New York police who led double lives as Mafia hitmen jailed

Two former New York City policemen were sentenced to life in prison yesterday by a federal judge who told the guilty pair that by moonlighting for the Mafia while wearing their shields they had committed "probably the most heinous series of crimes ever tried in this courthouse".

A jury in Brooklyn convicted Louis Eppolito, 54, and Steven Caracappa, 64, in April at the end of probably the most sensational police corruption trials ever seen in New York City. Once respected detectives with 44 years of service on the force between them, they were found guilty of helping to commit eight murders on behalf of the Luchese crime family between 1986 and 1990.

It was a case fraught with ironies. Caracappa had helped the New York Police Department set up its Mafia crime-fighting unit shortly before retiring in 1992. Eppolito, meanwhile, had never hidden the fact that his father had been a member of the Gambino crime clan. He even wrote a book about becoming an "honest cop" in a crooked family,Mafia Cop.

Eppolito also had a bit part in the mob film Goodfellas and had hopes of parlaying his book into a Hollywood film after he and Caracappa uprooted from New York in the early Nineties and settled into a life of retirement in Las Vegas, where they were both arrested last year.

The jury heard that the pair earned $4,000 (£2,130) a month in under-the-table cash from the Luchese underboss, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, to deliver inside information from the NYPD to the family. Bonuses were paid for each killing they helped arrange. For one they were paid $65,000. Prosecutors said at the trial that they carried out three of the assassinations personally and facilitated the other five.

The men often used their police cruisers as a cover to pick up targets for assassination. A corpse of one of their victims was found stuffed in a car boot with a dead canary in his mouth.

The federal prosecutor in the case, Daniel Wenner, said yesterday that it represented "the bloodiest, most violent betrayal of the badge the city has ever seen". Judge Jack Weinstein imposed the sentences after receiving written submissions from some of the families of the victims, including Michael Greenwald Weinstein, whose father was a jewel merchant near Times Square when he suddenly vanished 1986. Israel Weinstein's body was buried under concrete and not uncovered for 19 years.

"Losing a father at a young age is hard enough, but to lose a father in such a violent and mysterious way is nothing short of horrific," Judge Weinstein said. "I don't know which crime was more monstrous, the actual murder or the concealment of his body."

The episode of the so-called "Mafia Cops" may not yet be over. Eppolito has said he plans to appeal the conviction on the grounds that his defence lawyer was incompetent. He is asking for a retrial in which his new lawyers would call Gaspipe Casso to the stand. Moreover, legal experts say there may be grounds for appeal because of statute of limitation concerns.

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