NY cop killers were looking for drugs

BY LUIS PEREZ. STAFF WRITER; Staff Writers Ashley Harrell and Melanie Lefkowitz contributed to this story.

Copyright 2005 Newsday, Inc.
Newsday (New York) 

The two Yonkers men accused of fatally shooting a Bronx cop in his driveway were looking to steal Valium from a home next door after a night out at a local strip club, a high-ranking police official said.

Steven Armento, 48, and Lillo Brancato Jr., 29 - who starred in the movie "A Bronx Tale" and appeared on "The Sopranos" - face charges including first- and second-degree murder, respectively, along with weapons possession and second-degree burglary, according to Steven Reed, a spokesman for the Bronx District Attorney's Office. Armento is believed to have fired the shots that killed Officer Daniel Enchautegui, 28, the second city cop shot to death this year.

Armento and Brancato, both with long arrest records, were wounded when Enchautegui returned fire. They were in stable condition last night in Jacobi Medical Center, awaiting arraignment.

The street in the Pelham Bay section where they encountered Enchautegui was familiar to both men, according to the police official. They were headed there early Saturday morning, intent on obtaining Valium from an apartment where they had scored the prescription tranquilizer before, according to the police official. Authorities had originally thought they were planning to rob a different address on Arnow Place.

The apartment at 3119 Arnow Place, which is empty, was once occupied by Gabriel Scovotti, 94, who owned the building, and his son, Kenneth, both deceased. The police official said a bottle of Valium prescribed to Kenneth Scovotti was found at Armento's Yonkers home.

"This was a return mission," said the police official, who requested anonymity.

In the hours before the shooting, the pair drank at the Crazy Horse Cabaret, a Boston Road strip club and bar, leaving about 4 a.m., according to the police official.

Enchautegui, a three-year veteran of the force, was asleep inside his rented basement apartment next door, at 3117 Arnow Place, when he heard the sound of broken glass and went outside to investigate, police said.

Armento and Brancato had briefly entered 3119 Arnow Place and were leaving through an alleyway when they confronted Enchautegui.

In a close-range shootout, Armento fired first, police said, letting off two rounds from a .357 Magnum. Enchautegui was shot once in the chest, police said. He died a short time later at Jacobi.

The off-duty cop was able to empty his registered, off-duty .25-caliber semiautomatic, striking Armento six times and Brancato twice. Brancato was not armed, police said.

Enchautegui, who called 911 and told an operator of his intentions before he came out to the street, apparently acted appropriately, police said. He walked out with his badge around his neck, and shouted "Police - don't shoot," at Armento and Brancato, police said.

A police source said Enchautegui's accuracy with all eight of his shots, given the pressure of a shootout, was "pretty amazing."

Brancato has six previous arrests on his record, including four this year for disorderly conduct and drug charges. Armento has a criminal history dating back to 1976 for drug, robbery and weapons charges, officials said. Their lawyers could not be reached for comment yesterday.

At the strip club yesterday, Joe Bingo, the manager, said he saw the two men on Friday night. The club was packed, and in the haze of blue, red and yellow lights, Bingo briefly saw them walking from the dancers' room to the bar room. They weren't regulars, he said, adding that he is unimpressed by Brancato's minor fame.

"Anybody who shoots a cop," Bingo said, "should fry."

Staff Writers Ashley Harrell and Melanie Lefkowitz contributed to this story. 

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