12/04/2005

'Mafia Cops' get court date

BY ANTHONY M. DESTEFANO. STAFF WRITER

Copyright 2005 Newsday, Inc. 

After turning down a bid by the "Mafia Cops" to get their indictment dismissed, a Brooklyn federal judge set Feb. 21 as the date for trial.

Judge Jack B. Weinstein didn't buy arguments that the racketeering indictment against Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa was defective and said both the men and the city deserve to have their day in court.

Eppolito, 56, and Caracappa, 63, were arrested in March on charges they worked as hit men for the Luchese crime family and had roles in a total of 10 gangland murders.

After listening to more than an hour of arguments by defense attorneys and prosecutors, Weinstein ruled that the indictment was valid on its face and that at this stage of the case, it had to go to trial.

"That means the defendants must put the government to its proof to protect [themselves] against grave insinuations," said Weinstein as he ruled from the bench.

Weinstein also said the public is owed the opportunity to hear evidence about serious breaches of duty by police officers.

"This case has to be tried and it will be tried," said Weinstein.

Attorneys Bruce Cutler, who is representing Eppolito, and Edward Hayes, who is defending Caracappa, said later that they were not surprised by the ruling. Cutler said the case was one of a kind and that a dismissal motion had to be made.

"I am ready for trial," Eppolito told Newsday. Both he and Caracappa are free on $5 million bail each, but are under house arrest.

The defense contended that the indictment had a statute of limitations problem because some of the crime alleged in the racketeering conspiracy charges took place more than five years before the March 2005 indictment.

Generally, federal law requires the last acts in a racketeering conspiracy to have occurred within five years of the indictment. Prosecutors did charge Eppolito and Caracappa with involvement in a drug conspiracy charge stemming from 2004. But the defense argued yesterday that those crimes had no relationship to the New York racketeering conspiracy.

Weinstein didn't rule on the merits of the statute of limitations issue, which he has said a number of times appears to create a problem. Instead, after assistant U.S. attorney Mitra Hormozi argued that indictments validly brought by a grand jury can't be dismissed before trial, Weinstein ruled that the case could go forward.

The statute of limitations issue may come up again at trial after the conclusion of the government's evidence.

Eppolito and Caracappa face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the racketeering charges.
 
December 2, 2005

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