The Chicago Syndicate: Two Decades Later, Family Sees Justice in New York 'Mafia Cops' Case

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Two Decades Later, Family Sees Justice in New York 'Mafia Cops' Case

Friends of ours: Lucchese Crime Family, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, Gambino Crime Family, Jimmy Hydell, Eddie Lino
Friends of mine: Louis Eppolito, Stephen Caracappa

In 1986, an unassuming jeweler named Israel Greenwald was secretly shot dead inside a Brooklyn garage and buried on the spot. His family had no clue he was executed _ or that two police detectives doubling as hit men for the Mafia were involved.

The family finally found a measure of peace on Thursday while on hand for guilty verdicts against Louis Eppolito and Steven Caracappa, the so-called "Mafia Cops". "Finally, justice has been served," Greenwald's 28-year-old daughter, Lea, told reporters outside a Brooklyn courtroom.

The convictions - which came two decades after the ex-detectives committed their first murder on orders from Luchese underboss Anthony ''Gaspipe'' Casso - closed perhaps the most astonishing police corruption case in city history.

"There has never been, in the history of the NYPD, an officer convicted of being a hit man for the mob," said Tom Reppetto, co-author of "American Mafia" and "NYPD," a department history.

"There's cases of police misconduct, but going to work for organized crime? Wow." The federal jury in Brooklyn deliberated for two days in the case against Eppolito and Caracappa, who spent a combined 44 years on the force and once worked as partners. The pair, who were immediately jailed after the verdict, face up to life in prison.

Neither defendant betrayed any emotion during the 10 minutes where the jury forewoman replied "proven" 70 times to the racketeering acts.

Eppolito, 57, whose father was a member of the Gambino crime family, and Caracappa, 64, were respected city detectives who moonlighted as hired killers for Casso between 1986 and 1990. In two of the slayings, they used their police credentials to make traffic stops that ended with the driver killed.

In another instance, the pair kidnapped a man suspected in an attempted mob hit against Casso and turned him over to the underboss. Casso, a remorseless mobster responsible for 36 slayings, reportedly tortured and killed Jimmy Hydell in September 1986.

The most shocking murder involved bad information provided by the detectives about another suspect in the Casso murder attempt. The tip led to the mistaken-identity murder of an innocent man killed as his mother washed the dishes following a Christmas Day family dinner.

U.S. District Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein immediately revoked the defendants' $5 million bail pending their May 22 sentencing.

Hayes and Eppolito's attorney, Bruce Cutler, said they would appeal. "It's an appearance of justice, but it's not justice," Cutler told reporters outside court.

Prosecutors charged that the two used their positions as crime fighters to aid the crime family - at a price of $4,000 a month. Their salary increased when the detectives personally handled the killing, authorities said; they earned $65,000 for the slaying of mobster Eddie Lino during a phony traffic stop.

It was one of two slayings where the pair was directly involved.

A witness testified that Caracappa was present during the February 1986 slaying of Greenwald, who was allegedly cooperating with federal authorities. Jurors heard testimony from a parking lot attendant who described publicly for the first time how Eppolito stood guard while he was forced to dig a grave for the victim or face a bullet himself.

Another key prosecution witness was Burton Kaplan, an acknowledged drug dealer who spent four days on the stand linking the pair to an assortment of murders between 1986 and 1990. Kaplan testified that he served as a middleman between Casso and the detectives.

Before the defendants were led away to jail, Eppolito calmly removed his tie, belt and a gold chain from his bulky frame and handed them to one of his daughters. Left behindon the defense table were wrapping paper from Caracappa's Life Savers, a blank verdict sheet, some court transcripts and a fortune from a fortune cookie.

It read: "Wisdom is the principal thing."

Thanks to Tom Hays

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