My family and I had big plans to go to Phoenixville, Pa., today to watch “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3,” but with Pennsylvania State Police continuing to build a presence in our area, we opted to stay put. Law enforcement has steadily increased in Chester County as the manhunt continues for escaped killer Danelo Cavalcante—police vehicles are currently stationed throughout my township. The search has been going on for 11 days, and as sightings increase, so have the numbers of local, state, and federal authorities.
Danelo Cavalcante, 34, escaped from Chester County Prison on Aug. 31.
Cavalcante hails from Brazil. He hastily left the country after allegedly shooting and killing a man in November 2017 in a city in the northern part of the country. He reportedly stole the victim’s phone and fled the country. He then made his way to the U.S. via Puerto Rico.
Cavalcante eventually made his way to southeastern Pennsylvania. There, he met Deborah Brandão, also from Brazil. They began dating. According to Brandão’s sister, Cavalcante became aggressive, and in December 2020, Brandão filed a protection from abuse order against him.
On Apr. 8, 2021, Cavalcante stabbed Brandão 38 times in front of her children, then aged four and seven. Investigators have suggested that the murder happened after Brandão learned about Cavalcante’s arrest warrant in Brazil and threatened to tell others.
After the murder, Cavalcante called his mother and sister to confess. Two of his friends testified that they helped him clean up, change clothes, and put gas in his car. They then told him to “disappear.” Nonetheless, he was arrested hours after the stabbing.
The matter went to trial, which lasted three days. It took a jury just 15 minutes to convict him of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison in August of 2023.
Cavalcante was sent to Chester County Prison, where he was waiting to be transferred to state prison. On Aug. 31, 2023, days after he was sentenced, he crab-walked his way onto the roof and out of Chester County Prison. Reportedly, a guard who was supposed to have been watching the prisoners was not paying attention.
Cavalcante’s escape went undetected for more than an hour at the prison.
Cavalcante continued to elude law enforcement over the next ten days—now day 11. At one point, indications were that they had cornered him in Longwood Gardens, a popular and beautiful (I can vouch for that) botanical garden founded by Pierre S. du Pont. Cavalcante was captured on video at least twice at the gardens, causing the tourist attraction and local schools to close.
Over the weekend, the case took another turn. On Sunday, Sept. 10, Cavalcante was spotted by a door camera near Phoenixville, Pa. By this time, he had altered his appearance—he was clean-shaven, wearing a black baseball cap, a light-colored hooded sweatshirt, and green prison pants.
Police reported at a press conference held on Sept. 10 that Cavalcante had stolen a 2020 White Ford van with a refrigeration unit on the top from a dairy. According to police, the keys had been left in the vehicle. The stolen van was eventually located in a field in East Nantmeal—that explains why police were everywhere on my walk this morning.
I reached out last Thursday to Pennsylvania State Police about the kinds of law enforcement involved in the search. At the time, a spokesperson from Troop J (which covers Chester County) advised that it included the Pennsylvania State Police, FBI, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Marshal Service, Maryland State Police Aviation, and Delaware State Police Aviation.
By Friday, Sept. 8, the number of law enforcement personnel was at its largest yet at around 400 personnel, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens told reporters at a command post.
Manhunts can be expensive.
As the days stretched on and the number of law enforcement officers increased, I couldn’t help but wonder who was paying for all of this. My inquiries to the state police and the Chester County District Attorney’s office didn’t provide an answer. A spokesperson from Pennsylvania State Police advised, “I cannot provide you who will be financial responsibility for this incident.”
How much this could cost taxpayers is a big question. Fortunately, manhunts of this magnitude don’t happen very often. But nearly ten years ago, in 2014, a search to find Eric Frein, who gunned down two state troopers, cost the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania roughly $1.3 million a week ($1,678,655.97 in today’s dollars). The 48-day manhunt ultimately cost taxpayers $11.7 million ($15,107,903.74 in today’s dollars)—including about $10 million for overtime. If you simply extrapolated those average daily costs to today’s search, that would mean a cost of about $18.5 million.
At the time, Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner-designate Col. Marcus Brown said that the agency would not need additional money from the state because it could absorb the costs. However, state legislators still planned to seek money to reimburse manhunt-related costs for the municipalities involved.
