New York Daily News – http://www.nydailynews.com
Sunday, November 26th, 2006
Last April, ex-NYPD Detectives Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa were convicted of committing multiple murders for the mob. Their case is on appeal after a judge threw out the conviction for technical reasons, and the two sit in prison, their fate in the hands of the courts. But long before they made headlines as the notorious Mafia cops, they managed to dodge numerous allegations of corruption. An investigator recommended that Caracappa not be hired because of a prior arrest. The department ignored Eppolito’s mob family background. Again and again, it was alleged that the two worked for the mob. Yet they survived and even thrived within the NYPD. In “Mob Cops: The Shocking Rise & Fall of New York’s Mafia Cops,” Daily News writer Greg B. Smith details for the first time how the department failed to stop the worst case of corruption in its history.
Police corruption is cyclical in New York, like hurricane season. It happens at regular intervals. Somebody gets caught and that somebody starts talking. There is a scandal on the front pages. Then comes the big reform. Everybody’s happy. Then the scandal happens again, and so on. The last time it had happened was shortly after Eppolito and Caracappa somehow managed to land jobs with the NYPD. Back then the Knapp Commission was formed and a special prosecutor for the state of New York was appointed to make sure this kind of pervasive police malfeasance never happened again.
In 1979, Eppolito came to the attention of the special prosecutor when a low-level gangster named John Sciascia Sr. claimed a dirty cop had offered to help his son beat a robbery rap. Sciascia provided his lawyer with NYPD mug shots he said the cop, Eppolito, had given to him to help confuse witnesses trying to ID his son in a robbery. In exchange, Sciascia claimed, he paid Eppolito cash money.
Sciascia also provided his lawyer with a recording of Eppolito discussing exchanging something for money and worrying whether the conversation was bugged, which it was.
All of this went to the special prosecutor, and throughout 1980 and into 1981, the office pursued the investigation. The elder Sciascia no longer wanted to cooperate, but they had the tape and the mug shots as evidence. Most troubling in all this was the fact that a petty criminal had found himself in possession of NYPD property from a department that supposedly has all kinds of safeguards in place designed to make sure nothing like that could happen.
And then the matter was dropped. On November 17, 1982, Sciascia Jr. pleaded guilty to robbery first and second with a maximum eight-year sentence. The audio tape of Eppolito went into a file with the mug shots. Eppolito was not questioned about this. The entire matter never showed up in his personnel file. He was not prosecuted. There were no departmental charges. The matter only existed in a box of paper that would one day end up in the basement of the state attorney general’s office in lower Manhattan, where it served a new purpose – dust collector.
In 1979, Maria Provenzano’s brother, Robert, died of unnatural causes in Las Vegas and she wanted to know why. She began making inquiries. She paid two friends of her brother $10,000 of her own money and they showed up with some Las Vegas police paperwork, or what they said was Las Vegas police paperwork. Maria didn’t believe it was real, so she lost her $10,000.
At the time, she lived in the 62nd Precinct, which happened to be where Eppolito worked. Maria knew him because she had been robbed transporting payroll checks and Eppolito caught her case. After he questioned her about the robbery, she became his girlfriend.
During the time she was Eppolito’s girlfriend, he offered to help her find out who killed her brother. Because he was an NYPD detective, he said he could get the real Las Vegas homicide file. Maria waited.
Months passed and still no file. Then Eppolito told Maria he would need some money to get the job done. This seemed odd to Maria, and she told him so. As a result, as far as Eppolito was concerned, Maria was no longer his girlfriend.
For some time, Maria kept all of this to herself. She was still friendly with other detectives in the 62nd Precinct, and in general, she liked cops. Then she began a new job that nobody knew about. She became a behind-the-scenes cooperating informant with the Drug Enforcement Administration, providing tips on local drug dealing. During this relationship, she mentioned Eppolito trying to shake her down for cash to get police information on her dead brother.
The information about Eppolito was written down and conveyed to the NYPD. Nothing came of it. Eppolito continued on his way through the department, getting his name in the paper whenever he could.
On June 27, 1982, businessman Frank Fiala was murdered, shot in the eyes in front of a disco he was about to buy from Gambino soldier Salvatore (Sammy Bull) Gravano. Naturally, police immediately suspected Gravano. Eppolito caught the case.
A week after Fiala died on the sidewalk, the detective walked into a check-cashing store in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, owned by a man named Joseph Ingrassia. Ingrassia was a known associate of Gravano, so Eppolito flashed his badge and said he was working on answering the question of who shot Fiala in the eyes.
