Dades knew exactly whom to contact to reopen the case. Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes’s chief investigator, Joe Ponzi, an interrogation expert, had worked on cold cases with Dades and was the son of a legendary Brooklyn police sergeant who for a time worked in Eppolito’s precinct. Ponzi’s colleague, the no-bullshit Mike Vecchione, had once served as the NYPD’s Internal Affairs prosecutor, and left just before the bureau tried to get Eppolito in the early eighties. Vecchione and Hynes agreed to approve the reopening of the Hydell case based on the new tip. When Dades & Co. approached the U.S. Attorney’s office about collaborating, they found an ally in Mark Feldman, an old colleague from the D.A.’s office who actually is quoted in the pages of Eppolito’s Mafia Cop as saying, “One of the reasons we all knew Louie so well was because his relatives kept turning up dead.”
Over the next several months, the investigators say they were able to corroborate the cops’ involvement in not just Hydell’s but many other murders. Dades found the date of birth and the name and location of Nicholas Guido, printed out a month before he’d been killed. They also noticed old clues that had been overlooked: In the Lino murder, a witness describes the shooter as a skinny little guy with dark hair and a mustache. “Back then, who the hell would think it was Caracappa?” Dades asks. The clincher came when the prosecutors landed a star witness, Burton Kaplan, who finally flipped last year. There were enough reasons for him to capitulate—six years into his 27-year prison term, he was 70 and his health was fading—but it still took Ponzi weeks to coax him out of his omerta shell.
Once Kaplan rolled, confirming several of the homicides, it became clear that it would be better for Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf to prosecute the cops federally under the rico laws. The only way to prove racketeering would be to demonstrate that Eppolito and Caracappa continue to operate a criminal enterprise. The U.S. Attorney’s office got the FBI and the DEA to look into what Eppolito and Caracappa were up to in Las Vegas. What they found wasn’t just potentially incriminating, it was downright trashy: In one leaked transcript, an informant jokes with Louie Eppolito about what it would take to get a little action from his daughter, the fetching, loyal Andrea Eppolito—and Louie jokes right back that it ought to take two dates, at least. And when one informant tells Eppolito that a group of celebrities is coming from Los Angeles and wants a good time, Louie ominously says his son Anthony would take care of it.
On March 9, Eppolito and Caracappa were arrested in Las Vegas. The FBI said it had turned up an ounce of crystal meth, more than enough to justify a federal rico case. Since Kaplan came forward, investigators have rounded up other potential witnesses, including Luchese soldiers and bosses and a former Colombo family consigliere, and they recently tracked down the guy who saw a man fitting Caracappa’s description at the Lino murder. Wiseguys are practically standing in line now to rat out the Mafia Cops. “Sometimes they’re put in a position where they’re gonna be put in federal grand jury,” Dades says. “And I don’t think they’re gonna want to go to jail for something that at this point is about two low-life guys nobody’s gonna go to bat for.”
The U.S. attorney’s office isn’t formally commenting on the case, except, of course, to insist it has all it needs to send Eppolito and Caracappa away: hard evidence in the way of log books and computer records, plus a fleet of witnesses, including the middleman himself. The prosecutors, Robert Henoch and Mitra Hormozi, it bears noting, last year helped put away Bonanno-family boss Joseph Massino for seven murders.
Cutler and Hayes, meanwhile, plan to put not just Burton Kaplan on trial but Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso, who may not even be called as a witness. “Burt Kaplan is a major narcotics dealer,” Hayes says. “His whole life has been a fraud, a scheme.” While criticizing Casso would seem a tad awkward for Cutler, who has spent so much of his career even denying there is such a thing as the Mafia, it doesn’t show: “This is a highly placed member of a so-called gangland group,” Cutler says. “You’re asking people to believe that unbeknownst to anyone in the group, he contracted work out to a Jewish drug peddler who was not even in the group? You have a major gang figure who gives assignments to somebody who’s not even a member of the gang, to hire people he doesn’t even know, to kill people? That’s not what the FBI says the Cosa Nostra is about.” He pauses. “The whole thing never made any sense in the first place. And apparently Kaplan disavowed it all, and then when he turned 70 and wanted to get out of jail, he decided to go with it? Is that reasonable doubt?”
“I am not a knight in shining armor,” Hayes says. “I’m the guy you call up when you have a problem—but there’s gotta be something in it for Eddie, right?”
Cutler and Hayes also plan to deploy the tried-and-true tactic of blaming the government. That historic moment in the second Gotti trial, when Cutler called the indictment a “rancid stew” made with “bad meat and bad potatoes” that “belongs in the garbage”—and then tossed the indictment in the trash? Watch for something along those lines pertaining to the DEA’s crystal-meth bust at Eppolito’s house. It was a sting, Cutler says, perpetrated by the DEA to justify the federal racketeering case.
From there, it’s just a short hop to Abu Ghraib. “I don’t think how anybody can look at the leaks that came from the government in this case and the way they’re being treated in jail and not see that there’s a pattern of behavior by the executive branch,” Hayes says. “If you think big—which is the way you should—there’s also terrible, terrible scandals with Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. And the FBI was involved, which is controlled by the Justice Department. All those things were things that the Justice Department justified and tolerated.”
What the case is likely to boil down to, says Joe Coffey, a former commanding officer of the NYPD’s Organized Crime Task Force who knew Caracappa and believes both cops are guilty, is corroborating evidence. “The prosecution has to convince a jury that these charges are real, and the only way they can do that is to corroborate independently from these informants what the facts are,” he says. “But if it’s just the testimony of two known lowlifes like Casso and Kaplan, it’s not gonna hold water.”
Of course, the nightmare scenario for the prosecution is that ten years of investigations and legal maneuvering will be overshadowed by a virtuoso performance from a pair of fedora’d attorneys bent on reclaiming the limelight.
“I’d say this is Gotti-esque,” Cutler says, a glint of the glory days in his eyes. “My style is exactly the same. My defense is exactly the same. It’s good versus evil.”
“I think the key to this,” says Hayes, “is we should go heavily into how well dressed I am.”