March 7, 2009
A side door swung open, and the two retired police detectives, dressed in shapeless prison scrubs, walked into the courtroom. They looked as if they had been shipwrecked.
Nearly three years ago, the two men, Stephen Caracappa and Louis J. Eppolito, were convicted of serving as assassins and spies for the Mafia while they were employed as detectives for the Police Department.
A case of outsize horrors and drastic turns — plus celebrity lawyers, three books, and a conviction reversed, then restored — came to its reckoning Friday afternoon on the 10th floor of the federal courthouse in Brooklyn. By day’s end, it would provide one more twist from its store of the absurd.
“These two defendants have committed what amounts to treason against the people of the City of New York and their fellow police officers,” said Judge Jack B. Weinstein of United States District Court.
He sentenced Mr. Eppolito to life plus 100 years, and fined him $4.75 million; Mr. Caracappa got life plus 80 years, and a fine of $4.25 million. The judge said both men were likely to have “hidden assets” from their crimes.
Yet one asset — in plain sight — might not be seized to pay their debts.
Both men have been drawing tax-free disability pensions from the city since they left the Police Department, according to city records. Mr. Caracappa, who retired in 1992 as a first-grade detective, receives $5,313 a month. Mr. Eppolito, who retired in 1990 as a second-grade detective, is paid $3,896 a month. Because they retired before they were accused of crimes, their pensions will continue.
Moreover, the pensions are not subject to seizure for payment of the fines, said Joseph A. Bondy, the lawyer for Mr. Caracappa. “I fought the government for Peter Gotti when they tried to garnish a disability pension, and we won,” said Mr. Bondy, who defended Mr. Gotti on murder and racketeering charges in 2004.
Under state law, public pensions are treated as property held in trust for the employees, and periodic efforts to make their forfeiture a penalty for corrupt public employees have failed. The Daily News reported last year that 450 corrupt former officials, judges and police officers were receiving pensions.
While both men have families, the two are likely to have little use in prison for the tax-free bounty that, in theory, they earned during the years that, a jury found, they were also killing for the Mafia, setting up informants for death or exposure, and poring through confidential police computers in service of the organized crime figures who were providing them with regular payoffs.
At 67, Mr. Caracappa has grown gaunt, the color so vanished from his face that it was hard to say where a scraggly gray beard met his pallid skin; Mr. Eppolito, 60, appeared to have lost weight behind bars, but remained a round, burly figure whose face reddened as a son and a daughter of two victims stood to describe their losses.
Their trial in 2006 lasted three weeks, and was built on testimony from Burton Kaplan, a wholesale garment dealer who had gone into multiple schemes with organized crime figures. He was the subject of “The Good Rat” (Ecco, 2008), a pitch-perfect account by Jimmy Breslin, who described how Mr. Caracappa helped a Mafia patron hunt for a Nicholas Guido by using a police computer. But the detective provided the address of a different man, a young telephone installer with the same name as the hitmen’s prey. He was killed in front of his home in Park Slope.
The first reports of the detectives’ corruption were made in 1979, and they were implicated a number of times through the 1980s but were never charged, and managed to continue their rise within the police ranks, according to Greg B. Smith’s “Mob Cops” (Berkley, 2006).
In the courtroom on Friday afternoon, a son from one family, then a daughter from another stood to speak for murdered fathers. A man framed by the ex-detectives told them he hoped that they would suffer in prison for the rest of their lives, as he had for 19 years.
Both Mr. Caracappa and Mr. Eppolito protested their innocence on Friday. “You will never take my will to prove how innocent I am,” Mr. Caracappa said.
One of those who spoke was Yael Perlman, the daughter of a gem dealer, Israel Greenwald, whose business dealings with Mr. Kaplan went sour. He was pulled off a highway by the two detectives in 1986, killed and buried under an auto repair shop. She was 7 years old then, and it was not until 2005 that his remains were found. The lack of a body “prevented us from receiving the small material respite of life insurance,” Ms. Perlman said.
Told later that both men would continue to receive their police pensions, she said, “That’s sick.”