Feature Articles

June 2005

Partners In Crime: The Mafia Cops

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

Part Three: The Emergence of 'Crystal Meth.'

     Most Americans had probably never even heard of the drug 'crystal meth' until the drug appeared in two recent stories that received national attention. The first such story appeared in February, when American health officials revealed that a mutant variation of the AIDS virus that was particularly deadly had emerged. The story regards a New York man who developed full-blown AIDS in the matter of just a few months after exposure to the new strain of virus. This new strain of HIV is said to be resistant to most of the drugs currently used to stop the virus from replicating. The man in question had engaged in unsafe sex acts after ingesting the drug �crystal meth,� among the affects of the drug being a lowering of the user�s inhibitions.

     The second story came in March, when agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI arrested two former New York City Police Officers on several counts of murder, one count of conspiring to murder former Gambino Family Underboss Sammy Gravano, and charges of the distribution of crystal meth. Arrested along with alleged Gambino/Luchese Family Associates Steven Caracappa and Lou Eppolito, Sr. was the former cop�s son, Anthony Eppolito, age 24.

     Since the 1960s, each decade has been marked by the emergence of new drugs, and it often takes years before law enforcement and the Media catch on to the immersion of the drugs into American culture. In the 1960s the drugs were marijuana, LSD, and heroin. The 70s saw the emergence of cocaine and �angel dust.� In the 1980s the new drug that made a deadly impact on America�s youth was crack.

     In the 1990s, two forms of methamphetamine emerged as drugs of choice in some American drug subcultures; �MDMA,� which stands for Methylene Dioxy Methamphetamine, popularly known as �Ecstasy,� and �Crystal Meth,� which is the crystalline form of pure Methamphetamine. Ecstasy gets it�s name from the euphoria the user typically feels while under it�s influence. While most users experience few adverse reactions, some users of Ecstasy die within a few hours of taking the drug. Oftentimes those who die are teenagers, whose first experience with the drug is eternally their last.

     Crystal Meth is much more dangerous; public health officials consider it more addictive than cocaine or heroin. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center of the U. S. Department of Justice, crystal meth use can result in rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, brain damage, stroke, heart damage, hyperthermia, convulsions, and death. Psychological effects of the drug include violent behavior, paranoia, psychosis, and insomnia, among other reactions. Those who inject crystal meth also run the risk of acquiring viruses such as HIV.


     Methamphetamine was discovered by a Japanese chemist in 1919. During World War II the Japanese government and their allies in Nazi Germany mass produced �meth� as one of several drugs used to medicate troops on the battlefield. Meth, along with anabolic steroids, were just two of several new drugs that the deranged Dr. Josef Mengele, the "Angel of Death," had at his disposal to experiment with on humans, including young twins, being held in the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz. To this day, one of the two main methods for producing meth is called by law enforcement the "Nazi method."

     After World War II, the Yakuza, or Japanese Mafia, began aggressive distribution of meth. This drug, which enhances sexual experiences, fit perfectly into this organized crime syndicate�s operations, which included running sex rings of young women which catered to Japanese businessmen. In the mid to late 1970s the Yakuza first brought meth to the State of Hawaii, where they already had organized crime rackets established. The love of gambling by Yakuza members would bring them to Las Vegas during this time, and along with them, meth. By the dawn on the 1980s meth had established a foothold in drug subcultures in Hawaii, the West Coast, and the Southwestern States of Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.

     The intersection between the Yakuza, the Gambino Family, and crystal meth first appeared in 1982, when Gambino Family associate Paul Morasca was found dead in his San Francisco apartment, bound with wire in a murder technique popular with the Yakuza that causes the victim to slowly asphyxiate. Morasca was known to law enforcement as someone who laundered the money generated by a West-Coast based drug trafficking ring run by the Gambino Family, even though that Family was headquartered on the other side of the Continent back in New York City. The associate who found Morasca�s body was a convicted drug dealer later successfully prosecuted in Washington, State in 1992 by the DEA for setting up a crystal meth operation deep within an abandoned precious metals mine.

     According to a year 2000 report by the National Drug Intelligence Center, the decade of the 1990s saw the spread of crystal meth from it�s original stronghold in the Southwest and Pacific Coast to major cities across the United States. This growing market for crystal meth was being supplied by new organized crime syndicates operating out of Mexico, traditional Mafia syndicates such as the Gambino Family, and small-time domestic operations run by disaffected, Caucasian entrepreneurs across the South and Southwest.

     During this time, crystal meth became a popular drug in two very disparate communities in America; among a sub-culture of the gay community who use drugs to enhance sexual activity, and in right-wing, anti-government organizations which operate mostly in rural areas of the United States. Some of these groups are part of the �Militia movement� that arose in the 1990s, some are associates of older groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, and some are advocates of neo-Nazi organizations. Common to all these groups is a hatred for non-whites, gays, and Jews.

