Thursday, March 02, 2006

Mourning Good Guy Who Went After Wiseguys

Friends of ours: John Gotti, Peter Gotti, Michael "Mikey Scars" DiLeonardo, Junior Gotti

Federal mob investigator Kenneth McCabe scoured the death notices for the names of mobsters so he could be sure and pay his respects. Or he turned up at their weddings, where they'd greet him with a slice of cake and coffee that was always refused. For more than three decades, first as an NYPD detective and then with the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, McCabe deftly handled skittish government cooperators while charting the Mafia underworld's every move with his camera.

His work provided the backbone for dozens of successful prosecutions, including the late mob boss John Gotti and his brother Peter, that have left the city's Mafia families weakened to the point of extinction.

McCabe, 59, died last Sunday after a year-long battle with cancer.

His intense preparation and his shun-the-spotlight manner won the 6-foot, 6-inch former college basketball player the respect of colleagues - and of the mobsters he arrested. They would regularly counsel their attorneys not to ask McCabe a question when he took the witness stand, said former Manhattan U.S. Attorney David Kelley. "The mob is all about playing by the rules," said Kelley. "He didn't lie. He dealt with them fairly. They got arrested fair and square."

At his funeral Thursday at St. Thomas More Church in Breezy Point, Queens, a priest told the story of a wiseguy who ambled up to McCabe's car while he was conducting another surveillance. "You know, Kenny," he said. "I'm thinking of retiring. I'm getting too old for this." To which, McCabe replied: "Make sure it's someplace warm because I'm tired of freezing out here."

Mob informant Michael (Mikey Scars) DiLeonardo paid tribute to McCabe during his testimony at John A. (Junior) Gotti's federal kidnapping trial last week. Asked to identify a surveillance shot, DiLeonardo guessed that it was probably taken by McCabe. "He was relentless," DiLeonardo said.

McCabe was reared in Park Slope and attended Cathedral High School before playing power forward for Loyola College in Maryland.

His photographs allowed prosecutors to piece together mobster associations and link them together at key moments in a conspiracy. In some shots, smiling mobsters wave hello to McCabe.

Less known was McCabe's handling of wiseguys-turned-informants. "The cooperators had a tremendous amount of respect for him," Kelley said. "He didn't pull any punches. He told it like it was."

Thanks to Thomas Zambito

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