Saturday, March 10, 2018

Black Brothers, Inc. banned by NCDPS

As someone who has signed dozens (hundreds?) of books for inmates and corrections guards and officials over the years, I was fascinated to learn Black Brothers, Inc.: The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia's Black Mafia (Milo 2005/07) appears on the January 23, 2018 list of books banned by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.

I haven't tracked this at all, and during a recent search also discovered BBI was vetted and approved by the Washington State Department of Corrections despite being depicted, among other things, as advocating "violence against others and/or the overthrow of authority".  I suppose this was simply loose bureaucratic wording because the "Committee decision" of 8/27/17 correctly notes, "Historical account does not advocate violence".

Friday, November 3, 2017

Black Thought, Thomas Trotter, and Philadelphia's Black Mafia

Barry Michael Cooper has a featured interview with Tariq Trotter (aka Black Thought of The Roots) in The New York Times ("The Roots' Black Thought on Philadelphia Style.  And His Beard," 11/1/17).   The piece includes the following from Trotter/Black Thought:
My dad, Thomas Trotter, was murdered before I was a year old. From what my family members and those who knew him have told me, he was a good man, very kind to my mother and very chivalrous. Opening doors for women, very respectful. But he was also feared. My dad grew up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia and was associated with Mosque No. 12, which was also the birthplace of Black Brothers Inc., a.k.a., the Philadelphia Black Mafia. Years later, I discovered that my dad’s body was found near an alley in Germantown.
Readers of Black Brothers, Inc. The Violent Rise of Philadelphia's Black Mafia (Milo, 2005/07) are familiar with Thomas Trotter, and especially with the murderous syndicate and its ties to the Nation of Islam's infamous Mosque No. 12.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Notes section of Black Brothers, Inc. 2005 edition

Readers of the 2007 version of Black Brothers,Inc.: The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia’s Black Mafia (Milo Books) see this commentary in the notes section (p. 301):
The first edition of Black Brothers, Inc. included 104 pages of endnotes.  This, as I suspected it might, became the source of considerable conversation – good and bad! Plenty of readers were enamored with the legwork behind, and the handiness of, the notes.  However, there were apparently more folks annoyed by their impact on the read, not to mention the added bulk.  As a result, I have included only those notes needed to appropriately credit sources explicitly quoted in the narrative.  This has only been done if the citation is an author or media outlet (i.e., not an interview, a court document, or a law enforcement document).  Other notes have been edited out entirely.  Thus, if readers are interested in the documents or other information left out of this edition’s notes, the 2005 version should be consulted.
I have long debated simply posting the notes section online for all to reference and download at their convenience.  Fearing this may invite considerable and often unreasonable requests for further information, I refrained.  However, for a host of reasons, I think the benefits of posting them now outweigh the potential costs.  Here, then, is the infamous Notes section (all 104 pages of them, in 8-pt single-spaced font, no less!):

[**The notes align with both versions (2005 and 2007) in that the chapter narratives are the same; of course the new, additional material offered in the 2007 edition has its own vast trove of source materials beyond what is offered here.**]

Assuming readers of this blog post have never read Black Brothers, Inc., here (2005, p. 340) is what I had to say about the challenge of writing a mainstream book which could appeal to a broad readership and yet maintain academic standards (and thus permit historians and sociologists to rely upon it when conducting research):
Much of the literature on organized crime in the United States falls into two all but mutually distinct camps.  One camp consists of very popular, especially readable, books whose credibility is all but impossible to assess because there is no effort made to provide the reader with the sources for the book’s claims.  Many of these books could aptly be labeled “based on a true story”, though they are not identified as such and the reader has no way of determining what is fact and what is fiction.  Often times, these tomes are based exclusively on the words of gangsters and/or law enforcement officials, who are each prone to self-aggrandizing and worse.  In the other camp of literature there resides a wealth of solid, if not sensational, academic books written in a far more technical style – bereft of the non-essentials such as quotes by actors, vivid depictions of historical events, etc.  For the investigative reporter, the historian, and other like-minded researchers, these books are invaluable because the reader can quite easily track down the sources of information used by the author.  Thus, these arbiters of accuracy can replicate the study by assessing the documents for themselves and so on.  Unfortunately, such books can make for dreadful reading, and audiences are therefore commonly left with a losing pair of options when picking an organized crime read: sensational but dubious vs. accurate but lumbering.  This brief discourse is presented to defend the endnoting throughout Black Brothers, Inc. (or Superbad to give this book its UK title).  While every effort has been made to strip the book of academic prose, I want the reader to have confidence in the veracity of this complex historical account.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New film "Gold" and the infamous Bre-X mining scandal

The first time I caught the trailer for the new Matthew McConaughey movie “Gold” it was wildly obvious to me it was based - however loosely - on one of the most compelling crimes or criminal conspiracies about which I have ever written.

I became very familiar with the Bre-X machinations when my friend and mentor Alan A. Block and I were vigorously researching the penny-stock fraud phenomenon which took off (again) in the 1980s and 1990s.  The scams were predominantly based in specific geographic regions within the U.S., and our focus was on Pennsylvania and especially on New Jersey, home to Robert E. Brennan’s First Jersey Securities.  In short, as to how Bre-X, a Canadian mining stock, factored considerably into our work, please consider:

