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Feature Articles


August 2005

Partners In Crime: The Mafia Cops

By J. R. de Szigethy and Lou Eppolito, Jr.


Part Seven: The NYPD’s ‘Other’ Mafia Cop: Steve Gardell

     When accused ‘Mafia Cop’ Lou Eppolito Sr. was first in trouble with the law back in 1984, one of the Detective’s most ardent supporters was Officer Stephen Gardell, a homicide Detective who also served as a delegate of the Detective’s Endowment Association, the Union representing NYPD Detectives. However, as Eppolito now faces drug trafficking, murder, and Mafia racketeering charges, the beleaguered former Detective can no longer receive the same support from Gardell he got 20 years ago; Steve Gardell is now a convicted felon, having pleaded guilty in 2001 in the largest Mafia prosecution case in United States history. Gardell is, in fact, the NYPD’s ‘Other’ Mafia Cop.

     This story begins in 1983. Detectives Lou Eppolito and Stephen Gardell were at the time two of the most celebrated cops in NYPD history. Both men had, along with Stephen Caracappa, joined the NYPD during the same time frame; 1968 and 1969. While Caracappa was always the ‘quiet’ one, avoiding the limelight, both Eppolito and Gardell relished in Media attention. The New York Daily News was especially fond of the two, and Gardell was championed by the News in 1982 for thwarting a mail bomb a deranged man had sent to his own mother. Such a story was a common theme among both cops’ public appearances in the Media; protecting women and children from the bad guys.

     In December, 1983, however, events began that would bring both men together in ways neither would have wanted. During that time, someone began to leak confidential law enforcement information to Rosario Gambino, a member of a Sicilian heroin trafficking operation who was related to former Godfather Carlo Gambino. When the FBI raided Gambino’s home, armed with search warrants, among the documents found was a copy of Gambino’s NYPD file, apparently secreted to him by a corrupt member of the NYPD. After an extensive investigation, Lou Eppolito was accused of being the culprit. If convicted, Eppolito would have been fired from the NYPD, lost his lucrative Pension, and would likely also face criminal charges.

     Rising to Eppolito’s defense was Stephen Gardell, who, just as a lawyer would during criminal proceedings, represented Eppolito in his Departmental hearings. Suddenly, the Media that had worshipped Eppolito as a ‘hero cop’ had a field day covering the case of the ‘Mafia cop.’

     However, the case against Eppolito was not deemed sufficient by the Departmental Judge. Eppolito was acquitted of all charges and reinstated as a New York City Police Officer. Never one to shy away from publicity - even bad publicity - Detective Eppolito went on to write a book about his career, which he hoped would be made into a movie. The book was entitled ‘Mafia Cop,’ published after Eppolito’s retirement in 1992. Steve Gardell’s photograph appears twice in the book and Gardell himself wrote some of the passages in the book, including one which detailed how the two sometimes worked homicide cases together.

     In 1993, after months on the lam, authorities finally located and arrested Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, acting Underboss of the Luchese Mafia Family. Gaspipe had been complicit in 36 murders, most of whom were people he suspected, in some cases incorrectly, of turning ‘rat’ and co-operating with the authorities. Gaspipe’s fears, it turns out, may have been a projection of his own treacherous desires, for after just a few months in custody, Casso himself turned ‘rat’ and became a co-operating witness for the United States government.

     Gaspipe’s allegations stunned even seasoned investigators. Among his most shocking claims were that he had two corrupt NYPD Detectives, Lou Eppolito and Steven Caracappa, his so-called ‘crystal ball,’ on his payroll, who supplied information to him to assist him in the commission of murders of suspected ‘rats,’ and that the two cops were actually the triggermen in the sensational, public murder of heroin dealer Eddie Lino, one of the hitmen in the assassination of Gambino Family Godfather Paul Castellano. Gaspipe also claimed the two men - under color of law as police officers, kidnapped James Hydell, a member of a team of hitmen who shot Casso previously in an assassination attempt, and that the two cops personally delivered Hydell to Casso, who then tortured and murdered him.

     The latter allegation was particularly important in that it described two apparent and different crimes; that of murder - a murder in furtherance of a ‘racketeering enterprise’ at that - and the violation of Hydell’s civil rights by the two cops, also a Federal crime.

