Feature Articles

June 2009
The Scarpa Mob Family, The FBI, and a Story of Betrayal

      By Sandra Harmon

Sandra Harmon, author of "MAFIA SON, The Scarpa Mob Family, The FBI, And A Story of Betrayal", has had an extraordinary career as a best-selling author, journalist, television writer, producer and film maker. .

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Sandra Harmon
Sandra Harmon -
best-selling author
The story of Greg Scarpa Sr. is like no other mob story. Why? Because Scarpa was like no other mobster. Even in a world dominated by criminals, killers and con men, Scarpa was uniquely qualified for the job. A sociopath who for thirty years was protected by the FBI from his enemies, local law enforcement authorities and from other federal investigators, Scarpa had nothing less than a license to kill. And he used it � sometimes for perfectly practical, economic reasons, and other times simply because he felt like it.

     Scarpa's story also involves an extraordinary love affair with a woman named Linda Schiro; theirs was an unorthodox but enduring relationship that stretched out over three decades, ending only with Scarpa's death in 1994. If Greg Sr. was no ordinary mobster, Linda was no ordinary gun moll. Although married to others, they raised a family together, forging a unique and mutually beneficial partnership that bound them far more closely than most married couples; indeed, Scarpa and Schiro remained "intimate" � sharing secrets and lies and even true love -- well past the point when most ordinary unions dissolve.

     But the twisting of emotions and the corruption of familial ties was nothing new to Scarpa, whose greatest offense, perhaps, was the manipulating of his first-born son, Gregory Scarpa Jr., an innocent boy (at one-time, anyway), who was transformed into a doppelganger of his father. At least in part to please Greg Sr., Gregory Scarpa entered the family business and became a mobster; he remained a "wiseguy" to the core until, betrayed by his father, he went to jail, where he became a government informant, eliciting in advance the incredible story of how Al Qaeda terrorists were planning what would become the most horrific attack on American soil: 9/11. But Gregory's information was either buried or ignored; he was sentenced to 40 years to life at the ADMAX Prison in Florence, Colorado, and there he has remained for the better part of the past decade, held virtually incommunicado, locked in his cell for 23 hours a day.

     His story is one that reflects the complexities of life, especially a life lived outside the boundaries of criminality. Gregory Scarpa is a hardened criminal; he is a murderer who spent virtually all of his adult life in a business where killing was merely part of the territory � currency, if you will. But he was not an unrepentant or soulless monster. As is so often the case with men who walk in the footsteps of their fathers, Gregory was at once less and more than he appeared to be. And if his actions regarding the accumulation and transfer of information that might have prevented the attacks of September 11, 2001, were on some level self-serving, they were nonetheless admirable, and worthy of further consideration. In sum, Gregory Scarpa's story � and the twisted and sometimes tragic story of his family � is one worth telling.

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  • MAFIA SON (book cover)

  • Greg Scarpa Sr and Greg Scarpa Jr
    Greg Sr and Greg Jr

  • Greg Scarpa Sr and Linda Schiro
    Greg Sr and Linda Schiro

  • Greg Scarpa Jr
    Greg Scarpa Jr

  •      I became involved in this fantastic tale one evening in 1999 while watching "America's Most Wanted." The subject of this particular episode was a young man named Joey Schiro, the 24-year-old son of Greg Scarpa Sr. and Linda Schiro. Joey had been shot � gunned down, gangland style -- by his "friend", Vinny Rizzuto, in 1995. (Some friend, huh? But then, such is life � and death -- in the mob.) Now, four years later, there was Linda, speaking to the cameras, begging for help in capturing Rizzuto, who had proved to be a rather elusive and slippery killer.

         In Linda, I must admit, I saw nothing so much as a heartbroken mother � a strong yet sympathetic woman who simultaneously sobbed for her dead son and heaped praise on her long-time lover, a gangster who had killed so many people, and with such efficiency and gusto, that he was nicknamed "The Grim Reaper." But perhaps there was another side to him. How else to explain the obvious affection of this woman? She narrated evidence of the father's devotion, and of the son's early and promising life: Greg Scarpa Sr. and Joey fishing; Greg singing to their daughter, Linda, at her lavish Sweet Sixteen party, the girl's eyes brimming with tears; Greg dancing with the girl's mother, holding Linda so close and whispering in her ear � protecting her � shielding her.

         Who was this man? And how could this couple -- who demonstrated such deep and obvious love for each other and devotion to their family � be so different than they appeared? How could they have led such a heinous, amoral existence?