Eppolito asked Ingrassia a lot of questions about Gravano and several other members of organized crime, and then he went away. A few days later, Eppolito came back and asked more questions. A third time he appeared, there were more questions, all having vaguely to do with Fiala. Then Eppolito returned a fourth time, and the first thing he said was, “Is this place bugged?”
Ingrassia said no. Eppolito stepped into the bathroom and gestured for Ingrassia to join him. He turned on a shower and a sink and said in a hushed voice, “I can make life miserable for your friend Gravano.”
For $5,000, Eppolito promised he would go away. He then left the store.
Ingrassia got in touch with Gravano. Gravano heard the business proposal from Eppolito. A few days later, Gravano walked into Ingrassia’s store with a fat envelope that appeared to contain a stack of bills. Ingrassia got in touch with Eppolito. He showed up the next day, picked up the envelope and went away. After that, Ingrassia did not hear about Eppolito again, until a few years later in the fall of 1991, when Gravano decided to give up his life of crime and become a cooperating witness against the Mafia. It was not clear when precisely the federal government became aware of Eppolito’s shakedown of the gangster, Gravano. It is clear that this incident had absolutely no effect on Eppolito’s rise within the NYPD.
On Nov. 11, 1986, Caracappa requested information on Nicholas Guido, a telephone repairman who had nothing to do with the mob. On Christmas Day, Guido was murdered by the Lucchese family hitmen, a victim of mistaken identify.
Six months after Caracappa ran Guido’s name, the chief of intelligence of the NYPD wrote a memo to Capt. Patrick Harnett, the commanding officer of the major case squad:
“Misuse of Confidential Information.”
This was a tidy little phrase for a very dangerous business. Of concern to the chief of intelligence was one of the most heinous acts a law enforcement officer could perform – revealing the identities of informants. In the major case squad’s organized crime homicide unit, the number one issue of concern was always “Misuse of Confidential Information.”
Of particular interest to the chief of intelligence was the vulnerability of the vast amount of this information stored in the NYPD’s computer system. The department was supposed to carefully monitor who has access to the system. When the chief of intelligence asked about potential problems in this area, Harnett responded with righteous anger. In an April 11, 1988, memo titled “Corruption Hazards and Programs,” Harnett insisted his squad was cleaner than Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s dialogue.
Harnett acknowledged there were problems with monitoring with precision the computer system, one that was used hundreds of times a day by his unit. He first noted that the computer terminal itself was kept in a “locked and alarmed office” and was equipped with what he termed “watchdog software.” Harnett then admitted, “Deficiencies have been noted in this area in the past.”
The term hangs in the air and is not explained. What deficiencies? When? By whom? Regarding which detectives and which informants? No matter. Harnett, the commanding officer of the major case squad, had a response without explanation: “Upon investigation, it was shown that the inquiries were case-related and the proper followup reports were filed. There is no indication either by allegation or evident in any of the current investigations that such information is being misused.”
“Their work is monitored closely and there is a narrow sphere of control. They are familiar with the program and together we will continue to maintain this high level of integrity.”
Widow left to cry & laugh over case
In February 1986, Leah Greenwald’s husband, Israel, was murdered by the mob cops as a favor to the mob associate who paid them monthly. For 18 years, she had no way of knowing what happened to him.
When Leah Greenwald received the letter from the FBI, she cried and laughed at the same time. It was so ridiculous, she couldn’t help herself. For 18 years, she had lived her life with this kind of absurdity that comes naturally when your husband disappears without a trace.
She was, technically, not a widow and thus unable to collect widow’s benefits. Her daughters were not fatherless and thus ineligible for Social Security benefits. There was no life insurance policy to collect because, as far as the carrier was concerned, Israel Greenwald was still alive and hadn’t paid his premiums in years.
More than this, she and her daughters were forced to live with a question she could not answer: Where was her husband? She went to the local NYPD precinct and asked them for help. They said they would need a record of Greenwald’s missing persons report, the one she’d filed days after he vanished. They put his name into the NYPD computer, and nothing came up.
“As far as the New York City police were concerned, he was gone,” Leah Greenwald said. “Where did he go?”
Meanwhile, she had also requested all the information she could find from the FBI. She wrote a letter and asked for the entire file on the investigation into the disappearance of her husband. When she got their reply in the fall of 2004, that was when she decided to laugh and cry at the same time.
“The FBI wrote back and said, we’re very sorry, we can’t help out, but we’d be happy to give you the file,” Greenwald recalled. “Just have your husband sign the request.”