By Thom. L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.
Being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong kind of friend was the worst thing that ever happened to Frank Santora Junior.
As he walked along a street in Brooklyn, in those few seconds as the bullets slammed into his body, fired by a man he had never seen before, ironically also called Frank, and even a junior but of the Smith family tree, fate seemed more a voyeur than a prompter.
No one had to consult the local brain surgeons. This had gangland killing written all over. A policeman in Chicago once said that a mob hit was a work of art. This was a Hieronymus Bosch, with the surreal iconography of the Mafia painting the brushstrokes.
Confucius tells us we should not speak of the strange; it’s impossible to avoid this adjective when turning over the stones that disclose the anthropology of Cosa Nostra. Nothing happens in this sordid, criminal underworld that is not strange.
Frank was not the target on this balmy, late afternoon, Thursday, September 3, 1987. The one they were after was Carmine, twenty years younger than his friend walking alongside him. Frank was collateral damage. One version tells us. Another, maybe not so.
Carmine Varriale came from a family that seemed to suffer an extraordinary attrition rate in its menfolk through violent death by gunshot. One after another went down to the bullets. The police knew Carmine so well because his relatives kept turning up dead. In fourteen years, two uncles, a half-brother, and a cousin. Left in front of a church, in a car, on the street, outside of a house.
His walk-along friend that day, Frank Santora, was part of a sextet narrative involving an eccentric multi-millionaire, along with a depraved Mafia boss, a Jewish crook with more twists than a pretzel factory, and two of the most bent coppers to ever roam the streets of New York.
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Shoguns in the worst scandal in the history of New York’s police department.
The millionaire owned what might have been the biggest restaurant in New York and lived with dogs, whose barking, long after their deaths, still annoyed the neighbors.
Allegedly part of the Mafia, no one seems to really know just which family claimed Santora, a revenant, back in his neighborhood, since July 1984, following a prison sentence in Allenwood Prison Camp, Pennsylvania.
Some sources claim he was “on record” with the Colombo crime family, others the Bonanno family. A man who most likely knew the truth, said he was with the Gambinos, but who really knows? Like digital cross-talk where electrical activity spills into its neighbors, crime family grunts mixed and sometimes merged from one family to another. Until they got their button and then belonged until death to that one, specific Cosa Nostra unit, associates ran their criminal activities across urban prairies filled with unlimited possibilities.
Frank (photo right), at fifty-one was big. Broad shoulders, catcher mitt hands, face round like a pumpkin, lot of hair. Smooth and very tough. A hoodlum, capable of many things, including killing. His record dated back to 1955 when he first came to the police’s notice on an assault charge.
He had been doing a stretch for transporting stolen securities across a state line. Arrested by the FBI, he went down for six years in July 1979. It was in the slams, he met the man, who would be the link to all kinds of opportunities that lay in store for him in the future.
A Jewish clothing entrepreneur, and habitual drug trafficker, Burton Kaplan, shared a bunkhouse in prison with Santora, and they became friends over the years they were incarcerated. Kaplan was doing time for manufacturing and selling methaqualone.
He’d also done kidnapping, money-laundering, negotiated transfer of stolen financial securities, selling stolen goods, distributing apparel using false trade-marks, and murder. A jack of all trades. He did his first prison stretch when he was still in his twenties as a receiver of stolen goods.
A kolboinik, (jack of all trades,) as the Hebrews would have said. At one of his trials, he muttered, “I got a habit of being arrested in my life.” He spent a lot of time behind prison bars.
He was an average man in every way, smallish in build, wiry, with a high forehead and a largish nose on which he balanced his glasses. A lawyer once said of him, “Bertie looks like a guy who is standing outside his temple waiting for an aliyah (a visit to Israel,)”
He spoke in a voice pared of emotion, talking about burying a murder victim with as much remorse as buying a six-pack at his local bodega. Coming from a good family in a good neighborhood, he was born in Sheepshead Bay, and raised in Bensonhurst. He attended one of the best public high schools in America, Brooklyn Tech, but somehow, it all went wrong.
