On June 4, 1994, Greg “The Grim Reaper” Scarpa died of AIDS related complications at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota. The former mobster is known as one of the most feared killers in mafia history. Joseph Valachi is thought to be the first made member of a La Costra Nostra family to shed light on the dark secrets held by the mafia. Following Scarpa’s death, it came to light that he had been an informant for the FBI as early as 1953 preceding Valachi by ten years. Unlike Valachi, he never testified and while an informant he continued to operate on the streets of New York with sometimes very deadly consequences. From all accounts, he took part in or played a supporting role in dozens of murders, some of which remained unsolved. His son, Greg Scarpa, Jr., is still incarcerated but has renounced his former life as a mobster and continues his quest to have his conviction reviewed and his jail time reduced. I was previously familiar with the author Peter Lance, having read his book ‘A Thousand Years For Revenge’ as a sophomore at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. This book on Scarpa came as a recommendation from Amazon and I jumped at the chance to read this engaging and shocking expose. And while the cover of the book is highly enticing on its own, what’s contained is the pages of this book is nothing short of mind-boggling and will make you question everything you thought you knew about the trials and convictions of mobsters, most notably, John Gotti, Vic Orena, Sr., Sammy “The Bull” Gravano and Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso. And next to Scarpa, Casso figures prominently throughout the book and his relationship with the government is just as fascinating.
Lance does a masterful and mesmerizing job of investigation the government’s relationship with Scarpa and the intelligence he was providing to the FBI. Receiving intelligence in return from the bureau, Scarpa was given a free pass to continue his criminal enterprise, avoid criminal prosecution and perfect his craft as a stone cold killer making the streets of Brooklyn run red with blood. Lin DeVecchio, who was his handler, was charged and later acquitted of four homicides related to his relationship with Scarpa. And while he avoided prosecution, this book sheds new light on his actions at the time resulting in even more questions than answers. DeVecchio didn’t take part in this book and never responded to Lance’s requests for interviews. Whether his choice to avoid Lance is admission of guilt or a carefully thought out plan of defense is up to the reader to decide. What is clear from this book is that for 30 years, Greg Scarpa, Sr., enjoyed a privilege seldom given to mafia killers. Following his death, the fallout from his time as a confidential informant continued for several years. However, not all of the fallout was negative. In fact, Lance reveals several important details regarding the war on terror that have a direct relationship with the Grim Reaper himself through his son Greg Scarpa, Jr., and his incarceration with the infamous terrorists Ramzi Yousef and Terry Nichols. For those who have studied the first World Trade Center bombing and the Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma, this section of the book will be highly interesting. When I started reading this I literally could not put it down. For information on Greg Scarpa, the Colombo Crime Family wars and the government’s fight against and collusion with the mafia, this book is a must read.