The Chicago Syndicate: How to Love a Mobster
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

How to Love a Mobster

Nobody had a ready explanation for the origin of “moll,” the slang term applied to women of the Mafia. In a courtroom filled with marquee crime writers, men identifying themselves as interested parties from Bensonhurst, retired federal agents and at least one √©minence grise of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, the best etymology offered was: “It goes back to the ’20s.”

Still, the morning’s tabloid newspapers had promised a legendary moll in Brooklyn Supreme Court yesterday, and Linda Schiro did not disappoint. As the star witness in the murder case against a onetime Federal Bureau of Investigation supervisor, she entered the courtroom from the back, shielded from the gang of cameramen and photographers staked out in the hall.

Her testimony was billed as the pillar of a sensational trial. The defendant, R. Lindley DeVecchio, has been charged with helping a prized informant commit four killings in the 1980s and early 1990s by revealing confidential information.

The accusations had lain dormant for more than a decade, ever since an internal federal investigation failed to turn up sufficient evidence. Ms. Schiro’s newfound willingness to testify gave state prosecutors the means to secure an indictment.

After two weeks of testimony meant to establish her credibility, Ms. Schiro was finally summoned to the stand yesterday, a sunken beauty in a plain suit and a gold pendant, thinning hair draped to the jaw.

Right away, she began to recount famed passages of Mafia lore from the moll’s vantage. She told of life with Gregory Scarpa, a notorious Colombo crime family capo known as the Grim Reaper, beginning with a trip to Mississippi in the 1960s.

There, she said, Mr. Scarpa began his work for the F.B.I., threatening a member of the Ku Klux Klan with a gun and learning the whereabouts of three slain civil rights workers. Though the tale had made the rounds in published accounts for years, it sounded fresh coming from Ms. Schiro in open court.

After that dizzying start, a prosecutor, Michael F. Vecchione, slowed Ms. Schiro down. Under his questioning, she recounted her path to Mafia association: As a teenager living with her parents, she married a man named Charlie Schiro. “I wanted children, and Greg was married, so I married Charlie,” Ms. Schiro said, adding, “to have Greg’s kids.”

Giving birth out of wedlock, she explained, was considered unacceptable at the time. The marriage ended when Mr. Schiro learned its full dimensions. Ms. Schiro later moved in with Mr. Scarpa, who by all accounts tolerated her affairs, including one with a grocery worker. “I just told Greg there was this really nice delivery boy, and you know.” Ms. Schiro said, her voice trailing off for a second. “We had this relationship where whatever made me happy. ...”

Mr. Scarpa, she said, spoke openly of crimes including murder, loan-sharking and bank robbery, and let her attend meetings with Mr. DeVecchio.

The judge overseeing the case, Gustin L. Reichbach, questioned that account. “What was your initial reaction, having grown up in this environment, when he told you he was an informer for the F.B.I.?” Justice Reichbach asked.

Ms. Schiro replied: “He didn’t say he was an informer. He said he worked for the F.B.I. I said, ‘What, do you mean you’re a rat?’ He said, ‘I just work for them.’ So I was surprised at first.”

She told of cash payments to Mr. DeVecchio, supplemented by gifts of wine, jewelry, a Cabbage Patch doll (this was the 1980s) and meals. To prepare for his visits, she said, she would draw the blinds and lock the doors.

In 1984, she said, Mr. DeVecchio identified a woman who had been dating a member of the Colombo family as an informer, prompting Mr. Scarpa to kill the woman. In 1986, she said, Mr. DeVecchio raised concerns about one of Mr. Scarpa’s closest friends, a Mafia associate who had become a born-again Christian. “Lin said, you know, ‘We can’t keep a guy around like this,’” Ms. Schiro said, “‘because he’s going to end up to start talking.’”

After a failed effort to “smarten him up,” Ms. Schiro said, Mr. Scarpa killed that man, too. A similar end befell the best friend of one of Mr. Scarpa’s sons, she said.

During the war for control of the crime family in 1992, Ms. Schiro said, Mr. DeVecchio provided the address of a rival, whom Mr. Scarpa also killed. Mr. Scarpa himself died in 1994 after contracting H.I.V. from a blood transfusion.

In the intervening years, Ms. Schiro passed up several opportunities to recount her knowledge of the killings. Several writers interviewed her for book proposals, and federal investigators questioned her during their unsuccessful inquiry. Until now, Ms. Schiro said, she had kept silent about Mr. DeVecchio.

“If I had a problem, I could always call Lin,” she said, “because he was my friend.”

Thanks to Michael Brick

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