Hayes, left, and Cutler leaving Brooklyn Federal Court after their clients’ arraignment. (Photo Credit: Neil DeCrescenzo)

If it seems a little like Oscar night for the mob-spotting set in the Brooklyn federal courthouse on the sunny, breezy April day that two police detectives are finally being hauled in on ancient, almost unbelievable charges that they moonlighted as Mafia hit men—that’s because it pretty much is. Outside, in lieu of a red carpet, the obligatory crush of reporters and photographers forms along Cadman Plaza. Inside, the long-awaited arraignment of Louie Eppolito and Steve Caracappa is overflowing with old friends and confidants—reporters, cops, and lawyers, most of whom know each other from great organized-crime trials of days gone by. There is Jimmy Breslin in the fourth row, rustled out of semi-retirement to write a book about this case. Across the aisle is Jerry Capeci, the dean of gangland reporting, rumored to be writing a book of his own, as are a few of the prosecutors. And there, for no apparent reason, is defense lawyer Lou Aidala (pronunciation: “Keep your eye on the dollah!”), sporting his Salvador Dalí mustache. That’s the kind of case this is: Eight guys are dead, two cops stand accused of helping the Luchese crime family murder them, and some folks are here just for fun. Or, as Breslin mutters to Daily News columnist Michael Daly, for whom he’s saved a seat, “A lot more fun than Tyco and Enron and those fucking things!”

This is just the arraignment, a perfunctory thing. But the crowd is already buzzing, delighted to watch the curtain rise on the spectacle that is the trial phase of what’s widely been called the worst scandal in the history of the New York Police Department. The indictment against Eppolito and Caracappa—or, per their tabloid insta-moniker, “the Mafia Cops”—is a lurid eighties period piece, a recitation of roadside hits, body-filled car trunks, dead informants, and John Doe witnesses that seems so over-the-top now that it wouldn’t make it out of a Sopranos story meeting. The resulting circus surrounding the trial seems a bit prefab, like a Mafia theme restaurant’s serving a chocolate-cement-shoe dessert. In court, Eppolito, once fat and imposing, is now dumpy and haggard, an Italian Jonathan Winters. Caracappa is so skinny that Eppolito could use him to pick his teeth. Eppolito, who played a bit part in GoodFellas, retired with Caracappa to (of course) Las Vegas and, since his arrest, has been trying to peddle his life story to Hollywood. A letter of Eppolito’s from jail has been listed on eBay. Today’s mob is often thought of as tragedy repeating itself as farce, but here, with the Mafia Cops, comes something extra: life imitating art imitating life.

Then there are the defense lawyers, Bruce Cutler and Eddie Hayes, both outsize icons of eighties New York. Cutler, with his wrestler’s build and wild courtroom antics, is, of course, famous for having faithfully and pugnaciously championed John Gotti for seventeen years, winning every trial he and the Dapper Don faced (he was thrown off the one Gotti lost). He’s a hot-tempered, instinctual beast, prone to uncontrollable outbursts: “He sweats, he works, and jurors feel that,” Hayes says. Hayes, ornately tailored and divinely connected, was the basis of the wily defense-lawyer character in his friend Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. He’s cool and calculating—more of a back-room operator than a strutting trial attorney, having famously handled (and more famously gone to court over) the Andy Warhol estate. Now Hayes is something of a political power broker, thanks in no small part to his friendship with George Pataki. “I call him the Edward Bennett Williams of New York,” Cutler says. They might not make the most obvious partners—they’ve been friends for years, but they’ve never worked a courtroom together until now—but each, in his own way, is expert in getting guys accused of nasty business off the hook.

First Cutler lays it on thick with the judge—“Nice to see you!” he says—then Hayes accuses prosecutors of polluting the jury pool with leaks about the case. Hayes complains that it’s too cold in their clients’ jail cells, then Cutler takes a moment to bemoan Eppolito’s heart condition and josh with prosecutors about how he’s too “old school” to listen to government wiretap recordings on CD. Finally, Hayes introduces one of his signature audacious courtroom ploys: The whole case, he has often suggested, is part of a larger government PR strategy to distract the public from abuses like Abu Ghraib. “They do it to take hostile criticism of the Justice Department off the front page!” he tells the judge. For one dizzying moment, George Bush is on trial.

When it’s over, Cutler and Hayes embrace their public. Donning fedoras, they stroll out of the scaffolded courthouse and into the afternoon sun, greeting news crews and reporters. Preceding them to the mike stand is Louie Eppolito’s 28-year-old daughter, Andrea. Willowy, with big hair, glistening lips, and a plunging neckline—like a cocktail waitress from the Mirage, only in a pantsuit—Andrea stares provocatively at the TV cameras, her eyes widening.

