a maximum of 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and fines of up to $350,000, according to a Department of Justice statement.

Houck has been represented by the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm, which has been in contact with the FBI since he received a “target letter” in May. Houck’s attorneys informed the DOJ he would voluntarily appear in court. But according to the family’s account, a contingent of heavily-armed FBI agents showed up at Houck’s home last week pointing guns at his family, including young children.

“Given their cooperation with federal law enforcement, the family did not expect to be awakened at 7 a.m. with reportedly over 20 FBI agents surrounding their home wearing armor-plated tactical vests, ballistic helmets, and holding ballistic shields and long guns,” Toomey and his fellow senators wrote.

“The Houck family’s account of the FBI coming to their family home to arrest Mark Houck, who was already cooperating with law enforcement, is concerning,” said Toomey (R-Pa.) via Twitter.

Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel for Thomas More, told DVJournal the letter from Toomey and the other senators was very “pointed,” asking why the FBI did not use a de-escalation plan Garland had put into place earlier this year.

“Just three years ago, I won a FACE case on similar facts in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. On that basis, they have no case against Mark Houck,” said Breen. “And his case, not involving a Mafia boss, he’s got a men’s ministry. (Houck is) what you might call an evangelist, a Catholic speaker.”

“He does not have a criminal history of any sort and when a distinguished former federal prosecutor says, ‘I will bring my client in,’ and even if they wanted to make a show of arresting him, you would not send more than a couple of agents, and those agents would not be dragging him out at gunpoint.

“They would be knocking on the door, presenting an arrest warrant, letting him get his effects and, in a dignified way, say goodbye to his family for the day, then go downtown. Under no circumstances do you send at least 20 federal agents and apparently state law enforcement as well, with shields, long guns, helmets, and the like,” said Breen.

The Thomas More Society has brought in well-known Philadelphia lawyer Brian McMonagle to defend Houck.

According to Ryan-Marie Houck, 15 law enforcement vehicles were on their front lawn.

“Can you even imagine? What if their 6-year-old had gone out with a toy gun because he saw his daddy taken away? What would have happened?” asked Breen. Mark Houck is “not a threat,” he said.

Breen believes the raid was orchestrated out of DOJ headquarters in Washington, not Philadelphia.

Asked whether it would have a chilling effect on people’s rights to freedom of religion and speech, Breen said, “Well, the only reason for a show of force like this was to send a message to people of faith, pro-life people, in an intimidating way. So that’s how I received it. We see that as an intimidation message. If you exercise your First Amendment rights, there could be a bunch of federal agents at your door.”

And Houck was not someone involved in national politics. He was an ordinary person, Breen pointed out.

“If Mark Houck was such a danger to the community, why did it take a year to go and pick him up?” asked Breen.

The alleged victim approached Houck and his then 12-year-old son while praying in front of an abortion clinic. That man “harassed” the boy, and “an altercation ensued,” Breen said.

Breen said the incident had no connection to the FACE Act because Houck was not blocking the entrance to the abortion clinic or stopping anyone from getting an abortion.

“None of that happened here,” said Breen. “This is an intimidation tactic, a meritless case, and we are going to stand up firmly against it.”

“Maybe the Justice Department thought they could roll one individual pro-lifer…but we are going to make sure he has the most vigorous defense that can be mounted,” said Breen.

“We are very grateful that the senators and congress members are looking to assist,” he said. “They are also asking the question, ‘What in the world is going on with this raid? Why are you prosecuting this guy? It’s a local matter.”

The DVJournal asked area Congress members and candidates for Congress whether they plan to sign the Houck letter.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) did not respond. Nor did Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Delaware/Philadelphia), or Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery County).

“As one of the most bipartisan members of Congress, Rep. Houlahan is constantly looking for opportunities to work across the aisle to deliver real progress for her community, not partisan talking points,” said Aubrey Stuber, communications director for (Chrissy) Houlahan (D-Chester/Berks). “The letter was never even circulated to our legislative staff for consideration, a sign that it was intended to be a partisan exercise. So while Rep. Houlahan takes oversight of our federal agencies very seriously, this letter demonstrates a lack of collaboration and bipartisanship.”

Dean’s Republican opponent, Christian Nascimento, said, “My understanding was that the local authorities either dismissed or did not pursue charges in this case. If that is true, then the DOJ should explain why the federal government felt the need to get involved, and on what evidence.”

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WATERGATE at 50: Dirty Tricks Have Just Gotten More Sophisticated

All this week, Delaware Valley Journal will be publishing stories about the impact of Watergate on American politics and culture, leading up to the 50th anniversary of the break-in on Friday, June 17th.

 

June 17 marks the 50th anniversary of the night when D.C. police arrested five men breaking into the Watergate hotel/office/apartment complex. The burglars were operatives of President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. Their mission: to tap phones and steal documents from the Democratic National Committee, which had its headquarters in the Watergate.

The operation was planned and supervised by G. Gordon Liddy, a former FBI agent who was the general counsel of the president’s campaign. He financed the caper with campaign funds. Liddy and the burglars were criminally charged and convicted. Others who participated in the subsequent cover-up orchestrated by the White House, including John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s adviser for domestic affairs.

