On Oct. 13, 2022, Samir Ahmad, a Philadelphia Deputy Sheriff Officer, was caught in a federal sting operation. According to the court documents, Ahmad was employed as a Deputy Sheriff with the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office beginning in Feb. 2018. In Oct. 2022, when Ahmad was a sworn law enforcement officer as a Deputy Sheriff, he allegedly sold two semi-automatic pistols and ammunition to a confidential informant.

During the exchange, the informant explained to Ahmad that he was unlawfully in the United States, and that he could “get deported” if he was caught in possession of a gun. As detailed in the Criminal Complaint, Ahmad responded, “You don’t got to worry about none of that.” The defendant made $3,000 from the sale of the firearms.

Ahmad was terminated from employment with the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office and arrested by federal agents on Oct. 19, but a U.S. Attorney’s press release stated that the investigation is ongoing. Is the Ahmad arrest part of a larger probe that may rise through the ranks of the Philadelphia sheriff’s office?  An examination of the case reveals that Ahmad’s trafficked weapons included those used in the deadly Roxborough school shooting, and that there may be implications throughout the office, which may include Sheriff Rochelle Bilal herself.

Samir Ahmad

In an email to Broad + Liberty, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson Jennifer Crandall would not rule out further investigations as a result of the Ahmad arrest. “Since this case was just indicted, we cannot comment further than the release we issued as the investigation is ongoing.” However, when asked if Sheriff Bilal herself was under investigation, Crandall wrote, “We can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation into any entities or individuals which have not been charged.”

“The result of this investigation is the paradigm of collaboration between our local, state, and federal partners,” said Eric Degree, acting Special Agent in charge of ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division.

In understanding how multi-agency federal investigations are conducted, it’s important to note that this case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General, and Philadelphia Police Department. This denotes a great deal of planning and coordination leading up to the controlled purchase by an informant, indicating that this is part of a long-term investigation that will not culminate with the charging of Ahmad for the sale of two illegal weapons.  

READ MORE — Ben Mannes: The Inquirer’s suit against a former employee casts doubt on their commitment to liberal values

“As alleged, Samir Ahmad abused his authority — to the greatest extent possible — as a sworn law enforcement officer,” said U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero. “Working with our law enforcement partners, we are doing all that we can to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the violence.”

Could the Ahmad investigation be part of a larger criminal probe? A 2020 report by the City Controller found that more than 210 firearms disappeared from the Sheriff’s inventory. At least 101 “missing” weapons were sheriff’s service weapons and the other 109 were weapons confiscated or turned over pursuant to the Protection from Abuse (PFA) Act. Once a PFA is cleared in court, these firearms are supposed to be returned to their owners. Confidential sources at Philadelphia Family Court have told Broad + Liberty that they commonly encounter claimants who say that the Sheriff’s office “lost” their legally owned weapons turned over for safe-keeping after Protection from Abuse orders.

At the time of the City Controller’s report, Bilal claimed her office had “fully addressed” the problems in the report and laid the blame with prior administrations. However, two years later, a Sheriff’s deputy stands federally charged with weapons offenses — and a photo of one of the weapons released by the U.S. Attorney’s office shows what appears to be the same type of Glock handgun issued by the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office. After the Ahmad arrest, the Sheriff’s Office released a statement, which again tries to shift blame onto prior administrations:

“Former Deputy Sheriff Samir Ahmad was hired in February 2018 under a previous administration. On October 19, 2022, he was served with a 30 day notice of intent to dismiss for repeated violations of the Philadelphia Sheriff Office directives, policies and procedures. As always, the Office of the Sheriff will continue to cooperate with local, state, and federal authorities.”

Another indicator of the extended nature of this investigation is the involvement of the FBI and Department of Labor, who are more responsible for investigating public corruption in contrast to the ATF’s work on illegal weapons trafficking. “The idea of a sworn public servant so blatantly undermining public safety is reprehensible,” said Jacqueline Maguire, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “The FBI and our partners will continue to do everything in our power to make this city safer.”

Maybe… the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee should turn its focus to the Sheriff’s Office — and how so many scandals can hit one major city law enforcement agency over the last two generations.

This is not the first time Bilal has been the subject of a criminal investigation. 

In 2013, Bilal was arrested by an officer in Delaware County’s Colwyn Borough, where she had been secretly hired as the town’s “Director of Public Safety.” That same year, Philadelphia police internal affairs raided Colwyn police headquarters in a separate investigation into their hiring of Bilal, who violated city policy by working for Colwyn and leading the nonprofit “Guardian Civic league” while she was still employed as a city police officer.  In 2013, the Inquirer reported that Bilal was accused of intercepting mail sent to Colwyn Police Officer Trevor Parham and another cop. Colwyn Police later filed theft charges against her.

While the Delaware County District Attorney did not pursue criminal charges in the 2013 case, Bilal was nonetheless investigated by the FBI, was terminated by Colwyn borough, and subsequently resigned from the Philadelphia Police Department. This didn’t stop Bilal for running for Sheriff in a 2019 campaign promising to end “scandal after scandal after scandal” and “remove the dark cloud” created by her immediate predecessors. This included Sheriff John Green, who received a federal prison sentence for corruption, and Sheriff Jewell Williams, whose tenure was marred by multiple sexual harassment allegations, all settled with taxpayer dollars.

Yet less than 100 days following her election, Bilal fired Brett Mandel, the chief financial officer, after he expressed concerns about her office’s “off-budget” spending. Mandel, a former deputy city controller and longtime fiscal watchdog, used the term “slush fund” when describing how the office spent money collected from sheriff’s sales, serving writs, and forfeitures. Mandel also accused Bilal for giving no-bid, six-figure Sheriff’s Office contracts to consultants who previously worked on her campaign or transition team, including Micah Sims, Teresa Lundy, Rodney Little, and Corey Thomas.

After these accusations surfaced, Bilal’s statement to the Inquirer rang eerily similar to her statements after Ahmad’s arrest and the Controller’s report that her office had lost 210 firearms: “As a new administration in office, we are carefully reviewing all past practices for efficiency as well as propriety so we can operate the office with transparency and integrity on behalf of all of the citizens of our city.”

In almost every other city comparable to Philadelphia, the Sheriff plays a vital role in the criminal justice system, streamlining the arrest-to-courtroom process for police, enforcing judicial orders like child support, running jails, and shutting down nuisance properties. Here, with a fraction of the workload, the political machine has a penchant for nominating scandal-ridden candidates for this important role, which has had a negative impact on our city’s public safety and welfare.

Maybe, at the conclusion of the federal investigation and Krasner impeachment hearings, the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee should turn its focus to the Sheriff’s Office — and how so many scandals can hit one major city law enforcement agency over the last two generations.

A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his own experiences on both sides of the criminal justice system. He has served as a federal and municipal law enforcement officer and was the former Director, Office of Investigations with the American Board of Internal Medicine. @PublicSafetySME

2 thoughts on “Ben Mannes: Will the arrest of a former Philadelphia deputy spell trouble for Sheriff Rochelle Bilal?”

  1. If indeed one of the firearms trafficked by Ahmad was used in the Roxborough shootings does this not brig up a chain of custody issue in using that firearm in any future criminal case brought against the alleged shooters?

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