“Hello,” Andrea says. “My father loved being a cop. He protected women. He protected children. He worked with the elderly. My dad made a vow to protect and serve this city. And now it’s time for someone to protect and serve him.”

“That was very good,” one reporter says.

“That,” says another, “was the best thing to happen all day.”

“She should be his lawyer,” says a third.

Next comes Cutler—a bald-headed George Raft, with thick hands, a wide neck, and a boxy charcoal suit with yellow pocket hankie. “What’s on your mind?” he asks coyly. The reporters cram in tight, in a sort of group hug, and Cutler basks in the love. He hasn’t had a big organized-crime case like this in years. The time is right to dust off his courtroom clichés. “We’re privileged to be a part of this case,” he says. “We’re gonna try the case in the well, and win it in the well.”

If that seems like enough, you don’t know Bruce Cutler. He praises the burden of proof and the presumption of innocence. He waxes enthusiastic over how professional his adversaries were in court and how wonderful the judge is. Finally, Eddie Hayes can’t stand it anymore.

“Hey, Bruce!” he calls out. “I gotta get on television!

The Mafia Cops’ case could be the last of the red-hot organized-crime trials: equal parts titillating and chilling; a welcome dose of red meat coming after a long, bland diet of Wall Street cases. All the ingredients are in place for a courtroom pageant for the ages. There are two decorated police detectives, the first in New York history accused of leading double lives as murderers for the mob. There is a homicidal, possibly insane Mafia underboss who gleefully ratted them out, not just to the Feds but to 60 Minutes. There is a mysterious Hyman Roth–like criminal mastermind turned federal witness who nobody had thought would ever talk—until now. There are tenacious detectives who heated up this cold case years after others had given up. The killings themselves were more than just Cosa Nostra housecleanings. They make up a vital chapter in the decline and fall of the Mafia: Eppolito and Caracappa were apparently foot soldiers in a war between the Luchese and the Gambino families that targeted none other than Bruce Cutler’s old client and close friend, John Gotti.

Many of Eppolito and Caracappa’s colleagues had long suspected them of being dirty, but prosecutors were forced to wait for the perfect confluence of evidence to finally charge them. Now the U.S. Attorney’s office says it’s armed with new records from the NYPD, plus fresh testimony from the middleman who paid off the cops, to make an airtight case. But the Feds can’t help but be nervous about Hayes and Cutler.

The defense’s strategy? That’s easy. Chronically misunderstood Louie Eppolito and shy, retiring Steve Caracappa are just the latest victims of a prosecutorial abuse of power that pits the most vile, despicable turncoat government witnesses against honest, law-abiding citizens. You know—the Gotti Defense.

Practically every cop who worked Mafia cases in Brooklyn knew Louie Eppolito had not one but several blood connections to the Gambinos. It almost seemed like the detective from East Flatbush was one of the few Eppolitos not to have gone into the family business. His father, with whom he had a complicated relationship (dad beat son senseless; son loved dad anyway), was a made man but died shortly before Louie joined the force in 1969. Eppolito’s uncle Freddy was an early prospect to become Gambino boss before drinking himself to death. His other uncle, Jimmy “the Clam” Eppolito, was notoriously whacked in 1979 by his own colleagues in the Gambino family, who saw him as a threat.

Louie never really denied these connections; on the contrary, he seemed to revel in the mystique. He was partial to gaudy bracelets and rings, the more the better, and had even taken to greeting friends with a ceremonial kiss on the check. His wife, Fran, was often amused to see him sipping espresso and saying “Salud!” with his partner, Steve Caracappa. She had joked that he barely knew Italian.

Eppolito was a former bodybuilder who seemed to spend most of his days as a cop getting psyched to pummel somebody, anybody. He met Caracappa—a tiny, mustachioed, immaculately dressed cop known at times as the Stick—in 1979, when they were both assigned to the Brooklyn Robbery Squad. Caracappa was a few years older, a Vietnam vet, and, with the exception of the Italian connection, seemed like Eppolito’s polar opposite—quiet, unassuming, and, some say, worshipful of his larger partner. Caracappa worked hard at getting posts with access to as much mob intelligence as possible. And not long after the Gambinos killed Eppolito’s uncle Jimmy, Louie—by then a detective in Bensonhurst who drew scrutiny from the FBI for chatting at length with known Mafia capos—was allegedly receptive to an invitation to do some work for a rival family, the Lucheses.