In the United States the historical lineage of penny-stock dealers goes back to the nineteenth century gold and silver mines of the American west, in particular to the Colorado gold rush in the 1880s.1  Prospectors had little capital and turned to selling shares to finance their ventures.  Those unable to lure more substantial investments sold shares for as little as a penny.  Penny-stock mining frauds operated in other countries as well.  For instance, in 1888 a Welsh gold-mining firm swindled investors after a phony ore test in “the presence of certain notable personages.”2
                On the heels of the nineteenth century miners came the oil and gas promoters.  Oil, like precious metals, made people more than a little money crazy and by 1918 towns like Fort Worth, Texas, were home to motley armies of “lease sharks, grafters and grabbers, operators, speculators, and gamblers.”3  In the western mecca of Los Angeles, the Department of Justice figured that stock swindlers hawking oil securities of one kind or another, many for little more than $1, were making about $100,000 a week in 1923.4
                Up until the stock market crash in 1929 and the subsequent Depression, stock swindling in general was an American pastime, and there was nothing fundamentally different about penny-stock frauds than other security swindles.  
Sean Patrick Griffin and Alan A. Block, "PennyWise: Accounting for Fraud in the Penny-Stock Industry," in Henry N. Pontell and David Shichor (eds.) Contemporary Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice: Essays in Honor of Gilbert Geis (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2000), p. 99.          

Though Alan and I (together and independently) have written explicitly about Bre-X in various publications, none of that is particularly helpful here.  However, as a tidy primer to the unreal case study - which, like many “white-collar” crimes, did not begin as a criminal conspiracy, here is the formal entry written by Hongming Cheng for the complex scandal as it appears in the Encyclopedia of White-Collar and Corporate Crime (London: Sage, 2005, edited by Lawrence M. Salinger, pp. 109-110):

BRE-X MINERALS LTD. was a small Canadian gold exploration company that committed the world's biggest mineral stock fraud in history. Bre-X became the star of investors in the gold industry after it announced a major gold deposit discovery, perhaps the largest ever discovered, in properties it was mining in the Busang area on the island of Borneo in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. It was later dis- covered that little, if any, gold was actually found in these properties. Some people, including insiders, became quite wealthy from the stock-play. The Bre-X fraud has been the subject of at least six books published about the scandal.
The Bre-X tale began in 1993, when David Walsh, a veteran stock promoter, traveled to Indonesia and met John B. Felderhof, a well-known geologist, who convinced Walsh to bet his company on Busang. In August 1993, Bre-X began to explore in the Busang area, and was reporting favorable drill results.   By early 1997, it claimed to have proven the existence of 71 million ounces of gold, worth about $25 billion, and estimated that there was at least 200 million ounces present at Busang. As a result, the Bre-X stock rose so high that it qualified for inclusion in the TSE 300, which caused index funds and all portfolios tracking the index to purchase the stock. To produce such a huge deposit, the Indonesia government required that Bre-X share some of the fortunate excess with the people of Indonesia, and with Barrick, a firm tied to Indonesian leader Suharto's ambitious daughter Siti Rukmana.
But Barrick could not negotiate a deal acceptable to all parties. With Suharto's close confidant Mohamad "Bob" Hasan stepping in with the deal, the American firm Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold was eventually selected as Bre-X's partner in the Busang project. Freeport first undertook its own due-diligence drilling and reported that its analyses of seven core samples "indicate insignificant amounts of gold." That news came one week after the announced death of Bre-X's chief geologist Michael de Guzman, who reportedly fell to his death from a helicopter while traveling to Busang to meet with Freeport's due diligence team to discuss Freeport's assay results. Forensic Investigative Associates conducted an independent investigation into the scam and concluded that the company had "improved" the samples from the time they were collected until they were turned over to a down-river lab for analysis. Forensic Associates believed Walsh (and the other Canadian employees) did not know about the samples. The next day, the $6 billion (Canadian) Bre-X stock lost almost all of its value.
                An independent company, Strathcona Mineral Consultants, was commissioned to conduct an independent study of the situation. After their study, Strathcona concluded that "an economic gold deposit has not been identified in the South East Zone of the Busang property, and is unlikely to be."
                Prior to the disclosure of the truth, Walsh and Felderhof sold large amounts of their personal stock in Bre-X, reaping millions of dollars for their own benefit and at the expense of Bre-X investors, who lost about $3 billion when the scam was revealed in the spring of 1997. This incident caused a massive shattering of investor confidence and tarnished the reputation of the securities industry.
Anyone wishing to research the scandal in earnest needs to start with the work of Diane Francis, author of Bre-X: The Inside Story [Note: I am aware of other efforts but they don’t measure up in my opinion].

Oh, one last (and trivial) thing – that research introduced me to one of my favorite lines, for which there are multiple variations:

“A gold mine is a hole in the ground with a liar at the top.”

1. North American Securities Administrators Association, The NASAA Report on Fraud and Abuse in the Penny Stock Industry, submitted to the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance, Committee on Energy and Commerce, U.S. House of Representatives, September 1989, p. 23.
2. Kenneth Gooding, “Lured to ruin by fool’s gold,” Financial Times, April 19/April 20 1997, p. 1.
3. Roger M. Olien and Diana Davids Olien, Easy Money: Oil Promoters and Investors in the Jazz Age (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1990), p. 74.
4. Jules Tygiel, The Great Los Angeles Swindle: Oil, Stocks, and Scandal During the Roaring Twenties (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 36.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A couple of comments on David Stern's quotes re: the 2003-07 NBA Betting Scandal

I am primarily interested in this exchange (emphases mine):

How did former referee Tim Donaghy’s conviction of illegally betting on games that he officiated influence your opinion on gambling in sports
Interestingly enough, I viewed the Donaghy thing as a black swan because the Las Vegas infrastructure didn’t pick it up, and even our post-event analysis didn’t come to any particular conclusion. But it did influence me in the context of coming to better understand what Las Vegas does, and how that might be amplified to help all sports leagues that are concerned about betting.