     Into this mix of hate-mongers during that time entered a young Army veteran named Timothy McVeigh. Associated both with the KKK and various Militias, McVeigh�s road to violence began when he visited Army buddies in the heart of �meth country,� Kingman, Arizona. It was there that McVeigh began using crystal meth and began to experience the paranoia and delusions that are side effects of this drug. Over a period of two years McVeigh and his friend Terry Nichols would make a circuitous journey back and forth from Phoenix and Kingman, Las Vegas, to Junction City, Kansas, and rural Michigan and Arkansas. These trips would immerse both men in the shadowy world of Militias, gun collectors shows, anti-government cults, and neo-Nazi skinheads, a common element in each community being outrage over the deaths of innocents at Waco and Ruby Ridge.

     As crystal meth fueled McVeigh�s descent into madness, he and Nichols constructed a truck bomb which exploded outside the Federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 168 Americans, including 19 children. McVeigh�s abuse of crystal meth was revealed in Court testimony during the three trials of both men, but the Media largely ignored the role this drug played on McVeigh�s psyche, perhaps in part because so little was known at the time about this drug and it�s dangerous side effects.

     Timothy McVeigh last came under the influence of drugs on June 11, 2001, when he was executed by a lethal injection of several drugs. The United States of America is one of only five countries today that utilizes lethal injection as a Death Penalty. This practice was first applied in Nazi Germany against innocent children. Today, Germany does not have a Death Penalty.

     During the 1990s a neo-Nazi group of young, white punks was formed in the affluent Phoenix suburb of Gilbert, Arizona. Originally calling themselves "Hitler�s Youth," and later the "Devil Dogs," the gang members enthusiastically embraced the trappings of the Nazis, from the wearing of a Swastika on their clothing to the ingestion of the �Nazi drug,� crystal meth. Crystal meth was just one of several drugs that the young punks abused, which also included marijuana and cocaine.

     In addition, the Devil Dogs� also embraced anabolic steroids, which helped to �bulk up� their muscles, which they used to beat up gay men, blacks, and Hispanics whom they would seek out in their excursions into the more diverse city of Phoenix. The Devil Dogs were a dis-organized and undisciplined gang and would likely never have earned a place in American criminal history had they not hooked up with someone who would change their lives forever.

     His name was Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, the former Underboss of the Gambino Mafia Family. Authorities in New York had tried on three separate occasions to obtain convictions against Gambino Godfather John Gotti and his associates, but each time Gotti had beaten the case, thus his Media moniker "Teflon Don." When Gotti and Gravano were arrested in 1990 on various charges, however, two events occurred that would make the charges stick against Gotti. One was the disqualification of Gotti�s criminal attorney Bruce Cutler, who was removed from representing Gotti by the Judge in the case, who determined that Cutler was in fact "House Counsel" to the entire Gambino racketeering enterprise. With Cutler gone, Gravano knew his chances of being convicted were likely, so Gravano cut a deal with Prosecutors; the Underboss would testify against Gotti, and in exchange the government would ask the Court for leniency when it came time for Gravano to be sentenced for the 19 murders he admitted to committing.

     John Gotti was convicted and sent to prison for Life, whereas Sammy the Bull served just 5 years for the 19 murders and other crimes he confessed to. Once free, Gravano and his family settled into a new life in Phoenix, Arizona. Soon, Sammy Gravano hooked up with the Devil Dogs. Each had something the other wanted; in Gravano�s case, the Devil Dogs had supplies of anabolic steroids, to which Gravano had become addicted to back during his days as Underboss; as far as the Devil Dogs were concerned, while they could provide the �muscle,� Gravano had the knowledge and experience to put together and operate a sophisticated drug trafficking operation.

     It was a marriage made in Hell. The Devil Dogs had contacts in Arizona and New Mexico. Gravano had contacts in New York, Youngstown, Ohio, and Las Vegas. Gravano joined forces with the Devil Dogs, bringing in his young son and daughter, as well as his wife, and within a matter of months Gravano had put together a drug trafficking syndicate that sold millions of dollars worth of drugs in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Ohio. Their primary drug was tiny pills of Ecstasy, obtained from foreign manufacturers through contacts in New York. Soon, everyone connected to the syndicate were driving expensive cars and living in luxurious houses or condos.

     However, one thing Gravano could not control was the Devil Dogs� penchant for violence. Victims of these cowardly thugs took their stories to the local police, who quickly caught on to the Devil Dogs� drug trafficking operations. This brought in agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, who opened investigations in the States in which the syndicate was operating. The break in the case came on New Year�s Eve, 1999. While most Americans were anxiously celebrating the dawn of the new Millennium, two dedicated DEA agents forsake the Holiday in order to intercept a shipment of drugs via Federal Express sent from the operation�s headquarters in Arizona to their co-horts in the Youngstown area.

