Partners In Crime: The Mafia Cops
By J. R. de Szigethy
CHRISTMAS DAY, 1986, NEW YORK
On this Holiday 26-year-old Nicholas Guido had a special reason to celebrate; the Brooklyn resident was the proud owner of a new car. Life had not been kind to young Nicholas, who struggled with a mild case of retardation and a speech impediment. Still, Nicholas overcame these obstacles, lived a clean life and held down a steady job as a telephone installer.
After a traditional American Christmas meal, Nicholas stepped outside his modest family home to show his Uncle his new car. The auto was more than just a vehicle for Nicholas, it was a tangible piece of evidence that, after years of being told there were things he could not do, he could in fact accomplish something. This car - HIS car, was something to be proud of. This car, earned through such hard work, was proof of his worth as an individual and an American citizen.
Nicholas climbed into the driver’s seat of his car, with his Uncle next to him. It must have seemed to this gentle, innocent young man the best Christmas of his life. Suddenly, without warning, young Nicholas noticed an unknown man rapidly approaching the car, a gun in his hand aimed at him. Nicholas instinctively reacted by shoving his Uncle to the floor of the car and throwing his body on top on him as the first of nine bullets came blasting through the shattered windshield. It was all over in just a matter of seconds.
Over the decades residents of New York have developed a reputation for being cold and uncaring, but in times of trouble New Yorkers disprove this rap by throwing themselves in Harm’s Way to protect a loved one or even a total stranger, even if it means running up the stairs of a burning building. On Christmas Day, 1986, Nicholas Guido proved himself as brave and selfless as any New Yorker before or since his tragic death.
While Nicholas Guido died a hero in the act of saving his Uncle, authorities investigating the incident reacted as if the young man had to be involved in criminal activity. Nicholas was Italian-American and lived in an area of Brooklyn that was a stronghold of the American Mafia. Although the vast majority of Italian-Americans have no ties whatsoever to organized crime, the circumstances of Nicholas Guido’s tragic murder cast a cloud of suspicion over him and his family that would last for many years.
Christmas would never be the same for the Guido family, who would never again put up a Christmas tree. That this Evil deed was perpetrated on Christmas Day showed that nothing was sacred to those responsible. Nicholas Guido and his family were in no way involved in any criminal activity, but the authorities did get one thing right; this murder was the act of members of the Mafia, and dozens more murders would be committed by those responsible before an indictment would be handed down in this case.(1)
Another such public execution occurred in Brooklyn in November, 1990. Eddie Lino was a drug dealer addicted to the heroin he pushed in New York and Florida for the Gambino Mafia Family. Lino had been one of the triggerman in the broad-daylight shooting of Gambino Godfather Paul Castellano outside Sparks Steakhouse in Manhattan in 1985 that elevated John Gotti to the helm of one of America’s most dangerous criminal enterprises. As is often the case in the Mafia, those who commit murder eventually get murdered themselves, and on this day it was Lino’s turn to die. Driving along the Belt Parkway in his new Mercedes Benz, Lino saw the flashing lights of an un-marked police car beside him and what appeared to be two cops flashing their badges as well, beckoning him to pull over. Lino did just that and the man in the passenger side who held a badge in one hand also held a gun in the other. The presumed cop opened fire and Eddie Lino was no longer a part of this world.
The Lino hit was yet another brazen murder that was mob related, but one with a twist; Federal authorities would eventually charge two decorated New York City Police Officers, Lou Eppolito and Steve Caracappa, with carrying out this sensational crime. The two retired cops - legends in law enforcement circles, are also charged with participating in 7 other murders, racketeering, bribery, and other crimes they committed with members of the American Mafia. It is undoubtedly the worst corruption scandal in the history of the New York City Police Department, and, like many such scandals, it was years in the making.
THE LONG ROAD TO INDICTMENT
Central to this story is the investigation of the murder of Eddie Lino. Over the course of over a decade, this investigation would take many twists and turns, with no fewer than 4 theories emerging as to who was responsible, during which time investigators and reporters would be walked through some of the most stunning cases of corruption within law enforcement circles in American history.
The first theory to emerge after Lino’s murder was that Vincent “Chin” Gigante, the “Oddfather” of the Genovese Mafia Family famous for his ‘crazy act,’ which included wandering the streets of Little Italy wearing a bathrobe, was behind the hit on Lino. Lino, Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, John Gotti, and the others involved in the hit on Godfather Paul Castellano, had broken the Mafia ‘rules’ and protocol by not getting permission to murder Castellano from “The Commission,” the ruling body of the Godfathers of New York City’s five Mafia families. Thus, it was believed, Gigante had put out a Contract on the lives of all those involved in Castellano’s murder.
This first theory had emerged some years earlier, when in April, 1986 a bomb blew up a car with Frank DeCicco, John Gotti’s Underboss, inside. Gotti himself had planned at some point that day to be inside the car. “Chin” Gigante was considered by some to have been the one who ordered this murder, although the methods - a car bomb - were more typical of Ohio mobsters than their counter-parts in New York.