1. “…the Las Vegas infrastructure didn’t pick it up.”  This is only partly true at best.  For the 2003-04, 04-05, and 05-06 NBA seasons, it is likely the case most if not all Las Vegas sportsbooks were unaware of Donaghy’s on-court behavior which resulted in his off-court betting success on games he officiated.  However, by or during the 2006-07 season all sorts of sportsbooks – in Las Vegas and offshore – were aware of the action on games officiated by Donaghy.  As I detail in Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen (Barricade, 2011), the remarkable betting line movement alone on Donaghy-officiated games raised red flags among many parties including sportsbooks.

2. “…our post-event analysis didn’t come to any particular conclusion.”  This topic could consume hours and fill a small book.  For starters, the public has never been privy to what the NBA studied or learned.  The NBA’s much-publicized “Pedowitz Report” was fatally-flawed from the start (see, e.g., here and here), largely because they were denied access to all sorts of interview subjects and data.  There was also a confidential assessment conducted for the NBA the public has never seen.  Furthermore, many NBA betting scandal investigators have always maintained the league was never going to conduct - much less accept - a study which concluded the NBA knew or should have known about Donaghy’s on-court actions to further his bets.  They argue such a conclusion would have resulted in significant litigation by many injured parties (e.g., owners, teams’ shareholders, general managers, coaches and staffs, players, ticket-holders).

Some may recall David Stern was asked specifically about Gaming the Game while he was commissioner, and that situation is detailed here [Note: what I posted in February 2011 remains true today – the NBA and the NBRA have never spoken with me about my findings].

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Muhammad Ali and Philadelphia's Black Mafia

[Note: Because my website remains in shambles following server failures, I will post here (for the first time since 2011) until those issues are resolved]

Since Muhammad Ali's death days ago I have been debating whether to address this - and if so, when.  Reading various accounts mention Ali's relationship with the legendary hustler Major Coxson, some of which make unsupported allegations against Ali and many of which are superficial (in addition to others which ignore the consequential ties between the two), makes me think it is best to pen something now in the hopes of correcting the historical record in a timely fashion.^

On June 4th, for example, the New York Times had a commentary which included this line: "Ali sometimes fell in with the wrong crowd, including his friend Major Coxson, a politician and gangster in Cherry Hill, N.J., who was killed in a 1973 mob hit."  [Also, e.g., see here.]

I would be very interested in knowing how many Times readers had a clue what was being discussed.  Who was Coxson?  How close a friend was Coxson to Ali?  What mob?  What mob hit?  Was Ali, himself, ever a target, and/or was he otherwise involved in that edgy and violent scene?

The answers to those compelling questions fill many pages of my work on Philadelphia's Black Mafia over the past 20 years, and I have been asked many times about the boxing legend's involvement: with Coxson; with Philadelphia's underworld; and with the leader of the Nation of Islam's infamous Temple 12, Jeremiah Shabazz (a man The New Yorker said this week was "not someone you'd ever wish to offend" - did readers ever pause to wonder why?).  Unfortunately for someone trying to get a concise read on this complex and controversial history, these issues are all inter-related and thus require considerable explanation.

In 1958, Philadelphia-born Jeremiah Shabazz (formerly known as Jeremiah Pugh), was promoted to Minister of the Nation of Islam's Temple 15 in Atlanta and soon became the NOI's Minister of the Deep South, responsible for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina.  In 1961, Shabazz was asked to help the NOI's Minister in Miami, Ishmael Sabakhan, court Cassius Clay to the Nation of Islam.  As Shabazz said of the early meetings with Clay/Ali,:
...he didn't have any problems with our claim that the white man was evil. Sometimes he'd ask questions like, 'Wait a minute, how about a baby?  A baby is born white.  How is it the devil?' And I'd explain, if a lion gives birth, it can't give birth to anything except a lion...This was in 1961 when a lot of outright injustice was going on.  You could see it...And the thing that really got Cassius was when we began to explain that, for someone to do this to other human beings, they can't be what they thought they were.  They can't be God's people and mistreat other people the way white folks were doing.¹
Clay began attending NOI meetings somewhat frequently and surreptitiously and attempted to keep his conversion a secret.  As David Remnick wrote, "(Ali) was well aware that the few white people who did know something about the Nation of Islam saw it as a frightening sect, radical Muslims with a separatist agenda and a criminal membership."²  As is now widely known, Ali publicly disclosed what had by then become obvious on February 26, 1964, the day following his momentous victory over Sonny Liston in Miami.

Jeremiah Shabazz returned to Philadelphia to head Temple 12 in April 1964, and by then was one of NOI leader Elijah Muhammad's closest advisors.  With the help of Ali, who often traveled with Shabazz during recruitment and enlightenment drives along with speaking at special events, Temple 12 boomed under his leadership (by the end of the decade, membership was estimated at 10,000).
Jeremiah Shabazz early 1970s 292x400
Mainmosque3As Temple 12 thrived, a powerful crime syndicate calling itself the Black Mafia was forming with some of the city's most dangerous and feared among its founders.  Of particular relevance to the Ali-Philly underworld-Coxson circumstances, most of the Black Mafia's leaders and heavyweights were major players in Temple 12 under Shabazz.  In fact, Temple 12's Fruit of Islam - the paramilitary guard responsible for protecting Shabazz and the mosques, among other duties - was full of Black Mafia thugs with lengthy and violent criminal records.

