Judge tosses Mafia cops' convictions

Published July 1, 2006

NEW YORK - A federal judge threw out racketeering convictions for two former police detectives accused of moonlighting as mob hit men, saying Friday that he thinks they are guilty but that the statute of limitations had passed.

Louis Eppolito and Steven Caracappa were found guilty nearly three months ago of participating in eight murders while on the payroll of a brutal mob underboss.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein said he agreed with a jury that Eppolito and Caracappa were guilty of murder, kidnapping and other crimes, but said the law compelled him to set aside the verdict on the most serious charge. Weinstein granted the pair a new trial on drug charges and Eppolito a new trial on money laundering charges.

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

Less than a month ago, Weinstein had told the pair they would receive life in prison.

Attorneys Joseph Bondy, who now represents Eppolito, and Dan Nobel, representing Caracappa, said they would return to court next week to seek bail for their clients. Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said prosecutors would appeal.

Defense attorneys had argued that the statute of limitations had expired on the most serious allegations against the pair, who allegedly spent four years on the payroll of both the New York Police Department and Luchese crime family underboss Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso. The two earned $65,000 for one of the slayings, according to testimony.

Prosecutors countered that the murders were part of an ongoing conspiracy that lasted through a 2005 drug deal with an FBI informant. But the judge found that the pair no longer had contact with associates in the Luchese crime family once they retired to Las Vegas in the 1990s.

Caracappa, 64, retired in 1992 after establishing a police unit for mob murder investigations. Eppolito, 57, whose father was a member of the Gambino crime family, was a much-praised street cop who had a bit part in the movie GoodFellas and an unsuccessful career as a screenwriter.