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The FBI: Which Side of the Law?

April 3, 2006

No matter how you slice it, dice it, twist it, spin it, parse or vet it, last week was not a good one for law enforcement in New York City.

Over in Brooklyn federal court, the NYPD's two "mafia cops," were on trial for acting as hit men for Luchese crime family underboss Anthony [Gaspipe] Casso.

A block or so away, Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes announced "the most stunning example of official corruption I have ever seen" -- the indictment of former FBI agent Lindley DeVecchio. His alleged crime: passing confidential information to Columbo crime family captain Greg Scapa Sr. - a.k.a. The Grim Reaper -- leading to the murders of four people.

Further damaging the credibility of law enforcement, the same DeVecchio was investigated -- and cleared - of similar charges by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility a decade ago. Time, apparently, does heal all wounds. Brooklyn federal prosecutor Valerie Caproni, who led the charge against DeVecchio then, is now the FBI's chief counsel. Her current position is that DeVecchio is innocent.

Granted, Hynes has been [with the possible exception of Rudy Giuliani] law enforcement's ultimate opportunist. Since becoming Brooklyn DA in 1989, he has run unsuccessfully for attorney general and governor, done a 180 on the death penalty, played footsie with politically connected Hasidic Jews, and placed former Brooklyn borough president Howard Golden on his payroll as "Director of Community and Civic Affairs" at $125,000 a year.

As for his star prosecutor Mike Vecchione, who will actually prosecute DeVecchio, the last time this column caught up with him, he was in Puerto Rico with assistant district attorney Stacey Frascogna, supposedly subpoenaing a murder witness. When Newsday [where Your Humble Servant then hung his hat] sought their expense reports and hotel records, Hynes threatened a libel suit. After Newsday filed suit and Brooklyn State Supreme Court Judge Edward Pincus ordered Hynes to provide answers, Vecchione acknowledged an intimate relationship with Frascogna, which he maintained began after the trip.

All that being said, Hynes, at his news conference announcing DeVecchio's indictment, was vintage Hynes -- the tough-talking, veteran prosecutor he can on occasion still be, albeit with a five-man public relations staff that produced a slickly printed time line and flow chart of Scarpa's involvement with the bureau from 1960 to 1992; an organizational chart with pictures of the Columbo Crime family; and color photos of the victims lying dead in the street and in a car splattered with blood.

Later that afternoon at arraignment, Vecchione asked that DeVecchio be denied bail, expressing fears that a network of former FBI agents might spirit him out of the country - presumably as post-World War II Nazis helped each other escape to South America, a la Mengele and Eichman. Vecchione's request led to a cacophony of groans from the scores of former agents in the courtroom, five of whom co-signed DeVecchio's bail application.

Meanwhile, DeVecchio's attorney, Douglas Grover, made it out that Hynes and Vecchione - who successfully prosecuted former Brooklyn Democratic Party Chairman Clarence Norman on corruption charges - were rubes, gulled by the treacherous mobsters the bureau knows only too well.

But in fact, when it comes to the mob, it is the FBI that for the past 40 years has been gulled. That is why the charges against DeVecchio -- incredible as they may sound -- are conceivable, if not believable.

He is accused of doing precisely what former FBI agent John Connolly was found guilty of doing during the same period in Boston. As described by ex-Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill in their book "Black Mass," Connolly, together with agent John Morris, fed confidential bureau information to the notorious Irish mobster Whitey Bulger that allowed him to clip his Italian rivals.

Bulger went on the FBI's Most Wanted List. Morris pleaded guilty to taking a bribe. Connolly went to the slammer.

More incredible -- and never denied by the bureau since Gangland's Jerry Capeci reported it a decade ago -- is that back in J. Edgar Hoover's day, the FBI used DeVecchio's buddy Scarpa as a contract agent to do the bureau's dirty work. Specifically, in 1964, the bureau pulled him out of prison and sent him to Mississippi -- if you can believe it -- to crack the heads of Klansmen to learn the whereabouts of three slain civil rights workers.

And if you think that's wild, there's Scarpa's son, Greg Jr., a resident of the super max security prison in Florence Col. The FBI used him as an informant against his cell mate - and you'll never believe this either - terror mastermind Ramzi Yousef, who plotted the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

According to Peter Lance's book "Cover-Up," the bureau had Scarpa cozy up to Yousef, then rigged a phone hook-up so that Yousef could make third-party calls to his terrorist buddies like his uncle Khalid Sheik Mohammed while the FBI monitored them.

According to Lance, these conversations may have precipitated the crash of TWA Flight 800. The bureau determined the crash had no terrorist link and was caused by mechanical failure.

Is Lance's Flight 800 scenario preposterous? You'd like to believe it. These days, though, nothing seems impossible when it comes to the FBI.

Hillary and Ray? So Hillary Clinton was visiting at Police Plaza last Friday, making nice to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and vice versa. Last time Hillary was around, she was running for the Senate in 1999 and back-pedaling from husband Bill's clemency offer to 16 FALN Puerto Rican nationalists/terrorists [take your pick].

Does her visit indicate she might support Kelly, should he run for mayor in 2009? Or if she runs for President in 2008, might she propose Kelly as the next head of the FBI?

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Copyright © 2006 Leonard Levitt