An ultra-violent group formed in the early to mid-1960s, Philadelphia's Black Mafia's primary enterprise was extortion, almost exclusively of illicit entrepreneurs like drug dealers and nightclubs which permitted/embraced dubious activities such as gambling and prostitution (i.e., persons who would not report the Black Mafia shakedowns to authorities).  In time, the group (which also pilfered significant government funds ostensibly designed to stop gang warfare) was overseeing entire sections of the city and venturing into extorting legitimate businesses; in short they were engaged in all sorts of mayhem throughout the city, its suburbs, South Jersey, and Delaware.  There is far too much to write about Philly's Black Mafia in that regard here, but for the reader unfamiliar with the murderous group it is instructive to note they killed dozens of people - targets and often those with them at the time of slayings (typically family members).  Victims, targets, and - especially - witnesses of the group's multifarious misdeeds were properly frightened and thus didn't report most crimes, furthering the syndicate's street legend and reach.

The Black Mafia devised financial hustles and committed assorted acts of violence along the Eastern seaboard, accounting for some of the region's most notorious crimes to date including the January 1973 Hanafi slayings.  The Hanafi incident in Washington, DC (DC's largest mass murder, which included the drowning of four children ranging from nine days to 22 months old) involved a feud between the Nation of Islam and its former national secretary (known then as Ernest 2X McGee), Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, who since leaving the Black Muslim movement had loudly rejected the NOI, generally, and Elijah Muhammad, specifically.  Eight Black Mafia members were sent from Philly's Temple 12 to kill Khaalis over a vitriolic letter he had sent to all 56 NOI mosques, but Khaalis wasn't home and the hit squad killed seven others (including the babies) instead.
Baby carried out after Hanafi slayings (2)
DN 12073 (3)DN 81673 (4)Inq 12673 (3)Of note, it was Khaalis who converted UCLA basketball star and NBA rookie Lew Alcindor to Sunni Islam, and to practicing a strand founded by Abu Hanafa (hence the followers were called Hanafi Muslims).  Alcindor of course became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and in those days he feuded with Ali openly.  Abdul-Jabbar was quoted as saying, "They visited me.  I was taken to dinner by one of their ministers and Cassius Clay.” His use of Ali’s former name was not inconsequential, and signified the bitter divisions within America’s various Muslim sects back then. “I’ll call him Cassius Clay or Cassius X,” said Abdul-Jabbar, “but not by the name of the prophet. He is not a Muslim.”³  Interestingly, the Hanafi slayings took place in a mansion donated to Khaalis by Abdul-Jabbar, who received police protection for a time following the murders.  [Authorities never officially concluded who ordered the slayings, and neither Elijah Muhammad or Jeremiah Shabazz was implicated in the crimes.]
NYT Jabbar (3)Inq 12173 (3)
This verbose backdrop offers a sense of the heady times and especially of the tensions.  So, who was Major Coxson, and what was Ali's role in his life and career, resulting in the recent New York Times mention and others?

Major Benjamin Coxson was born in 1928 and moved from Western Pennsylvania to North Philadelphia in 1942.  His life in Philadelphia was one filled with smiles, flamboyance, suspicion, and arrests.  A career con man, Coxson's impressive criminal record by 1970 included 17 arrests for thefts and frauds, involved one stint in federal prison, and yet no crimes of violence. Perhaps it was for the latter reason he was permitted to be a mainstay on the city social scene where he was involved (formally or otherwise) in bars and nightclubs, popular with politicians (with whom he openly was seen and for whom he campaigned) and sports figures and gangland figures of all stripes.  He was described as having a wide, toothy smile, and the mention of his name often drew chuckles from those who knew him.  Law enforcement intelligence and surveillance reports described Coxson routinely hanging with Black Mafia members and affiliates, along with his "drug apartments" which were used alternately as safe houses and by celebrities for various purposes.  Despite being a drug financier and the middleman between disparate organized crime syndicates (in Philly and New York), The Maje, as he was often called, was a fixture in the media and commonly graced covers of local publications.  Major Coxson's close friendship with Muhammad Ali was a prime reason for the coverage.

Major Coxson first met Muhammad Ali in 1968 when the boxer was in Philadelphia raising funds for a neighborhood organization called the Black Coalition, whose board included close Coxson friends and Ali's friend and mentor, Jeremiah Shabazz.  Coxson and Ali would be in each other's company frequently over the next several years, and their relationship was often mentioned in the press.  For example, it was reported that Coxson became Ali's agent in October 1969, and Ali purchased Coxson's lavish home in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia in 1970.  According to Ali, when he was deciding to relocate from Chicago to somewhere closer to New York City,  he chose Philly in part because of Coxson's pitch, joking "The Major made me move to Philadelphia." Ali Coxson (3)
Ali home (3)
Ali then moved roughly a year later when he purchased another home from Coxson, this time in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  In fact, when he sold his Spanish-style home on Winding Drive in Cherry Hill to Ali, Coxson simply moved a few blocks away to Barbara Drive and the two became neighbors.  Some may recall Coxson's 1972-3 campaign for Mayor of Camden, New Jersey.
CampaignDN12472 (3)
CampaignInq5473 (3)The mayoral run, announced in January 1972, began publicly with a grand party at the area's largest nightclub, the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, with Muhammad Ali in attendance and the 2300 guests treated to performances by The Supremes and the Temptations.  Coxson was fond of saying, “Muhammad Ali will add a real punch to the campaign.” Unfortunately for Coxson, starting in March 1972 the IRS began confiscating his fleet of luxury vehicles because he owed $135,000 in back taxes.
DN IRS cars (3)
Coxson responded by purchasing a tandem bicycle and placing his chauffeur, Quinzelle Champagne, in the rear for a great publicity stunt.
Major Coxson rides a tandem bicycle with his chauffeur, Quinzelle Champagne, in front of Coxson's campaign headquarters in 1972 (his fleet of vehicles had been seized by the IRS).
Philadelphia Daily News coverage of Muhammad Ali's donation of a bullet-proof limousine to Major Coxson, December 19, 1972
Ultimately, Muhammad Ali donated a silver Rolls Royce for Coxson to use, and the boxing star was a mainstay throughout the campaign.  For instance, in June 1972, moments after his defeat of Jerry Quarry in Las Vegas, Ali dedicated the victory "to the next mayor of Camden, New Jersey, Major Coxson."  Furthermore, the February 1973 grand opening of a hardware store in the Germantown section of Philadelphia featured Ali and “the incomparable Major Coxan [sic].”  On March 31, Ali mugged for the cameras with Coxson at ringside before his bout with Ken Norton in San Diego, and told the assembled media that Coxson was his “unpaid financial adviser.”  Six days before the May 8 election, Ali joined Major Coxson at his “victory” party.4
Ali Coxson campaign
Among the many great quotes uttered by Coxson during the months of considerable campaign press attention, was this, offered in response to the constant questions about his criminal background and associations: "I'm no priest, but I'm not the devil, either.  In New Jersey, most office holders start as politicians and wind up being arrested.  I thought I'd reverse the trend."5  As a too-perfect ending to the mayoral campaign, Coxson lost the May 1973 race in a landslide to Angelo Errichetti...who proved Coxson right about New Jersey office holders starting as politicians and winding up being arrested when Errichetti was arrested and convicted for his role in ABSCAM. [Note: Errichetti was portrayed by Jeremy Renner in the 2013 film American Hustle]