A second theory would later emerge that had John Gotti and Sammy Gravano ordering the hit on Lino. By the time of his death, Lino had become completely addicted to heroin, and it was feared that this situation made Lino ‘unreliable,’ a metaphor meaning that he was a prime target for arrest by the Feds and then being ‘flipped’ as a co-operating witness against the Gambino Family. Ironically, it was Sammy Gravano who eventually ‘flipped,’ who was hopelessly addicted to anabolic steroids, drugs which increase muscle mass but also have dangerous side effects such as ‘roid rage,’ in which the person under their influence commits violence against others.
The ‘flipping’ of Sammy Gravano against John Gotti was part of a one-two punch by the Feds that eventually sent the Gambino Godfather to prison for the rest of his life. Gotti had previously been acquitted on charges due in large part to the abilities of his criminal lawyer Bruce Cutler, who is acknowledged as one of the best in the business of defending members of the American Mafia. However, before Gotti went to trial his fourth and final time, Federal Prosecutors had Cutler removed from the case after convincing the Judge that Cutler acted as “House Counsel” to the Gambino racketeering enterprise.
When Sammy Gravano ‘flipped’ and co-operated with the Feds, it was their hope that he could shed some light onto whom it was responsible for the murder of Eddie Lino. Gravano confessed to 19 murders but did not offer any significant information to the Feds on the Lino hit. For his efforts as a co-operating witness, Sammy Gravano was sentenced to just 5 years in prison.
The incredibly light sentence Gravano received for the murders of 19 people sent shock waves throughout the ranks of the American Mafia, and the message was clear; if a Mob figure got caught red-handed committing crimes, including murders, no matter how many murders, all one had to do was enter into a plea bargain with the Feds, offer up some ‘big fish’ such as a Godfather or crooked cop, and you would be ‘wined and dined’ while a member of the Witness Protection Program before receiving your ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card.
ENTER ‘BIG SAL’ MICIOTTA AND ANTHONY ‘GASPIPE’ CASSO
“Big Sal” was a 300 pound drug dealer and murderer for the Colombo Mafia Family, whereas “Gaspipe” Casso was the Underboss of the Luchese Family, who will go down in Mafia history as one of the most prolific murderers of all time. When Big Sal became a co-operating witness in 1993, the timing of his ‘flipping’ could not have been more to his advantage. From the early to mid 1990s, the Colombo Family had been disrupted by an internal Mob war that pitted those loyal to imprisoned Godfather Carmine “The Snake” Persico against those of rivals led by Underboss Victor Orena. Before the war was over, at least 11 people would be dead, including at least one innocent bystander, and it was clear to law enforcement that someone within their own ranks, either a crooked NYPD cop or FBI agent, was leaking information to Colombo Family members that resulted in some of the murders. “Big Sal” said he knew just who that person was and would be willing to wear a wire on him in order to get his ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card.
The accused cop was Detective Joe Simone, a veteran Mob investigator who worked on the elite Organized Crime Task Force, a coalition of FBI agents, Federal Prosecutors, and members of the NYPD. Simone coached a local football team with a nephew of Miciotta’s, and the FBI agreed to Miciotta’s plan to show up at his nephew’s house on a night Simone was scheduled to be there to go over football strategies. However, rather than be wired for sound, Miciotta was fitted with an FBI tape recorder. Miciotta knew that Simone had rejected a previous bribe attempt, so when the Detective showed up at the house, Miciotta turned off the tape recorder. The Colombo turncoat then told the Feds that Simone accepted his bribe. Had the FBI sent Miciotta back to ‘bribe’ Simone a second time, but wired for sound and Simone would be caught on tape refusing the bribe, the Feds in the Eastern District of New York would have lost an important witness they planned to use in upcoming trials regarding the Colombo Family mob war. The Feds did not take this chance and on practically non-existent evidence, Detective Joe Simone was arrested in the early hours of December 8, 1993, just days before his scheduled retirement.
While these events were unfolding authorities finally tracked down and arrested Luchese Family Underboss Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso, who had been on the lam for some time. Gaspipe, it turns out, is much like mob turncoats such as Sammy Gravano, who talk a lot about how important it is to preserve ‘Omerta,’ the Mafia ‘code of silence,’ even at the cost of committing murder against ‘rats,’ and yet once these men themselves are arrested for committing crimes, they turn ‘rat’ in the space of a heartbeat in order to save their own skins. In Gaspipe’s case, he committed murder after murder of those who had turned ‘rat’ - or those whom Casso feared MIGHT do so some day. In doing so, Gaspipe rewrote the rules of the mob: When Luchese capo “Big Pete” Chiodo turned rat, Gaspipe ordered that innocent relatives of Chiodo, including his sister, his Uncle, and his elderly grandmother, be murdered to send a message to Chiodo - and others - that ‘flipping’ would not be tolerated. Gaspipe also devised a plot to invite all 25 indicted members of the Luchese Family to a dinner, at which he would murder them all, in order to prevent any of them from turning ‘rat.’ Gaspipe only ditched this plan because he could not figure out how to dispose of so many dead bodies in such a short time.(2)
Once arrested, Gaspipe sought a plea bargain in order to someday soon walk the streets of America a free man. Gaspipe confessed to his role in no less than 36 murder plots, including the hit on Eddie Lino, which he claimed he accepted from the Gambino Family and farmed out to two crooked cops on his payroll, Lou Eppolito and Steve Caracappa. The story, first reported by Jerry Capeci in the New York Daily News, stunned New Yorkers.
