Thursday, March 30, 2006

In Mob Trial, a Spotlight on a Rogue

Friends of ours: Edward Lino, Gambino Crime Family
Friends of mine: Louis Eppolito, Stephen Caracappa


Steven Corso — tax cheat, thief, disgraced accountant — spent a good part of the week telling jurors at the racketeering trial of two retired New York detectives, Louis J. Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, how the two men moved to Las Vegas in the early 1990's and committed crimes.

He testified that last year they helped arrange a two-minute, 19-second drug deal, in which Mr. Eppolito's son was secretly recorded selling an ounce of methamphetamine for $900. He said that a few weeks later, Mr. Eppolito, who acted in films and wrote scripts after leaving the police force, took $14,000 for a screenplay he was writing, even though he knew it had come from a mob-connected drug deal.

Eventually, of course, the witness, with his pomaded hair and designer suits, was forced to talk about his own high crimes and misdemeanors. Under cross-examination, he admitted having first approached Mr. Eppolito pretending to be interested in his daughter and acknowledged stealing $5,329,566 from his former firm, spending it on a "lifestyle" of "girlfriends, jewelry and going out."

Mr. Corso, 50, is the government's chief witness in the Las Vegas portion of the trial, a transcontinental case in which the two defendants have been charged with taking part in at least eight murders for the Brooklyn mob.

He traveled through Las Vegas with a miniature recorder, and the tapes he made have allowed the government to argue that the two defendants were engaged in a criminal conspiracy stretching from murder in the 1980's to a drug deal last year.

Bruce Cutler, Mr. Eppolito's lawyer, painted Mr. Corso as a debauched and profligate government pawn: a man, he said, who left $600,000 in "unpaid lines of credit at various and sundry casinos." Ever one for eloquent aggression, Mr. Cutler impugned his conduct (and oddly enough, with no apparent reason, his patriotism, too) then lambasted him for having stooped to recording Mr. Eppolito, recovering after heart surgery in a hospital room.

Rae Koshetz, Mr. Caracappa's lawyer, needled Mr. Corso for having said the phrase "with me" was gangland slang, as in, "He's with me."

In what was probably the only Mafia-logical interpretation of Scripture ever offered in a court, Ms. Koshetz read aloud from the 23rd Psalm to prove there was nothing inherently sinister about "with me."

"'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,'" she read, "'I fear no evil for you are" —pause — "with me.' " She then asked Mr. Corso. "Surely, you don't think the author of the 23rd Psalm was talking about a drug deal, do you, sir?"

Speaking of authors, one of the half-dozen or so who have hitched their wagons to the case is Jane McCormick, former president of a Las Vegas cleaning service and a onetime call girl whose most famous customer was, in her words, "Frank Sinatra when he wasn't married."

Ms. McCormick, 64, wrote "The Confidence Game," her life story — a tale of child molestation, rape, abortion, "favors for men" and silicone injections that led, she said, to "gangrene" in her breasts.

Four years ago, hoping to make the leap to Hollywood, she paid Mr. Eppolito $45,000 to turn her book into a screenplay — a screenplay, she has sued him for having failed to write.

Throughout the trial, Ms. McCormick has installed herself in the pews of court, hoping the publicity will help sell her book. She is also a figure of writerly retribution: the author as avenging angel. "He made me believe he was the hotshot of the movie world," she said. "But he didn't have what it took."

Little physical evidence has been introduced so far, though on Thursday, prosecutors presented what could become a crucial exhibit. It was a watch — specifically a Pulsar watch with a black, square face found near the curb of the Belt Parkway on Nov. 6, 1990. That was the date and place that Edward Lino, a Gambino family captain, was killed in his Mercedes-Benz — by the two ex-detectives, prosecutors say.

The watch was discovered within 100 feet of Mr. Lino's car by Detective Mary Dugan of the New York Police Department's crime scene unit. Detective Dugan, now retired, testified that she had found the watch on the night of Mr. Lino's death after finding his body slumped behind the wheel of the car.

Prosecutors plan to argue in closing remarks that the watch belonged to Mr. Caracappa.

As proof of just how exhaustive their case has been so far, they showed a photograph on Tuesday from a 1989 party celebrating the promotion of a former colleague of Mr. Caracappa.

The photograph shows Mr. Caracappa in his shirtsleeves and a tie, a cigarette tucked Jean-Paul Belmondo-style at his lip. On his wrist is a watch, with a black square face.

Thanks to Alan Feuer

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