Not long before Coxson lost the election, a $1 million heroin shipment from the Gambino Crime Family in New York to the Black Mafia was stolen.  The Gambinos offered Coxson $300,000 to locate the stolen narcotics and/or the persons responsible.  Coxson accepted the deal, and enlisted his Black Mafia pals as subcontractors, so to speak, whereby broker Coxson would only keep $100,000 of the agreement.  For reasons that remain unclear, the Black Mafia executed the two men believed responsible for the theft and their bodies were discovered on May 1, 1973.  The Gambinos, realizing they would not recoup the drugs or the expected funds and that such high-profile murders would bring law enforcement attention, stiffed Coxson, arguing the services provided weren't what they requested.  Problematically for Coxson, the Black Mafia still expected the promised $200,000.  Coxson spent weeks unsuccessfully trying to come up with the cash; the clock was ticking on The Maje's life.

In the early morning hours of June 8, 1973, four Black Mafia members visited Coxson's futuristic-looking home in an upscale leafy section of Cherry Hill (about a ten-minute walk from Ali's house, the one he purchased from Coxson).  Coxson lived with his common-law wife and her three children. All five occupants were bound with hands and feet behind them (neckties were used), and as the executions were about to begin one child was able to escape - though still bound with neckties, he hopped to a neighbor's home.  The remaining four victims were each shot in the head and left for dead by the hit squad.  When police arrived, they found Major Coxson dead, kneeling next to his bed bound and gagged and shot three times in the head at close range.  His partner survived, though was left blinded, as did her one son who remained in the home.  Her daughter died of her wounds four days later.
Coxson Slain Bulletin
Coxson Ali Bulletin (2)
Inq 61273 (3)
Because of his close relationship with Coxson, law enforcement officials initially feared for Muhammad Ali's safety.  Ali, however, said concerns for his safety were simply rumors “probably [started by] some white man who doesn’t like me because I got two Rolls Royces, a $200,000 house, and I talk too much for a nigger.”6  Incredibly, Ali immediately began distancing himself from Coxson, and stated among other things, “Coxson was a good associate of mine, not a true friend. The Koran preaches that only a Muslim can be true friends with another Muslim, and Coxson was not a Muslim.”7
Contract on Ali (3)
Ali on MBC death (3)
At the time of his death, Coxson was the target of several criminal investigations, involving tax evasion, possession of stolen or counterfeit credit cards, narcotics trafficking, and involvement in a Pennsylvania-New Jersey car ring, and was on the verge of being indicted according to authorities.  The Coxson slayings (in part because of Coxson's stature and in part because of his close ties to Muhammad Ali) were national news and again placed Philly's Temple 12 in the spotlight.  When Jeremiah Shabazz was asked about the role of Black Mafia hit men in his mosque, he originally said he'd prefer to not address the matter, and later stated, "Some of the alleged Black Mafia members came out of my temple but I would no more accept responsibility than the Catholic priests would accept responsibility for the Mafia."8  Because of the Hanafi and the Coxson slayings, two Black Mafia leaders were placed on the FBI's Most Wanted List in December 1973 [Note: in addition to my written work on these matters, both incidents are further examined in this television show].
Inq 12773 (3)
Following the February 1975 death of NOI leader Elijah Muhammad, his son, Wallace Muhammad, began a series of reforms called "The Second Resurrection" which included purging the criminal element from the NOI and, most controversially, integrating whites into the mosques; the Black Muslim movement fragmented with various sects and leaders evolving. Muhammad Ali opted to follow Wallace and embraced a more inclusive form of Islam.  Interestingly, Jeremiah Shabazz was demoted by Wallace Muhammad from his perch at Temple 12 (then commonly known as the "Hit Mosque" and the "Hoodlum Mosque" because of the many high profile Black Mafia activities) as part of the reform movement.
DN 21176 (3)Inq 21376 (3)Bulletin 21676 (3)
Jeremiah Shabazz became part of Muhammad Ali's entourage, where he would remain for years.  Unlike Ali, Shabazz "disagreed with Wallace...(and) thought the work with black people in this country needed to be done in a different way," according to a family member years later.  Importantly, Shabazz was still considered by the FBI through the mid-1980s as a major narcotics trafficker who was using the boxing and concert scenes as fronts for his underworld enterprises, as FOIA documents disclosed many years later.  For example, here is what an FBI teletype dated May 2, 1984 stated:
Jeremiah Shabazz is a major black organized crime figure in the Philadelphia area who associates with both black OC figures and Philadelphia’s LCN [La Cosa Nostra]. In addition, he maintains a high profile in the Philadelphia area through his image as a religious leader and through his contact with Don King Productions and major entertainment stars, when in fact, he is a narcotics trafficker who utilizes both his religious background and business associates as a cover for his illegal activities.
Another related teletype contained this:
284b (3)
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The FBI's strategy in this aspect of their large investigation was to develop a case against Shabazz strong enough to ensure his cooperation.  The FBI wrote, “Once Shabazz supplies the one quarter ounce, [the FBI’s field office in] Newark will approach him for his cooperation in continued investigation of drug matters and organized crime activity.”  Specifically, the FBI believed that if Shabazz agreed to cooperate, he “very likely could provide information … [concerning] Black Muslim trafficking in heroin and cocaine in the Philadelphia area [and] narcotics dealing between the Black Muslims and the … LCN organization in the Philadelphia/Atlantic City area.”  The FBI's long-planned/negotiated heroin buy took place on December 1. 1984, but Shabazz was never charged in the drug conspiracy case.  The FBI does not comment on whether individuals have cooperated and we are left to speculate regarding the case's resolution re: Shabazz (a review of the voluminous Shabazz FBI FOIA file is instructive; several other targets were successfully prosecuted as a result of the multi-jurisdictional probe).

