06/30/2006

Judge throws out N.Y. 'Mafia cops' convictions

The Associated Press

NEW YORK- A judge on Friday threw out a racketeering murder conviction against two detectives accused of moonlighting as hitmen for the mob, saying the statute of limitations had expired on the slayings.

U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein also granted a new trial to the defendants, Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, on money laundering and drug charges.

Defense attorneys had argued that the five-year statute of limitations had expired on the most serious allegations against the pair - that they committed or facilitated eight killings between 1986 and 1990 while on the payroll of both the New York Police Department and Luchese crime family underboss Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso.

Prosecutors had countered that the murders were part of an ongoing conspiracy that lasted through a 2005 drug deal with FBI informant Steven Corso.

The 77-page ruling agreed with a jury that Eppolito and Caracappa were guilty of murder, kidnapping and other crimes. However, the judge said the law compelled him to set aside the verdict.

"The evidence at trial overwhelmingly established the defendants' participation in a large number of heinous and violent crimes," he wrote. "Nevertheless an extended trial, evidentiary hearings, briefings and argument establishes that the five-year statute of limitations mandates granting the defendants a judgment of acquittal on the key charge against them -- racketeering conspiracy."

Once the detectives retired and moved to Las Vegas in the mid-1990s "the conspiracy that began in New York in the 1980s had come to a definite close," the judge continued. "The defendants were no longer in contact with their old associates in the Luchese crime family."

Eppolito, 57, whose father was a member of the Gambino crime family, and the 64-year-old Caracappa were convicted in April in what was considered one of the worst cases of police corruption in New York history.

"I am very happy," said Edward Hayes, Caracappa's trial lawyer. "It's exactly what we argued during the trial. I am very happy for my client, and I do feel it is a vindication of our trial strategy."

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