He became a merchant of the legal: a bakery, a vending machine company, an importer and distributor of apparel, and then the illegal and gradually found his great love, thievery.
He was a man on two planes. A loving father and husband to his family, and a criminal to the core of his element. A defense lawyer once compared him to Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, the central character in perhaps the greatest crime fiction novel ever, “Crime and Punishment.”
This early in the narrative, he is already casting his hook into Frank Santora, also from Bensonhurst, (they lived six blocks apart but never crossed paths until their time in prison,) who was an extra in another event that was taking place before the two men met, and ironically centered in Sheepshead Bay.
In different circumstances, they would perhaps, never have met. Happenstance as more than just a quirk of fate. Like hydrogen bonds that join DNA polymers, they formed a mass creating a life of its own.
Burton Kaplan (right) was something of an enigma within New York’s underworld. Most people never knew what he was doing most of the time. To him, crime was a business venture, nothing more, nothing less. Gangsters generally don’t have complicated heads; they are often too stupid to energize the effort or thought required to stop at a red light. So they avoided him because they didn’t understand him. It was easier to shoot someone, or peddle drugs on the street or hit someone with a pipe because they were late paying the 500% interest on money they had borrowed to bet on a horse.
The exception to all of this was a small, dumpy, psychopath, side-lining as a homicidal maniac, who people sometimes called “Gaspipe,” but never to his face. At times referred to as “The Cosa Monster” of Cosa Nostra, his name was Anthony Casso, and as these events unfolded he was gainfully employed in the Lucchese Mafia Family of the Bronx and Brooklyn. A mid-sized nest of hoodlums that had seen better days.
He saw in Kaplan a burning star that might lead him to the mother lode. Casso, a man apparently frighteningly empty of normal human emotions, would fill to the brim on murder, mayhem, and money, the only things that seemed to fuel his life-style in his years as a mob boss.
The historiography of New York’s mafia is filled with people like Casso (right), men who are so bad they become the best. The men of Cosa Nostra are born poor, but dream of dying rich. Gaspipe fitted the profile to a tee.
Joe Gallo, the counselor of the Gambino Family, under Paul Castellano, before John Gotti turned it all into macaroni, once told Casso while they were bar-drinking, to get himself a good Jew as a partner-in-crime. Joey knew his stuff. About Gotti, he once said, “It took a hundred years to put this together, and you’re ruining it in six months.”
So Casso did get the good Jew. He found Bernie Kaplan. After him, came Frank Santora, not a Jew but a good killer. And then came the cops to suckle on the teat. A tangled web was about to be weaved, as a poet once claimed.
But first, there was the other story to be played out in South Brooklyn. It’s long and complicated and deserving of its own narrative. This is the short version:
Frederick William Irving Lundy built a restaurant on Emmons Avenue looking out over Sheepshead Bay, in either 1934 or 1935, it’s hard to pin down the year. History can be unkind in many ways; confirming veracity on dates is only one of them. The Bay is about as far south as you can go in Brooklyn before falling into the Atlantic Ocean.
Lundy’s was one of the biggest restaurants in America. At its busiest, almost 3000 people would be sitting down for a meal at any one time. All the wait staff was black. Frederick Lundy had a thing about the antebellum atmosphere, and seemingly chaos because there was no reservation system.
People poured in through the doors and pounded their way to a table on either the first or second floor. The noise level must have been close to that of a Saturn Rocket on take-off. For forty years, it couldn’t be Sunday in South Brooklyn without lunch at Lundy’s. And the money rolled in. And Frederick Lundy became so prosperous it made people cry. Some, very much the wrong kind, merely envious.
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Born in 1895, Frederick, better known as Irving, started his first business when he was in his early twenties, a shell-fish take-out on a barge moored in the bay. By his mid-late thirties, he was earning money from real estate, legally, and from rum-running during prohibition, illegally. His most significant venture, the restaurant, cost $600,000 to create. A lot of money. In to-day’s terms about $11 million. That’s more entrees than you can shake a finger at. Everything about Lundy was on a bigger scale. He purchased a ranch in the Catskills, in upstate New York. 7,500 acres, more space than some towns.