     Sadly, the efforts of these two DEA agents came too late for Heather Woodard, an 18-year-old student at Youngstown State University, who on that night took her first - and last - Ecstasy pill.

     A few weeks after the DEA interception in Ohio, Sammy Gravano, his wife, their young son and daughter, and numerous young people in four States were arrested by the DEA. The �Devil�s deal� that Gravano had made, first with Federal Prosecutors, and then, later, with the �Devil Dogs,� had finally come home to roost. What angered many in law enforcement nationwide was the fact that Gravano had set his own son up in drug trafficking. Young Gerard was just 24 years old at the time of his arrest and many in law enforcement publicly stated their wish that Gerard would agree to testify against his own father.

     The abuse that young Gerard received at the hands of his father was revealed in part in Court documents released by Prosecutors which disclosed disturbing yet typical behavior within a Mafia family. At the time of their arrests, authorities claimed, Sammy Gravano was plotting to murder his son Gerard�s girlfriend over disparaging remarks and Gravano had also threatened his son by pointing a gun to his head for "disrespecting the family!" Such hostile attitudes towards young people, even one�s own son, go a long way in explaining how men such as Gravano can set up their own kids in drug trafficking. Such hostility also may help explain why the Gambino Family has, for at least the past four decades, further victimized children through the production and distribution of child pornography.

     Although most of those involved in Sammy Gravano�s drug operations were eventually convicted, the trafficking of drugs in those affected communities continues to this very day, as evidenced by the death this February of 15-year-old Jillian Cleary, who died after using crystal meth at a party in Gilbert, Arizona. The death of young Jillian is one of many just this year across America due to crystal meth, the widespread locations of such deaths being grim evidence as to the scope of this national problem.

     After Gravano�s arrest for drug trafficking, authorities began to take a second look at the former Underboss�s activities prior to his entering the Witness Protection Program a decade ago. Gravano has since been charged with the murder of a New York City policeman, a �20th victim� Gravano conveniently forgot to disclose, fearing authorities would not let a cop killer loose to walk the streets of America, Prosecutors in New Jersey allege.

     Investigators are also interested in events that occurred in Youngstown, Ohio during the time in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Gravano was Underboss. During that time, Ohio fireworks distributors were being extorted by the Gambino Family for the privilege of doing business in the State of New York. Each Fourth of July, John Gotti had held a huge, public party outside his headquarters of the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club in Ozone Park. The event was always capped with a huge, illegal fireworks display which was protected by police during the Administration of Mayor David Dinkins. (Once Rudolph Giuliani became Mayor, he ordered the party shut down.) The 1991 murder of Youngstown Mafia associate Joey Naples, believed by many familiar with this case to have been related to the Gambino Family fireworks extortion scam, has yet to be solved. The method by which Joey Naples was murdered is one of the most bizarre in Mafia history; Naples was shot down with a hunting rifle. The use of a hunting rifle as a means of an assassination by the Mafia is almost unheard of in law enforcement circles.

     Also, just weeks after Sammy Gravano�s arrest, one associate of Gotti, whom the Feds claim tried unsuccessfully to murder Gravano, did in fact spend time in Youngstown on a business venture, and was allegedly involved in trafficking drugs himself in at least one of the four States in which Gravano�s gang had been operating. At this point it is not clear if the presence of this Gambino associate in Youngstown was an attempt by him to recruit local drug dealers who had previously worked with the Gravano gang to work with him instead as he sought to muscle in on their territory, or if in fact the associate�s Youngstown venture was in no way related.

     What is known is that late last year John Gotti�s brother Peter Gotti was convicted for his role in an unsuccessful scheme to locate and murder Gravano. Prosecutors had argued successfully that Peter Gotti and his convicted co-conspirator Thomas "Huck" Carbonaro, had plotted to kill Gravano in 1999 by using a hunting rifle to kill him. The use of a hunting rifle as a means of an assassination by the Mafia is almost unheard of in law enforcement circles.

     John Gotti�s son "Junior" is scheduled to stand trial soon on a variety of charges, including attempted murder. Federal authorities recently filed papers that would allow the government to seize Junior Gotti�s assets, including his house and bank accounts, should he be convicted of the racketeering count against him.

     Meanwhile, across America, on any given evening, American citizens, both gay and straight, both young and old, both poor and affluent, are being enticed to take a �walk on the wild side,� and experience what crystal meth has to offer.

to be continued

Related Features

Partners in Crime: The Mafia Cops

Part Two: The Cop Who Loved Snakes

Partners in Crime: The Mafia Cops

Part One: Mafia Cops Indicted!

The Agony of Ecstasy: The Fall of Sammy Gravano and Peter Gatien

Additional sources:

The Arizona Republic

�In Bad Company: America�s Terrorist Underground,� by Professor Mark S. Hamm, Northeastern University Press, 2002.

James Ridgway de Szigethy can be reached at:

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