     Once again, the New York newspapers had a field day with the allegations against the ‘Mafia Cops.’ Weeks went by. Then months, without arrests. Then years. Gaspipe Casso was eventually deemed a fabricator and kicked out of the Witness Protection Program. Although he did testify before Congress in a probe of the Russian Mob, Casso was sent away for Life and secreted into solitary confinement. Few ever expected to hear from - or about - Gaspipe Casso again.

     Meanwhile, Rosario Gambino was quietly serving out his 45 year sentence for heroin trafficking. However, in 1995 his son Tommy decided to explore every possible effort to get his father out of prison. Tommy soon befriended a young man who had himself spent time in a federal prison for drug trafficking. Gambino showered the convicted felon with gifts, including a Rolex watch and $50,000 in cash. The recipient’s name was Roger Clinton, and his half-brother was President of the United States. First, Roger Clinton began lobbying officials for Parole for Rosario Gambino. Those efforts got nowhere. In the last days of the Clinton Administration, when a large number of convicted criminals were lobbying for Presidential Pardons, Roger Clinton allegedly tried to secure such a Pardon for Rosario Gambino. While a number of felons were granted Pardons in the final hours of the Clinton Administration, including Roger Clinton, Rosario Gambino was not among them.(1)

     Roger Clinton’s role in this effort were investigated by the U. S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan as well as by Congressional investigators. Thus began the ‘War of the Gambinos’ that would be waged in the Media. An attorney for Thomas Gambino, a convicted loan shark and the son of former Godfather Carlo Gambino, blasted Rosario Gambino, telling the New York Post’s Al Guart that Rosario was not related to the New York Gambinos, and that no one in his family had anything to do with the effort to get Rosario out of prison. In no-uncertain terms Gambino’s lawyer expressed the dismay the various Gambino family members felt over having their names associate in the Media with people such as Roger Clinton and Rosario Gambino. The attorney minced no words about the situation, calling the Clintons "low-rent, trailer-park trash!" Such was the vehemence and vitriol aimed at the Clintons the average reader would likely conclude that at least one member of the Gambino crime Family was a registered Republican.

     Rosario Gambino would soon get his turn. Contacted by Congressional investigators, Rosario Gambino blasted the Carlo Gambino Family, telling investigators that he was not a member of their crime family. Gambino did admit, however, that his family had given $50,000 to Roger Clinton in expectation of a Pardon that never materialized.

     Despite denials from both sides in the ‘Gambino war,’ law enforcement members and journalists continue to describe Rosario Gambino as an associate of the Gambino Mafia Family. The one best known link between the two is that of Lou Eppolito Sr., the son of a ‘Ralph the Gangster’ Eppolito, a ‘Made Member’ of the Gambino Family, who has been accused of being the one who illegally gave Rosario Gambino a copy of his NYPD criminal file. And, it should be pointed out, in the current indictment against him, former Detective Eppolito, in addition to being accused of supplying secret law enforcement information to members of the Luchese Mafia Family, is also accused of supplying such information to a member of the Gambino Family.

     Roger Clinton was not charged with any crime in the infamous ‘Rosario Gambino affair.’

     In June, 2000, the U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York filed the largest Mafia prosecution case in United States history. 120 individuals were arrested in a broad conspiracy by members of all five of New York’s Mafia families that centered around fraudulent investments in which the Mob scammed over $50 million from investors, and were in the process of scamming many millions more. Many of those investors were senior citizens, victimized in a ‘pump and dump’ stock scam by corrupt brokers working out of mob-controlled ‘boiler rooms.’ In a case of ‘life imitating art,’ the scenario was straight out of a plot line from the hit television series ‘The Sopranos.’

     Those arrested included a few surprises, such as the President and CEO, as well as the Vice-Chairman of ‘Ranch #1,’ a popular chain of fast food restaurants. All five of New York’s Mafia families were among those arrested, including; "Little Robert" Lino, a capo in the Bonanno Family; Colombo soldier Anthony P. Stropoli and associates Vincent Langella, Michael Grecco, and Frank (Frankie) A. Persico; Gambino associate James Labate; Genovese Family associate Robert P. Gallo; and Luchese Family associate John M. Black.

     Black was among several of the indicted charged with attempting to raid the Pension funds of three Unions, including the Production Workers Local 400 and the Detectives Endowment Association. DEA Treasurer Stephen Gardell was arrested for his role in this scheme.