When he decided on a pet, he had not one, but fourteen red setters who lived with him, in his apartment above the restaurant. There baying and howling annoyed the neighbors no end. Some complained they could hear the noise of the dogs long after they were gone and dead.
When he fought a political battle, he went up against Robert Moses, the power-broker and urban planner who literally changed the face of New York by constructing parks, highways, bridges, playgrounds, housing, tunnels, beaches, zoos, civic centers, exhibition halls, and the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. One of the most powerful men in the city.
He had a live-in relationship with a man called Henry Linker. When he died, of natural causes in the late 1950s, Lundy becomes more and more a recluse. His wealth and isolation from the world earned him the nickname of “The Howard Hughes of South Brooklyn.”
His links into the Mafia are tenuous but likely. Fighting off the unions that he despised and running such an enormous place, he may well have needed mob muscle. The Gambino Family were the most ubiquitous in the area, and Frank Santora may have been part of them.
Starting in 1972, the Lundy family became the nexus of a series of crimes beginning with robberies, then murder, and finally, the victim of the single, most significant embezzlement case against an individual in American history. The investigation into the criminal fraud started sometime in 1977, the year in which Lundy died. It involved a total of $11 million. Almost $45 million by to-days standards.
Santora was in there somewhere, along with six other men, although for some unexplained reason, Brooklyn District Attorney Eugene Gold severed Santora and another mob-linked criminal, Joseph Varrone, from the inquiry. They were tried separately on a federal indictment for interstate transportation of municipal bonds, stolen from Bradford Security a New York company in July 1978.
The two men were arrested at Houston Airport along with Marcello Stellato, a Long Island builder with connections into the Colombo Mafia Family, and one of the other conspirators in the Lundy scam.
And so Frank Santora went to prison and there, met Burton Kaplan.
Brooklyn- like Capernaum, the Biblical village that became a historical symbol for chaos and disorder- would be their stage, and like the dogs of war, they would roam across it until Santora met his death.
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Casso was introduced to Burton Kaplan in a bar near the Dyker Heights public golf course in Brooklyn. It was, with little imagination, called “The 19th Hole.” A lot of mob guys, from different families, hung out there. By 1985, Casso would own the place.
Kaplan was an addictive gambler, always in debt to somebody, at some time. His father-in-law, a police officer, knew Christy Furnari, the Lucchese Family counselor. He introduced his wayward son-in-law to the mobster while having a drink in the bar, to see if he could help sort out his debts. Furnari had ran his crew which included Casso, from the bar, before he became part of the family’s administration.
He would go to prison forever in 1986, but amazingly, walk out in 2014, when he was 90 years old. From him, that afternoon, it was a short, but memorable hop to the stool where Casso would sit and organize his thugs and killers into their daily schedules, and the chemistry was made. So the Italian and the Jew became as one, as long as the money rolled in.
On another September day, this one in 1986, Casso is driving around in his gold-colored Lincoln Town Car, leased from Progressive Distributors, a clothing company owned by Kaplan. It’s eight in the evening, end of a balmy Sunday. He stops near The Golden Ox Restaurant on East Seventy-Second Street in Sheepshead Bay.
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He’s either here to meet a hood from the Gambinos called Fat Vinny DiPerro, his nephew, or buy a quart of ice cream from a Carvel’s stand for his wife, Lillian. Just then, another car drives by and a gunman hefting a semi-automatic shotgun loaded with double-ought buckshot perforates the Lincoln and by default, Casso.
As a rule, this is where the story usually ends. However, Gaspipe doesn’t work that way. He somehow, escapes, scrambling like a land crab out of the car into the restaurant, although wounded and bleeding, calls his partner Vic Amuso from a public telephone box, no dinky cell phones in those days, and lives another day.
Actually, another 12000 or more as he is still with us, somewhere, in the Federal prison system. He’s currently serving half a billion years for all sorts of things, mostly murder.
Which was very much on his mind after the shoot-out at The Golden Ox.
