The Chicago Syndicate: A Story for Martin Scorsese to Bring to the Big Screen
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Story for Martin Scorsese to Bring to the Big Screen

Are you familiar, as the lawyers say, with a man named Alphonse Persico, known as Allie Boy? How about Nicky Black, Wild Bill, Joe Waverly, Joey Brains and Joe Brewster? Or Lawrence Mazza, James Delmasto, John Pate and Carmine Sessa?

If not, good luck following the blockbuster murder case on trial in Brooklyn Supreme Court before a spellbound audience of journalists, promoters, authors, conspiracy theorists, gadflies and some who answer to three or more of those designations. You need a scorecard just to track the players.

Fortunately, their nicknames give them away: All are figures associated with the Mafia, that fetishistically documented secret society responsible for long-ago crime waves, more recent cinematic masterpieces and, above all, an enduring modern marketing bonanza. Some are dead and some are living; in their lives the press loved them all.

These latter days find the waning wiseguys reduced to walk-on roles in an ensemble gathered for the trial of Roy Lindley DeVecchio, a retired Federal Bureau of Investigation supervisor. Mr. DeVecchio, 67, has been charged with helping his prized Mafia informer kill four people in the 1980s and early 1990s. Prosecutors say he disclosed confidential information to set up assassinations.

This contemporary Mafia trial’s more prominent players include a 1960s campus radical turned dapper judge whose taste in courtroom d├ęcor runs to the eccentric, an aspiring author planning a book with a self-styled love, dating, sex and relationship coach and an amateur private investigator who was choked (not fatally) in a strange, unexplained attack last year.

The publicity circus surrounding big mob trials was already in full churn last week. Satellite trucks idled on Jay Street. Photographers ascended stepladders to gain some purchase over their rivals. A high school class visited the courtroom on a field trip. Mr. DeVecchio, free on $1 million bond, mingled with his supporters. And tabloid newspapers reflexively chronicled every twist under headlines such as “Weird Mafia Love Triangle” and “G-Man and G-Strings; Plied With Bimbos: DA.”

The basic accusations against Mr. DeVecchio date to the Bensonhurst war for control of the Colombo crime family in the early ’90s, when Mr. DeVecchio led an F.B.I. squad charged with crippling the Colombos. His informer was Gregory Scarpa Sr., proprietor of the Wimpy Boys Social Club and a capo in the family.

After the war ended, federal prosecutors admitted that Mr. DeVecchio had passed confidential information to Mr. Scarpa. Investigators for the Department of Justice failed to turn up evidence to support criminal charges or even disciplinary action, and Mr. DeVecchio soon retired.

In a way, his new trial can be considered the triumph of the hangers-on, the true believers and the Mafia aficionados.

The Brooklyn district attorney’s office has credited Angela Clemente, a single mother from New Jersey, amateur private eye (and victim of that unexplained choking) with research that helped revive the case. The office has also acknowledged the work of Peter Lance, a writer who attends the trial in pinstripe suits, telling anyone who will listen his theories linking the case to global terrorism. But at center stage is the main prosecution witness, Linda Schiro, aspiring author of a book tentatively titled “Marriage, Mafia Style.” Supporting testimony is expected from her son, Gregory Scarpa Jr., who is in prison for racketeering. Mr. Scarpa is a prolific informer who has at times claimed to have the goods on his own father and on Ramzi Yousef, orchestrator of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Mr. DeVecchio’s defense lawyers speak of a darker side to all this Mafia obsession. Over the years, they argue, Ms. Schiro has tried time and again to sell the story of her life as the common-law wife of the senior Mr. Scarpa, who died in prison in 1994.

With each new telling and each new potential co-author (including the love and dating coach, Sandra Harmon), she has sharpened her portrayal of Mr. DeVecchio. In her evolving accounts, defense lawyers argue, Mr. DeVecchio has gone from a man who met privately with her husband to a man she heard giving orders to kill.

“That’s pure fantasy,” said a defense lawyer, Douglas Grover, in his opening statement. “She’s making it up.”

Prosecutors built the groundwork for her credibility last week with testimony from a Mafia expert and from F.B.I. agents who had worked with Mr. DeVecchio.

The Mafia expert, Sgt. Fred Santoro of the Police Department, seemed well at ease. A product of Bensonhurst himself, he lent the trial an old-time touch by cracking wise on Mafia policies for drug-dealing (frowned upon) and murder (get permission first). The federal agents recounted their suspicions about Mr. DeVecchio’s relationship with his informer.

By the end of the week, a real live Mafia associate cried on the witness stand, to the evident delight of the gallery. The witness, Lawrence Mazza, told of hunting Colombo rivals, armed to the teeth in a frequently repainted station wagon.

The judge overseeing the case, Gustin L. Reichbach, interjected with his own questions. He knew a thing or two about the F.B.I.; its agents had once counted him among the most dangerous protest organizers at Columbia University. When the witness mentioned a newspaper account of one killing, Justice Reichbach offered a qualification.

“Just because it appears in the newspapers,” he said, “doesn’t make it so.”

The writers packed into the gallery laughed and laughed. The judge leaned back in his big leather chair. The scales of justice glowed over his shoulder, in neon, bright red and blue.

Thanks to Michael Brick

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