Two retired detectives accused of moonlighting as hit men for the mob went on trial Monday, with prosecutors saying the men used their gold shields to kidnap and kill victims picked out by a Mafia underboss.
But a defense attorney said Louis Eppolito and Steven Caracappa were honest public servants targeted by mobsters intent on staying out of jail.
The mobsters “called each other tough guys, goodfellas, until the jail door shut,” said attorney Bruce Cutler, best known for his defense of Gambino boss John Gotti, during a theatrical opening statement in federal court. “Then they wet their pants and called mommy — the government.”
Eppolito, 57, and Caracappa, 64, are charged with racketeering, conspiracy and other charges for allegedly going on the payroll of Luchese family underboss Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso.
“The two men were not traditional mobsters,” prosecutor Mitra Hormozi told the jury. “They were better. They could get away with murder because these two men were New York City police detectives.”
Accused of involvement in eight murders
The men allegedly were involved in eight murders while working for Casso. In return, they helped him avoid arrest, warned him of impending investigations and committed killings for up to $65,000 a hit, Hormozi said.
The defendants listened intently during opening statements. The heavyset Eppolito leaned back in his chair, while the thinner Caracappa — known while on the job as “The Stick” — sat with a pen in hand for taking notes.
Hormozi told the jury how the detectives arrested a mobster named Jimmy Hydell in 1986, then turned him over to Casso for execution and a $30,000 payoff.
That same year, the pair allegedly also provided the underboss with information to locate Nicholas Guido, a mobster involved in a murder plot against Casso. The inaccurate tip led to an innocent man with the same name; he was killed in a hail of gunfire on Christmas Day 1986, authorities say.
Prosecutors say Casso referred to the former detectives as his “crystal ball.”
Lawyer Edward Hayes, representing Caracappa, rubbed his client’s shoulders like a cornerman at a fight while addressing the jury. The courtroom was filled with reporters, the public and the defendants’ family, and Hayes said his client welcomed the scrutiny.
“The government is trying to humiliate him. ... Good! Bring it on,” he said.
Caracappa spent 23 years with the New York Police Department, helping establish its nerve center for Mafia murder investigations before retiring in 1992.
Eppolito actually grew up in a mob family: His father, grandfather and an uncle were members of the Gambino family. The contrast between his police work and his “family” life was detailed in his autobiography, “Mafia Cop: The Story of An Honest Cop Whose Family Was the Mob.”
The partners retired to Las Vegas but were arrested a year ago.