Gregory Scarpa Sr. was a trifecta of contradiction. A peacock dresser, he carried a wad of $5,000 in cash at all times. He wore a seven-carat pinky ring and a diamond studded watch. He made millions from drug dealing, hijackings, loan-sharking high-end jewelry scores, bank heists and stolen securities. He owned homes in Las Vegas, Brooklyn, Florida, Staten Island and a co-op on Manhattan’s exclusive Sutton Place. He was the biggest trafficker in stolen credit cards in New York and ran an international auto theft ring.
A single bank robbery by his notorious Bypass Gang on the 1974 Fourth of July weekend took in $15 million in 13 duffel bags stashed with cash and jewels. His sports betting operation netted two and a half million a year. The weekly gross from drug sales by his crew was $70,000. But fifteen years after being “made,” while he was a senior capo in the Colombo crime family, Scarpa Sr. was arrested for “pilfering” coins from a pay phone.
The five-foot-ten, 220 pound Scarpa Sr. was described by one of his FBI contacting agents as “an ox of a man; like a short piano mover (with a) thick neck and huge biceps.” For more than forty-two years as capo of the family or borgata, he roamed the streets of Brooklyn like a feudal lord, earning the nicknames “The Grim Reaper,” “The Mad Hatter,” ‘”Hannibal Lecter” and “The Killing Machine.” He even signed personal letters with the initials “KM.” But he was also a homebody with three separate families. He married Connie Forrest in 1949 and had four children by her including Gregory Jr. who began doing crimes for his father at the age of 16.
Then, while still legally married to Connie, whom he shipped off to New Jersey, Scarpa Sr. moved in with Linda Schiro, a gorgeous brunette 19 years younger who had been dating wiseguys since her mid teens. Scarpa Sr. had two more children with her. Then, while still married to Forrest and living as a common-law husband to Schiro, he ran off to Vegas in 1975 and married Lili Dajani, a former Miss Israel. Years later, Dajani’s lover, an ex-abortion doctor named Eli Shkolnik, was murdered on Senior’s orders. But in 1979, back in Brooklyn with Schiro, Scarpa Sr. agreed to let Linda carry on a torrid sexual relationship with Larry Mazza, a handsome 18 year-old delivery boy. Not only did the murderous Scarpa sanction their lovemaking, but he later made Mazza his protégé, schooling him in the practice of loan sharking, bank robbery and homicide.
“I started out one way and ended up with the devil,” Mazza later said. The ex-grocery worker expressed shock when Scarpa Sr. once suggested to him that they kill the mother of a mob turncoat in order to demonstrate “what happens to rats.”
Still, Greg Scarpa Sr., who bragged that he “loved the smell of gunpowder,” had no compunctions about killing women. When he heard that Mary Bari, the beautiful mistress of the family underboss, might talk to authorities, he had her lured her to a club, then shot her in the head at point blank range and dumped her body in a rolled up canvas two miles away. Later, when the dog of one of his crew members’ wives found a piece of the dead woman’s ear, Scarpa Sr. joked about it over dinner. “He was just a vicious, violent animal,” said Mazza. “Unscrupulous and treacherous… Just a horrible human being.” On the other hand, Senior’s daughter. “Little Linda” Schiro, described him as “Incredibly loving -- the kind of Dad who was there for us every night for dinner at five o’clock. Whatever he was on the outside, he was really gentle at home.” But Scarpa Sr. also had the capacity to quickly change faces from brutal murderer to loyal dad. After one bloody 1992 rubout when Mazza and Senior blew off the back of a rival capo’s head, they went home to play with Greg’s infant grandson, drink wine and watch Seinfeld on T.V. ”He could transform himself,” says Little Linda. “He could go kill someone and five minutes later he be home watching Wheel of Fortune with my brother and me.”
At the same time, “The Grim Reaper” ruled 13th Avenue in Bensonhurst with an iron fist. He was responsible for 25 separate homicides between 1980 and 1992. With Mazza’s help, Scarpa Sr. killed three people in one four week period. He shot one of his victims with a rifle while he was stringing Christmas lights with his wife. He killed a 78-year-old member of the Genovese family because the old man happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Then, a few weeks later, after FBI and NYPD surveillance had been pulled away from a Mafia social club, he rolled up next to Colombo capo Nicholas Grancio and ordered him shot with a rifle. Grancio’s nose was blown off and one of his teeth was later found in a nearby building but as Mazza pulled the trigger, Senior uttered what sounded like a line from a B-movie, “This one’s for Carmine (Persico).”
At another point, tipped that Cosmo Catanzano, one of his crew members, might talk to the Feds, Scarpa Sr. ordered his grave dug in advance of the murder, but Catanzano escaped when DEA agents arrested him before the execution could take place.
“The man was the master of the unpredictable and he knew absolutely no bounds of fear,” said Joseph Benfante, one of Senior’s former lawyers. “He was a unique individual. If he’d lived 400 years ago, he would have been a pirate.” The brazen Scarpa Sr. even gave himself a reason to wear an eye patch.
