Ex-cops Steve Caracappa, left, and Louis Eppolito allegedly worked for organized crime as hit men and supplied lethal information about informants.
updated 4/8/2005 7:15:43 PM ET 2005-04-08T23:15:43

The two men entered Piero’s Italian Cuisine, a dimly lit restaurant just off the Strip where a scene from the gangster movie “Casino” was filmed.

It could be a typical eatery in New York, where the men, Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, had been police detectives before retiring to the desert about a decade ago. They moved their families to Las Vegas and bought neighboring houses. Dinners out were a relaxing ritual.

But as they walked into Piero’s on the night of March 9, the familiar scene suddenly soured.
About a dozen DEA and FBI agents converged, throwing the lanky Caracappa and the barrel-chested Eppolito against the wall and handcuffing them. Tucked in Eppolito’s waistband was a loaded .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun.

The best friends said nothing. They were whisked off to jail, to be held without bail until federal marshals shipped them to New York for trial.

Eppolito, 56, and Caracappa, 63, were charged with eight murders, two attempted murders, murder conspiracy, obstruction of justice, money laundering and drug distribution in one of the worst corruption cases in the New York Police Department.

The two ex-cops, it was alleged, had worked for organized crime as hit men and had supplied lethal information about informants.

“I have never dealt with anything this egregious,” said John Peluso, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA’s New York field office.

“They are toxic.”

Second chance in Sin City
Las Vegas is all about second chances.

For a decade after leaving New York, Eppolito and Caracappa had their second chance. The former detectives apparently believed they were untouchable because only one or two people could actually finger them, said a law enforcement source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“Anyone that goes 10 years without incident,” Peluso said, “would certainly believe they’re in the clear.”

Twice before, Eppolito had been cleared of purported mob ties.

In 1984, FBI agents had searched the New Jersey home of Rosario Gambino, a Sicilian mobster, and discovered a confidential police file. It was the same folder that a detective had given Eppolito less than a year before.

How did it get in the Mafioso’s house? Investigators suspected Eppolito. His photocopied fingerprints were on the file, and the FBI said the copies were made at his precinct. There also was an inconclusive photograph of Eppolito with Gambino.

Getting out of New York
On the morning of Nov, 24, 1984, the details of the probe were leaked and ran in the New York Daily News.

“I knew my life as I had known it was over,” Eppolito wrote after seeing the article. “No matter what I did for the rest of my life, I’d be classified as a member of organized crime.”

Suspended, Eppolito denied the charges. In a departmental trial, the circumstantial evidence was deemed insufficient and he was exonerated.

The brash detective retired in 1989 after suffering heart problems.

The second investigation began soon afterward, and this time Caracappa was part of it.

In 1990, Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso, then a high-ranking member of the Luchese crime family, wanted Edward Lino dead. Casso believed Lino, a Gambino family gangster, had played a role in an attempt on his life and Casso placed a $65,000 contract on Lino’s head.

The detectives accepted the job, according to court papers in the current case against them.
The pair followed Lino from a social club, pulled him over, flashed their badges and shot him to death, authorities now say.

“They shot him. ... Then Steve got out of the car, ran across the street and finished shooting him,” Casso alleged in a 1998 jailhouse interview to air Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

In 1994, a grand jury declined to indict Eppolito and Caracappa.

“They got the hell out of New York,” said Peluso, a 22-year veteran DEA agent.

They headed for Nevada.

Retreat in the desert
The ex-partners bought houses across the street from each other in a quiet, gated community with tall palms.

They spoke on the phone frequently. Like the old days in Brooklyn, where both men were born and raised, the two would get together to drink espressos.

Caracappa went to work at the Southern Nevada Women’s Correctional Facility in North Las Vegas, becoming assistant chief of security for the private company running the prison. He later opened his own investigative business and consulted for another firm.

The jobs fit. A former sergeant in the U.S. Army during Vietnam, he had been part of the NYPD’s Major Case Squad and helped create the Organized Crime Homicide Unit, which gave him access to sensitive information about the mob.

On both sides of the fence
Eppolito operated on a grander scale.

The gregarious former bodybuilder bought a four-bedroom house for $361,600. It was nearly twice the size of Caracappa’s.

Eppolito’s office took center stage. Surrounding his large desk, he hung photographs of his three children and two medals of honor from the NYPD.

In Las Vegas, he intended to parlay his career into stardom. He wanted to act and write screenplays. He already had landed small roles in about a dozen movies — a hoodlum in “Bullets Over Broadway” and “Fat Andy” in “Goodfellas.”

His father was Ralph Eppolito, an enforcer and Gambino soldier, known around the neighborhood as Fat the Gangster. Uncle Jimmy the Clam was a Gambino captain. And the Clam’s son, Cousin Jim-Jim, also ran in the same circles.

In a 1992 interview with a Las Vegas radio station, Eppolito said he looked forward to continuing his writing career: “I guess I got a lot of years of knowledge on both sides of the fence.”

Investigators: 'We don't forget'
Earlier, Eppolito co-wrote an autobiography titled “Mafia Cop: the Story of an Honest Cop Whose Family Was the Mob.”

It was telling.

“I not only had the capacity to kill, I had the capacity to forget about it, to not let it bother me,” Eppolito wrote.

“In a way, it’s very similar to the mentality of organized crime. You do what you have to do and don’t think twice about the consequences.”

Those reflections and the earlier corruption accusations were not ignored by authorities.
“We don’t forget,” Peluso said.

So, when an investigator from the Brooklyn district attorney’s office approached two years ago with uncorroborated information about the ex-cops, Peluso opened an investigation.

'Business relationship' with mob figure
According to documents filed in New York federal court, a witness will testify that a business relationship formed between Casso and the two detectives around 1985. The two went on Casso’s payroll in 1986 and were paid $4,000 a month. They remained Casso employees for eight years.

They provided Casso with sensitive law enforcement information and killed on his behalf, the indictment says. Two other witnesses are expected to testify that Casso bragged about having a law enforcement connection and that he knew about imminent arrests and current investigations.

“Mr. Caracappa and Mr. Eppolito are the people who allowed Mr. Casso to see the future,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Henoch said at a detention hearing in Las Vegas. Casso, who admitted his role in 36 killings, remains in prison.

David Chesnoff, Caracappa’s lawyer in Las Vegas, questioned the integrity of the government’s witnesses; Eppolito’s lawyer, Bruce Cutler, called them reprobates.

His client, Cutler said, “denies everything in the indictment other than his name and he was a policeman.”

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