The rumor was explosive, hard to believe: Gregory Scarpa Sr., a ruthless Colombo crime family capo known as the Grim Reaper, was receiving tips from a mysterious source inside law enforcement, a man he called “the girlfriend.”
The confirmation was devastating: Prosecutors working to cripple the family in the mid-1990s said that the source was their own Roy Lindley DeVecchio, a Federal Bureau of Investigation supervisor, the man assigned to lead the Colombo investigation.
In May 1995, an assistant United States attorney, Ellen M. Corcella, was prosecuting a murder conspiracy case on the brutal war for control of the family. She practically begged jurors not to be distracted by the role prosecutors said Mr. DeVecchio played.
“He’ll get his day in court,” Ms. Corcella told the jury.
Though Ms. Corcella lost that case, her prediction eventually came true. More than a decade later, Mr. DeVecchio arrived in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn yesterday for a trial on murder charges. By the account of state prosecutors, he traded information with Mr. Scarpa from 1980 through 1993, directly causing four Mafia killings and failing to stop several others.
Mr. DeVecchio tried several legal maneuvers — including claiming immunity from prosecution as a federal agent — but each failed, and he appeared in court yesterday in a drab gray suit, ragged crew cut and crinkled features, watched from the gallery by rows of agents dressed nearly identically.
Prosecutors say Mr. DeVecchio accepted cash, wine, the services of a prostitute and jewelry stolen from bank safe deposit boxes. They say he billed the federal government for more than $66,000 in payments to Mr. Scarpa, then kept the money himself. But his greatest rewards were the least tangible, prosecutors say: Through years of handling his prized mole, Mr. DeVecchio grew his legend in the annals of law enforcement.
After helping supervise the famed Commission Case in the 1980s, when top leaders of the city’s five crime families were jailed, Mr. DeVecchio was honored by the Police Department and called to lecture at training academies.
So to Mr. DeVecchio’s lawyers and supporters, among them five agents who signed for his $1 million bail, the charges unfairly smear an exemplary career. Motivated by political gain, they say, state prosecutors have built a flawed case on the word of Mr. Scarpa’s common-law wife, Linda Schiro, a woman intent on selling her story to publishers.
Yesterday, there was a lot of history in the room, all the way up. The judge overseeing the case, Gustin L. Reichbach, was investigated by the F.B.I. in the 1960s when he was a student at Columbia University.
Despite a warning and a reminder that he could have a jury hear the case, Mr. DeVecchio waived his right to a jury trial and left his fate to a man that his F.B.I. colleagues had once described as a dangerous student protest organizer.
Absent an audience of jurors, an assistant district attorney, Joseph P. Alexis, opened his case with a stark, unemotional recounting of the charges. In a trial expected to last more than a month, he said Ms. Schiro would testify that Mr. DeVecchio had visited her home, taken cash payments and told Mr. Scarpa whom to kill.
The witness list includes several Mafia associates, including Mr. Scarpa’s namesake son, who is in prison for racketeering.
By the prosecutor’s account, Mr. DeVecchio identified informers. “Scarpa used this information,” Mr. Alexis said, “to devastating effect.”
Mr. Scarpa shot Mary Bari, the girlfriend of a Mafia figure who was suspected of crossing Mr. Scarpa, while his son held her down, Mr. Alexis said. Mr. DeVecchio eventually investigated possible informers on request.
“Shockingly, DeVecchio used his F.B.I. resources, looked into the matter and faithfully reported back,” he said.
A lawyer for Mr. DeVecchio, Douglas Grover, said Ms. Schiro’s testimony had been concocted to sell books. Several of the victims, he said, were killed before they ever had a chance to cooperate with the F.B.I.
Mr. Grover said Mr. DeVecchio’s relationship with Mr. Scarpa was proper, required to make big cases against secretive Mafia families. “Gregory Scarpa, as ugly and miserable a human being as he was, a made member of the Colombo crime family, was a top echelon F.B.I. source,” Mr. Grover said.
For Mr. DeVecchio, 67 and retired, the trial will render final judgment on a career marked as maverick from the start.
After joining the F.B.I. in 1965, Mr. DeVecchio worked in New York, a city traditionally unpopular among agents for its weather, cost of living, field office bureaucracy and large, ambitious Police Department. His Italian family background led to assignments investigating the Mafia, supporters say.
Mr. DeVecchio first came to prominence in the early 1980s. Posing undercover as a hit man, he helped convict a former intelligence agent of plotting to kill prosecutors and witnesses.
By then, in the parlance of the F.B.I., he had opened Mr. Scarpa, contracting him as a confidential informer to gather insight on Mafia doings and hierarchy.
Mr. Scarpa was something of a legend himself, a compact, muscular man of 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds. In the 1960s, the F.B.I. engaged him to travel south, meet Ku Klux Klan members and use his powers of persuasion to find the bodies of slain civil rights workers. Back home in Brooklyn he reputedly oversaw Colombo loan-sharking operations, hijackings, weapons sales and killings.
Much of Mr. Scarpa’s reputation derived from an uncanny ability to avoid prison through a series of indictments. In 1993, he finally pleaded guilty to murder and racketeering charges. The next year, at age 66, he died in a prison hospital of complications from AIDS, which he had contracted in a blood transfusion from a member of his crew.
The relationship between Mr. DeVecchio and Mr. Scarpa first drew scrutiny in 1994, when F.B.I. agents voiced their suspicions to supervisors, but an inquiry failed to find enough evidence. Taking the witness stand at a hearing in 1997, he strongly denied giving Mr. Scarpa investigative information.
Still, the accusations persisted, taking the form of defense motions, rumors, Mafia lore and, not least, book proposals. In 2005, state prosecutors got their break from Ms. Schiro, who had lived with Mr. Scarpa for years, bearing sons who followed their father into the Mafia.
By Ms. Schiro’s account, Mr. DeVecchio warned Mr. Scarpa of surveillance, impending arrests and other government informers. Prosecutors accused him of helping Mr. Scarpa kill a teenage murder witness, rivals for power and suspected informers, including a woman who had dated a family consigliere.
In his opening, Mr. Grover said the new charges reprised accusations long laid to rest, tacitly acknowledging the long, strange arc of Mr. DeVecchio’s career at the F.B.I. “Watch this one play out,” Mr. Grover told the judge. “It’s going to be quite interesting.”
Thanks to Michael Brick
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