BY JOHN MARZULLI
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Tuesday, June 6th, 2006
It was the worst betrayal of the badge in the NYPD’s history – and the so-called Mafia cops will pay for their crimes by spending the rest of their lives in prison.
There will be no possibility of parole for disgraced ex-Detectives Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, no leniency for the men convicted of “the most heinous series of crimes ever tried in this courthouse,” Brooklyn Federal Judge Jack Weinstein said yesterday.
“There has been no doubt, and there is no doubt, that the murders and other crimes were proven without a reasonable doubt,” Weinstein said.
Yet the judge delayed imposing their prison sentences until he rules on legal motions to throw out their convictions – giving Eppolito and Caracappa some slight hope as they went back to the cramped cell they share at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Henoch said a life term was the only appropriate sentence for the defendants who participated in eight gangland murders while on the payroll of the Luchese crime family – and remain “unrepentant and remorseless and, perhaps by a higher power, unforgiven.”
The defendants sat stone-faced as five family members of murder victims blasted the corrupt ex-detectives and urged the judge to give them the maximum penalty. When Eppolito was addressing the court, he was challenged by a bearded man who stood up in the packed spectator gallery.
“Remember me, Mr. Eppolito? The guy you put away for 19 years?” bellowed Barry Gibbs, who served nearly two decades in prison for murder until state prosecutors developed evidence last year that Eppolito had framed him. “I had a family, too. Remember what you did to my family, huh?” Gibbs said as U.S. marshals hustled him out of the courtroom. “Remember me?”
Eppolito said he didn’t recognize Gibbs and resumed his rambling defense of himself, even inviting the victims’ relatives to visit him behind bars so he could plead his case directly to them.
The person to persuade remains Weinstein, who will hold a June 23 hearing on whether to vacate the convictions. Lawyers for the Mafia cops will argue the statute of limitations for the racketeering charge had expired, and that trial attorneys Edward Hayes and Bruce Cutler botched the case.
Eppolito, 57, and Caracappa, 64, had told members of their own families not to attend the sentencing. Eppolito’s son from his first marriage, Louis Jr., was sitting in the second row, and looked down when his father only mentioned having three children with his second wife.
Eppolito looked ghostly pale and had regrown a goatee. He appeared to have shed much weight since his last court appearance a month ago. Caracappa was his usual stoic self but struggled to maintain his composure when his lawyer referred to portions of a letter written to the judge by his brother, Dominick Caracappa.
Caracappa declined to make a statement, but Eppolito – who had a bit part in the film “GoodFellas” – was eager to speak.
“I know the feeling of every family here today, I know how they feel inside their gut,” he said. “I would invite [the victims’ family members] to visit me in jail. … I think I would prove to them I didn’t hurt anybody ever. If I can’t convince you, then I’ll apologize.”
Outside Brooklyn Federal Court, Gibbs was asked what Eppolito will experience in prison. “Every day in jail is like a million years,” he said. “Psychologically it’s going to break you down, like it did to me.”
Betrayed by her ‘hero’ dad
Deanna Eppolito Bernal stayed away from her father’s sentencing hearing yesterday, but the documents before the court included a letter she submitted on his behalf.
“My father is my hero,” she wrote. “He has always been since I was a child and would sleep outside his door so I could kiss him goodbye in the morning before he went to work. When he asked me why I did this, I replied, ‘In case you ever die at work. I know I kissed you goodbye.’ It was my fear, to lose my father, my love.”
The words seemed indisputably heartfelt. She clearly did not imagine that she was only succeeding in making her father appear only more monstrously evil.
For having received that sweet kiss from his little girl, NYPD Detective Louis Eppolito would set out into the city to commit what Brooklyn Federal Judge Jack Weinstein yesterday termed “probably the most heinous series of crimes ever tried in this courthouse.”
Among the crimes that Eppolito and his fellow rogue cop Stephen Caracappa had been convicted of committing was the kidnapping and murder of jeweler Israel Greenwald. His daughter, Michal Greenwald, was in court yesterday, and she took the witness stand to deliver a victim impact statement. She related a childhood memory of her own.
