BY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!
ON THE COVER
CP: CP breaks out the big guns this week, literally and figuratively. You might remember some kerfuffle about what PW left out of a story on gun ownership in the city; well, Andrew Thompson has filled in those gaps – on straw purchases, the black market and other loopholes – in this week’s cover story. Make no mistake: CP has responded, and responded with vigor.
Rugers are cheap guns, and a pair cost around $400. Jerome could flip them on the street for $1,000. The Mac-11s he sold had a slightly higher profit margin. For every couple hundred dollars Jerome spent on a gun, he made at least double on resale. Over his three years as a gun trafficker, from 1997 to 1999, Jerome estimates he sold about 300 guns and made between $50,000 and $60,000.
That’s not a huge amount of money. Still, a former prosecutor estimates that, at the time, Jerome was the single biggest gun trafficker in Philadelphia.
Today, he works in a hospital.
Jerome — not his real name; he spoke on the condition that his name be withheld — sits with me at B2 Café, a hipster hotbed on 12th Street and Passyunk Avenue whose disco-throwback music and tattooed baristas are utterly at odds with the man in front of me: black and bald with a face shaved as rough as his voice sounds. Jerome speaks hoarsely, and even when riled, his voice never rises above a few decibels, as if the intent to sound enraged is there, but his vocal chords simply won’t permit it.
He looks through the window and points across the street. “I used to open the trunk of my car and sell ’em right on that street corner,” he says.
Cue up the Warren Zevon, for some guns and money, plus there might be a lawyer or two in there somewhere. There’s stunning findings aplenty here: Colosimo’s, subject of an ATF probe due to straw purchases and shady dealings — still open. Thompson adds, “None of the other gun stores Jerome says supplied him have been shut down.” He sets the scene nationally as well, looking at the ATF’s authority, the Justice Department’s stance and even checking in with a guy who teaches at a college in my hometown (Score!). There’s a lot — A LOT — here, and, as Jerome says, “in a society that says we value public safety,” it’s all eminently worth reading.
PW: Financial ruin is both always around the corner and practically a matter of course in these times. A compellingly-told story by Nick Powell examines the plight of Brian Yard and others who’ve fallen victim to predatory forces at work in this new, debt-plagued era.
Early in 2008, Yard was suffocating in credit-card debt. His credit rating, once in good standing, had steadily plummeted. For Yard, filing for bankruptcy suddenly looked like a feasible option. But then a barrage of debt-settlement solicitors started calling him every day, voices with hollow promises of eliminating his mounting debt in less than three years. Yard says he had never heard of debt settlement before, so he ignored the calls.
Desperate to escape his financial woes, Yard finally picked up the phone one day in October 2008 and listened. Using powers of persuasion, a solicitor from Guardian Referral Network, a company “dedicated to helping individuals and families rid their lives of burdensome debt,” convinced Yard, a North Philly resident, to sign over his debt to a debt-settlement company. Willing to do almost anything to rid himself of the gnawing anxiety that had plagued him for months, Yard agreed. “When you’re between a rock and a hard place, you’re looking for a lifeline and you just kind of close your eyes and hope,” he says.
Acting as the middleman, Guardian Referral Network connected Yard with J. Hass Group, a debt- settlement company based in Arizona that, at the time, went by the name of JDH & Associates. A few days later, the company sent Yard a 20-page contract loaded with legal jargon and microscopic print.
At first, Yard put the documents aside, but the company persisted, calling him constantly and asking if he had signed yet. A month later, he signed the documents, which included a power of attorney that gave JDH the power to speak to Yard’s creditors on his behalf. “[The phone representative] told me the first thing they do is let all the creditors know [that he enrolled in a debt-settlement plan] and they send them the copy of a power of attorney,” Yard says. He adds that the company also told him to stop paying his credit card bills.
Two years later, Yard’s debt has grown by an additional $14,000 and he’s been sued by one of his creditors.
Your heart goes out to Yard, of course, and to Olga Cuevas, a victim of similar circumstances, but it’s not immediately clear how widespread this phenomenon is in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. Another example, perhaps from the ‘burbs or from someone with better access to tax consultation, might shore up the story. Still, a solid – and kind of scary – contribution.
INSIDE THE BOOK
CP: Sushi with a side of cartoon smoke clouds. From a Shit Town to a shit CD. There’s something about Marys. Yeah independence! High-fives all around!
PW: Bobby’s burgers get flayed. Self-serve beer: surprisingly, not an abomination. Battle of the Sexes: Hey, as long as there’s sex involved… Sweetheart deal goes sour. Just getting by, one day at a time, etc. etc.: the Nutter legacy.
WINNER: PW takes it for calling out this year’s 4th of July headliner. We’re Philly, not Buffalo friggin’ New York. I’ll take in the Orchestra on the 3rd and catch the early set (the cot-damn Roots!) on the 4th before celebrating my inalienable right to get drunk.