         The images flickering on the television screen spoke to me as a woman; equally important, though, they spoke to me as a writer. My work has long been informed by curiosity � by a ceaseless desire to understand � or at least attempt to understand -- human behavior, in all its messy, beautiful, ambivalent forms. I have written four previous books: a personal memoir, a best-selling celebrity biography and two psychological self-help books. I've been a comedy writer; I've worked in film and in television (as both a writer and producer). Among my larger-than-life business partners (or bosses): David Letterman, Robert Mitchum, Bill Cosby, Burt Reynolds, Priscilla Presley, as well as numerous others. I studied for years with the renowned therapist Dr. Patricia Allen in an effort to hone my instinctive understanding of people, and to develop an ability to get them to reveal their true selves to me. I don't mean to sound boastful or arrogant; quite the contrary. A natural inquisitivene ss and humility are the driving forces in my career, and I have learned that perhaps my greatest skill is having an attentive and sympathetic ear.

         After writing two best-selling books about the complex issues surrounding modern-day love, I became a popular and successful relationship coach, helping people deal with their particular problems and concerns.  I enjoyed the work and found it to be both interesting and rewarding. Not once during that period in my life did I envision a day when I would be consumed by the stories of murderers and mobsters. But here I am, writing about the Scarpas, a family that has left a trail of blood and brutality at least as sticky and complicated as that left behind by the Sopranos.

         I turned off the TV that night in 1999, and found myself unable to shake the image of Linda Schiro, or to get her voice and her tears out of my head. Sufficiently intrigued by the story, and undeniably moved by Linda's presentation, I was overcome by an urge to tell her story � whatever that story might be. It never occurred to me that the story would take on a life of its own, or that the book would consume my entire life. Simply put, I didn't realize what I was getting into, and how quickly I would be in over my head. Fascination would give way to fear, as threats and intimidation came from both sides of the street (legally speaking). And yet, through it all (perhaps courageously, perhaps stubbornly, perhaps stupidly), I remained transfixed, and committed to unearthing some sort of truth, and maybe even a bit of justice.

         Following an initial get-acquainted lunch, Linda and I met weekly at my Manhattan apartment. Dark haired and attractive, with a strong Brooklyn accent, Linda was nothing if not flamboyant. She was 53 years old, but favored the form-fitting attire of a woman half her age. I never tired of the bemused looks on the faces of the residents of my conservative Central Park West apartment building as they watched Linda pass through like a storm, with her micro skirts, plunging necklines and high-heeled boots. I will say this much: the doormen loved her.

         I began to care for Linda, too. While life had taken us in very different directions, we were not far apart in age, and indeed our roots had been planted in roughly the same turf. Each of us had grown up poor in Brooklyn.  Linda's mother had passed away when she was just a nine-year-old girl; similarly, my father had died when I was eleven. His death had left a gaping hole in my life -- this is typically the case when a child loses a parent, and while Linda had adopted a formidable toughness in adulthood, she was nonetheless damaged.

         Linda had been an impressionable 16-year-old in 1964 when she was first introduced to Greg Scarpa, a much older but demonstrably charismatic and (seemingly) generous man who lived in their Italian neighborhood. In the Jewish neighborhood where I came of age, such powerful and influential men were known as "garmentos"; truth be told, when I was a young woman working in the Garment District (thus the moniker, with its whiff of money and prestige), I found myself involved with more than one of these gentlemen. I recall these brief relationships, based on nothing so much as the excitement and intrigue that come with reaching above one's social standing, with fondness and maybe just a hint of whimsy. I understood the attraction, the appeal � even the element of danger. And so, I thought, I understood Linda. 

         Naturally loquacious and apparently unburdened by the inhibitions that stifle the typical American adult, Linda was remarkably candid with the details of her life story � including the most intimate aspects of her relationship with Greg Scarpa (including, for example, her fondness for the occasional threesome � if one man was good, Linda reasoned, sometimes two was even better). I found this to be somewhat shocking (not so much the facts of their relationship, but that she was so eager to share them with me). In part, I suppose, her effusiveness stemmed from the fact that so much had been bottled up for so long. (This, after all, was the deal one struck when one joined the Mafia, whether through blood or marriage). Now, with both Greg Sr. and Joey dead, Linda seemed to have shed all concern about repercussions; simply put, she didn't give a shit. For whatever reason, she wanted to talk.  (I later learned that she told many of the same stories to three other journalists, a s the prime witness at the DeVecchio trial and to numerous newspaper reporters and television interviewers)

         The words and the stories poured out � names and places and dates. Linda recalled dozens of murders and other lesser crimes and scams that she had experienced � either directly or indirectly � through her involvement with Scarpa. Some of the most gruesome and malevolent misdeeds were recounted without the slightest trace of remorse; rather, these were the tales that seemed most likely to elicit a smile or a laugh from Linda. At first, I thought, maybe the retelling was cathartic in some way, and the release had the odd effect of causing Linda to respond inappropriately: a laugh where a tear would be more suitable. But as our conversations progressed, I realized this was not the case at all. Linda had no regret, no sorrow. Indeed, she seemed to have no moral compass whatsoever. Although we finished the book proposal together, I began to have serious reservations about dedicating the time and energy required to bring her story to life; it was too sordid, too morally bankrupt. At the end of the day, I reasoned, curiosity wasn't enough. If I were to write about such a woman, the book would have to have some greater purpose. What that might be, I did not yet know. 