During the Shabazz-related federal narcotics investigation, authorities caught wind of extortion efforts in Philadelphia regarding the Jackson's 1984 Victory Tour.
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The details remain murky but the press conference describing the resolution of whatever behind-the-scenes troubles is telling.  Jeremiah Shabazz and Don King (the tour's promoter) agreed to terms with a popular, longtime Philadelphia disc jockey and activist named Georgie Woods.  When Woods announced that he had agreed to terms with the Jacksons he did so accompanied by his “spiritual adviser,” Shamsud-din Ali.  Importantly, Shamsud-din Ali, who took over Temple 12 following the demotion of Jeremiah Shabazz, was a Black Mafia leader formerly known as Clarence Fowler.  Fowler (who was a captain in the FOI under Shabazz at the time) was convicted of a 1970 murder and served a few years in prison before his conviction was overturned by a divided Pennsylvania Supreme Court (a re-trial was ruled out by officials when the key witness against him refused to participate, supposedly after being visited by Black Mafia henchmen); he returned to the streets as Shamsud-din Ali.  [Please see * below for more relevant information and context re: Shamsud-din Ali]


It is certainly the case Muhammad Ali was very close with two individuals - Major Coxson and Jeremiah Shabazz# - who were wholly immersed in the social system of Philadelphia's Black Mafia.  Critics of Ali make a fair point when they argue his high-profile embrace of Coxson and of Shabazz enhanced their credibility within certain circles - confusing and intimidating people - possibly even resulting in victimization of which Ali may never have been aware.  However, I'll end with something I first attempted to address back in 1999 because it remains true to this day (which is important given all I have reviewed and learned since), and it matters in light of all I have written above:

While Muhammad Ali certainly traveled with an interesting and dangerous crowd in Philadelphia and South Jersey, there remains no suggestion, let alone evidence, of any wrongdoing on Ali's part.  Examinations of surveillance records and other intelligence documents, many of which include analyses specifically of the boxing legend, do not reveal a single item relating to dubious activities by Ali.


^ Unless stated otherwise, all commentary and supporting evidence can be found in Sean Patrick Griffin, Black Brothers, Inc.: The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia's Black Mafia (Leicester, UK: Milo, 2007).  Please note that although they make for choppy reading and an even more amateurish look I have included the images from press coverage to demonstrate how widely-known most of this was at the time the various events transpired.

# Jeremiah Shabazz passed away in 1998 at the age of 70.

* Immediately following Clarence Fowler's 1976 release from prison (now as Shamsud-din Ali) informants described Shamsud-din continuing the Black Mafia extortion racket, and in the late 1990s he became the subject of a massive federal narcotics investigation when wholesalers for a drug-dealing rap group (with Black Mafia origins) named RAM Squad discussed his alleged role on wiretaps.  That probe involved an overheard conversation of Shamsud-din asking a drug wholesaler for $5,000, explaining he needed the money to give to a longtime aide to Philadelphia Mayor John Street.  The revelation spawned a separate and distinct investigation into municipal corruption that involved "pay-to-play" shakedowns and "no-show" jobs; it was discovered Shamsud-din was a major power broker in municipal contracting and his stature was acknowledged by politicians and by violent entrepreneurs, alike.  Concerning the latter, Dawud Bey (son of founding Black Mafia member Roosevelt "Spooks" Fitzgerald) was recorded complaining to another prominent drug dealer that Shamsud-din was "walking with kings and we're out here hustling."  Bey was likely referring to Shamsud-din's prominence in city politics, which included things like meeting President Bill Clinton during a visit with Mayor Street.  The drug investigation led to the convictions and/or guilty pleas of 37 people, and the corruption probe resulted in another 20 persons pleading guilty or being convicted at trial, including the City Treasurer.  In 2005, Shamsud-din was convicted of 22 counts of various racketeering and fraud charges and was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison; he was released from federal prison in December 2013.

