Thursday, August 25, 2016

Brotherhoods: The True Story of Two Cops Who Murdered for the Mafia

It was a case that took years to make. Former NYPD Detectives Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa were accused of taking part in at least eight gangland murders in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, most while still on the job. In the end they were found guilty; but the judge threw out their convictions, saying the statute of limitations had expired, even though he believed the evidence showed overwhelmingly that the officers were guilty.

“It's sort of crazy and sensible,” explained Guy Lawson, co-author of the book “Brotherhoods: The True Story of Two Cops Who Murdered for the Mafia” about the case. “It's like New York City, it's a paradox. It all makes sense at each stage, but when you put it all together, it seems like madness.”

It makes for a story that is better than fiction. “[It had] murder, kidnapping, and intrigue, and the mafia and hit men,” said co-author of “Brotherhoods”, William Oldham. “[It had] a guy who killed 30 people, and a “good guy” who only killed six people."

Oldham was one of a team of investigators who made the case. He and Lawson have written the first book about it, a book that begins with Oldham's story. “In 1990, I went to work with Stephen Caracappa in the major case squad,” recalled Oldham.

The allegations against Eppolito and Caracappa emerged in the mid-90s, but prosecutors did not have enough evidence to charge them. That is when Oldham started investigating the detectives. “In 1997, everyone had sort of packed up their tents and gone home, and I thought that these two deserved a trial and I began an investigation that lasted seven years,” said Oldham.

“I think the secret to why Oldham took this case is because it was so damn hard,” added Lawson. “You know, there's a certain kind of intelligence that wants to do the hardest thing.”

Oldham eventually produced the key witness, Burton Kaplan, a marijuana dealer who said he was the main contact between the officers and the Luchese family. “The thing about a RICO case, it's a number of criminal instants strung together and you sort of do need a story teller to connect the dots,” explained Oldham.

Thanks to Solana Pyne

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Mafia in Gomorrah, Reminiscent of The Wire and The Sopranos

A pair of Mafia lieutenants, filling a jerry can at a Naples gas station, pass the time discussing the foibles of modern youth. “She put a picture of me and her mom on ‘book,’” the older one says. “Facebook,” his younger colleague tells him. “All the kids have it.” Gangsters — they’re just like us!

That’s the opening scene of “Gomorrah,” the highly popular Italian television series that makes its American debut on SundanceTV on Wednesday. Based on a 2007 nonfiction investigative work by Roberto Saviano, Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System, that has also been adapted into a well-known film, the series arrives with a deserved reputation for unrelenting violence — the gas in that can is quickly put to use in a vivid and unpleasant way. But brutality isn’t the whole story. “Gomorrah” operates on two planes. It’s a grim, detailed, quotidian drama about the inner workings of organized crime (which has drawn comparisons to “The Wire”) and at the same time it’s a traditional Mafia saga, a clan melodrama centering on succession and the ups and downs of the family business (which has drawn comparisons to “The Sopranos” and “The Godfather”). Either of these by itself might not be very interesting, but the combination is handled so adroitly that the show sucks you in. It doesn’t have the emotional or stylistic highs of those predecessors, but it carries you along like one of the sleek Italian motorcycles preferred by its wealthier characters.

The 12-episode first season (a second has already been shown in Europe) centers on two members of a drug gang in the Naples suburbs who are like a foster-family version of Sonny and Michael Corleone. Gennaro (Salvatore Esposito) is a Sonny-like hothead, unfit to be in charge but eventually thrust into the role because he’s the only son of the boss. Ciro (Marco D’Amore, whose quiet charisma holds your attention) is a coldly efficient killer and canny strategist — he’s the Michael, but because he’s not in the family, he has to work with Gennaro, or appear to.

The relationship of these two up-and-comers, playing out amid a large cast of other familiar Mafia-drama types (the ruthless but declining boss, the calculating mother, the good soldier, the aggrieved wife), proceeds through an arc of increasingly operatic violence, as rival clans fight for turf and one massacre begets another. The story line is dark, and so is the screen. Under the guidance of the showrunner, Stefano Sollima, the show makes a fetish of low light and shadow. Its most characteristic scenes are not chases and shootouts but small groups of nervous or celebratory men meeting in the dark. They gather on street corners, in crowded discos and in abandoned buildings that serve as drug markets, their faces obscured or invisible. Even during the day, they’re in curtained rooms or prison cells.

The cinematography and lighting fit with the show’s overall sense of desolation, a depiction of the Neapolitan environment as rubble-filled, overgrown and derelict. (Scenes set in Milan offer a pointed comparison to the less prosperous south.) Much of the action is set in faceless, towering apartment blocks that recall the settings of Italian neorealist films, though touches of lyricism creep in, like a beach scene in which a pair of horse carts passing in the background feel like early Fellini.

Mr. Sollima and his colleagues are certainly aware of the many influences to be sorted through in making a modern gangster tale. At one point a young hood, describing the botched job that got him imprisoned, says that cops and helicopters arrived “just like an American movie.” In “Gomorrah,” they’ve achieved a satisfying international blend.