         The answer was revealed in bits and pieces, starting with a suggestion from Linda, who urged me to write to Gregory Scarpa Jr. Gregory, the eldest child produced by the union of Greg Scarpa Sr. and his wife, Connie, was currently imprisoned; nevertheless, Linda assured me, Gregory was a "great guy," who had worked for his dad since he was seventeen years old and knew precisely where the bodies were buried (and I am speaking quite literally).  Linda suggested that I send Gregory part of the book proposal and effort to validate certain incidents and to help us with names and dates.

         Although I had some reservations, I reached out to Gregory. I wrote him an introductory letter; to my surprise, he swiftly replied, and thus began a correspondence (and, for a time, something approaching friendship) that I never could have envisioned. Instead of a hardened criminal, Gregory gave the impression of being a rather ordinary and pleasant man who chattered incessantly and proudly about his children and grandchildren. In his very first letter Gregory extended an invitation for me to visit, dangling an irresistible carrot in the process: I'll tell you everything I know.

         It was a sweet letter, oddly charming in its apparent innocence and I found myself almost instantly drawn to its author. Whether this was provoked by some maternal instinct, an attraction to danger or simply general curiosity, I can't really say. I know only that I wanted to meet Gregory Scarpa, Jr. Interestingly, though, when I told Linda about his response and my inclination to accept the invitation, she became angry. In fact, she implored me to cease all contact with Gregory � I considered this highly unusual, given the fact that it was Linda who had suggested that I reach out to Gregory in the first place. Although disappointed and somewhat confused by her reaction, I acquiesced to Linda's wishes and assumed that the letter I received from Gregory Scarpa Jr., would be the last time I ever heard from him.  My relationship with Linda, however, ended soon afterward and we had no further communication. 

         Then, in the spring of 2004 I learned from a forensic intelligence analyst named Angela Clemente about supposed undercover work that Gregory had done for the U.S. government, which in turn seemingly had rewarded him by burying him in ADMAX. This seemed almost impossible to comprehend. Could Gregory really have possessed that might have averted the tragedy of 9/11?  And could that information have been ignored by the United States government? The very thought of it made my head spin. I've never been much on conspiracy theories, but something about this story pulled me in and wouldn't let go. Eventually, through Clemente, I was presented with an opportunity to read copies of FBI memos detailing Gregory's intelligence; the information was nothing less than shocking. By turning a blind eye to what Gregory had risked and accomplished (whether to protect his country or merely to benefit his own cause), the legal system had shrugged off the very notion of justice. But I could no t. 

         Unable to put aside the image of Gregory languishing in a tiny ADMAX cell, I told Clemente that I would help her in any way that I could. The years of research I had amassed on the Scarpa family � including extensive material detailing a litany of corruption between the FBI and Greg Scarpa Sr., as well as the book proposal that I had written with Linda � were all packed into boxes and sent off to Clemente. If she needed anything else, I would be eager to assist.

         In May 2004, I wrote to Gregory at ADMAX and told him that I believed his story and the intelligence that supported it. Knowing that he was broke, I tried to engage the services of a pro bono lawyer in the hope that Gregory's sentence would be either reduced or commuted altogether. This, in my opinion, was neither unreasonable nor unwarranted, given the fact that Gregory had previously declined a plea bargain to work with the government � a plea that, if accepted, would have resulted in him earning his freedom by this point. Although Gregory thanked me for my support, he seemed skeptical about the likelihood of any attorney accepting his case without receiving a significant fee up front. Ultimately, he was right. 

         Our correspondence began slowly, tentatively, but soon escalated in frequency and intensity. I wrote Gregory often, attempting to lift his spirits, hoping that one day he would be at home with his family enjoying a big steak and a plate of lasagna. Because all of the non-legal mail that Gregory sent or received was opened, read, censored -- and often simply kept from him -- we learned to communicate in code, sending much of our mail through a trusted attorney that I knew.