As is so often the case with this history, there is a degrees-of-separation worth noting considering the genesis of this post, namely Muhammad Ali's involvement in the Black Mafia's social networks.  Among those convicted in the corruption probe with Shamsud-din was his daughter, Lakiha "Kiki" Spicer, who was found guilty (along with her mother and Shamsud-din's wife, Faridah Ali, formerly Rita Spicer) in October 2004 for her role in a "ghost teacher" scam.  Incredibly, Kiki (after dating a RAM Squad member and drug dealer named Tommy Hill - birth name John Wilson - who was later killed in 2011 when it was disclosed he had cooperated with authorities) went on to marry boxing great Mike Tyson in June 2009.  She met Tyson when she was 18 years old because of Shamsud-din's relationship with Don King and thus she often attended boxing events.  Said Don King to Mike Tyson about dating Shamsud-din Ali's daughter, "Stay away from her. Don't go talking to that girl.  Leave these people alone.  These are not people to mess with."  Despite Don King's warning, Kiki, who discovered she was pregnant with Tyson's child a week before she entered federal prison in April 2008 (she was released on October 30, 2008), wedded Tyson and the couple have two children together.

1. Thomas Hauser, Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times (New York: Touchstone, 1991), p.93.

2. David Remnick, King of the World (New York: Random House, 1988), p. 135.

3. Bruce Keidan, “Police Protection Fails to Lessen Faith in Religion,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 13, 1973.

4. Griffin, Black Brothers, Inc., p. 105.

5. Donald Janson, "Camden Mayoral Hopeful Runs a Flamboyant Race," New York Times, April 7, 1973, p. 77.

6. "Muhammad Ali Next? He Blames Crank for Rumors," Philadelphia Inquirer, June 15, 1973.

7. James Nicholson, "The Underworld on the Brink of War: Part I - The Muslim Mob Gets It On," Philadelphia Magazine, November 1973, p. 220.

8. Les Payne, "The Man Who Drew Cassius Clay to Islam," Newsday, February 16, 1997, p. G06.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The media and crime rate reporting

It is difficult to do this succinctly, so please pardon me for the length of what follows.  Nevertheless, I wanted a ready-made, comprehensive list of examples to cite as this discussion continues.

News followers may have noticed that the annual FBI Uniform Crime Report (UCR) was released this week.  This year's UCR shows that violent crime decreased for the fourth straight year, while property crime declined for the eighth straight year.  To many in the media, for whom the leading if not exclusive explanation of "street"crimes (as opposed to organized and so-called white-collar crimes) is poverty, these declines in the midst of a severe economic crisis are confounding.  That is, these reporters and commentators - with some willing accomplices in academia - continue to report that "experts" keep expecting rises in crime because, after all, they believe and argue, people steal and commit acts of violence first and foremost as a result of their socioeconomic status.  As such, given the sky-high unemployment rate and the like, using their logic we should have begun seeing (perhaps significant) rises in crime the past few years.  Thus, this week's reporting often included quotes from Alfred Blumstein, the J. Erik Jonsson University Professor of Urban Systems and Operations Research at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz School of Public Policy.  For instance, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Professor Blumstein said, "Everyone anticipated the recession would drive things up, and it hasn't happened."  "Everyone anticipated..."?!!  Ha!  Uh, no.  Perhaps he meant to say that "everyone" predisposed to believe crime is inextricably linked to socioeconomic conditions - independent of all sorts of behaviors, policies, and phenomena - "anticipated the recession" would drive the crime rate up.  Others (who are data-driven!) learned long ago that a causal relationship between economic conditions and crime rates, at the macro and micro levels, is anything but clear.

Unfortunately, this rationale - though predicated more on ideology than on evidence, and wildly uninformed - is nothing new.  This theme has dominated media reporting of the nation's crime rates for at least the past twenty years, and it does a disservice to the public which relies upon the media and its quoted "experts" for historical and sociological context when it comes to phenomena such as crime.  It is this reporting, of course, which is used by the masses to form opinions upon which they'll lend their support (in various fashions) to initiatives (ostensibly) crafted to reduce crime.  As such, I thought I'd offer a retrospective on what has passed for reporting on crime rates so that others may be informed going forward (emphases mine).

Poor Economy = More Crime

For starters, here is the New York Times coverage of what was the latest crime stat reporting:

May 23, 2011, "Steady Decline in Major Crime Baffles Experts":
“Striking,” said Alfred Blumstein, a professor and a criminologist at the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University, because it came “at a time when everyone anticipated it could be going up because of the recession.”
To demonstrate how consistently the New York Times has reported this theme, consider the following articles, each of which was penned by Fox Butterfield back when he worked for the Times (much more on Butterfield's crime rate reporting appears below):

