The Chicago Syndicate: Last Shot for "Mafia Cops": The Lawyers Did It

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Last Shot for "Mafia Cops": The Lawyers Did It

Friends of ours: Gambino Crime Family, John Gotti, Luchese Crime Family, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso
Friends of mine: Louis Eppolito, Stephen Caracappa

Wearing sharply tailored suits and sharing "Godfather"-style kisses in the courtroom, defense attorneys Bruce Cutler and Edward Hayes appeared a formidable defense team for two ex-NYPD detectives accused of eight slayings while on working for the mob.

Now, just two months after rogue cops Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa were convicted of those murders and an assortment of other crimes, the so-called "Mafia Cops" are charging their high-profile lawyers botched the case and asking a federal judge to throw out the verdict.

Both Cutler and Hayes were disappointed by the allegations from their one-time clients, saying Eppolito and Caracappa were desperate men motivated by the life sentences awaiting if their appeal fails.

"I was just so personally offended," Cutler said. "One day you're begged to come in, and the next day you're knocked by the client, who to me is delusional in a certain respect. He's certainly ungrateful and shameless." But the new attorneys for both defendants were unsparing in assessing their predecessors.

"Hayes' indifference to Mr. Caracappa's defense, both in terms of preparation and understanding, was apparent throughout the case," alleged a 15-page filing made by Daniel Nobel, who now represents Caracappa.

Joseph Bondy, the new attorney for Eppolito, said Cutler "spent the majority of Mr. Eppolito's closing argument speaking about himself, including that he lost over 14 pounds during trial, loved Brooklyn as a borough of bridges and tunnels, and was an admirer of the great Indian Chief Crazy Horse."

Eppolito, the son of a Gambino crime family member, lodged his complaint against Cutler last month. But Caracappa's gripe against Hayes came just prior to U.S. District Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein's June 5 decision that the pair would die behind bars for the bloody betrayal of their detectives' shields.

Weinstein said the life terms, along with a $1 million fine and a seizure of assets, would only be imposed after a June 23 hearing where the defendants would present their claims of ineffective counsel.

The allegations against Cutler and Hayes are at odds with their reputations. Cutler was best known for defending mob boss John Gotti, employing a merciless style of cross-examination known as "Brucification." And Hayes, author of the recent memoir "Mouthpiece," had a client list that included Sean "Diddy" Combs and Robert De Niro; he was the model for the defense attorney in Tom Wolfe's "The Bonfire of the Vanities."

When the two decorated former detectives were convicted April 6, Hayes shared a tearful courtroom hug with Caracappa. Their rapport has since unraveled.

"He's desperate who else can he attack?" Hayes said. "I am surprised, however, since I didn't think he was like that."

Cutler said Hayes, a longtime friend, was hurt by the charges. Cutler, who marks 25 years as a lawyer next month, was more annoyed. "They started off blaming the government and the prosecutors, blaming this and that," Cutler said. "Who's left? Us. I am rankled and angry."

Eppolito, 57, and Caracappa, 64, were jailed following their convictions. The pair was convicted of joining the payroll of Luchese family underboss Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso while still with the NYPD, collecting $4,000 a month in mob money along with their city paychecks.

The two men earned repeated honors during a combined 44 years on the force. But the federal jury heard testimony about how the pair committed or facilitated eight slayings between 1986-90.

The two detectives relocated to the same street in Las Vegas after their retirement. Their new lawyers charged that Cutler and Hayes failed to attack a possible flaw in the government case: That the alleged racketeering enterprise did not continue once the defendants moved to Nevada. If that was true, the five-year statute of limitations was past and the convictions would be invalid.

The court filings also included complaints that Cutler and Hayes ignored their clients, that Eppolito was denied his right to testify, and that cross-examination of prosecution witnesses was improperly handled.

Neither Eppolito or Caracappa took the witness stand, although Cutler likely will at the June 23 hearing. He's looking forward to the opportunity.

"I don't want to hurt Lou, and I certainly don't want to hurt Steve," Cutler said. "But I will be heard."

Thanks to Larry McShane

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