The New York Post would then report that investigators had found at the Lino murder scene a wristwatch which, they theorized, had shaken loose from the person who held the gun that killed Lino. The Post gave much play to the wristwatch as the key that would lead to the arrest of the two perps involved in the shooting. Such a watch would surely have some sort of evidence upon it, whether it be a fingerprint, hair, or DNA. Yet as the weeks, then months, then years passed without an indictment in the Lino murder, the theory that Eppolito and Caracappa were the hitmen gradually lost credibility.
Also, as time passed, information would become public that would destroy the credibility of Gaspipe Casso. First, Gaspipe was alleged to have told the Feds that he met with Sammy “The Bull” Gravano on the day after activist Al Sharpton was attacked during a demonstration in New York City, a meeting during which Gravano took credit for the attack on Sharpton. The only problem with this story was that Gravano was then in jail. Gaspipe also made allegations about a hero DEA agent named Everett Hatcher who was murdered in 1989 by a drug dealer named Gus Farace, a nephew of Greg Scarpa, a drug dealer and hitman for the Colombo Family who escaped prosecution for decades because of his status as an FBI Informant.(3)
The murder of agent Hatcher was an extraordinary event in Mafia history. There has long existed an unwritten rule in the Mafia in America that members of law enforcement and the Media are off limits in terms of being harmed by the Mob. The edict is more a rule of self-preservation than of respect for these professions, as the Mob knows that any person in these professions harmed by organized crime figures will bring the full force of both professions down on the mob family. When agent Hatcher was murdered, Farace went into hiding and the DEA sent every available agent out in the search for the crazed drug dealer. At the time, Federal legislation did not exist that called for the Death Penalty for the murder of a law enforcement officer. However, the Death Penalty certainly existed for the Mob, and hitman/drug dealer Greg Scarpa went public, telling the Media that what his nephew did was against the ‘rules’ and would not be tolerated. Translated, this meant Scarpa had his own people out seeking to find and murder Farace. Eventually, a Scarpa soldier named Luis Tuzzio, Jr., himself the son of a police officer, found Farace and lured him into the death trap his assassins had waiting for him. Agent Hatcher became a legend in law enforcement circles and the street in front of the New York City office of the DEA is today named after the courageous drug agent.
However, when Gaspipe Casso ‘flipped’ for the Feds, he offered up some allegations that the Feds, particularly the DEA, did not want to hear. Gaspipe claimed that he and a Mob associate, Herbert Pate, were involved, along with DEA agent Hatcher, in the infamous “French Connection” case, in which millions of dollars worth of heroin seized in that famous case were stolen from the NYPD’s evidence room. Gaspipe offered up little corroborating evidence to what appeared to most an outlandish, concocted story that defamed the memory of the revered DEA agent. However, it should be pointed out that among the 36 people Gaspipe had murdered was Luis Tuzzio, Jr. While the evidence is clear that Gaspipe is an extremely deranged psychotic killer, Casso always had a reason of sorts that prompted him into committing the murders he has confessed to, although it didn’t take much for him to be so prompted. Casso’s murder of Tuzzio suggests he somehow had a vested interest in the circumstances surrounding the murder of DEA agent Hatcher.
The credibility of both Gaspipe and “Big Sal” Miciotta would further deteriorate as the Colombo Family Mob war trials progressed. The first troubled Colombo war trial began in June 1994. Alphonse "Allie Boy" Persico was charged with instigating the war but his attorney Barry Levin told the jury his client was in prison during the war and suggested it was started by gangsters including Greg Scarpa. Levin claimed the people the FBI would put on the Witness stand were vicious murderers, one of whom, Johnny Pate, had told a government psychiatrist his dead grandmother came to him in a vision and urged him to commit suicide. "These are the individuals that carried out these murders," Levin told the jury. "They are treacherous. Their aim is to convict more people. They’re all trying to redeem their sentences!"
Levin also promised the jury during opening arguments that two Sworn Affidavits executed by Greg Scarpa two days before his death due to AIDS would "clear Persico from the grave!" He was right; the jury cleared Allie Boy of all charges and he walked out of Court a free man. Meanwhile, someone firebombed the Pate family home on Staten Island, in apparent retaliation for Johnny Pate’s testifying against Persico.
