Feature Articles

August 2005

Partners In Crime: The Mafia Cops

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

Part Five: A Troubled Prosecution

     Accused "Mafia Cops" Lou Eppolito Sr. and Steven Caracappa have been sent home; more specifically, not to their palatial homes across the street from one another in a gated compound in Las Vegas, but rather to the Long Island home of a relative of Eppolito's and the Staten Island home of the mother of Caracappa. Federal Prosecutors for the U. S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York declined to Appeal the decision earlier this month to grant Bail to the two accused hitmen for the Mob, which some observers of the case interpret as a further sign that there are serious weaknesses in the government's case against the former NYPD Detectives. At that time, Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Jack Weinstein publicly expressed his concerns about the strength of the case against the two Defendants, noting that the Statute of Limitations on racketeering charges might preclude the going forward with the Federal murder conspiracy charges. At issue is a December, 2004 drug transaction in Las Vegas that the Feds claim is a furtherance of a racketeering enterprise that dates back to the murders alleged against the cops dating back to the late 1980s and early 1990s.

     In addition to the two former cops' substantial Las Vegas residences, other family members also put up their houses to secure bail, including the palatial Staten Island home of the sister of Eppolito, herself married to a former NYDP Detective. Former Detective Eppolito�s wife Fran paid a call of respect to the owners in recent days, can now exclusively report.

     A recent New York Daily News report alleges that Eppolito has put his Las Vegas home on the market for the asking price of over $800,000. Some cynics have expressed concern that such opulent homes could probably not be secured on the $70,000 a year Pensions the two accused cops currently receive. Such Pensions cannot be seized by Federal authorities, but should the accused cops be convicted on the racketeering charge, the Feds can seize assets of the two, including their homes, which they allege were financed in part through their various criminal activities.

     While this drama was playing itself out on the local scene, the Media frenzy regarding this story reached national proportions with the publication of two Features in Vanity Fair and Playboy, both of which offered bombshell revelations. The Vanity Fair story was written by Ed Klein and John Connolly, a former NYPD Detective whose tenure on the force overlaps with that of the two Mafia cops. Their story revealed that the key government witness against the accused cops, Burt Kaplan, was himself an FBI Informant during the time in the 1980s that he was trafficking drugs throughout America.

     This revelation could derail the Federal prosecution of the Mafia Cops, given the precedent of a similar case during the Colombo Family War of the 1990s, in which four Federal prosecutions were lost because of the relationship between drug dealer/hitman/FBI Informant Greg Scarpa and his FBI handler, agent Lyndley DeVecchio.

     The first two trials were that of "Allie Boy" Persico, son of Colombo Family Godfather Carmine "The Snake" Persico, and NYPD Detective Joe Simone. Persico was charged with instigating from his jail cell the bloody Colombo Family war, which left at least 12 people dead, including an innocent bystander. Just days before his death to AIDS, hitman Greg Scarpa executed two Sworn Affidavits introduced into evidence that exonerated Persico of any responsibility for the war. The jury agreed and sent Allie Boy home.

     Detective Joe Simone was acquitted after his jury deliberated just two hours the charges that Simone leaked information to Colombo Family murderer "Big Sal" Miciotta. 10 of those jurors stood outside the Courthouse in the cold, Winter rain to embrace Simone and his family and express their conviction that an innocent man had been wrongly accused.

     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 and the FBI, 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.

     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!"

     Agent DeVecchio was never charged with a crime and retired with his government Pension.

     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 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.

     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 until the new investigation was begun less than two years ago.

     Casso�s original claims are now capturing the attention of both those in law enforcement and the Media. In his new Playboy article journalist Nick Bryant makes a convincing case that Gaspipe Casso�s original allegations are now deemed credible and that evidence suggests a cover-up by the FBI regarding Casso�s alleged corrupt FBI mole. In addition to making allegations that challenged those of Carmine Sessa, Gaspipe is said to have originally claimed that star Prosecution witness Sammy "The Bull" Gravano was involved in drug trafficking, a claim Federal Prosecutors denied up until the moment Gravano was arrested for running a drug trafficking ring in Arizona that included his own son and daughter. Bryant reveals the apparent extraordinary steps federal authorities have taken in recent years to discredit Casso and silence him from speaking out to the Media.

     Paradoxically, while this new information should in theory strengthen the evidence against the two accused Mafia Cops, the opposite is likely to turn out to be the case. The government lost all credibility with jurors in the four Colombo Family War trials because of the serious allegations regarding FBI Informant Greg Scarpa, thus Defense attorneys should easily be able to use the troubling, if conflicting evidence regarding Burt Kaplan and perhaps even Gaspipe Casso to raise �reasonable doubt� in the minds of jurors. Recent history in high-profile cases such as the Colombo War trials show that when the government loses credibility - or the jurors are just plain confused - jurors will often vote to acquit.

     Another development that can be turned to the Defense attorney�s favor is the speed with which some involved in the investigation rushed to obtain lucrative book deals. At least two investigators involved in the case have sought lucrative book/film production deals on a story that everyone acknowledges will be one of the most sensational trials of the decade. If any trial evidence uncovered by such men is seen to be suspect, Defense attorneys can suggest to the jury that such investigators had a motive to �tweak� the evidence towards the prosecution. The bottom line, they can argue, is: no indictments, no book deal.

     Accused Mafia Cops Eppolito and Caracappa have been reported to have been thinking through their own book/screenplay deals from almost the moment after they were arrested. This seemed incredulous to some at the time of their arrests, given public statements by those involved in the investigation that the case against them was solid. Recent statements by the Judge in the case, as well as emerging information in the Media, suggests otherwise.

to be continued

Related Features:

Partners in Crime: The Mafia Cops
Part Four: Judge Grants Bail

Partners in Crime: The Mafia Cops
Part Three: The Emergence of 'Crystal Meth'

Partners in Crime: The Mafia Cops
Part Two: The Cop Who Loved Snakes

Partners in Crime: The Mafia Cops
Part One: Mafia Cops Indicted

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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