October 28, 2003, "Rate of Serious Crime Held Largely Steady Last Year, Report by F.B.I. Says":
For the third straight year, the rate of serious crime in the United States showed little change in 2002, dropping by a mere 1.1 percent, according to an annual count issued yesterday by the F.B.I...Professor Blumstein, other experts and law enforcement officials said they were a little surprised that the crime rate did not rise last year, because there were a number of factors that might have led to an upturn.  These include a poor job market, especially for young people; the diversion of police resources to fighting terrorism; budget deficits that caused cutbacks in social services and prisons; and a growth in the number of young people in their prime age for committing crime.
June 17, 2003, "Crime Stayed Flat in 2002, F.B.I. Study Finds":
Crime in the United States remained relatively unchanged in 2002, dropping by a mere two-tenths of 1 percent, a report released yesterday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows....2002 was the third straight year that serious violent and property crime were essentially flat after falling sharply in the 1990's.  But criminal justice experts warned that a number of factors could cause crime to start increasing again rapidly. Among those factors are the downturn in the economy, cutbacks in police forces and the courts because of budget shortfalls, a rise in the number of inmates returning from prison and a larger number of teenagers.
October 29, 2002, "U.S. Crime Rate Rose 2% in 2001 After 10 Years of Decreases":
For the first time since 1991, serious and violent crime in the United States increased last year, the F.B.I. reported yesterday...Over all, crime rose 2.1 percent across the nation, the report said. Experts and law enforcement officials said the overall increase, after a decade of drops in the crime rate, appeared to reflect several factors: a faltering economy, cuts in welfare and anticrime programs, as well as fewer jobs available, more inmates returning home from prison, an increase in the teenage population, and police resources diverted to antiterrorism efforts.  In addition, the experts said, after 10 years of decreases, in which the crime rate dropped to its lowest level since the late 1960's, it would have been hard for it to keep falling.  "We all knew that the marked downward trend of crime in the 90's could not continue indefinitely," said Alfred Blumstein, a professor of statistics and criminology at Carnegie Mellon University. "The crime rate really came down very far, and one would have hoped it was an indication of improvements in society, but that didn't happen. The economy is a big part of the story.
May 31, 2001, "U.S. Crime Figures Were Stable in '00 After 8-Year Drop":
The number of serious crimes in the United States remained steady last year after an eight-year decline, the longest on record, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported yesterday. The F.B.I.'s Uniform Crime Report cited preliminary figures for 2000 showing that overall crime nationwide was virtually unchanged from 1999. By comparison, overall crime fell by 7 percent from 1998 to 1999, and had fallen by similarly large amounts consistently since 1992...Professor Blumstein suggested that one new strategy, now that the economy had sputtered, would be to focus more attention on preventing young people from becoming involved in crime, especially by finding jobs for them.
A few comments that apply to many news articles discussing the crime rate is necessary.  It is remarkable - and troubling - how often reporters loosely state that "experts" say, X, Y, or Z, when, in fact, a single "expert" is cited in the piece (not to mention that no supporting evidence is demanded from the lone "expert").  That the mantras and themes don't change, especially when the expectations are not met as data become available, says as much about the media as it does about the "experts" they rely upon. 

Incarceration Increases Despite Crime Decrease

In addition to the uncritically-accepted economy-crime causation theme, there was the more laughable trope offered by the New York Times and its reporter Butterfield.  For years, Butterfield wrote of his confusion about the "paradox" of the prison population increasing "even as" or "despite" crime rates falling. Here are some tidy examples of how the (formerly?) influential newspaper reported on crime rates in the U.S. dating back to the 1990s, when the country began experiencing its historic crime drop (Butterfield's reporting ended in 2005, hence the most recent offered example as November 2004).

November 8, 2004, "Despite Drop in Crime, An Increase in Inmates":
The number of inmates in state and federal prisons rose 2.1 percent last year, even as violent crime and property crime fell, according to a study by the Justice Department released yesterday. The continuing increase in the prison population, despite a drop or leveling off in the crime rate in the past few years...In seeking to explain the paradox of a falling crime rate but a rising prison population...
 July 26, 2004, "U.S. 'Correctional Population' Hits New High":
The growth in what the report termed the "correctional population" comes at a time when the crime rate nationwide has been relatively stable for several years...The report does not address why the number of men and women in jail and prison and on probation and parole has continued to increase...
July 28, 2003 "Study Finds 2.6% Increase in U.S. Prison Population" (note: the subtitle for the article is "More Inmates, Despite Slight Drop in Crime"):
The nation's prison population grew 2.6 percent last year, the largest increase since 1999, according to a study by the Justice Department... The jump came despite a small decline in serious crime in 2002...
 August 13, 2001, "Number of People in State Prisons Declines Slightly":
The number of inmates in state prisons fell in the second half of last year, the first such decline since the nation's prison boom began in 1972, says a Justice Department report released yesterday.  The decline was modest, a drop of 6,200 inmates in state prisons in the last six months of 2000, or 0.5 percent of the total, the report said. But it came after the number of state prisoners rose 500 percent over the last three decades, even growing each year in the 1990's as crime dropped...
August 10, 2000, "Number in Prison Grows Despite Crime Reduction":
After an eight-year drop in crime, the population of the nation's state and federal prisons grew last year at the lowest rate since 1979, 3.4 percent, the Justice Department reported yesterday...the prison population has increased even as crime has declined...
March 21, 1999, "Prison Nation":
Despite seven straight years of falling crime, the number of inmates in the nation's jails and prisons climbed again last year, to a record 1.8 million, the Justice Department reported.
 March 15, 1999, "Number of Inmates Reaches Record 1.8 Million":
The number of inmates in the nation's jails and prisons rose again last year, to a record 1.8 million, though crime rates have dropped for seven consecutive years, the Justice Department reported yesterday...Another factor driving up the number of inmates even as crime seems to be falling...
August 9, 1998, "Prison Population Growing Although Crime Drops":
The nation's prison population grew by 5.2 percent in 1997, according to the Justice Department, even though crime has been declining for six straight years...
January 19, 1998, "'Defying Gravity,' Inmate Population Climbs":
Despite a decline in the crime rate over the past five years, the number of inmates in the nation's jails and prisons rose again in 1997...The continued divergence between the shrinking crime rate and the rising rate of incarceration raises a series of troublesome questions...
September 28, 1997, "Crime Keeps on Falling, but Prisons Keep on Filling":
It has become a comforting story: for five straight years, crime has been falling, led by a drop in murder. So why is the number of inmates in prisons and jails around the nation still going up?
January 20, 1997, "Slower Growth in Number of Prisoners":
The rapid growth in the number of people in the nation's jails and prisons slowed last year for the first time in a decade, according to a study released yesterday by the Justice Department, reflecting at least in part a decline in the crime rate over the past five years. ...the incarceration rate has continued to increase even as crime has fallen...
I'm sure there is more to chronicle about all of this (including still other examples), but that will have to do for now!