With Allie Boy’s acquittal members of the Media began to take a look into the life of Greg Scarpa. The New York Daily News revealed that Scarpa had been involved in one of the most infamous criminal cases in our nation’s history, when three civil rights workers were murdered in Mississippi in 1964. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had the young and vigorous Scarpa, already a valued FBI informant whom Hoover had taken a personal interest in, flown to Mississippi where he placed the barrel of an FBI revolver into the mouth of a KKK member and threatened to blow his brains out unless he revealed the location of the bodies of the three missing men. The Klansman complied with Scarpa’s death threat, the bodies were recovered, and seven locals were eventually convicted for violating the worker’s civil rights. Confirmed-bachelor Hoover repaid his debt of gratitude to young Scarpa by having the FBI protect him from Prosecution for the next three decades.
The next revelation about Scarpa came when the Daily News obtained FBI documents which showed Organized Crime Task Force Chief Lyndley DeVecchio had given Scarpa information to help him track down four rival mobsters, one of whom Scarpa killed. DeVecchio was Detective Joe Simone’s boss on the Organized Crime Task Force.
Thus, as the trial of NYPD Detective Joe Simone got underway in the Fall of 1994, attorney John Patten had ample evidence that serious impropriety was going on within the Organized Crime Task Force. Patten suggested to the jury that it was FBI agent DeVecchio, not Detective Simone, who was responsible for the leaks of information to the Mob. During the trial Patten uncovered proof of evidence tampering by the FBI and the New York Post would later uncover evidence that an FBI agent committed Perjury on the Witness Stand. One juror told the press their verdict was unanimous and immediate, and after just two hours of deliberations, Joe Simone heard the jury’s decision; Not Guilty on all charges. Ten of the twelve jurors stood outside the Courthouse in the cold October rain to meet with and console Joe Simone and his family. His wife in tears, Simone told the press: "I was always a good cop and did my job well."
The Feds in the Eastern District had now lost two sensational trials with two more to follow. Next came the racketeering murder trial of William "Wild Bill" Cutolo and 6 members of his crew. Big Sal Miciotta testified under cross examination that FBI agents gave him permission to continue his loan sharking and extortion rackets while he worked secretly for the FBI. Miciotta also admitted he viciously assaulted a young man and loaned his brother $10,000 which he used to buy 150 pounds of marijuana while working for the FBI. The defendants in the case claimed they were only acting in self-defense against a renegade FBI informant/Mafia hitman, Greg Scarpa, and his FBI handler, Agent DeVecchio. As in the Simone trial the jurors did not believe Miciotta and acquitted all defendants on murder and weapons charges.
While the press in New York was having a field day uncovering the sordid history of the Colombo Family, the Feds had quietly re-assessed the status of co-operating witness Big Sal Miciotta. Citing a pattern of lies, criminal conduct and inadequate co-operation, Big Sal was dropped from the Witness Protection Program. For his allegations against Joe Simone and the Cutolo crew, the U. S. taxpayers paid Big Sal $94,000.
In May, 1995 Vic and John Orena, steel company executive Thomas Petrizzo, and four associates went on trial on murder conspiracy charges relating to the Colombo Family war. In her opening arguments Assistant U. S. Attorney Ellen Corcella admitted to the jury that FBI agent Lyndley DeVecchio had an unusual relationship with crime boss Greg Scarpa and leaked confidential information to him. Defense attorneys argued that their clients were only acting in self-defense against a renegade FBI agent and his Mafia hitman Informant. FBI agent Howard Leadbetter testified that he and agents Chris Favo and Jeffrey Tomlinson reported to their superiors that agent DeVecchio had tried to obstruct a probe of Scarpa. Favo told the Court that he was convinced DeVecchio had committed crimes by leaking information to Scarpa. Colombo capo Carmine Sessa told the Court he too knew that DeVecchio was giving information to Scarpa.
While the trial was in progress, more damaging information was revealed in the Media. The New York Daily News reported that "on Feb. 27, 1991 reputed Colombo gangster Carmine Imbriale was arrested on fraud and drug charges, agreeing immediately to cooperate with the Feds. That same day DeVecchio let Scarpa know Imbriale was cooperating, the Feds believe. The Imbriale incident is disturbing for two reasons. First, DeVecchio effectively sentenced Imbriale to death by letting the Mob know he was an Informant. Second, the Feds left Scarpa out on the street despite information from Imbriale that Scarpa had bragged about participating in the attempted murder of reputed gangster Joel (Waverly) Cacace."
One of the more interesting exchanges during the Orena trial took place in the absence of the Jury. Defense attorney Gerald Shargel was cross-examining Carmine Sessa about a taped conversation between Sessa and FBI agent Tomlinson he hoped the Judge would allow into evidence. On the tape, Sessa, then in the Witness Protection Program calls Tomlinson to express his concern that another member of the Program, "Gaspipe" Casso, was telling the Feds a different story than Sessa had about the murder of a man named Vinnie, an associate of the Russian Mob. Sessa was concerned because he knew if he was caught lying he could be kicked out of the Witness Protection Program and could thus be prosecuted in New Jersey for one of the murders he committed, a crime for which he could receive the death penalty. On the tape, Tomlinson tells Sessa "I’ll take care of it!" and Sessa is reassured. Sessa’s concerns on the FBI tape clearly showed that someone –either Carmine Sessa or "Gaspipe" Casso – was lying to the Feds.
