January 14, 2007
BY MILES CORWIN
LOS ANGELES TIMES
THE BROTHERHOODS: The True Story of Two Cops Who Murdered for the Mafia, by Guy Lawson and William Oldham. Scribner, 512 pp., $27.50.
In 1994, an underboss of the Lucchese crime family, Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso, flipped. He was in federal custody, facing numerous murder and racketeering counts, when he informed FBI agents that, in return for a “pad” of $4,000 a month, two New York City Police Department detectives had regularly slipped him confidential information from police and FBI organized-crime files: names and addresses of confidential informants (who were then knocked off), tipoffs on raids and phone taps, and advance warnings of arrests.
For almost a decade, Casso said that the two detectives, Stephen Caracappa and Louis Eppolito, conducted secret investigations for the Lucchese family. Eventually, Casso claimed, he hired the detectives as hit men. They used their badges to put unsuspecting gangland targets at ease, killed them and collected payoffs of up to $100,000.
What makes “The Brotherhoods” even more alarming is the criminal negligence of law-enforcement officials, who showed little interest in bringing Caracappa and Eppolito to justice. “The Brotherhoods” chronicles years of egregious police corruption and the stupefying bureaucratic indifference that allowed it to flourish. It was not until 11 years after Casso first fingered the two cops that they were finally arrested.
After receiving life sentences last year, the two had their convictions thrown out by a judge who ruled that the statute of limitations had expired. At the time of their arrest, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent said, “It’s been a long time coming.” Well, it’s still not over. The book, published in November, closes with the government’s appeal of the ruling.
Investigative journalist Guy Lawson teamed up for this book with William Oldham, a retired NYPD detective who spearheaded the police corruption investigation as an investigator for the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn. Oldham brings an insider’s insight and analysis to this absorbing book, which serves as a cautionary tale to all police departments. Because the NYPD brass did not assiduously follow up on the signs of corruption, the job of every cop in the department became more difficult.
Eppolito and Caracappa were longtime best friends and former partners as young detectives in south Brooklyn. Thin, quiet and with a preference for dark suits, Caracappa was called “the Prince of Darkness” by other detectives. He was also one of the department’s top detectives, a go-to guy in the elite Major Case Squad, which investigated high-profile, difficult cases. Caracappa had “written the book on organized crime murders in New York,” the authors explain. “If a wise guy was killed in Queens or the Bronx and the homicide detective who caught the case wanted to know how his victim fit in the Mafia, he would look in Caracappa’s book for connections.”
Eppolito, on the other hand, was “fat, loud, foul-mouthed … with a thick mustache and a taste for gold chains. … He was a conspicuous cop – he dressed like a wise guy.” He also wrote a memoir called “Mafia Cop: The Story of an Honest Cop Whose Family Was the Mob.” Given his family’s connections with organized crime, it is remarkable that NYPD screeners let Eppolito onto the force. His grandfather – “Diamond Louie” – and his father – “Fat the Gangster” – were members of the Gambino crime family.
Eppolito served as his father’s bagman when he was a boy, handing cash to local cops so they wouldn’t break up Fat the Gangster’s dice and poker games. At his father’s funeral – where the FBI took surveillance photos of the numerous organized-crime figures in attendance – Eppolito was slipped notes by wise guys.
After killing time at a no-work job set up by a Gambino relative, Eppolito decided to join the NYPD. To Eppolito’s way of thinking, he was simply exchanging one brotherhood for another.
Eppolito retired before his memoir was published; Caracappa didn’t. He was still on the force, and in the author’s note for “Mafia Cop,” Eppolito calls him “my closest and dearest friend.” When Oldham came across a copy of Eppolito’s memoir in the early 1990s, he was assigned to the Major Case Squad along with Caracappa. Oldham was stunned that Caracappa, who had access to the department’s most sensitive intelligence, would be best friends with a dubious character like Eppolito. That was Oldham’s first clue that the Mafia might have made inroads into the NYPD.
When Casso told federal authorities about Caracappa and Eppolito’s criminality, Oldham assumed investigations would be launched. When the detectives later retired to Las Vegas and bought homes in a luxury development across the street from each other, Oldham was outraged. The crooked cops had skated. Oldham decided to investigate the case himself – first as an NYPD detective and later from the U.S. attorney’s office.
In 2004, Oldham’s situation improved, as the book relates: “Finally … a small group of detectives and investigators came together to work on the investigation. Oldham called them ‘the cadre.’ … They were all determined to see that justice was done. All of the voluminous information Oldham had gathered over the years was examined anew. More evidence was uncovered. Compelling connections between ‘the cops’ and long-forgotten murders were unearthed. Even with the accumulated facts, Oldham knew the case needed someone inside the conspiracy … to take the disparate strands of the case and pull them together. He needed a storyteller.”
Oldham found him in “Downtown” Burt Kaplan, a colorful Jewish gangster who was one of the most notorious dealers in stolen goods in New York. It was Kaplan who first made contact with the two detectives; it was Kaplan who set them up with organized-crime figures, and it was Kaplan who ultimately turned on them and testified in court.
Of course, it shouldn’t have taken until 2005 to convict Caracappa and Eppolito. Shortly after teaming up in the 1970s, they accumulated numerous Internal Affairs complaints, including cash stolen from arrestees and money missing from a homicide scene. When the nephew of crime boss Carlo Gambino was busted for attempting to set up a major heroin deal with an FBI undercover agent, agents searching the house discovered a confidential NYPD Intelligence Divisions file. The FBI ran the documents for fingerprints, and they matched Eppolito’s.
“Eppolito had a long, contorted explanation for how his fingerprints had magically appeared on a police department intelligence document found in a Gambino’s house,” Oldham recalled. “I wasn’t buying it.”
After the two cops retired, Oldham continued to try and bring them down. He told his NYPD supervisor about the trail he’d followed and the evidence he had collected. “He didn’t want to hear about it. He said the words slowly, carefully enunciating them. ‘I do not want to hear about that case ever again. Understand?'” Oldham recalled. “Catching Caracappa and Eppolito would … hurt the whole department. Certain people think cops go bad every day. This would just confirm it.”
“The Brotherhoods” is the anti-“Sopranos.” Instead of yarns about colorful mobsters who believe in family, honor and omert … , the book provides a glimpse of the New Millennium Mafia: arrested mobsters who start singing as soon as the cuffs are on, and crime bosses who let the families of loyal soldiers doing time live in penury. The book is long and dense, and it would have benefited from the perspective and insight of other detectives in “the cadre.” On the other hand, readers will find this an important and well-told story.
Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.