In 1992, after being diagnosed with the HIV virus and given only months to live, he broke house arrest and went after a pair of local drug dealers who had threatened his younger son. In the ensuing gun battle, Senior got his right eye shot out, but he drove home and downed a glass of scotch before Larry Mazza was summoned and drove him to the hospital. “Scarpa had an action jones,” one former assistant district attorney, said of him. Another investigator described the killer’s need to stay on the edge: “Capos ain’t supposed to be out on the street hijacking trucks, doing drug deals,” he said. “I mean that’s why you have a crew. But Greg was there. He always had to walk point.” And while openly disparaging “rats,” Senior devoted more than three decades off and on to betraying his larger “family,” the Colombos.
THE SECRET FILES
The 1,153 pages of files uncovered in this investigation reveal that more than two years before celebrated Mafia turncoat Joseph Valachi “sang” to the McClellan “rackets” committee in an historic series of hearings televised from coast to coast, Scarpa Sr. was already coughing up the family’s most intimate secrets to the FBI.
The detailed multi-page memos called Airtels (later designated as FBI 209 Forms) show that Scarpa Sr., whose code designation was NY3461, met two or three times a month with agents from the FBI’s New York Office. During these secret sessions conducted in hotel rooms, automobiles and Senior’s various homes in Brooklyn, he fed them the kind of inside-the-family dirt that J. Edgar Hoover craved. Every one of those Airtels went straight to the Director himself and as we’ll see, while many of the debriefings contained detailed intelligence on the organizational structure of the Mafia – including the secret induction ceremony -- “34” as he was known, also gave the Bureau reams of disinformation.
A brilliant Machiavellian strategist, Scarpa Sr. not only stayed on the street for forty-two years, avoiding prison after fourteen separate arrests and indictments for his crimes, but he repeatedly “ratted out” his competition in the family – literally eliminating many of the capos above him along with the two family bosses: Joseph Colombo and Carmine Persico. He also succeeded in fomenting a series of internal conflicts or “wars,” that tore the borgata apart.
It was Greg Scarpa Sr. who provided the probable cause that led to the Title III wiretaps in the historic Mafia Commission case in the mid 1980’s sending Persico and two other New York bosses to prison for life. It was Scarpa Sr., whose back door machinations ignited the second Colombo “war” between wiseguys loyal to Persico and the violent Gallo brothers in the early 1970’s. It was Scarpa Sr. whose duplicity paved the way for the notorious assassination attempt on Joseph Colombo at an Italian American Civil Rights League Rally in front of 50,000 people in 1971.
It was Scarpa Sr. who fueled the battle that led to the infamous rubout of Crazy Joe Gallo at Umberto’s Clam House in 1972.
In 1989 Everett Hatcher, a decorated DEA agent, was gunned down by Scarpa Sr.’s nephew Gus Farace, who was a member of Greg’s Wimpy Boy’s crew. That cold blooded shooting led to the formation of a 500 man FBI-DEA Task force and an international manhunt that lasted more than nine months. In the end, new evidence suggests, that it was uncle Greg who set up his nephew’s murder to take the heat off the other New York families.
Scarpa Sr. was such a master chess player that he used his coveted position as a Top Echelon informant to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, beyond the millions he made from racketeering. Not only did the FBI pay him $158,000 in fees and bonuses for the snitching he performed, but his “control agent” during the mid 1960’s and early 70’s, Anthony Villano, brokered kickbacks from insurance companies for some of the very high-end hijackings Scarpa Sr. was executing. Those “rewards,” amounting to tens of thousands of dollars, went back to Scarpa for his own thefts of “swag” ranging from liquor to negotiable stocks to gold bullion, jewelry and uranium. Scarpa even got a cut of a reward paid for the return of the Regina Pacis jewels after the historic theft by junkies of coveted jeweled crowns from a Brooklyn church. That led to national headlines for the Bureau after Villano negotiated the recovery.
“The Killing Machine” also worked for the Government in a series of “black bag jobs” that he performed off the books. The first was his well known trip to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 when he tortured a Ku Klux Klan member in order to solve the mystery of the MISSBURN case – locating the bodies of the slain civil rights workers Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney when FBI agents assigned to the probe came up empty.
After breaking a second civil rights murder in 1966 as an FBI “special” asset, Scarpa traveled to Costa Rica in the early 80’s to extradite fugitive Colombo capo Anthony Peraino, the notorious “porn king” who had made millions from the production of the film “Deep Throat.” But in return for whatever assistance he was to the Feds, Senior collected in spades, using his influence with the FBI to avoid prosecution for three separate indictments by organized crime Strike Forces (in Chicago, Newark and Brooklyn).
He not only beat a 1974 indictment for the theft of more than $4,000,000.00 in counterfeit IBM stocks, but when Secret Service agents arrested him in 1986 and he was facing seven years in prison and a $250,000 fine for credit card fraud, the FBI intervened and helped get him a minor sentence of probation and a $10,000 fine.
At that point Scarpa Sr. had been infected with the AIDS virus after a faulty blood transfusion and was given only months to live.