Thanks to Mike Hale.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Hells Angels Biker Gang Readying a Comeback

The weekend funeral of a Hells Angel member provided valuable information for law enforcement officers monitoring the group's attempt to rebuild after being decimated by arrests, said several organized crime experts.

Kenny B├ędard, 51, had only recently become a full member of the biker gang when he was killed in a road accident in New Brunswick last month.But his newcomer status didn't seem to matter to the hundreds of gang members who gathered at a church in Pointe-Saint-Charles for the funeral on Saturday. 

The funeral doubled as a strategic bit of theatre, said one expert, who pointed out the gang has been in restructuring mode since a large police operation in 2009 that led to the arrests of more than 150 members.

"It was a chance for the bikers to show that they're close to each other and at the same time, a demonstration of their strength to other bikers who are their enemies," said Pierre de Champlain, a historian of organized crime in Montreal.

"It shows, 'Us bikers, we are in control of the territory in terms of the sale of drugs.'"

On Saturday, police officers could be seen taking footage of gang members gathering outside the church — a sign, said another expert, that law enforcement is readying itself for the gang's resurgence."These guys are returning," said Guy Ryan, a former organized crime investigator with Montreal police. "They will start reconquering their territory and selling drugs."

Several experts noted the Hells appeared to be no longer keeping a low profile, as they had in the years after Operation SharQc in 2009.

Sylvain Tremblay, a former provincial police officer, believes the gang was emboldened by the failure to prosecute some of the more high-profile cases that stemmed from those arrests.

Five Hells Angels picked up in 2009 on murder and conspiracy charges were released last year when a judge ruled the Crown had violated rules on sharing evidence with the defence."We could say that 2016, even the end of 2015, saw the return of the Hells Angels," Tremblay told Radio-Canada. "I think we'll be seeing them more and more in Quebec."

Thanks to CBC.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

No Bail for Mob Boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme

He left his life as a Mafia don decades ago, disappeared into the federal witness protection program, and was living quietly in Atlanta as Richard Parker, an unassuming octogenarian who loved to read and exercise.But Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme’s past caught up with him Wednesday, when he was arrested at a Connecticut hotel and escorted to a Boston courthouse in handcuffs to face a new charge for an old crime: the 1993 murder of a witness during a federal investigation.

It was deja vu for Salemme, a contemporary of James “Whitey” Bulger’s who will turn 83 this month. Arriving in court, he smiled slightly when he spotted Fred Wyshak, the veteran prosecutor who helped send him to prison twice before, seated at the prosecution table and quipped, “Hey, Fred, fancy seeing you here!”

His casual demeanor belied the severity of the charge, which allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

Salemme, who served as boss of the New England Mafia in the 1990s, is charged with the May 10, 1993, slaying of South Boston nightclub manager Steven A. DiSarro, whose remains were discovered in March by investigators acting on a tip. DiSarro was buried in a Providence lot owned by a man facing federal drug charges.

Salemme denies he killed DiSarro and “is ready to fight this case tooth and nail,” Salemme’s attorney, Steven Boozang, said after the court hearing. “This is old stuff that has been dredged up from the past, but he’ll face it head-on as he always has.”

The murder in question stretches back more than two decades, to a time when the mob in New England was being battered by federal prosecutions. DiSarro was 43 when he vanished 23 years ago and was presumed murdered.

The recent discovery of his remains let his family finally lay him to rest. “We buried him this weekend and had a small ceremony,” DiSarro’s son, Nick, said during a brief telephone interview Wednesday. “I am really glad that there is progress and they are moving forward. I’m looking forward to finding out the details.”

The magistrate judge granted a request by the prosecution to keep an FBI affidavit filed in support of Salemme’s arrest under seal.

While Salemme is charged with murdering a witness, authorities have not disclosed whether DiSarro was cooperating with authorities when he vanished, or whether investigators were planning to call him as a witness during a federal investigation that was underway in 1993 against Salemme and his son, Frank.

DiSarro had acquired The Channel, a now-defunct nightclub, between 1990 and 1991 and Salemme and his son had a hidden interest in the club, according to court filings by the government in prior cases.

The new charge against Salemme marks the first time anyone has been charged with DiSarro’s murder. However, Salemme pleaded guilty in 2008 to lying and obstruction of justice for denying any knowledge about DiSarro’s death and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Salemme also spent 15 years in prison for attempting to kill an Everett lawyer in 1968 by planting dynamite in his car. The lawyer lost a leg in the explosion.

After his release, Salemme was being groomed to take over as mob boss, igniting a war with a renegade faction. He survived after being shot by rival gangsters outside a Saugus pancake house in 1989 and was indicted on federal racketeering charges in 1995 along with others, including Bulger, gangster Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, and Rhode Island mobster Robert “Bobby” DeLuca.

In 1999, after learning that Bulger and Flemmi were longtime FBI informants, Salemme agreed to cooperate with authorities against the pair and their handler, retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. In exchange he served only eight years in prison and was admitted to the federal witness protection program.