     That Local 400 was involved in the scam was probably of little surprise to many following this story, given that the Union had been controlled by Colombo Underboss "Wild Bill" Cutolo, until his disappearance and presumed murder in 1999. Cutolo and his crew had been aligned with the Orena faction of the Family that waged a ‘Mob War’ against the incumbent Persico faction in the early 1990s that left at least 12 people dead. The Persico faction was led by hitman/FBI Informant Greg Scarpa and his crew, who were loyal to Godfather Carmine "The Snake" Persico. After Cutolo’s disappearance Frankie Persico was installed as a Trustee of Local 400.

     The involvement of Gardell in this Mafia scam, however, was a shock to most of those who had worked with the Detective during his stellar career. In addition to the Mafia scam to raid the Pension fund of retired NYPD Detectives, Detective Gardell was accused of having leaked confidential law enforcement information to members of the Mafia, most notably to Gambino associate James A. Labate, helping such Mafia members secure firearm ‘carry’ permits, firearms which could easily be used to commit murder, utilizing his position within the NYPD to facilitate the dropping of charges against a Mafia associate, and providing New York City law enforcement parking permits to members of the Mob.

     For his efforts, the Feds claimed, Detective Gardell received $8,000 towards the building of a swimming pool at his Staten Island home, free and reduced-priced rooms and accommodations for gambling excursions at casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and a fur coat.

     This case was one of the most successful Mafia prosecutions in U. S. history, with most of the Defendants pleading guilty before even going to trial. On the eve of his trial, Stephen Gardell, who was facing over 20 years in prison if convicted on all charges, accepted a plea bargain to a single count of wire fraud and was released from prison in April of 2003. By contrast, his co-defendant in the case, John M. Black, was convicted and is not scheduled to be released until August of 2007.

EPILOGUE

     As to whom it is the Feds will put up as Prosecution Witnesses in the upcoming ‘Mafia Cops’ trial remains to be seen. Rosario Gambino is scheduled to be released from prison in September, 2006. The trial of the Mafia Cops by that time may not yet be concluded, thus there seems to be little incentive for Gambino to agree to testify for the Feds in order to knock a few months off his sentence, this presuming he would claim it was Detective Eppolito who gave him the copy of his file all those years ago.

     As for Stephen Gardell, the disgraced former cop can now cry all the way to the bank; on June 1, 2000, Gardell retired from the NYPD, and his tax-free disability Pension was approved on June 14th, the same day agents of the FBI, guns drawn, arrested him at his Staten Island home. Had Gardell been arrested two weeks earlier, his Pension would have been lost upon his conviction. Some suspect Gardell of being clairvoyant, as if he had a ‘crystal ball’ that could foretell the future and his impending arrest.

     His retirement Pension safe, despite his conviction, the world will likely never hear again from Stephen Gardell, the former ‘hero cop,’ now known as the NYPD’s ‘other’ "Mafia Cop."

     Unless, of course, Gardell, as Eppolito and Caracappa are reported to be doing, decides to pursue his own book deal to tell his story.

To be continued

Related Features:

Partners in Crime: The Mafia Cops
Part Six: Another Murder, Another Warning
http://www.americanmafia.com/Feature_Articles_311.html

Partners in Crime: The Mafia Cops
Part Five: A Troubled Prosecution
http://www.americanmafia.com/Feature_Articles_307.html

Partners in Crime: The Mafia Cops
Part Four: Judge Grants Bail
http://www.americanmafia.com/Feature_Articles_306.html

Partners in Crime: The Mafia Cops
Part Three: The Emergence of 'Crystal Meth'
http://www.americanmafia.com/Feature_Articles_303.html

Partners in Crime: The Mafia Cops
Part Two: The Cop Who Loved Snakes
http://www.americanmafia.com/Feature_Articles_300.html

Partners in Crime: The Mafia Cops
Part One: Mafia Cops Indicted
http://www.americanmafia.com/Feature_Articles_297.html

Mob War! Murder, Deception, and Intrigue Inside New York’s Colombo Mafia Family
http://www.americanmafia.com/Feature_Articles_9.html

Sources:

1. TIME Magazine, 6-30-01

Also:

‘MAFIA COP,’ by Lou Eppolito and Bob Drury, Simon and Schuster, 1992.


James Ridgway de Szigethy can be reached at:
writer10021@aol.com

© 2005


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