The recruitment offer, prosecutors say, came in 1985 through a familiar intermediary: one of Eppolito’s cousins, Frank Santora, who had once worked for Eppolito’s uncle Jimmy. While serving time at the federal-prison camp in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, Santora had met a nebbishy, bespectacled Jewish businessman named Burton Kaplan—a Mafia money manager of sorts who had lucrative sidelines of his own, like importing drugs. Between prison terms, Kaplan maintained the aura of a legitimate businessman (his daughter Deborah is now a sitting judge in the criminal court). Santora is said to have told Kaplan that he had a cousin who was a cop who could do “business on the side if the price was right.” After Kaplan and Santora emerged from prison, they reportedly served as middlemen, channeling money to Eppolito and Caracappa from the Luchese family. The arrangement, according to prosecutors, was for the cops to be on retainer for $4,000 a month for inside information. Anything else—murder, say—earned them as much as $65,000.

The Luchese mobster who allegedly gave the orders was a highly placed capo named Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso, a clever, up-and-coming Mafia captain with a hot temper and a penchant for paying off insiders for information. Gaspipe reportedly liked to refer to the two cops as his “crystal ball,” letting him know which cars in his neighborhood were undercover cars and which of his Luchese foot soldiers were about to rat him out. The arrangement seemed secure, or at least well insulated: Eppolito and Caracappa would never even need to meet Casso in person; their only contact would be through Kaplan. But the political landscape of the Mafia was becoming much bloodier—thanks in large part to the sword-in-the-stone moment that brought about John Gotti’s rise to power—and the Mafia Cops got caught in the crossfire. Just before Christmas 1985, Gotti orchestrated a hit against his own boss, Paul Castellano, who was infamously riddled with bullets, Sonny Corleone–style, outside Sparks Steakhouse. Gotti promoted himself to boss and then went after Casso. When, in September 1986, Casso was almost murdered by a team of Gotti’s men, Casso allegedly turned to Eppolito and Caracappa to help him exact his revenge.

A “Mafia Cops” blotter
Louie Eppolito, the son of a Gambino-crime-family soldier, and Steve Caracappa, a Vietnam vet, join the NYPD.1979
Eppolito’s uncle, Gambino capo Jimmy “the Clam” Eppolito, is whacked by his own men, causing Louie to lose any affection he once had for the Gambinos.1985
A cousin of Eppolito’s allegedly introduces him to Burton Kaplan, the Luchese-crime-family ally who is said to have put Eppolito and Caracappa on the Mafia payroll.1985
John Gotti rises to power in the Gambino family, starting a war with Luchese underboss Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso, who then allegedly enlists the Mafia Cops to exact revenge. 1985–1991
Eppolito and Caracappa, prosecutors say, take part in more than eight Casso-ordered murders, including those of three of Gotti’s top soldiers.1993
Anthony Casso is caught by the Feds and flips, fingering Eppolito and Caracappa. Disgraced in the papers, a retired Eppolito moves to Las Vegas. But Casso is eventually discredited as a witness and no charges are filed against the two cops.2003
NYPD Detective Tommy Dades gets a call from a tipster that reignites the case. He teams with investigators for Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes, the U.S. Attorney, the DEA, and the FBI.2005
Eppolito and Caracappa are apprehended and indicted by U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf on murder and racketeering charges. Their attorneys, Bruce Cutler and Ed Hayes, argue that the charges are based solely on worthless testimony by former mobsters.

What followed, prosecutors say, was a six-year run of bloodshed. First, Eppolito and Caracappa went after anyone responsible for the attempted hit on Casso—allegedly stuffing a Gotti underling named Jimmy Hydell in a car trunk and delivering him to Casso, who tortured and killed him. (This was supposedly the only time the Mafia Cops met their paymaster face-to-face.) Next, they’re said to have gone after anyone high-ranking in the Gambino crime family, like Gotti’s six-foot-three-inch chauffeur, Bobby Borriello. Finally, when even Casso seemed to have run out of enemies, prosecutors say the two cops found more people for him to kill, digging into their fellow detectives’ cases to expose the identities—and home addresses—of confidential police informants who were ratting out Casso: an informant named John “Otto” Heidel, a wayward Luchese soldier named Anthony Dilapi, a flipped state’s witness named Jimmy Bishop, and Gambino hood Bruno Facciola.