In 2003, Flemmi began cooperating with authorities and claimed he walked in on the murder of DiSarro at Salemme’s estranged wife’s home in 1993, according to a US Drug Enforcement Administration report filed in federal court in Boston. He claimed that Salemme’s son, Frank, was strangling DiSarro, while Salemme, his brother John Salemme, and another man, Paul Weadick, watched.

Flemmi said Salemme was concerned about DiSarro’s friendship with a man who was cooperating in the federal investigation targeting Salemme and his son. He also told investigators that Salemme later told him DeLuca was present when they buried DiSarro.

Salemme’s son Frank died in 1995.

Salemme was kicked out of the witness protection program in 2004 when he was charged with lying about DiSarro’s killing but was allowed back into the program in 2009 after finishing his sentence.

Court filings indicated that Salemme was using the name Richard Parker while in Georgia.

He was living “a healthy lifestyle,” exercised as much as possible, and was a voracious reader, Boozang said.“He’s a guy that learned his lesson,” Boozang said. “He paid his debt to society. For 21 years he hasn’t been in trouble.”But, Nick DiSarro said, “None of that takes away the fact that he murdered someone.”

Dressed in a short-sleeved navy blue polo shirt and olive green khakis when he appeared in court Wednesday, the gray haired former Mafia don was slightly tanned and looked fit and trim. When told to rise, he took a few moments to get to his feet.

US Magistrate Judge Donald L. Cabell ordered Salemme held without bail pending the resolution of the case. The prosecutor said Salemme had a history of fleeing to avoid charges and recently fled Atlanta, where he was in the witness protection program, and was captured in Connecticut.

Salemme did not challenge the government’s request to hold him without bail. However, Boozang insisted that Salemme was not in hiding, but rather, “He was on his way back to answer any charges that might have been coming forth.”

Thanks to Shelley Murphy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Is the anti-mafia movement is in trouble?

FEW people are more respected by the majority of Italians than those who fight their country’s powerful organised crime syndicates. There are four such gangs: the eponymous Sicilian Mafia, the Camorra of Campania (the region around Naples), the Ndrangheta from Calabria (the "toe" of the Italian "boot") and the lesser-known Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia on the Adriatic coast. Members of the so-called anti-mafia include police, prosecutors and judges; campaigning local journalists; businesspeople who refuse to pay the pizzo (slang for protection money); and the members of voluntary organisations such as Libera. Founded by a priest, Don Luigi Ciotti, Libera specialises in the exploitation of land and other resources confiscated from mafia bosses, often in the face of intimidation from the jailed bosses’ associates. For the past eight months, however, several prosecutors in Italy’s southern badlands and parliament’s standing commission on organised crime have been probing the mafias’ supposed adversaries. Why?

Civil society anti-mafia groups have burgeoned since the murders in 1992 of the Sicilian Mafia’s most formidable opponents, the magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Not all such groups are as irreproachable as Libera. Some exist merely to enhance the prestige of their founders. They also offer access to public funds that can be misappropriated. In January, the head of a women’s group in Calabria was given a four-year jail sentence for spending the cash on herself. Among other things, she bought a car. A senior prosecutor in Sicily has emphasised that these are isolated cases. But the head of the parliamentary commission, Rosy Bindi, believes they are symptomatic of a movement that has lost its original purpose. The mafia has changed, becoming more business-oriented, less violent and visible: it kills less to earn more. But, says Ms Bindi, the civil society groups remain focused on the sort of trigger-happy mobsters responsible for the 1992 assassinations.

What really caused alarm, however, was the suspension last year of a judge in a uniquely responsible and influential position. Silvana Saguto presided over a court in Palermo that decides who should take over companies seized from the Sicilian Mafia. Administering the mobsters’ former businesses provides lucrative opportunities for lawyers. Ms Saguto, who denies wrongdoing, is accused of accepting bribes and favours that influenced her decisions. Other cases have raised concern. A businessman feted as a champion of legality was convicted last October of practising the mafia’s own speciality, extortion. A renowned local journalist, celebrated for his denunciations of the mobsters’ activities, faces similar allegations, while the head of the bosses’ union in Sicily is also under investigation, accused of steering contracts towards firms in the grip of the Mafia. Both men deny wrongdoing.

In the short term, the unmasking of phoney do-gooders gives cheer to organised criminals. It will no doubt deter some members of the public from donating to anti-mafia groups (many benefit from a system whereby Italians can give a small percentage of their taxes to recognised charities). And it reinforces the cynical view of the mobsters that their adversaries are no better than them. In the longer term, however, the drive to purge the anti-mafia movement of undesirable elements should help restore public confidence. Meanwhile, stricter rules have been written into a bill going through parliament to ensure that judges cannot favour their cronies when deciding who should administer the mafias’ seized assets. The bill has been approved by the lower house Chamber of Deputies and is currently in the Senate. But because of Italy’s unwieldy legislative procedures, there is no guarantee it will reach the statute book.

Thanks to J.H..

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