The investigation of the attempted Watergate break-in by a select committee chaired by Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina eventually led to the White House audiotapes, the infamous 18-minute gap, and House Judiciary Committee approval of three articles of impeachment. Nixon resigned August 8, 1974, to avoid a vote by the House and a potential impeachment trial in the Senate.

A month later, President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon, saying his action was intended to end a “long national nightmare” and a disruptive scandal that had polarized the public. He feared that potential litigation against the former president would arouse “ugly passions” and challenge the “credibility of our free institutions of government … at home and abroad.”

So, have things gotten better since then? Liddy and his fellow co-conspirators were driven by political objectives — to find out everything they could about what the Democratic Party was doing and to get information that they could use to sabotage George McGovern’s presidential campaign. But they got caught because of their ineptness.

Compare that to what we now know happened in the 2016 presidential campaign. The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign — using campaign lawyers, an opposition research firm and allies in the press — orchestrated a smear campaign against Donald Trump. The concocted hoax about his supposed collusion with the Russian government continued well into his presidency.

The Clinton campaign didn’t have to engage bumbling burglars for a risky wiretapping scheme. Instead, as the special counsel, the Justice Department’s inspector general, and the John Durham investigation have revealed, they created a salacious “dossier” rife with phony claims. They also enlisted the help of a technology executive and university researchers with government cybersecurity contracts to secretly scoop up internet communications data from Trump both during the campaign and from the White House itself after he became president. The sophistication of this conspiracy makes Gordon Liddy look like an amateur.

Even the FBI got entangled in this dirty political trick, leading the nation’s most powerful law enforcement agency to abuse its authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to spy on people connected to the opposition presidential campaign. This, in turn, led to the expensive, unjustified two-year investigation by Special Counsel Bob Mueller that baselessly hampered Trump (and his advisers) in carrying out his presidential duties.

In 1972, Nixon’s dirty trick failed, and Liddy and his co-conspirators all went to prison. The Clinton campaign’s dirty trick failed to win the election. Still, it succeeded in hobbling the Trump presidency and corrupting the Justice Department. Yet no one has gone to prison as a result of what happened in 2016. The cover-up was so successful that we didn’t even know about the illegal spying and politicization of Justice until well after it occurred and the dirty deed was done.

So, what have we learned in the 50 years since Watergate? Dirty tricksters in politics have become more adept at hiding what they are doing, abusing advances in technology to further their dishonest ends, weaponizing federal law enforcement agencies against their political opponents, and using their friends in the media to ensure they are successful.

Americans deserve better. And unfortunately, the dirty tricks in the last presidential campaign have done precisely what Gerald Ford feared: raised “ugly passions,” polarized the electorate, and damaged the “credibility of our free institutions of government … at home and abroad.”

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‘It Can Happen Anywhere:’ Radnor Township Hosts Active Shooter Seminar

It can happen anytime, anywhere, If an active shooter were to open fire, what would you do?

The Radnor Township Police outlined the “Run, hide, fight” response at an Active Shooter & Safety Seminar Tuesday evening.

The event, held in conjunction with the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office and the FBI, focused on how area religious institutions can protect their staff and congregants and how to be prepared should the worst occur.

“We are here not to scare you but inform you,” Radnor Police Superintendent Chris Flanagan said. “As a community, we need to work together to have these tough conversations and make sure we’re prepared for any situation.”

Some of the topics discussed during the symposium included the psychological profiles of shooters, a review of recent attacks, Radnor Police responses to active shooters, vulnerability assessments, and more.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer noted the rising concern over how poor behavioral mental health and domestic grievances often lead to these tragedies.

“This is an alarming issue that has grown over the past couple of years and has often been amplified through social media platforms,” Stollsteimer said. “We have 40 detectives in our office to fully assess any situation that comes our way. It’s also important to have mental health professionals on the scene as we assist our local police departments.”

Pennsylvania had the highest level of white supremacist propaganda incidents in 2021, according to a report from the Anti-Defamation League. And New York City saw a 400 percent increase in antisemitic hate crimes in February.

One recent attack discussed was the shooting in Colleyville, Texas, in early January. In that incident, a gunman who took hostages inside a Colleyville synagogue died after FBI agents shot him following a nearly 11-hour standoff. Authorities labeled it an act of terrorism.

Radnor Police Superintendent Chris Flanagan speaks at the Active Shooter Seminar.

“While this was a very complex issue, it’s always important to be precautions. If you ever sense something suspicious, reach out to local authorities immediately,” Flanagan said. “That’s why in Radnor Township, we always perform a simple checkup technique to make sure we are fully aware of what’s going on in our community.”

The next topic of discussion was how to respond to those situations through the technique of ‘Run, Hide, Fight.’

The ‘Run’ technique advises you to scan for exits and quickly and cautiously evacuate the scene as soon as possible.

In the ‘Hide’ technique, people are instructed to hide, lock, and barricade the door while silencing their phones to make sure their location is kept secret.

The ‘Fight’ technique is a last resort technique when you plan to defend yourself and attack the shooter.

“We are big believers in this philosophy,” said Radnor Officer Christopher Gluck. “Whenever you’re on the line with 911, make sure to quickly and calmly explain the entire situation.”

Radnor Township also promotes gun safety and gun locks were distributed at the symposium.

“The best thing to do is to keep having these conversations about preparation and safety by continuing to build relationships with our local law enforcement in our communities,”  Stollsteimer said.

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