The jurors in the Orena trial acquitted all defendants on all charges and demanded of the Prosecutors why it was agent DeVecchio had not been indicted for murder. "They all believed there was a cover-up, and many jurors wondered how come DeVecchio wasn’t indicted," said defense attorney James La Rossa. Defense attorney Jerry Shargel told the New York Post: "The jurors were all just absolutely shocked by the testimony about the relationship between DeVecchio and Scarpa!" "The evidence against DeVecchio was far stronger than the evidence against the defendants on trial!"
Juror #186 told the New York Daily News, "Something like this really knocks the credibility of the FBI!" Juror Nancy Wenz stated: "If the FBI’s like this, Society is really in trouble!" Another juror told Newsday that it was apparent that DeVecchio and Scarpa had started the Colombo Family war. "It was a bit scary that the FBI was feeding information to someone so deadly. It was (Scarpa) who made it seem a war was going on!"
Having now lost four sensational Mafia trials, the Feds in Brooklyn were now due for a new twist in this story; although totally discredited for the lies that he had told Under Oath, “Big Sal” Miciotta proved his resourcefulness by turning ‘rat’ on Gaspipe Casso, blowing the whistle to the Feds as to how, while both men were being held in the Witness Protection Program, Gaspipe bribed Corrections Officers to smuggle illegal contraband, including heroin, to himself and other criminals. Today, somewhere in America, Big Sal Miciotta is roaming the streets a free man, courtesy of the U. S. taxpayers, while Gaspipe is in a Federal pen serving 15 Life sentences.
With Gaspipe Casso now completely discredited, the allegations he made against Detectives Eppolito and Caracappa went ignored while the Media focused on another member of law enforcement being accused of feeding information to the Mob, FBI agent Lyndley DeVecchio. On May 15, 1996 the New York Post stunned readers with the revelation that agent DeVecchio still had access to classified documents, despite the Court testimony of his own agents that he had given secret information to the Mob. The information became public as part of attorney Gerald Shargel’s efforts to win a new trial for Victor Orena, Sr., the jailed former head of the Colombo Family. When at last Shargel got his chance to cross-examine DeVecchio during the hearing to determine whether Orena would receive a new trial, DeVecchio repeatedly invoked his right under the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.
In February 1997 DeVecchio again testified in a hearing for a new trial for Orena, but this time under a grant of Immunity, which required him to answer all questions. DeVecchio responded dozens of times with the answer, "I don’t recall!" At the beginning of the hearing, the New York Post ran a shocking story regarding how DeVecchio was caught illegally trafficking guns in the State of Maryland back in 1975. DeVecchio had demanded that the purchaser of the guns, who was in actuality an undercover agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, pay him in cash for the weapons. When questioned about this transaction, DeVecchio claimed at the Orena hearing that he did not know that his transporting guns across State lines and selling them without a license was illegal. The FBI and authorities in Maryland decided at the time not to prosecute DeVecchio, who had in his personnel file glowing reports about his performance signed by the late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
The Orena hearing was also noteworthy due to attorney Benjamin Brafman’s emotional appeal to the Judge in which he tried to explain the relationship between hitman Greg Scarpa and agent DeVecchio, whom Scarpa referred to by his code-name “The Girlfriend.” Brafman saw the two as nothing less than partners in crime. “This was not a sexual relationship,” Brafman proclaimed, “This was a murderous relationship!” Agent DeVecchio retired from the FBI with his Pension and was not charged with a crime by the Feds in Brooklyn in regards to his actions with hitman and drug dealer Greg Scarpa.
Gaspipe’s allegations about Detectives Eppolito and Caracappa were briefly back in the news in 1997 when an associate of Casso’s, Burton Kaplan, and an accomplice went on trial in Brooklyn Federal Court on drug trafficking charges. Gaspipe had previously told the Feds that Kaplan was a go-between in his relationship with the two alleged dirty cops and that Kaplan could corroborate much of what he had claimed. Kaplan and his accomplice, who used his own small kids as decoys as he trafficked drugs across America, were convicted and sent to prison for what would essentially be the rest of their lives. Some in law enforcement circles who believed Gaspipe may have been telling the truth about Eppolito and Caracappa had hoped that once Kaplan faced spending the rest of his life in prison, he would then ‘flip’ and co-operate in the investigations of the Lino murders, among others. Kaplan didn’t budge.
By 2003, with Gaspipe and his allegations a distant memory, the situation regarding FBI Informant Greg Scarpa still would not go away. The scandal came up again during another Appeal for a new trial for Colombo Family figure Victor Orena, Sr. During the hearing, Gregory Scarpa, Jr. testified that his father had framed Orena for the murder that he himself had committed. Scarpa, Jr., at the time he made these allegations, was serving life in prison on drug trafficking charges and since the Feds were not agreeing with what he was claiming, there was no incentive for him to make such claims. Scarpa, Jr. also claimed that his father’s FBI handler had planted guns found at the home of Orena. Judge Jack Weinstein ruled that the Court found Scarpa Jr. to be "not credible."