         Like a homesick boy writing letters from an unpleasant summer camp, Gregory tried to mask his sadness and despair. Oddly, and endearingly, his letters were frequently adorned with smiley faces; rarely did he complain about prison life or draw attention to the brutal and inhuman conditions faced by inmates. Later, of course, I would learn that this is not an uncommon characteristic of convicts � they can be enormously charismatic and manipulative (such is the will to survive) � but I was drawn to Gregory, his story and his plight; whatever his transgressions, he seemed to warrant further consideration as a human being and a man. If he was trying to use me, well, perhaps I was using him as well. It was the truth I was after. On one occasion Gregory mentioned that his steel and cinder-block cell had no heat (even though the outdoor temperature at this time frequently fell below freezing) and that the thin jumpsuit he wore offered little in the way of warmth. I was moved to help h im, and so I wrote to prison officials and asked that Gregory Scarpa Jr. be treated more humanely: For heaven's sake, just give the man some heat in his cell!

         A few weeks later I heard back from Gregory. He appreciated my kindness and advocacy, but suggested I keep such thoughts to myself in the future. By intervening, apparently, I had caused Gregory considerable grief. His cell was no longer as cold as ice � instead, it was so hot that he could barely breathe. At night, while trying to sleep, he found himself peeling away his jumpsuit, trying to escape the stifling heat. This was the response � accepted and approved � to the concerns and complaints of an inmate; frankly, the callousness (if not outright abuse) only served to reinforce gregory's argument: that he had supplied information to the FBI, the information had been ignored, and that the government had in some way reneged on a deal.

         I became Gregory's conduit to the outside world. Typically, when a reporter or broadcaster attempted to interview Gregory in prison, the warden would reject their request on the grounds that Gregory was simply too dangerous. Consequently, the reporters (who knew of my relationship with Gregory) often spoke with me. It seemed ludicrous: Charles Manson could be interviewed � but not Gregory Scarpa, Jr.

         The more I learned about the level of corruption surrounding the Scarpa family and various law enforcement agencies (including those overseen by the federal government), the greater was my outrage. I pressed on, digging deeper, despite the gnawing sense that by accumulating more evidence, I was putting myself in danger.  The story (and my work with the story) took on a life of its own, and I felt almost powerless to set it aside. I began to lose sleep; I worried about how I could protect myself, until finally it dawned on me: I would write a book. I was a writer. What else could I do?

         Gregory was eager to cooperate, of course, since he wanted his story out in the open. He sent me hundreds of pages of notes about his life: tales of his youth, his father's control over him, and how he joined Greg Scarpa Sr. as both a Mafia member and as an FBI informant. Crimes, scams, schemes, marriages, divorces, betrayal and murder � here was the whole sordid, bloody history of the Scarpa family. Gregory, as far as I could tell, had nothing to hide. Most notably he wrote extensively about his father's corrupt and violent relationship with his FBI handler, R. Lindley DeVecchio.

         Armed with the information that I had acquired from Linda Schiro, Gregory Scarpa Jr., Angela Clemente and Dr. Stephen Dresch (a highly-respected Yale PH.D., former Michigan Legislator, Michigan Tech University dean and forensic analyst), as well as my own extensive personal research, I began writing, confident that I had a thorough understanding of the shocking puzzle in front of me, as well as a strategy for putting the pieces together.

         Then the unthinkable happened. The Brooklyn District Attorney's office opened an investigation of DeVecchio, in part because of a confidential affidavit I had submitted to the office attesting to a murder that Linda had discussed with me � a crime allegedly involving DeVecchio.  However, when the details of the affidavit were leaked to the press, all hell broke loose, with stories in major newspapers naming me specifically as the instigator of the DeVecchio investigation.  This led to months of my being threatened by Mafia types, intimidated by the FBI, ridiculed in local newspapers for lacking the journalistic credentials of a "real crime writer," denigrated in cyberspace (with the greatest venom generated on a website known as the "Friends of Lin DeVecchio," and denounced in a book by a former undercover FBI agent.  I was also warned that in all likelihood my phone line had been tapped, and that certain terrorist factions � through contacts in federal custody � had gained access to my address and phone number; as a result, I was encouraged to exercise extreme caution in all correspondence. Finally, I was subpoenaed and called as a witness by both the prosecution and the defense in the sensational murder trial of Lin DeVecchio. 

         This story is so remarkable � and my participation in it so unlikely -- that it still feels somewhat surreal to me. And yet, even now, as I write these words, many months after the trial, I remain the target of threats and intimidating behavior.

         This, of course, only serves to reinforce the central thesis produced by my research. While some of the information in this book is based on the work of other writers and accounts offered by secondary sources, the majority stems from personal interviews and first-hand research. I have thoroughly investigated every story on these pages � stories related to the Mafia, the FBI and the justice system. Admittedly, some of them appear, at first blush, to be almost beyond comprehension. But having immersed myself into this strange and brutal world for the better part of five years, I can say with complete sincerity that I believe all of the stories to be true.

    Sandra Harmon � � Copyright � 2009



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