BY ANTHONY M. DESTEFANO. STAFF WRITER
Copyright 2006 Newsday, Inc.
The "Mafia Cops" took eight lives and yesterday, they learned theirs would be lost to prison.
Saying their crimes were the worst he ever saw, a Brooklyn federal judge hit two ex-Police Department detectives with life terms in prison and million-dollar fines for their roles as mob hit men.
"It is hard to visualize a more heinous offense," said Judge Jack B. Weinstein as he announced in a packed courtroom the heavy sentences for Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa for their roles in eight gangland murders during a bloody period that stretched from the mid-1980s into the early 1990s.
"These are probably the most heinous crimes ever tried in this courthouse," Weinstein said.
"These two men stand before you unrepentant and remorseless and perhaps by a higher power unforgivable," said lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Henoch. "Police are supposed to protect people; we don't have death squads here - at least we aren't supposed to."
Delay in serving sentences
But in another twist in a case that has been filled with complex legal issues, Weinstein delayed imposition of the sentences until hearings are held later this month on critical post-trial motions for either acquittal or new trials. Both defendants will remain jailed but have asked Weinstein to overturn the April guilty verdicts, in part because the statute of limitations on the federal racketeering charges had expired.
Weinstein is also going to hold a hearing on Eppolito's and Caracappa's claims that their high-profile lawyers, Bruce Cutler and Edward Hayes, respectively, gave them ineffective representation. The lawyers have denied that claim. But no matter how Weinstein decides those issues, the case will be litigated for years.
"I didn't do any of these crimes at all," said Eppolito in a short, rambling statement. "I was one hell of a cop. I tried my best in my cases."
Eppolito asked the victims' family members to visit him in prison so he could prove his innocence to them, drawing audible scoffs from the relatives.
But as Eppolito spoke he was interrupted by a shouting Barry Gibbs, whose murder conviction was overturned last year because of allegations that Eppolito coerced a witness to testify falsely.
"You remember me, Mister Eppolito, you remember me!" shouted out Gibbs.
"No, I don't," replied a startled Eppolito.
As federal marshals hustled Gibbs out of the courtroom, he kept screaming.
Neither Eppolito, 57, nor Caracappa, 64, who didn't address the court, showed any emotion as family members of the victims addressed the court and told how the murders impacted their lives. The defendants sat glumly and looked on intently as the relatives spoke.
Eppolito's son, Louis Jr., was the only relative of the defendants to appear in court.
Robbed of childhood
Addressing the court, one victim's daughter, 30-year-old Michal Greenwald said, "You took away our Daddy and by doing that you took away our childhood. You took away our mother. You stole our innocence. You filled our nights with nightmares and our days with torture."
Eppolito and Caracappa were convicted of not only playing roles in the murder of jewelry merchant Israel Greenwald but also seven other victims, including reputed Gambino crime family member Edward Lino, James Hydell and Otto Heidel. All were killed, prosecutors said, at the behest of the Lucchese crime family, which used Eppolito and Caracappa as law enforcement moles and contract killers.
Widowed Leah Greenwald, 51, of Fresh Meadows, looked at both defendants as she asked for a maximum sentence.
"You must pay severely for what you have done, for you did not just kill one person, you killed a family," she said.
An angry Daniello Lino, 27, daughter of the slain Edward Lino, seemed to spit out her words as she stared at Eppolito and Caracappa.
"You two are an embarrassment to the New York City Police Department, and furthermore are one of the largest blemishes in the department's history," she said.
N.Y. mafia cops get life sentences