It was during this time that some observers of the Lino hit began to pursue a new theory in which Greg Scarpa Sr. was the hitman in a turf war over drug trafficking. The stunning, public shooting of Lino was just the sort of crime that Scarpa would have no qualms about engaging in. During the Colombo war Scarpa had in fact gotten into public gun battles with rivals, during one in which he had an eye shot out. Instead of going to the hospital, Scarpa returned home to treat his gunshot wound with a shot of whiskey. That particular gun battle was triggered by an attack on his son Joseph Schiro Scarpa, who would later be murdered in the streets of Brooklyn by rival drug dealers. It was Greg Scarpa’s practice to signal his associates when he succeeded in murdering someone by calling their Beeper with the message ‘666,’ the symbol of the Anti-Christ. Like Gaspipe Casso, who thought nothing of murdering Nicholas Guido on Christmas Day, Scarpa once murdered Colombo associate Vinnie Fusaro while he was stringing Christmas lights outside his Brooklyn home.(4)
While this newest theory on the Lino hit was being explored, a small handful of investigators in New York had quietly re-opened the Lino murder investigation. The break in the case came when Burton Kaplan allegedly became ill, and faced the prospect of dying in a federal prison. Kaplan is alleged to have decided to become a co-operating witness and offered up the allegations that resulted in a Grand Jury indictment against Detectives Eppolito and Caracappa. Among the most sensational is the claim that Gaspipe Casso hooked up with the two dirty cops after an unsuccessful attempt on his life in 1986 by members of the Gambino Family. Gaspipe knew the identity of one, a Staten Island hood named James Hydell. The Feds allege that by that time Caracappa, through his work on an organized crime bureau, had access to information about organized crime figures. The Feds allege that Gaspipe hired Eppolito and Caracappa to kidnap Hydell, which they, under official cover as police officers, allegedly did, throwing the young man into the trunk of their car, and then delivered Hydell to Gaspipe. By his own admission, Gaspipe then tortured Hydell to determine the names of his accomplices in the rubout that failed.
One of the names Hydell offered up was a Gambino thug named Nicholas Guido, a low-level associate that Gaspipe was not familiar with. Neither did Caracappa nor Eppolito know who this man was either, so, the Feds allege, Caracappa utilized computer records to access the address of this person. Up came the address on one ‘Nicholas Guido’ that the Feds claim - for blood money - the two partners in crime turned over to Gaspipe. Thus, on Christmas Day, 1986, this Nicholas Guido was assassinated in broad daylight. The only problem with this brutal murder is that Caracappa had gotten the wrong ‘Nicholas Guido.’
This sloppy work on the part of the two “Mafia cops” did not sour Gaspipe on utilizing the services of them, and, when, he claims, he was farmed out the Contract from John Gotti to murder Eddie Lino, he did not hesitate to hire them for this Evil deed. Caracappa, the Feds allege, was the triggerman.
This scenario is not without it’s problems, as Gaspipe also has claimed he hired the two crooked cops to take out Sammy Gravano, the Underboss of the Gambino Family that had allegedly farmed out to him the Contract on Lino. Still, a Federal Grand Jury bought these claims, which came from Burton Kaplan and others, but, allegedly not from Gaspipe, who made it clear in a New York Post article that he is bitter that he is not going to be a Witness in the trial of the two accused cops. Gaspipe claims that his allegations of corruption in the FBI and the U. S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn are being covered-up, including his claims that a crooked FBI agent worked in concert with Eppolito and Caracappa in the commission of their alleged crimes.
THE CHALLENGE FACING THE PROSECUTORS
When Eppolito and Caracappa were indicted, long-time friends and associates expressed their conviction that neither men were capable of these crimes and admonished members of the Media for not considering them “innocent until proven guilty.” Indeed, it is a rare occurrence for decorated members of law enforcement to be charged with such a litany of heinous crimes. During Jury selection in a police corruption case in Federal Court in Brooklyn within recent years, one potential juror admitted that she could not objectively evaluate evidence against a member of the NYPD given that her judgment would be clouded by the memory of those brave cops who raced up the stairs of the burning Towers on 9/11. Attitudes such as these are among the challenges the Prosecutors in this case are faced with as they prepare to bring to trial one of the most shocking cases of law enforcement corruption in American history. Among the important issues are:
While Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso will not be testifying, the Feds will rely on the testimony of his confederate, Burton Kaplan. This witness, like Casso, also has credibility problems, not the least of which is the fact that he and an associate used their children as a decoy in the smuggling of huge amounts of drugs, which were distributed to kids across America. Prosecutors can counter this by arguing that Eppolito is no better, facing charges he supplied his own son with ‘crystal meth’ to distribute to his friends.