At times, the cops got personally involved with their work. In 1990, prosecutors say, they pulled over a Gambino capo named Eddie Lino on the Belt Parkway, rolled down the window, and started firing. Lino was an extremely close confidant of Gotti’s—one of the triggermen in the Castellano assassination. He was ventilated with nine bullets and dead not long after hitting the gas one last time. On another occasion, Eppolito and Caracappa seem to have botched a job when they apparently gave Casso information on a Gambino soldier named Nicky Guido, only it was the wrong information—or, rather, the wrong Guido. The man Casso had killed, police say, was a telephone installer named Nicholas Guido who had nothing to do with the mob.

Eppolito and Caracappa got away with so much for so long, the Feds say, because the arrangement with Kaplan, an insider but not a capo, threw them off the scent. “They trusted each other and kept their own counsel,” says one lawyer close to the prosecution. “The nature of how they communicated is sophisticated and unique.” (All that, the lawyer says, will come out in the trial.)

After narrowly dodging a corruption probe in 1985, Eppolito retired from the force in 1989 and spent the nineties scoring bit parts in gangster movies. He co-wrote a memoir in 1992, Mafia Cop—a hackneyed Serpico-meets-Wiseguy tale of a cage-rattler who bucked the system and never did anything by the book—which he’s been trying to make into a movie ever since. He settled into retirement in a Spanish-style stucco house in Vegas, becoming something of a raconteur and aspiring actor and developer of screenplays. Caracappa moved in across the street and went into the security business. From his book and bit movie parts, Eppolito became enough of a D-list Vegas celebrity to have his picture taken with Robert De Niro and to throw a party at his house with some of the Sopranos cast present.

Cutler and Hayes call the Mafia Cops targets of overzealous feds. It’s the Gotti defense.

Much of Mafia Cop reads as a kiss-off letter to colleagues of Eppolito’s who suspected him of being connected. So it was more than a little ironic that the memoir may have been his undoing. In 1993, a year after the book came out, Casso was apprehended by the Feds, and soon after he offered to make a deal. Lawyers with the U.S. Attorney’s office listened as Casso blithely admitted to 36 murders (a record that made Sammy “Bull” Gravano seem like an altar boy), and—having apparently read Eppolito’s book while he was on the lam and recognized Eppolito’s face—implicated Eppolito and Caracappa in several of them. Casso even sat down with Ed Bradley for a 1998 interview that aired only recently on 60 Minutes (the network wouldn’t run it until charges were filed against the cops). Arrests had seemed imminent, but then, just as abruptly, Casso was booted as a witness and all but entirely discredited. He was bribing guards in jail, beating up a fellow inmate, and, in a scene straight out of a Scorsese picture, getting a guard at Otisville Correctional Facility to slip him steaks, turkeys, vodka, wine, even sushi. In 1998, he received fifteen life sentences.

The only other hope of getting the Mafia Cops was through Burton Kaplan. But Kaplan wouldn’t crack, even after getting 27 years in 1998 for selling 44 pounds of cocaine and 24 tons of pot, plus a tax-fraud conviction. Eppolito and Caracappa seemed bulletproof.

Eppolito and Caracappa signed on with Cutler and Hayes, respectively, as soon as Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso’s allegations leaked into the papers in 1995. At the time, Cutler and Hayes seemed like tabloid immortals, ideally suited to defend charges of this scale. The two were paired on the matter by sheer happenstance—Eppolito and Cutler knew many of the same cops and lawyers from Brooklyn; Caracappa knew Hayes because he had represented many other cops—and Cutler, for his part, salivated at the possibilities. “I thought, My God, my very close friend and I?” Cutler remembers. They’d been tight since 1981, and if on the surface they seem like different animals—Cutler lettered in football at Hamilton College; Hayes tended bar to put himself through Columbia Law School—they had some significant common ground: Both started out in the seventies as homicide prosecutors, Cutler in Brooklyn and Hayes in the Bronx.

If Cutler and Hayes seem a little less larger-than-life now than they did a decade ago, that’s because life has dealt them some decent knocks. In 1981, Cutler left the district attorney’s office to become a defense lawyer, and soon after took on as a client a young capo named John Gotti. With three straight successful Gotti defenses, Cutler became the bane of federal prosecutors, making mincemeat of the government’s early attempts at getting Gotti on the federal RICO statute—the racketeering law that allows reputed mobsters to be prosecuted simply for maintaining ties to their criminal partners. But Cutler could be his own worst enemy. He led one witness on the stand to call a prosecutor a slut, and in a press conference he compared a Jewish judge to a Nazi collaborator. Perhaps inevitably, in 1994, he became the only lawyer in history to be cited in contempt for violating a judge’s order not to talk about a case. He was thrown off the fourth Gotti defense, and Gotti went down. “I can be immature and I lose my temper and I get exercised when I exorcise certain demons,” Cutler says.

