Friends of the Family : The Inside Story of the Mafia Cops Case – Tommy Dades and Michael Vecchione with David Fisher
On October 18, 1986, Betty Hydell answered the doorbell and her home and was confronted by a police officer looking for her son James. She politely told him that Jimmy not home and she did not know his exact whereabouts. At the time, she had no idea that she would never see her son James again. Several hours later, he was picked up by two men in what appeared to be an unmarked police car. However, he never arrived at the local precinct and no record was made of any arrest. It was if he simply vanished into thin air and to this day, his body has never been found. It became one of the many cold cases on file in Brooklyn South. His brother Frank, had is own encounters with the two and on one occasion Betty even confronted the officer looking for him as she drove her car past his unmarked vehicle. Frank was later murdered April, 1998 after visiting a gentleman’s club in Staten Island, New York.
On November 6, 1990, Edward Lino, a capo in the Gambino Crime Family, was shot execution style as he sat behind the wheel of his car after being pulled over on the Belt Parkway in South Brooklyn. Lino’s death became a cold case until it was learned that he was pulled over by two men in what appeared to be an unmarked police car. A photo of Lino slumped over in his car shows the execution style murder in graphic detail and for some, brings backs memories of the days when mobsters were killing each other across New York City with reckless abandon. Hydell’s disappearance and Lino’s murder remained cold cases for many years and no one then could have imagined that they would both come back to haunt those involved and help reveal one of the biggest scandals in the history of the New York City Police Department.
But who were the two men in what appeared to be an unmarked police car? Their identities nearly remained a secret for good if not for a book and a television appearance on Sally Jessy Raphael. Former NYPD Detective Louis Eppolito had written about his life on the force and his family background, appropriately titled ‘Mafia Cop’. He had starred in Hollywood films, including a bit part as “Fat Andy” in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (Warner Bros., 1990). On that fateful day of his television appearance, Betty Hydell was one of millions of viewers watching the former detective promote his book. I can only imagine the shock on her face as she watched the television screen listening to the former detective who once came looking for both of her sons. For NYPD Detective Tommy Dades, this was a major fire among the smoke that surrounded Eppolito and his former partner, Steven Caracappa, who died on April 8, 2017, while incarcerated in Butner, North Carolina. Dades’ investigation, supported by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, opened up Pandora’s Box, revealing a cast of characters who conspired to commit crimes that many thought to be unthinkable.
Michael Vecchione is a senior figure in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, and at age 63, continues to serve the City of New York. He and Dades go back a long way and when it became apparent that two cops had gone rogue, both knew that this case would be one they would never forget. This is their recollection of the development of the case and how and why it was then taken over by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. The story at first resembles an intricately woven puzzle with each piece coming into the picture as the story moves forward. And as each revelation comes to light, I was as shocked and confused as Dades and Vecchione were then. But the seduction of the case keeps them lured in and both are determined to do whatever they can to bring down the two corrupt cops who had since retired and moved to Las Vegas. But this was no ordinary cold case and it quickly became apparent that there was far more than meets the eye.
It should be noted that this is not the story of the lives of Eppolito and Caracappa. While the authors do provide some background information on them, they never go into extensive detail but provide the information when necessary to the narrative at hand. This is the inside story of the case to bring them to prosecution, a case which almost completely fell apart after a District Court Judge reversed his own ruling. At times the story seems surreal as we meet mobsters Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso and Burt Kaplan, who died in July, 2009. And like a Hollywood production, the story takes off as the mobsters reveal staggering numbers of robberies and murders. But the cream of the crop were their tales about the cooperation and services of two NYPD Detectives. To most people, the story seemed absurd and I remember reading about the trial in the newspapers. Hardly anyone though that two cops could have been pulling off hits for a crime family and shaking down criminals. But the truth is that we had seen it before with the corruption scandal of the 90s, Michael Dowd and through the testimony of Frank Serpico. But what was horrifying is that Eppolito and Caracappa had been accused of taking the corruption to a higher and far more deadly level. In short, this was a whole other ball game and both the Brooklyn DA and U.S. Attorney’s office knew this to be a cold hard fact.
Many of us would like to believe that the effort to bring the deadly duo to justice was the result of a concerted effort by law enforcement. But as the authors point out, this was far from the case and almost from day one, a web of suspicion developed as the FBI and U.S. Attorney began to see the payday in prosecuting the two cops. At that point it was game on and the cat and mouse spectacle between the State and the Government bordered on the unbelievable. They pull no punches in this book and lay out the case from start to finish. And while the government did get a RICO Act conviction that was later affirmed by an appeals court, the case nearly crumbled under its own weight. But the justice system worked as it was designed giving prosecutors the victory they desired. Today, Eppolito and Casso are still alive but will both spend their last days in prison. We can only guess as to how many more crimes occurred that were never revealed. Those are secrets that all of them will undoubtedly take to the grave. But this book by Vecchione, Dades and Fishers, gives us an inside look into what might possibly be a black hole of crimes between mobsters and law enforcement that have escaped prosecution. In fact, the crimes that are revealed are so mind-boggling that I found myself not wanting to put the book down at times because I could not wait to see where the investigation would lead next.