All too often in criminal proceedings the victims of the perpetrators wind up forgotten. In the murder trial of Robert Blake some observers believe the Not Guilty verdict was in part due to the fact that the victim, Blake’s wife, was an extremely unsympathetic character, a con artist whose scamming of Blake was said to be a motivation for him to murder her.
In the Eppolito and Caracappa case, 8 people are the targets of the two rogue cops’ murderous aims. Each of these victims are members of organized crime, involved in crimes including drug dealing and murder, and are thus unsympathetic figures whose end came about by their own misdeeds.
With one notable exception; Nicholas Guido. Prosecutors are likely to focus particularly on this one victim of Eppolito’s and Caracappa’s murderous greed, as he was the only victim that each member of the jury can identify with; an innocent, law abiding citizen, whose tragic end shows that all members of American society are at risk because of the acts of those involved in organized crime.
Prosecutors in this case are challenged with presenting to the jury motivations for the two accused cops to participate in this long list of crimes. The most likely motivating factor Prosecutors will present by way of explanation comes down to a single word; Greed. Eppolito and Caracappa are accused of accepting many thousands of dollars from Gaspipe to provide information he needed to murder his perceived rivals, as well as for allegedly kidnapping Hydell and delivering him to his executioner.
Greed was the simple explanation Sammy “the Bull” Gravano gave as a Prosecution Witness during the 1997 trial of Genovese Family Godfather Vincent “Chin” Gigante when asked why he murdered the 19 people he had admitted to. Gravano matter-of-factly stated that each opportunity to commit murder “rang my Greed bell!”
The Las Vegas Review Journal has been among those publications that have detailed the lavish lifestyles Eppolito and Caracappa have led, which includes their substantial houses located across the street from each other in an affluent suburban neighborhood. The Media has also detailed the allegations of two women who allege they gave many thousands of dollars to Eppolito, who promised in return to write a screenplay about their lives and help in the process of turning the project into a motion picture. How much of all of this will make it’s way into the trial remains to be seen, but abundant evidence exists to portray the two accused cops of being motivated by Greed.
One tool members of law enforcement turn to in trying to solve crimes is the development of a ‘psychological profile’ of the criminal. Such profiles are usually put together by psychologists, psychiatrists, criminologists, and other experts in which they try to understand the thought processes and motivations that prompt a person to commit a criminal act. People in law enforcement need such profiles to help apprehend the perp they are targeting. Prosecutors need such profiles in order to best understand how to explain to a jury why the accused perpetrated the crimes they are accused of. Among those factors that are likely to have already been explored are:
Drug abuse often plays a key role in the commission of crimes, especially violent ones. According to Media accounts, Caracappa is a teetotaler. However, in his youth, Lou Eppolito was a competitive bodybuilder, among his titles won being “Mr. New York City.” While probably never admissible as evidence in Court proceedings, investigators should have looked into the possibility that bodybuilder Eppolito used anabolic steroids, which can have long-term effects on the mind and body. Sammy Gravano was an anabolic steroids addict and profilers believe this drug use contributed to his propensity to commit violence and murder. At the time of Gravano’s arrest on charges he used his son and daughter in a drug trafficking scheme, Gravano was found in possession of illegal steroids. Eppolito and Caracappa are also accused of drug trafficking, allegedly providing the drug ‘crystal meth’ to Eppolito’s son, who has also been arrested. However, young Eppolito was released on his own recognizance, an indication that the Feds might attempt to ‘flip’ him to testify against his own father in exchange for leniency.
Why would a man like Lou Eppolito betray his badge, his uniform, and the citizens of New York City he had sworn to protect? This is a question jurors will probably ask themselves and Prosecutors must have an answer for it.
The fact is, according to Eppolito’s own autobiography MAFIA COP, that he admits to betraying his own family by not going into the family business - the Gambino Family organized crime syndicate - by instead becoming a cop. If the charges against Eppolito are true, he then betrayed his father and his crime family a second time by joining forces with the Underboss of a rival Family and helping that person commit murders of members of the Gambino Family. If true, under Mafia protocol, Eppolito qualified to become a “Made member” of the Luchese Mafia Family, all the while betraying his badge as a Detective of the New York City Police Department.
PARTNERS IN CRIME
The annals of crime history are full of cases of two people who bond together to become ‘partners in crime.’ Usually, such teams are both men, although sometimes, as in the case of crime legends ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ a team is formed of a man and a woman.
Perry Smith and Richard Hickock were another infamous crime partnership, who brutally murdered a rural American family for no apparent reason, as depicted in Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD. Actor Robert Blake won critical acclaim for his chilling performance of one of the men in the movie version of this book.
Most such criminal relationships between two people fit a certain, predictable pattern: Usually there is one ‘dominant’ leader who is followed by a submissive subordinate. One person is the more aggressive, gregarious, and outgoing, while the other is the ‘quiet type.’ Such contrasting personalities fit the descriptions of Eppolito and Caracappa as described in the Media by those who know them best. Caracappa has been described as a notorious ‘neat freak,’ a ‘Felix Unger’ to Eppolito’s ‘Oscar Madison.’
