by Jerry Capeci
After serving nine years of a staggering 27-year rap for marijuana trafficking, mob associate Burton Kaplan got out of prison three weeks ago, a payoff for his devastating trial testimony against the Mafia Cops, Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa.
The aging gangster isn’t the only one enjoying a happy ending to the tangled case. Last week, Thomas Galpine, the right-hand man in Kaplan’s lucrative drug ring, was also released in return for taking the stand against the ex-detectives, who were found guilty of eight murders and many other crimes.
In a case filled with twists and turns — the judge who cut the sentences of both drug dealers, for example, also tossed out the murder convictions on technical grounds — the most unusual might be that both witnesses owe their freedom to a jailhouse row over the 2004 Super Bowl.
Federal Judge Jack Weinstein, who has seen a lot in his 39 years on the federal bench in Brooklyn, noted before he trimmed Kaplan’s sentence that the way the feds managed to make Kaplan eligible for the reduction was “rather bizarre” — and the 85-year-old jurist had no idea that the Super Bowl had played a major role in the matter.
Here’s the inside story of how Super Bowl XXXVIII enabled the feds to make an end run around Rule 35, the only legal mechanism available to reduce sentences of crooks who cooperate after they are convicted.
To be eligible for a successful Rule 35 motion, cooperation must begin within a year of conviction. Kaplan and Galpine were both found guilty in 1997, and the crimes they testified about happened even earlier. By the time Kaplan began singing, in 2004 (Galpine did so a year later), they were well out of range of the Rule 35 limits.That is, except for a little argument about a football game.
In late 2003, Kaplan, then 70, was resigned to spending the rest of his life in prison. According to sources who have spoken with him, he got through the day playing pinochle with other oldtimers and by wagering on football games — usually for cigarettes — with other inmates at the Allenwood medium security facility in White Deer, Pa.
A 50-year-old New York heroin dealer named Andrew Lawson, who transferred to Allenwood that December and joined the football club, would ultimately change all that.
At first, he and Kaplan co-existed as they won and lost their bets to each other.
“Burt didn’t like the guy, but he liked the action — even though he was betting cigarettes and didn’t even smoke — and they got along, paying off when they lose, collecting when they win. No trouble,” a Gang Land source familiar with the situation said.
Trouble developed when the betting line for the Super Bowl came out. The New England Patriots were a sevenpoint favorite over the Carolina Panthers and both inmates liked the favored Patriots. Kaplan suggested they not bet the game, and he stuck to it even when Lawson said he’d switch and take the underdog Panthers plus seven points, the source said.
As it turned out, Lawson’s secondchoice bet would have been right on the money, had there been any. On February 1, 2004, the Patriots used a tiebreaking 41-yard field goal with four seconds remaining to edge the upstart Panthers by only three points, 32–29.
After the game, Lawson demanded to be paid, but Kaplan refused. The source put it this way: “Burt’s a gangster. He’s betting cigarettes. He doesn’t smoke. He knows the guy’s lying but he tells the guy, who’s huge: ‘Let’s go see [another inmate]. He was there. If he says we made the bet, I’ll pay.’”
The second inmate supported Kaplan, which infuriated Lawson, who at about 6 feet, 6 inches towered over the 5-foot-8-inch Kaplan. He jumped Kaplan, who ended up with a scratch on his neck that he concealed for several reasons, the source said.
“If someone gets a scratch in jail, and the guards see it, it gets you sent to the hole because unless you can explain it away, the assumption is that it is a result of an altercation with another inmate, a no-no,” the source said.
Soon after, several sources said, Kaplan got even with his assailant with the help of a close friend who was on his visiting list. The friend funneled money to the jailed leader of a group of Mexican inmates who were being extorted by Lawson.
The Mexican gang leader took care of the rest, getting his followers to dole out a beating to Kaplan’s assailant in a snowy outdoor recreation area.
Getting even is “part of what prison life is all about,” Kaplan said about the incident during testimony at the Mafia Cops trial. “I was involved in an assault on an inmate who assaulted me and was assaulting other people. I paid a Mexican a thousand dollars to have him assaulted,” he testified, adding that Lawson was “hurt pretty bad.”
The prison assault was chump change compared to the details Kaplan provided about murders and other racketeering crimes that he and the Mafia Cops committed. But it was the only crime within one year of its occurrence that Kaplan could give information about to satisfy the parameters of a Rule 35 motion.
Prosecutors Robert Henoch and Mitra Hormozi were ready when Judge Weinstein, whose reversal of the Mafia Cops’ conviction for technical reasons clearly illustrates he is a stickler for the letter of the law, interrupted their presentation to quiz them about “basic jurisdictional question” raised by the one-year cut-off.
Mr. Henoch noted that a former investigator for the U.S. attorney’s office, William Oldham, had learned of the prison assault in 2004 and that when Kaplan was debriefed several months later, he gave the feds information that the Bureau of Prisons used to solve the case, thus satisfying the one-year limitation.
In court, Judge Weinstein spelled it out as though he couldn’t quite believe what he was being told.
“So it’s upon that assault in prison, rather than all of the other evidence and assistance that the defendant gave, that you predicate this motion for reduction of sentence, correct? Were it not for that, Rule 35 would have no application whatsoever, no matter what he gave in cooperation: Is that correct?” the judge asked.
After Mr. Henoch responded in the affirmative to both queries, Judge Weinstein told the prosecutor to “promptly” inform the U.S. attorney general and Congress to correct the deficiency in the law and eliminate “this rather bizarre basis for a motion of this kind.”
Meanwhile, as prosecutors Henoch and Hormozi work on Judge Weinstein’s Rule 35 directive, they are preparing to argue before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that the judge was wrong to throw out the Mafia Cops’ murder convictions. On December 4, they will ask the appeals panel to reverse Judge Weinstein’s ruling on the jury verdict, to reinstate the murder convictions, and to send the Mafia Cops to prison for the rest of their lives.
This column and other news of organized crime will appear later today at ganglandnews.com.