Amuso, with the news of Casso’s near-miss, goes to meet Kaplan. Shortly after, he is himself visited by Santora, who in turn, had received benediction from one of the bent cops in the form of names, photos, and addresses of the hit-team that never was.
It’s a complicated story. Let’s start with the two men masquerading as policemen.
There have been reams written about these, so keeping it brief:
Louis Eppolito, grandson of a made-man, son of a Gambino soldier, nephew of a Gambino skipper, guys like “Diamond Louie,” and “Fat the Gangster and “The Clam,” joins the police and leads an eventful life. He retires, in 1990, under a cloud of some dimension. Everyone thought he was a crook, but nobody could prove it, beyond a reasonable doubt. It was sixteen years before it became without a doubt.
A highly-decorated street cop, he writes his biography, which is more than self-serving and merges into civilian life.
Stephen Caracappa was in the Major Case Squad, an elite unit for only the best. He worked daily, hand-in-glove with the FBI. Unfortunately, for many people, now dead, these two were both anything but the best.
They had crossed paths many times and became friends as well as fellow men in blue. Louie was, in dimensions, huge, fifty-six-inch chest, the rest to scale. In contrast, Caracappa looked like a scarecrow looking for a field in a crowded car park.
He was sometimes referred to as “The Stick Man.” A gold-shield, detective first grade. Always dressed in sleek black suits, hand-made for him in Hong Kong. Taciturn, with a quiet, aloof manner, maybe his many marriages drained him of any apparent humanity.
He sometimes stayed with his mother in her tidy, little house, on Staten Island, near a cemetery he would use for walk-talks. Nothing to share but secrets among the dead. I picture him and Big Louis wandering through the tombstones, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge humming behind them, down the street, as they discuss their nefarious transactions. The Laurel and Hardy of the worst police corruption scandal in the history of New York.
Caracappa’s formal address was an apartment on East 22nd Street in Lower Manhattan, where he stayed with his two cats. He lived here with his last wife, Monica Singleton, a young woman he had met who also lived in the same building. Before he married for the final time, he used his police tracking skills on her, using the Bureau of Criminal Investigation resource to check her out.
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Kaplan once met with Caracappa in his cemetery walkarounds, and he also met with Eppolito in the home of his girlfriend, Cabrini Cama, on Eighty-fourth Street in South Brooklyn.
Louis not only had a father and uncles in the mob, but also had a cousin in the crime business. His name was Frank Santora, the same criminal associate of Bernie Kaplan.
If the law of unintended consequences was entropy in action, this band of brothers was to be the cast to die for. Literally.
The cops would, one day in court, be charged with taking part in eight mob hits, two of which they physically carried out themselves. Eppolito once told Kaplan that he liked dealing with him and Casso because when he passed on information, people got taken care of. Permanently.
Jimmy Hydell was a bottom-feeder, a low-level associate in the Gambinos. He was in the crew of skipper Eddie Lino, and perhaps the only hit-man in disorganized crime to miss the target with a scatter-gun at two feet. His name was on the list Eppolito gave to Santora. One of those in the attack car that Sunday.
Eventually, the two cops arrest Hydell-who was also being hunted by the Gambinos to make sure he did not have loose lips- in a laundromat on 15th Avenue in Dyker Heights. They turn him over to Casso who has him taken to a house in Marine Park, Brooklyn. There, Casso talks to him for some hours while playing with a hammer or wrench or pliers, the kind of stuff people do when they talk. Then Gaspipe shoots Hydell, multiple times to make the experience more entertaining, at which point, Jimmy dies. His body is “disappeared” to ensure maximum distress to his mother and family.
By then, Casso knows the attempt on his life had been mandated by skippers under orders from John Gotti, now head of the Gambino Crime Family. Casso hands over $35,000 to the two policemen in grateful thanks for a job well done. The money goes via Kaplan and Santora, who keeps five for himself, into the bottomless pockets of the two most crooked cops in town.
More will follow. They go on retainer to Casso for four thousand a month, each. About what a good plumber earned at the time.
The mobster once referred to them as his “Chrystal Ball.”
