Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Final Chapter for The "Mafia Cops"

I like a mob story as well as the next guy, but "The Godfather" this ain't.

Still, somebody has to sweep up after the elephants in the "Mafia Cops" parade. So give me the broom and step aside.

On Tuesday morning, a prudent jury returned a guilty verdict in the federal drug trial of Anthony Eppolito and Guido Bravatti. It was the quintessentially understated ending to one of the loudest organized crime investigations in recent history: the successful prosecution of the infamous "Mafia Cops," Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, who were convicted of betraying their NYPD badges and acting as informants and hit men for New York's Lucchese organized crime family. In all, they had a hand in eight murders, including the Nov. 6, 1990, shooting death of Gambino family capo Eddie Lino, a job they pulled personally on behalf of Lucchese underboss Anthony Casso.

The elder Eppolito, a rotund and affable fellow who retired to Las Vegas in the early 1990s and pursued a career as a movie actor and screenwriter, received life plus 100 years. Caracappa, who moved in across the street from his former police partner and worked for a time as a private investigator and women's prison employee, was sentenced to life plus 80 years.

Upon sentencing, the ice-cold Caracappa didn't flinch. He said simply, "I am innocent of these charges."

Eppolito, always auditioning, gave something of a soliloquy. "I'm a big boy," he said. "I'm not a child. The federal government can take my life. But they can't take my soul, they can't take my dignity. I never hurt anybody. ... I never did any of this."

Senior Federal Judge Jack Weinstein, a veteran of many bloody mob trials, called the Mafia Cops case "the most heinous series of crimes ever tried in this courthouse."

At last count, a half dozen books have been written about the Mafia Cops and their crimes, not including Eppolito's own paperback autobiography, "Mafia Cop: The Story of an Honest Cop Whose Family was the Mob." Eppolito's father, uncle and cousin were mobsters, but in his book he claimed to have broken the chain of criminal behavior.

Instead, Louis Eppolito helped extend it to another generation by implicating his son Anthony in his rotten life. It's a safe bet no one will be writing a book about this pathetic excuse for a mob case.

Fast forward to this past week in U.S. District Judge Philip Pro's courtroom, where defense attorneys Richard Schonfeld, on behalf of Anthony Eppolito, and Assistant Federal Public Defender Shari Kaufman attempted to persuade a jury their clients were entrapped by the FBI and DEA through its use of undercover informant Stephen Corso.

The defense attorneys worked this case about as well as they could given the problem with the evidence. (The problem was it incriminated their clients and didn't come close to proving entrapment. On the contrary, the defendants appeared only too willing to provide drugs, guns and women.)

Judge Pro took extra care to severely limit any mention of defendant Eppolito's more notorious father and the Mafia Cops case in general. Trouble is, this is a case with plenty of incriminating surveillance tape, which was collected hour after hour by Corso during the investigation.

At one point, perhaps sensing that Corso was getting the cold shoulder from the government, courthouse sources say the defense team sought to interview the insider witness. After the request was granted by Judge Pro, Schonfeld changed his mind and Corso remained a courthouse ghost.

Schonfeld and Kaufman started like pitbulls, ended like house cats. No wonder neither feels like talking. I hear their clients were offered sweet pretrial deals.

The case might have developed into something worth writing about had the small mountain of damaging discovery material associated with the investigation surfaced in the court record. Sources say it contains voluminous recordings of local organized crime figures and their eclectic circle of friends from the business and legal communities.

One gregarious fellow beyond worrying about the government's inquiry is telemarketer and ex-fighter Joey Roach, who died recently. Roach was tight with local Lucchese crime family man John Conti. And now my cleanup is complete. This is what I've been reduced to in the pursuit of a good mob story -- a mundane drug dealing case.

Forget "The Godfather."

This isn't even "The Godson" material.

Thanks to John L. Smith

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