The Pennsylvania State Police has a $1.4 billion annual budget. Nearly 2/3 of it—about $900 million—of that budget comes from the state’s General Fund. The remainder comes from the state’s Motor License Fund, which gets money from transportation charges, including the gas tax, vehicle registration fees, and driver’s license fees. They’re intended to fund infrastructure, but a significant portion is transferred to the Pennsylvania State Police.
Not everyone is happy with that division. A recent bill, SB 121, introduced by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-PA-20) would restrict the diversion of transportation funding out of the Motor License Fund. The bill passed along party lines in the Republican-controlled Senate, but currently sits in the House. The vote occurred before the manhunt began.
It isn’t clear how many federal agents are involved in the search. A spokesperson for the FBI only confirmed that “The FBI is working closely with the Pennsylvania State Police, U.S. Marshals Service, and other law enforcement partners to locate Danelo Cavalcante, contributing significant resources and personnel to the search effort. We’ll continue to support our law enforcement partners in any way we can, until Cavalcante is caught.”
The FBI has an annual budget of more than $11 billion. According to the agency, their workforce includes approximately 35,000 people, including special agents and support professionals such as intelligence analysts, language specialists, scientists, and information technology specialists. They have 56 field offices located in major cities throughout the U.S. and about 350 satellite offices, called resident agencies, in cities and towns across the nation.
The FBI largely receives funding from two sources: Congress and reimbursable activities. Congress appropriates funds annually—those dollars make up over 80% of the FBI’s annual budget. According to the Department of Justice, appropriations are recognized when the related expenditures are incurred. Revenue for reimbursable services is recognized when the services are performed.
To help catch Cavalcante, police are offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. Law enforcement often offers rewards in high-profile cases in an attempt to increase publicity and give others an incentive to come forward.
Where those funds come from makes a difference to potential recipients. Rewards are not required to be reported to the IRS if they meet certain criteria, including if they are paid from a state government agency.
According to the instructions for Form 1099-MISC, “A payment to an informer as an award, fee, or reward for information about criminal activity does not have to be reported if the payment is made by a federal, state, or local government agency, or by a nonprofit organization exempt from tax under section 501(c)(3) that makes the payment to further the charitable purpose of lessening the burdens of government. For more information, see Regulations section 1.6041-3(l).” You can read the cited Regs section here.
Chester County residents have been on edge since word of the escape—it’s all anyone can talk about. They’re also frustrated. In addition to worries about where Cavalcante might be, some worry about the security of the prison. Another prisoner, Igor Bolte, escaped from the same prison on May 19 of this year by scaling the wall. However, Bolte was caught within minutes.
Chester County Prison was opened in 1959. The last significant renovations to the prison were made forty years ago, in 1983.
In 2022, there were reportedly 627 people in the physical custody of the jail, including 22 people held for other jurisdictions. From 2015 to 2022, there were 14 total reported escapes from county jails in Pennsylvania. The number of escapes in any given year never topped four—until now. This year, at least six people have broken out of jail in the Keystone State.
Indications are that understaffing could be a problem. According to a 2022 survey by the Pennsylvania Prison Society, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit, Chester County Prison has 252 approved security staff complement—the number of full-time positions approved in the facility’s budget. Only 187 positions are currently filled—a 25% vacancy rate.
Obviously, as the search goes on, residents aren’t that concerned with dollars. They just want Cavalcante caught.
But after he’s caught, there will no doubt be some uncomfortable conversations in state and local government offices across Pennsylvania. The manhunt has raised significant concerns about safety, the effectiveness of law enforcement, and potential holes in communication. Complaints about the completeness and timing of announcements related to the escape and ensuing search have been particularly loud.
Some long-term solutions, including better security at the prison and increased staffing in agencies across the state, could cost money at a time when there is an emphasis on reducing government spending. With 2023 elections—including races for Sheriff, District Attorney, and several Township Supervisor positions in Chester County—looming, questions focused on spending and revenue could be sensitive for lawmakers.
Cavalcante is considered extremely dangerous. If you have information about his whereabouts, you should call the tip line: 717-562-2987.