At least that’s what the sentencing judge was told by the Government. If he’d gone to prison then, Senior would never have been on the street to foment his last great conspiracy: the third Colombo “war.” But he lived for another six years.
The man who vouched for him at the time was R. Lindley DeVecchio, known in the Bureau as “Mr. Organized Crime” for his purported success putting wiseguys away. After reopening Scarpa in 1980 following a five year hiatus, Lin, as he was known, quickly rose through the Bureau ranks and ultimately commanded two organized crime squads. He also taught informant development at the FBI Academy and became supervising case agent on the Mafia Commission case, due in large part to his “management” of “34.”
But defense attorneys would later describe Lin’s dealings with Scarpa Sr. as an “unholy alliance” and in 1994 the FBI opened an OPR internal affairs investigation after four agents under DeVecchio effectively accused him of leaking key intelligence to the mad dog killer.
Lin, who refused to take a polygraph test, was nevertheless granted immunity during the probe, making it virtually impossible for the Justice Department to indict him. So in 1996 he retired with a full pension. He was later granted immunity a second time, but he answered “I don’t recall” or words to that effect, more than fifty times after defense lawyers tried to peel back the layers on his clandestine dealings with Scarpa Sr. at a 1997 hearing.
Then, in March, 2006, the Brooklyn District Attorney unsealed an indictment charging DeVecchio with four counts of murder stemming from his 12-year relationship with the mob killer. After an aborted two-week trial in 2007, those charges were dismissed. But not before Scarpa’s protégé Larry Mazza testified that his homicidal mentor had “stopped counting” after fifty executions. “It was like growing up with a serial killer,” says “Little Linda.” The very title of this book derives from the Satanic digits 6-6-6 that Scarpa Sr. would punch into the pager of his consigliere after he made a significant hit and the most intense period of his killing spree came during that third Colombo “war” which Senior himself incited. The death toll during that conflict was 14 with Scarpa personally responsible for at least six of the hits.
Along with a final murder he committed four days after Christmas in 1992, that brought the number of homicide he’d committed on Lin DeVecchio’s watch to twenty-five -- fully half of the murders Mazza attributed to Greg Sr. before he quit keeping track. Mazza later confirmed that number in a 2012 interview with the New York Post. Those 50 homicides made “The Grim Reaper” the most prolific hit man in the history of organized crime and put him in the ranks of the world’s top serial killers. The fact that most of those deaths occurred while he was being paid as a virtual agent provocateur by the Feds, is a testament to the willingness of the FBI to make “a deal with the devil,” as DeVecchio’s trial judge put it.
In 42 years Scarpa Sr. only served 30 days in jail – and that was for an arrest by the NYPD during the years he’d been “closed” as an FBI source. The rest of that time, a series of FBI agents including DeVecchio intervened to keep “The Mad Hatter” on the street. But that wasn’t the most disturbing aspect of “34’s relationship with the Government. After reviewing the 1,150 plus pages of secret files it can be fairly argued that the FBI’s very playbook against La Cosa Nostra was defined and shaped by what Scarpa Sr. fed them – particularly in the years from 1960 to 1972 when J. Edgar Hoover himself was on the receiving end of “34’s” Airtels. Not surprisingly, give the Bureau’s insidious quid pro quo with “34,” while a senior Federal judge in the Eastern District sentenced minor Colombo family members to multiple life terms for crimes far less repugnant that those “The Grim Reaper” committed, Scarpa Sr.’s own final sentence amounted to a legal wrist slap.
And though he’d been ravaged by the HIV virus – shrinking from his fighting weight of 220 to an emaciated 116 pounds at the end, Greg Sr. beat the real “Grim Reaper” by many years – staying alive to commit multiple homicides as he furthered his scheme to take over the family in the phony “war” that he’d engineered. Few figures in the annals of organized crime have operated with such tenacity, deviousness and reckless disregard for human life. The fact that he served as the FBI’s secret weapon against what Lin DeVecchio calls “the Mafia enemy,” only underscores the moral ambiguity that runs through this story like a hot circuit cable.
Incorporating secret FBI Airtel memos never-before-seen outside the Bureau, the pages ahead will reveal that nearly two years before the historic revelations of Mafia turncoat Joseph Valachi in 1963, Gregory Scarpa Sr., then a young capo for the Profaci crime family, led J. Edgar Hoover himself into the inner sanctum of the underworld. Once that alliance began, there seemed to be no turning back for the Bureau.
“They enlisted a hyper-violent killer to stop much less capable murderers,” says defense lawyer Ellen Resnick, who helped expose the “unholy alliance.” “It was the ultimate ends-justify-the-means relationship.”
Now, as you turn the pages of this book, there are several crucial questions to keep in mind. First, who was in charge? Was it the special agents like Tony Villano and Lin DeVecchio who were responsible for “controlling” “34” or was it “Hannibal Lecter” himself? Another question that begs to be answered is who got the most out of this “deal with the devil?” Was it the FBI or the very “Mafia enemy” they sought to defeat?
Also by Peter Lance: