Tuesday, March 28, 2006

'Mafia cops' trial has new sidebar

Woman says she was financially ruined after paying defendant to write script about her life that hasn't sold

Whatever Jane McCormick did in Las Vegas during her wild days as a party girl (and the way she remembers things, she did a lot) certainly hasn't stayed there.

A brassy blonde who bears a resemblance to actress Doris Roberts of "Everybody Loves Raymond," McCormick, 65, is one of the most unusual spectators to show up at the "Mafia Cops" trial in Brooklyn federal court. She also hasn't been quiet about the $45,000 beef she has with one of the defendants, ex-NYPD detective Louis Eppolito, 57, who is on trial for racketeering, along with his former partner, Stephen Caracappa, 64.

McCormick, who is living on Social Security disability in Minnesota, said the money she paid Eppolito in 2002 represented a fee to write a film script about her life.

She paid him to write about her life? Isn't it usually the other way around? "I was stupid," McCormick now says in retrospect.

Actually, trial testimony showed that Eppolito, who got a taste for the movie business by doing bit roles in films such as "GoodFellas," regularly peddled the idea of raising money by getting fees from people to write scripts for them.

Seventy-five thousand dollars was the standard Eppolito pitch, said witness Stephen Corso. In McCormick's case, she said that when she balked at that price tag, Eppolito knocked it down to $45,000, an amount that McCormick raised through a bank loan and $10,000 cash advance from her credit card.

"He filled my head with delusion," McCormick said.

They way she tells it, there was a lot of material for a racy film. According to McCormick, she spent time as a prostitute in the 1960s in Las Vegas and was arm candy for the likes of Frank Sinatra. She caroused with the Rat Pack and knew mobsters. Silicone breast injections eventually led to a mastectomy. After quitting life on the Vegas Strip, she wound up in the Midwest, running a cleaning service.

McCormick said Eppolito told her that she could earn $130,000 to $160,000 from the sale of her script to Hollywood. He didn't guarantee it, but said it was 99.9 percent certain, McCormick recalled.

The script hasn't sold, she said, and the crush of the bank loan and credit card payments forced her to file for bankruptcy and to lose her business. She flew to New York for the first week of the trial, which began March 13, and listened with rapt attention. McCormick also said she confronted Eppolito and berated him outside court for promising her the moon.

"I wrote it four times for her," Eppolito told Newsday about the McCormick script. "It didn't go fast enough for her."

The federal judge in the "Mafia Cops" trial, Jack B. Weinstein, was an officer in the Navy during World War II and runs his courtroom on a brisk schedule that leaves reporters, lawyers and spectators feeling like they are on a forced march. What was expected to be a six-to-10-week trial could be over in four.

So punishing has been the 55-minute to 60-minute lunch period Weinstein enforces that defense attorney Bruce Cutler, who is representing Eppolito, one day asked for 10 more minutes. Weinstein, 85, who seems to thrive on the rapid trial pace, relented with a smile. Weinstein does allow mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks during which the jurors are served drinks and snacks. During those 10- or 15-minute breaks, Weinstein has been spotted at the courthouse snack bar getting a bag of nuts for his own pick-me-up.

Speaking of lunch, the two defendants spend their hour differently. Eppolito delights news photographers by walking outside the courthouse to the Park Plaza diner just across Cadman Plaza Park. His wife, Fran, is always with him. He likes pastrami on rye with mustard. By contrast, Caracappa seems to take his repast inside the new Brooklyn federal court building and never ventures outside during the noon hour.

Judge Weinstein referred last week to a ticking time bomb in the "Mafia Cops" case: a nettlesome statute of limitations problem. Simply put, there is the possibility that the racketeering conspiracy charged in the case might prove to be outside the five-year statute of limitations. Prosecutors contend that a 2004 drug charge that is also part of the case solves that problem. They also maintain that a continuous coverup by Eppolito and Caracappa brings the case well within the limitation date of March 9, 2000.

However, Weinstein is allowing defense attorneys in the case to propose a charge to the jury on the statute of limitations defense. Bettina Schein, who is co-counsel for Eppolito, said that is expected to be filed today. Rae Koshetz, co-counsel for Caracappa, said she expects to reveal today whether her client will take the stand. Cutler has already said Eppolito won't testify.

Thanks to Anthony M. DeStefano

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