Since Gotti, there have been other trials, like the coming defense of Phil Spector in Los Angeles, but nothing to match the lightning-in-a-bottle feel of those Gotti trials. “He’s a sui generis person,” Cutler says, unconsciously slipping into the present tense in talking about his old friend. “But it was quite a ride representing him. And it was nice.” Cutler’s personal life, meanwhile, has been a mess. He’s chalked up two busted marriages and is only now starting to regularly visit the 7-year-old son, Michael, he had with an ex-girlfriend. “He’s the sweetest, brightest boy,” he says. “Everything’s been my fault. In the personal-life department, I’m an abject failure!” Cutler shouts, leaning down an inch from my tape recorder.

Hayes has also tried criminal cases all over town (he was Tom Wolfe’s Virgil in his research in the Bronx D.A.’s office for Bonfire), but he’s mainly been a go-to guy for the rich and notable. “First, most high-profile criminal trials you lose, right?” he says. “Second, the money’s terrible. Third, that’s not the role I wanted in society.” In the eighties, Hayes married a model and appeared to win the legal lottery when his buddy Fred Hughes, executor of the Andy Warhol estate, put Hayes in charge of the estate’s legal workings. But when Hayes billed the estate for a jaw-dropping $10 million, Hughes resisted and Hayes took him to court. Hayes seemed to win the first round but lost on appeal, receiving only about half, and in 1996, he was forced to file for Chapter 11. Esquire snarked that his fifteen minutes were up. Hayes spent the next five years climbing out of millions in debt, working twelve-hour days on tiny cases in Bronx Family Court. Like Cutler, he mists over when recalling his rougher moments. “I used to be so dog-tired at night, I used to go sleep on the floor of my son’s room because he would almost be asleep,” he remembers. “Sometimes he’d get out of bed and come over and hug me on the floor.”

In the end, Hayes held on to the townhouse on East 81st Street and the house on the water in Bellport. He’s back to representing the likes of Richard Johnson and Anna Wintour, and his old law-school friendship with George Pataki helped make him something of a political power broker. Hayes has parlayed his friendship to successfully represent the interests of the families of police officers who died on 9/11 and to push Daniel Libeskind as the architect best suited to fashion a master plan for lower Manhattan. (“I’m not a fan of the governor’s,” Cutler says, his lip curling slightly. “But Eddie likes him, so he must have some redeeming value.”) And Hayes takes a kind of dark comfort in the notion that his enemies got their comeuppance. “I think Fred Hughes died a horrible death because he betrayed me and God punished him for that,” Hayes says coolly. “It’s the Catholic in me; I tell you the truth. You know, in my background, if God doesn’t punish you, I will.”

For Cutler, representing Eppolito seems a little like working for a sort of ersatz John Gotti—a cheap photocopy of a brilliant original. This case, Cutler says, brings him back to many of the main themes of his career. “It’s my whole life,” Cutler says. “It’s Brooklyn, it’s policemen, it’s reputed gangsters, it’s government witnesses, it’s federal prosecutors, it’s Brooklyn D.A. people, it’s detectives, it’s the FBI, it’s the DEA. Everything!” Cutler comes to court as a not-so-humble soldier in the battle of good versus evil; Gotti was, in his view, an innocent plumbing-supply salesman railroaded by an overzealous government. Hayes is more Machiavellian, a master of the game. “Of the two of us, I’m much less sincere, much more ambitious,” Hayes says. “I am not a knight in shining armor. I’m the guy you call up when you have a problem—but there’s gotta be something in it for Eddie, right? If you don’t have anything, I hope you can bake.”

Even so, Hayes goes back and forth on the wisdom of handling this case. “Why am I taking Caracappa? I don’t know,” he says. “You know, this poor dopey bastard, he’s in solitary confinement, he’s fucking freezing. And that’s the kind of guy I grew up with. But sometimes I think I’m crazy. I mean, I love Bruce. I love going to court. I think I know what I’m doing.”

It was a chance phone call that got the cold case heated up again. Tommy Dades, slim and baby-faced with hooded puppy-dog eyes and a disarming dese-and-dose manner, was working in the Investigative Squad of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division in September 2003, closing out cases before his imminent retirement, when a tipster casually mentioned something about Eppolito and Caracappa. After all this time, this small piece of information, putting the two cops near Jimmy Hydell at the same moment in 1986 that he disappeared, seemed to be precisely what was needed to reopen the case. “The first domino fell when I got the phone call,” says Dades. “It put them at the right place at the right time and led me to other people.”

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.”