Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mafia Cops Remain Defiant

Louie Eppolito wanted to be a movie star and screenwriter. Stephen Caracappa wanted an off-the-record life.

The men known as the "Mafia Cops" had in mind to live happily ever after in sunny Southern Nevada, far from the New York streets where they had made their bones as cops and criminals.

In the end, Eppolito became far more scorned than celebrated. Caracappa saw his dream of anonymity explode in notoriety.

The Mafia Cops case, which played out in New York but was developed in part through an undercover investigation in Las Vegas, appears to be reaching a close.

Eppolito and Caracappa, who retired from the NYPD and moved to Las Vegas in the early 1990s and bought homes across the street from each other, were convicted in 2006 of racketeering offenses that included involvement in eight murders from 1986 to 1992 while working on behalf of members of the Lucchese family.

They saw their racketeering sentences reinstated by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein's decision to set aside their convictions after determining the statute of limitations had run out.

Eppolito's reluctant final role came in a courtroom drama in Brooklyn that resulted in a sentence of life plus 100 years. Caracappa's off-the-record dream manifested itself in a very much on-the-record life plus 80 years. The two former cops remained defiant after their convictions for taking cash and pulling hits for the Lucchese crime family.

Prior to being led away from the courtroom Caracappa said, "You will never take away my will to show how innocent I am."

Eppolito added, "I've been suffering for four years in jail. I can take it. I'm a man. ... But I never did any of this."

Had the case relied solely on the word of mob turncoats and murder case files nearly two decades old, the crimes might have remained unresolved. The Mafia Cops might have spent their final years working on their tans in Las Vegas.

While detectives gleaned new insight from sources as unlikely as Lucchese underboss Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, who said he personally paid the pair $65,000 to kill Gambino soldier Eddie Lino and kept them on the mob's payroll in exchange for information that led directly to several other murders, the investigation was incomplete until law enforcement worked Eppolito and Caracappa in Las Vegas.

A key player on this end of the investigation was former CPA Steven Corso, who on behalf of the government acted as a drug money launderer who was interested in feeding Eppolito's movie projects. Author of the memoir "Mafia Cop," the story of growing up in a family of hoodlums and joining the NYPD, in retirement Eppolito was a rotund, talkative fellow who pursued his acting and screenwriting career. He landed bit parts in several gangster movies.

While the stone-eyed Caracappa, with his terminal case of penitentiary face, had no interest in a career that placed him in the spotlight, Eppolito was easy to approach. Corso quickly won Eppolito's confidence. In short order, he paid the ex-cop $14,000 in purported drug money to help finance a script Eppolito had titled "Murder in Youngstown."

When Corso claimed to need to score some methamphetamine for some visiting Hollywood types, Eppolito enlisted his son, Anthony Eppolito, to get the drugs. The DEA agents working the case were pleased.

In time, Corso also recorded Eppolito bragging about hiding income from the IRS in a conversation that implicated his own wife. There was another conviction in the making.

The Las Vegas end of the multi-agency case alone would have been enough to send Eppolito away for many years.

On March 8, 2005, the DEA and FBI entered the popular Piero's restaurant and took the two former cops into custody. They were convicted a year later.

Despite all that is known about Corso, to this day the scope of his role in the investigation remains shrouded in mystery. We know that his career as an accountant was not without controversy. But we also know by the results he helped generate that he was able to effectively work his way into a rarely recorded element of the Las Vegas community.

Now that the sentences of Eppolito and Caracappa have been reinstated, it's time to roll the credits on the Mafia Cops case.

Thanks to John L. Smith

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