Louie Eppolito had a story to tell. And, more importantly, one to sell.
The decorated ex-New York police detective, who also happened to be the son of a mobster, was living in Las Vegas and trying to peddle doomed screenplays with titles like “Murder In Youngstown.” Eppolito was looking for an investor in his latest project — and he was unconcerned about the source of the cash.
“If you said to me, ‘Lou, I wanna introduce you to Jack Smith, he wants to invest in this film,’ (and) he says, ‘$75,000 comes in a (expletive) shoe box,’ that’s fine with me,” Eppolito said during a surreptitiously taped conversation with a federal informant. “I don’t care. I’ve had people give me money before.”
It sounds like movie dialogue, maybe something out of “Get Shorty.” No surprise — the trial of so-called “Mafia Cops” Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, heading into its third week, has featured plenty of theatrics.
The courtroom histrionics occasionally threaten to overshadow one of the most serious prosecutions in city history: a pair of top-echelon NYPD detectives accused of using their prized gold shields to kill eight people at the behest of a brutal mob underboss, Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso.
Prosecutors allege that Eppolito, 57, and Caracappa, 64, were partners in crime from 1979 to last year, when they were arrested in Las Vegas. They remain free on $5 million bail.
First-day shouting match
The first day of testimony was punctuated with a screaming match between turncoat mobster Alphonse “Little Al” D’Arco and defense attorney Bruce Cutler, who made his reputation defending the late Gambino family boss John Gotti.
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” snapped the grandfatherly D’Arco, 73, his Brooklyn accent unaltered by 15 years in witness protection. “You’re not making any sense to me.”
Cutler, his deep voice rising, tried to ask another question: “Wouldn’t you agree with me — ”
“I wouldn’t agree with you on anything!” shouted D’Arco, who was threatened with contempt by U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein. That was before the one-time Luchese boss ripped into Cutler as a loudmouth and a cheapskate.
The judge showed little more tolerance for Cutler, cutting off his cross-examination for shouting at D’Arco.
Study on contrasts
The defendants themselves are a mismatched pair: the portly Eppolito, whose reputation was made as a street cop, comes to court in an ill-fitting sports coat. Caracappa — so thin he was known among fellow cops as “The Stick” — is fastidious in appearance, right down to his neatly trimmed mustache.
The prosecution has already called its key witness, confessed drug dealer Burton Kaplan, who spent four days testifying about the two detectives’ brutal work on behalf of Luchese underboss Casso. Kaplan implicated the pair in a dozen homicides.
Cross-examination of another prosecution witness, crooked accountant Steven Corso, focused on his theft of $5.3 million from an ex-employer to finance a life of what he called “girlfriends, jewelry and going out.”
It was Corso who recorded the conversations with Eppolito about film financing. The ex-detective, playing up his mob pedigree, sprinkled the conversation with mob names like “Jimmy the Buffalo” and the late crime boss Joe Bonanno.
The wrong man
There was one witness whose testimony tugged on heartstrings while going to the heart of the case: Pauline Pipitone, describing how her youngest son, 26-year-old Nicholas Guido, had come home for Christmas dinner in 1986.
It was Guido’s misfortune to share his name with a mobster involved in a botched hit on Casso. When the underboss wanted revenge, prosecutors said, he turned to the two detectives — who provided an address for the wrong Nicholas Guido.
The innocent man was showing off his new car when he was shot by mob hit men. Pipitone was inside washing dishes.
“I ran over to the car,” she testified. “He was sitting up at the wheel. I went to touch his hand, and he must have just died. His fingertips were cold.”