Like primates in the jungle, which they resemble in many ways, mobsters fight and kill each other when threatened. Vincent Gigante, the “Oddfather” of the Genovese crime family, hated John Gotti for killing the family boss, Paul Castellano in December 1985.
He and Casso had joined forces to murder Gotti one Sunday in a bomb attack outside a Brooklyn social club which failed, in that it killed someone, but not Gotti.
Who, in turn, set up the hit on Casso, which also failed.
Jimmy Hydell was not the first to die because of the two policemen. That lamentable distinction belongs to another Jewish businessman. A jeweler called Israel Greenwald. He and Kaplan had been doing some kind of deal involving stolen Treasury Bills through Casso that went wrong. He had to go.
The cops arrested the jeweler, drove him to a garage complex and collision workshop at 2232 Nostrand Avenue, in Flatbush, and there, with Santora as the shooter, killed Greenwald. His body was then buried under the concrete floor. This killing was commissioned by Kaplan, who payed the killers $25000 for their efforts. That was in February 1986.
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He was to be one of many. Nostrand Avenue is an element in this story for other reasons, which will unfold. They picked the place because Santora had links to it going back over ten years. He knew the owner, Peter Franzone, who was an honest man trying to make an honest living in a world full of villains.
He was forced to dig a grave under the floor of unit number four by Santora, who promised to kill him and his family if he didn’t cooperate. The crooked cops used this same address later in the year when they abducted Hydell, transferring him from their police car to another vehicle before delivering him to his death.
On Christmas Day, 1986, Casso had two men kill Nicky Guido, another one of the botched hit-team. They botched this one as well. It was the wrong Guido. Carracapa apparently wanted too much for this job, so Casso organized it himself. Badly. The problem is, once you’re killed, you can’t come back from the dead. Unless you are Jon Snow.
It went on for four years, like a Shakespearean tragedy written by Mickey Spillane. On one occasion, the crooked cops supplied Gaspipe details on a Lucchese soldier who had fled the maniac of Casso and gone bush in Los Angeles. Gunmen shot him dead in an underground car park in Hollywood.
The killing of Anthony Dilapi, who had helped maintain the family’s control of the unions in the New York garment district, may have been only the second time an East Coast hoodlum fleeing the mob was tracked to the West Coast and executed for his sins. The other killing happened in San Francisco.
The last one the cops killed was Eddie Lino. Casso believed he was one of the shooters who murdered Castellano and knew, courtesy of the boys in blue, that it was his team that had tried to kill him.
Lino was driving his Mercedes along the Belt Parkway in South Brooklyn one night in November 1990, when he was pulled over by a flashing blue light on an unmarked car. The two cops walked up to him, and as he dropped his car window, they shot him. It was Carracapa who fired. He apparently was the better shot of the two, although at two feet, using a full semi-automatic pistol, missing the target was really not an option. Casso paid them sixty-five thousand for this one.
Some investigators believed the murder of Lino might also have been a grudge murder. Carracapa had been a boyhood friend of Tommy Bilotti, growing up together on Staten Island, the newly appointed second-in-command to Paul Castellano, went down when they were both murdered in December 1985 by a crew under the command of John Gotti.
We don’t know for sure why Frank Santora died that afternoon. Some sources claim Carmine had sworn vengeance against the killers of his brother, Pasquale “Paddy Bulldog” Varriale, who was shot dead earlier in the year. It was rumored on the street that behind it was either the Bonanno or Colombo families.
Pasquale had been given money to bribe a juror in the famous Piazza Connection Case but had, apparently, taken it to Atlantic City and lost it in a casino. In February 1987, he had been lured to a pizza joint on the ubiquitous Nostrand Avenue, and when next seen, a few days later, was very dead lying in front of a church on Coleman Street in Flatlands.
The Carini brothers, Vinnie and Enrico, may have invited Pasquale to the pie place under the pretense of discussing the robbing a big-time local shy-lock. Some sources suggest that perhaps they killed him. Although this is where Nostrand Avenue comes edging back into the story.
