The Chicago Syndicate: Mafia Cops Face Life in Prison at Sentencing

Monday, June 05, 2006

Mafia Cops Face Life in Prison at Sentencing

Michal Greenwald Weinstein grew up pretending her father died of cancer, or maybe in a freak accident. Either was easier to accept than the truth, which remained a secret to her shattered family for nearly two decades.

Israel Greenwald, an unassuming diamond dealer, went to work on Feb. 10, 1986, and never came home. It wasn't until this April that his killers were finally brought to justice: one-time NYPD detectives Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa.

The pair was also convicted of seven other murders, all at the behest of a vicious mob underboss, in one of most sensational corruption cases in New York City police history. On Monday, the ex-partners turned crime partners return to U.S. District Court in Brooklyn to face sentences of life behind bars on their racketeering convictions.

In victim impact statements filed with the court, Michal Greenwald Weinstein, her sister Yael and their mother Leah detailed how their lives were nearly destroyed by the murder of the family patriarch inside a Brooklyn parking garage. His body was buried in a five-foot deep hole, and then covered by concrete. Greenwald, killed because of fears that he might become an informant, was undiscovered for 19 years.

"Losing a father at a young age is hard enough, but to lose a father in such a violent and mysterious way is nothing short of horrific," Weinstein wrote in her statement. "I don't know which crime was more monstrous, the actual murder or the concealment of his body."

A witness testified that Eppolito stood guard while a man resembling Caracappa brought Greenwald into the garage and executed him. Eppolito, 57, whose father was a member of the Gambino crime family, and Caracappa, 64, were respected detectives who worked for Luchese family underboss Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso between 1986 and 1990.

The eight murders were committed while the pair was simultaneously on the payrolls of both the NYPD and Casso. Eppolito and Caracappa — dubbed the "Mafia Cops" — received $4,000 a month from Casso, who also used them to get information from inside law enforcement. Their pay went up for the murders: They earned $65,000 for one killing.

Federal prosecutor Daniel Wenner described the case as "the bloodiest, most violent betrayal of the badge this city has ever seen."

Caracappa, who retired in 1992, helped establish the city police department's unit for Mafia murder investigations. Eppolito was a much-praised street cop despite whispers that some of his arrests came via from tips from mobsters.

Eppolito also played a bit part in the mob movie "GoodFellas." After retiring in 1990, he unsuccessfully tried his hand at Hollywood scriptwriting. In his autobiography, "Mafia Cop," he portrayed himself as an honest cop from a crooked family. The pair, both highly decorated, spent a combined 44 years on the force and eventually retired to homes on the same block in Las Vegas.

The sentencings won't end the explosive case. Later this month, Eppolito will press forward with his request for a new trial based on his claim that defense attorney Bruce Cutler failed to put on a competent defense.

Eppolito, through new attorney Joseph Bondy, has asked for Casso to appear at that hearing. Casso, who was responsible for 36 murders during his mob career, was a possible defense witness who claimed he had exculpatory evidence against the two ex-detectives.

Caracappa's high-profile attorney, Edward Hayes, has also left the defense team before the sentencing. The defense opted not to put Casso on the stand, and did not call either defendant as a witness.

The racketeering convictions could also be overturned due to statue of limitations. The defense argues that there was no ongoing criminal enterprise while the detectives were living in Las Vegas, making a racketeering charge legally untenable.

U.S. District Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein, while declining to throw out the verdicts himself, suggested the statute of limitation claim could work.

"It was not a strong case, and the government was warned that from day one," Weinstein said at a May hearing. "There is a sound basis for appeal."

Thanks to Larry McShane

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