Two accused of being hit men make first appearance since March
The two are charged in eight murders.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
NEW YORK -- Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa once lived glamorous lives as highly decorated New York cops and, in Eppolito's case, as an actor in movies such as "Goodfellas."
But Thursday, any glamour was shorn away as the two men, looking haggard after six weeks in jail, pleaded innocent to federal charges that their police work served as cover for a more lucrative career: hit men for the mob.
The accusations against Eppolito, 56, and Caracappa, 63, have stunned New York. If true, they represent one of the most deplorable cases of police corruption in the city's history.
Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Roslynn R. Mauskopf in March charged them with participating in eight Mafia murders, many while they were still cops.
"In a stunning betrayal of their shields, their colleagues and the citizens they were sworn to protect, Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa secretly worked on the payroll of the mob while they were members of the NYPD," Mauskopf said last month.
The crimes they are accused of were brazen. In 1990, the two allegedly followed Eddie Lino, a Gambino family captain, from his social club, pulled his Mercedes over on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn and shot him. Luchese family underboss Anthony Casso has said he ordered the hit because he believed Lino had tried to kill him.
Prosecutors said Casso paid Caracappa and Eppolito $4,000 a month plus bonuses, including $65,000 for the Lino hit. In one tragic case, Caracappa allegedly used NYPD computers to track down Nicholas Guido, a Gambino family associate the mob wanted dead. But Caracappa allegedly found the wrong Nicholas Guido, leading mob hit men to kill an innocent man.
In addition to the mob killings, federal prosecutors charged the two men with distributing drugs, including crystal methamphetamine.
Thursday marked the pair's first court appearance since their March arrests in Las Vegas, where they had retired. The two men spoke only to enter their pleas in the Brooklyn courtroom. Eppolito blew kisses to his daughter Andrea Eppolito, 28, who sat and watched with other family members.
"My father loved being a cop," Andrea Eppolito said after the arraignment. "He was so proud of all the things he did for this city. ... Now it's time for someone to protect and serve him." She said she was confident he would return home soon.
The defendants' 30 minutes in court felt like a short theater piece brimming with tried-and-true New York characters. There was Bruce Cutler, the bald lawyer with a build like a bull's whose previous clients included the late Mafia don John Gotti and who is representing Eppolito.