The challenge for Prosecutors in this case is to use the available evidence to show that Lou Eppolito and Steve Caracappa were just such a criminal partnership, a two-man ‘racketeering enterprise.’
THE ART OF DECEPTION
A favorite pastime of Americans for the past 7 decades has been movie going, where skilled actors try to move one’s emotions through their art of pretending to be someone else. This is nothing less than the art of deception. When Lou Eppolito took an early retirement from the NYPD after suffering a heart attack, he then relocated out West to pursue a career as an actor. Eppolito only succeeded in obtaining small roles in films such as “Goodfellas,” where he portrayed a Mob associate, and “Lost Highway,” in which he portrayed a crooked cop to Robert Blake’s surreal psychotic character.
When the allegations against Eppolito were first made in 1994, Eppolito did not ‘hide’ behind his attorneys but rather openly took any phone call from any reporter interested in the story. If Eppolito is guilty as charged, his performance in speaking to members of the Media was worthy of an Oscar. Eppolito came across as warm, sincere, funny, larger-than-life, and incredulous as to how “Gaspipe” Casso could accuse him of these crimes. Eppolito also insisted that his partner, Caracappa, had an airtight alibi as to the time that Eddie Lino was murdered. It appears that the only reporter who spoke to Eppolito who was not impressed was Jerry Capeci, who today writes for the New York Sun and the acclaimed website GANGLAND.
Prosecutors could take the position that Eppolito has been acting his entire professional life, that the persona of an ‘honest cop’ was nothing more than a facade to hide the true criminal that lurked just beneath the surface.
In 1992 Lou Eppolito published his autobiography, ‘Mafia Cop: The Story of an Honest Cop - Whose Family was the Mob!’ Once accused by Gaspipe Casso of various crimes, members of law enforcement and members of the Media turned to the book for insights into who exactly Lou Eppolito as a person was. Now that Eppolito has been indicted, the book may come back to haunt him; if he testifies on his own behalf at his trial, Prosecutors are armed with an array of incriminating statements that are Eppolito’s own words. In his book, Eppolito admits to committing felonies while a cop, without going into detail as to what those felonies were. Eppolito admits that his father and uncle were members of the Gambino Family and that he admired them both. Other incriminating passages include his admission that he would have once beaten a suspect to death had his partner Caracappa not intervened, his claim to having a ‘sit-down’ with high-ranking Mobsters, and other disturbing writings.
One such passage has Eppolito pointing the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun at a perp - a member of the Colombo Family - and threatening to pull the trigger. Eppolito fantasizes about being the sort of mobster - and murderer - members of his family had been. Eppolito then threatens to throw the mobster into the trunk of a car and then murder him.
Eppolito and Caracappa are charged, among other crimes, with abducting Mafia associate James Hydell, handcuffing him, and throwing him into the trunk of their car. If at trial, Eppolito tries to take the Witness stand in his own defense, the Prosecutors are likely to use passages from his autobiography such as this one to destroy his credibility with his own words.
Also, in the Hydell case, Eppolito and Caracappa are simply charged with Murder Conspiracy and Murder, NOT violating Hydell’s civil rights. If, for some reason, Prosecutors fail to obtain enough convictions in the current case to their satisfaction, they should be able to later charge the two with violating Hydell’s civil rights without having the case negated by ‘double jeopardy’ statutes. Also, the New York Post reports the two accused cops are suspects in other crimes, including murders and armed robberies.
Judge Jack Weinstein has been assigned to try former Detectives Lou Eppolito and Steve Caracappa when their case comes to trial. Eppolito has hired John Gotti’s former criminal attorney Bruce Cutler to defend him.
Lou Eppolito left his life in New York City behind him when he headed out West with dreams of becoming a movie star. If Eppolito and Caracappa are found guilty of most or all of the charges they are facing, they will go down in history as one of the most notorious pairs of criminals in American history. As in the case of “Bonnie and Clyde” and the two murderers immortalized by “In Cold Blood,” the story of these two cops - and accused criminals - is a Hollywood screenwriters’ dream. Regardless the outcome of the trial, this story seems destined for the silver screen.
Die-hard friends and family of the two will, in the meantime insist that the two are innocent, and that Americans should wait for the trial’s conclusion before judging them guilty. The trial is expected to be among the most sensational of this decade, and undoubtedly the family and friends of Nicholas Guido will follow the trial with deep personal interest.
For those who loved young Nicholas, these two accused cops are the men who forever stole Christmas from them, and they are demanding Hell to pay.
To be continued
Related Features by this author:
MOB WAR! Part Three: Mob Murders Investigations Continue
MOB WAR! Part Two: Anatomy of a Frame-up!
MOB WAR! Murder, Deception, and Intrigue Inside New York's Colombo Mafia Family
James Ridgway de Szigethy can be reached at:
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