When Eppolito and Caracappa finally get arrested, they go to trial in 2006, and part of the evidence states:
“Franzone also testified about another murder committed by Santoro and three associates in his collision shop. After entering the collision shop to help Santoro adjust the heat, Franzone saw two of Santoro’s associates wrapping up the victim’s body in a light-colored cloth and helped them place it in the trunk of a car. As in the case of Greenwald’s murder, Eppolito pulled into Franzone’s lot, sat in his car outside the collision shop during the murder, and left when Santoro did, after the body had been wrapped and placed in the trunk. This murder was charged against Eppolito as racketeering act five.
During the testimony about racketeering act five, Franzone was shown a photograph of an unidentified body found in front of a church in Brooklyn in 1987 and testified that the body shown there resembled the body he had seen that day. The body in the photograph was wrapped in a white sheet and plastic bag and was tied in a manner matching Franzone’s description. Retired New York City police detective Sylvia Cantwell testified about the discovery of this body.”
This is almost certainly describing the murder and disposal of Pasquale Varriale. Maybe two of the other three men were the Carini brothers. Perhaps the third man was Frank Smith Junior. There is no evidence in public domain either way. The prosecution believed this account accurate enough to include the murder as one of the counts against Eppolito in his trial.
Which means, the day Frank Santora died, he was walking with and talking with the man whose brother he had murdered seven months before. Karma in a big way. As English author Neil Gaiman once said, “Life is always going to be stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be convincing, and life doesn’t.”
The Carini brothers would both end up dead, for botching another mob hit, again killing the wrong man. Gaspipe, somehow amazingly, was not connected to this one.
George M. Aronwald, an administrative law judge for the New York City Parking Violations Bureau, was gunned down in a laundromat in Long Island City, Queens near his home in March 1987. The target was his son, William, a federal prosecutor. This particular mistake was the work of the Colombo Mafia Family, a mob, equally as dysfunctional as the Lucchese’s. Frank Smith Junior was also part of the hit team that killed the father and not the son.
At times, during the 1980s and early 1990s, it’s hard to keep track of all the dead bodies littering the streets of Brooklyn generated by Cosa Nostra purging itself. And trying to comprehend the stupidity of the people organizing the shoot-outs.
Why Casso would kill one of his own men because he had a beef with another crime family, especially involving a relative murdered by them, is hard to understand. Kaplan claimed in testimony in court that, “Gaspipe was having problems with him (Carmine Varialle,) all along. I don’t know if that’s the reason he got killed, but Frankie definitely wasn’t the target. Frankie just had bad luck by being with him.”
Bernie also mentioned at trial that he had visited Casso soon after the double killing on Bath Beach Avenue. “When I went up to Casso and told him that Frank was killed, he told me, jeez, I didn’t know that was our friend.” He said, “If I knew that, I could have stopped it.”
Some sources believe the two men were both targets because they had, in turn, wiped out the Carini brothers, although it seems hard to dispute Kaplan’s evidence arising from his long-term relationship with Casso.
Michael Cilone, the driver of the hit-team car that September afternoon, served one day in prison for his part in the killing of Santora and Varriale, after turning and becoming an informer. He rolled on Frank Smith (right), who himself became a government witness in 2001 after serving years in prison on drug trafficking charges of which he was innocent.
Someone once said, “If you’re lucky enough to be Irish, you’re lucky enough.”
Didn’t work with Smith who did a dozen years inside for a crime committed by another criminal called Frank Guerra. Poetic justice in a way for a man involved in five different murders in a mob career that started in his teens.
It seems above all, Cosa Nostra needs a human resource department to check out their prospective members. Loyalty to the cause seems an oxymoron in today's Mafia clans.
Santoro was shot multiple times, although unlike Varriale, he did not die on the sidewalk. They had been visiting Big Apple Two-Way Radio Company, officially registered to the daughter of Anthony Spero, the Bonanno Family counselor.
It also served as a meeting point for mobsters visiting the area, although Spero’s official spot was The West End Social Club at 1657 Bath Avenue, six minutes by car, to the east. The place at 1508 was also known a the Viola Pigeon Club. Spero, like many mobsters, kept and raced pigeons. He did it from the roof of this building, and the other one, down the road.