In the end, the prosecutors and cops scored a victory, but on personal levels, many sacrifices were made and these are also revealed in the book, showing the human and personal side of the major players. Their lives are not glamorous and in fact, during the case, they would each go through their own personal dramas that might have pushed others over the edge. Incredibly, the remain dedicated to the case while trying to save marriages, professional relationships and even their sanity while the work on bringing two of their own to justice. Today as they look back on the case, I am sure they will smile with satisfaction at having achieved justice for Betty Hydell and the families of the other victims of the killer combination of gangster and cops. Eppolito has maintained his innocence from day one, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. As he sits behind bars, I can only assume that he has pondered his past and how it shaped the future he his now living. He will take many secrets with him to the grave but he and Caracappa will forever be known as the mafia cops. This is a story of crime, dishonor and the prevail of justice in the City of New York.
Today it is hard to imagine that less than fifty years ago, New York City was once considered one of the most dangerous cities in America. Rising crime, poverty, budgetary mismanagement and police corruption combined to turn the Big Apple into a city that took more than it gave. The New York City Police Department was tasked with maintaining order in the concrete jungle in the face of budget cuts and incredibly layoffs in the late 1970s. The officers who survived those dark years carry with them endless memories about their time on the streets of New York City. Tom Walker, who retired in 2004, spent several years of his career at the 41st Precinct in the South Bronx, nicknamed by the officers as “Fort Apache”. The name sounds heroic but as we learn in the book, it was for darker and more tragic reasons that the station was referred to as a fort. Outside the walls of the precinct existed a world that bordered on the surreal and gave a glimpse into what hell must really be like.
The story begins as Walker is a newly appointed Lieutenant assigned to the 41st Precinct or simply, “The Four One”. On his very first day, he quickly learns that his new home is anything but welcoming. He is instantly introduced to the infamous Fox Street and its surrounding walkways that prove to be nothing short of deadly. Readers who are natives of New York and remember the era in which this book was written, will recall the sense of disparity and anger that consumed many of New York City’s poorest residents. Walker addresses this in the book and clearly shows the link between poverty and crime. And the scenes that he describes throughout the book reinforce that lack of hope that often consumes the ghetto. While many of the officers finish their shifts and go home to the suburbs, the residents of the Four One could not leave, reliving a nightmare every day of their lives. As a former resident of East New York, Brooklyn, I can relate to Walker and the people of the South Bronx for my own neighborhood resembled the Four One except that for us it was the Seven-Five.
After finishing the book, I asked myself how Walker was able to do that job with a wife and five children at home? The constant threat of death on every shift and the traumatic experiences placed upon the officers could have doomed his marriage or taken his life. Yet he perseveres through the book and even talks briefly about the struggle that some cops face in maintaining a health marriage. What is evidently clear is that to be a New York City Police Officer during that time was literally gambling with your life. Today the streets of New York City are much safer although the threat of death still exists albeit on a much lower scale of risk. The City has a stable budget and the department has consistently filled its rank adding more officers to patrol the streets. In hindsight it seems nearly criminal that the Four One was understaffed, under-supplied and even neglected by higher-ups in the chain of NYPD command. Sadly, there are several instances in the book where there are no cars available to respond to police dispatches.
Many years have passed since the book was published in 1976 and the South Bronx has undergone a dramatic transformation. Fox Street and Southern Boulevard have been improved and no longer look as if they’ve been hit by an explosive device. The gangs such as the Savage Nomads are lone gone and only live in the memories of others. Some of the residents are undoubtedly still there advanced in their years but others have moved on in life leaving the Bronx behind. And other officers, like Walker, have since retired and moved on with their lives. But they all share a bond from the time they spent in and around Fort Apache. Walker’s story is an interesting step back into time and an invaluable account of the darker times in New York City history.