“Twenty years ago, when I was a month shy of my 10th birthday, my father gave me what was to be his last hug,” she began. “He was going off to work, as he usually did on Monday mornings and I was standing outside waiting for my school bus. Just as he was about to leave, he turned around and saw me standing there. He then put his briefcase down and hugged me tightly. I can still feel that hug today.”
She was now a full-grown woman of 30 sitting erect in a white jacket. The manicured hands holding the prepared statement were steady.
“We loved our daddy and having him disappear into thin air with no explanation was something I would not wish upon my worst enemy,” she continued. “Do you know what that does to you when you are only a child, not able to fully comprehend the horror of your situation? … Do you know what it’s like to have been asked hundreds of times throughout your life, ‘What happened to your father?’ and to not have an answer? Do you know what it’s like to visit a friend who recently lost a loved one and to be envious of them because they have a grave? Envious of a grave …”
She said she had called upon what seemed the one power able to help.
“My sister and I would often turn to God, begging Him to find our daddy and bring him home. Begging Him to let us know what happened so we can try to heal …”
The prayers were answered after 19 years, when her father’s body was dug up from a hole in Brooklyn.
“And now, by the grace of God, I stand here before the two people responsible for the living nightmare we lived.”
She then spoke directly to Eppolito and Caracappa, men who had sworn to protect the public then committed at least three murders, including the $30,000 contract killing of her father.
“You took away our daddy and by doing that you took away our childhood,” she said. “You thought you could get away with it and you almost did. … . But you strongly underestimated the power of a child’s innocent prayer.”
This grown woman was the voice of righteousness itself as she told her father’s killers she now had a new prayer.
“A prayer that you two get what you deserve,” she said.
Her hand was trembling now, but when she stepped down she strode evenly past the killers whom the judge had just said will receive life sentences. She suffered a final outrage when Eppolito rose to insist he is innocent.
Eppolito then spoke of his days as a cop as if he had not betrayed even his own little girl, the one who slept outside his room to give him a kiss in the morning because her greatest fear was losing her daddy.
The mothers, wives and daughters came to court yesterday to confront the Mafia cops – demanding the men convicted of killing their sons, husbands and fathers be locked away forever.
As disgraced ex-NYPD Detectives Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa looked on impassively, the courtroom became a parade of grief as relatives of four of the duo’s eight victims described shattered lives.
“The pain is still very strong,” said Leah Greenwald, the widow of slain jeweler Israel Greenwald, her hands shaking as she read from a typed statement. “I still remember the waiting and waiting for him to come home.”
The Greenwald daughters, Michal and Yael, were only 9 and 7 the day their father headed off to work in February 1986 and was never seen again.
Leah Greenwald said her girls grew up not knowing what had become of their father, struggling to make ends meet.
“He wasn’t there when they graduated from high school and college. He wasn’t there when they walked down the aisle to get married,” she said, choking up. “That life and their sweet innocence disappeared on that day you murdered him.”
The Greenwalds had no idea what happened to Israel until last year. His skeletal remains were discovered under the floor of a Brooklyn garage in April 2005.
The next voice of grief to fill Brooklyn Federal Court was that of Tina Morris, daughter of John (Otto) Heidel, a burglar killed when the Mafia cops told the mob he was an informant.
“I hope you two can live with yourselves the rest of your lives,” she said.
Then came Betty Hydell, mother of James Hydell, a wanna-be gangster the cops kidnapped and delivered handcuffed to their mob handler for execution.
His body has never been found, but the day he disappeared, Betty Hydell says, she saw both Eppolito and Caracappa outside the family’s Staten Island home.
“I was closer to you than I am now and you deny it,” she said. “I just wish you’d stay in jail the rest of your life and you die in jail alone.”
Danielle Lino, daughter of Gambino soldier Edward Lino, who was gunned down by the cops off the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, got the final word.
“It is our sincere hope that you will spend your remaining years on this Earth rotting in prison, and we are hopeful that you will spend an eternity burning in hell,” she told the killer cops.
Missing were relatives for four other victims, including the saddest of all, Nicholas Guido, a 26-year-old Brooklyn man killed in a case of mistaken identity.
His mother was too distraught to come to court..