After Smith shot the two men, Varriale died on the spot. Santoro apparently, staggered around like a drunk and then collapsed near the entrance to a narrow alley running between Spero’s business and the property next door. When the police and medics arrived, he was still alive and rushed to hospital but died soon after admittance, from his wounds. By then, Smith, his father who was back-up, and the driver of the get-away car, Cilone, had long gone.
Casso’s end came in 1993 when the law caught up with him. He had been on the lam for three years. After his apprehension, he turned and became an informant. He offered evidence to convict the two crooked cops, but became so unreliable, he was expelled from the Witness Security Program in 1997. He was convicted and sentenced to thirteen concurrent life terms, plus 455 years in prison for multiple crimes. Mostly murder. It’s been alleged he personally killed or ordered the killings of up to sixty people, which, if true, would make him one of America’s most prolific serial killers.
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Burton Kaplan went to prison on January 13, 1998, for twenty-seven-years on RICO charges involving drug trafficking. He’d been moving tons of marijuana from Florida to New York, millions of dollars each year. Prison is where he should have stayed until he died. Instead, in his sixties with no light at the end of the tunnel, he rolls and becomes, what Jimmy Breslin, the late and much lamented famous New York journalist and author, called “The Good Rat.” All his life, Kaplan had been staunch. More omerta than most of the hoods in the hood.
His evidence set the wheels in motion that created the “Mafia Cops” trial in 2006. It was as astonishing as it seemed unbelievable. Extradited from their homes in Las Vegas, (they lived opposite each other in a private community called Spanish Palms,) in March 2005, the two men went on trial in the Federal Court House in Brooklyn. The judge presiding at their trial claimed, “the two defendants have committed what amounts to treason against the people of the City of New York and their fellow police officers.”
Although the duo was jailed after their convictions, the sentencing was delayed. Brooklyn Federal Judge Jack Weinstien overturned the sentences on a technicality in 2006, but it was reversed by an appeals court in September 2008. Weinstein sent them away forever and for good measure fined them each four million dollars.
Burton Kaplan died in 2009, aged 75, in America, living in the Witness Protection system. Hiding in plain sight. Natural causes.
Caracappa goes in 2017, also aged 75, in a North Carolina prison hospital. Again, natural causes. Probably cancer. Legally, he should never have become a police officer in the first place. Arrested in 1960 as part of a professional burglary ring, he went down on a felony charge. Somehow, it all went away, and his record was sealed, Crooked from day one.
Eppolito, heads off to the big scam palace early in November 2019, in a federal penitentiary in Tuscon, Arizona.
Anthony Casso, aged 77, is somewhere in the federal prison system, either a cell or a hospital, no doubt hoping to go out quietly.
None of their victims had the choice to die in bed, surrounded by family or at least, caring nurses and doctors.
Someone once compared Brooklyn to an army camp filled with soldiers waiting to go off to war. Not of the right and just but of the evil and depraved. Where history and fiction intersect is a place where truth is often undelivered and coincidence a bedfellow. Caracappa, ironically, helped set up the New York Police Organized Crime Homicide Unit.
Digging into the files on Cosa Nostra, is, at times, as frustrating as believing a politician’ s promise.
For instance, it’s possible that during the 1980s, Bernie Kaplan, the staunch, tell-nothing mobster, was an informant for the FBI. His handler admitted it. Then denied it.
The crooked cops were investigated twelve years before they were finally arrested and charged. But nothing happened. Which in itself is a mystery. The feds had them on their radar, then they were gone. A New York police officer remarked that Famous But Incompetent was given a whole new meaning by their ignoring the warning signs that were there to see.
According to Antonino Calderone, a Sicilian Mafia penitent, “In a world as complicated as the Cosa Nostra’s, even small wrongs are remembered for years and there are thousands of tangled relationships…….grounds for suspicion and sinister hypotheses are never lacking.”
If the Mafia of New York is as some believe a myth based on fact, it’s more than sure that as a rider, only the dead know Brooklyn.
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Copyright © Thom L. Jones & Gangsters Inc.