Circle of Six: The True Story of New York’s Most Notorious Cop Killer and the Cop Who Risked Everything to Catch Him-Randy Jurgensen
April 14, 1972-The New York City Police Department’s 28th Precinct receives a ten-thirteen, the code for an officer in distress. Units are dispatched and responding officers enter the location given by the caller, West 116th Street and Malcolm X. Blvd. The building is the Nation of Islam’s Muslim Mosque No. 7, then under the control of Minister Louis Farrakhan. The officers are locked inside, beaten severely and Officer Philip Cardillo is mortally wounded in the sternum and later dies from his wounds. The responding officers are ordered out of the mosque by superiors and members of the Nation of Islam begin to clean the building, contaminating crucial evidence and rendering future investigations nearly impossible. Cardillo’s killer remained hidden for several years and it seemed as if his identity would never be known. However one New York City Police Detective refused to give up and risked his entire career to see the killer brought to justice. This is the story of Det. Randy Jurgensen (Ret.) and his never-ending efforts to catch the murderer of Philip Cardillo.
Jurgensen was one of the many officers that responded to the scene and gives us a play-by-play description of the events as they transpired. He was critically wounded himself that day and the encounter between the police and the NOI nearly resulted in a complete riot. Upon his recovery he is tasked with investigating Cardillo’s murder, but as we see in the book, it was nearly an impossible feat as he faced obstruction on all fronts and incredibly, within the NYPD. Political aspirations and social concerns resulted in NYPD brass instituting strict controls over the ensuing investigation and a potential mutiny by patrol officers with the backing of the PBA, threatened to bring New York City to a complete halt. The submission of power by the NYPD and public officials to the NOI under Farrakhan’s control served to demoralized the detectives pursuing Cardillo’s killer and the officers that stood near his side on that tragic day in April, 1972.
Jurgensen purposely changed the name of some of the individuals in the book for obvious reasons. But their actions and the wall of stone he encounters throughout the book will cause the reader to question the value placed upon those who put their lives on the line every day in service to the City of New York. A brush with death is sometimes hidden behind the next corner and every call has the potential to be the last. But nonetheless, the men and women of the NYPD continue to do their Jurgensen refuses to give up and his efforts pay off in the apprehension of Cardillo’s killer. The arrest and subsequent trial are bittersweet moments highlighting the precarious nature of a jury in trial with strong racial overtones. We are forced to examine ourselves and our beliefs towards law enforcement and the concept of right and wrong. The end result may not be what the reader will expect but shining moment in the book is the truth surrounding Cardillo’s murder being revealed at last. It is a moment that will cause pride to surface in the heart of every New York City Police Officer. Today the City hardly resembles its 1972 version. The Nation of Islam is still prevalent but the Muslim Mosque No. 7 has since relocated. Minister Louis Farrakhan continues to remain the in the public light although he has advanced into his senior years. Randy Jurgensen entered Hollywood following his retirement and worked as a technical consultant on ‘The French Connection’, ‘The Cruiser’ and ‘Donnie Brasco’. He continues to honor Cardillo’s memory and has pushed for the renaming of a street in the late officer’s name. Jurgensen will even make a return to Hollywood as this book is set to be adapted by the silver screen. Cardillo will never been forgotten and for Jurgensen, Farrakhan and the others present on April 14, 1972, the events of that day will remain firmly implanted in their memories until their last day. This is an invaluable part of New York City history as told through the incredible story of the circle of six.
The arrest and subsequent conviction of former NYPD Police Officer Michael Dowd highlighted the perils of decades long corruption that plagued many precincts in the New York City Police Department. Dowd and several other officers had engaged in a multitude of crimes ranging from narcotics trafficking and possession, armed robbery and accessories to murder . Several had even violated department protocol by appearing for work under the influence of alcohol or narcotics or sometimes both. When the scandal in the 75th precinct made headlines, a whole city was stunned and for many, it confirmed many of their beliefs about the NYPD being a corrupt agency full of crooked cops. The fallout from the scandal would force Mayor David Dinkins and Police commissioner Lee Brown to act quickly. The Mollen Commission was created to investigate the pattern of police corruption that had been plaguing the City of New York. Its final report was published in July, 1994 and remains freely available for those interested in one of the darkest periods in New York City history.
One nagging question that never went away was how was Dowd and the other cops allowed to operate for so long without being noticed? The official story was that their activities were well hidden from prying eyes. However, the late Mike McAlary (1957-1998) who worked for the NY Daily News for 12 years, brings us the story of retired officer Joseph Tromboli who pursued Dowd for several years before he was apprehended by Suffolk County detectives in a separate drug trafficking case. And what we learn in Tromboli’s story sheds light on the repeated failures of the Internal Affairs Division of the NYPD to remove Dowd from the NYPD and formally charge him with the many crimes he had been freely committing. A seasoned investigator and no-nonsense officer, Tromboli dedicated his life to catching down and in the process sacrificed his own happiness and many important parts of his life. His efforts however, were not in vain and upon the publishing of the scandal in the City’s newspapers and the Mollen Commission that followed, Tromboli would be vindicated as the cop who had tried but was prevented from bringing down the most corrupt cop in New York City history. This is his story and the good, the bad and the ugly side of the blue wall.