STEVE INSKEEP, host:
New Yorkers spent much of this spring and summer following a story of two cops gone wrong. A judge threw out their convictions even though he said they were guilty of killing for the mafia.
The story of one of those cops starts us on a series of conversations about the American underworld.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Louis Eppolito was a detective with the New York City Police Department. A big, burly guy who fit the profile in every way except one: his father was a made man in the mob.
Still, in his early years, Louis Eppolito was a much-admired street cop.
Mr. BOB DRURY (Author, Mafia Cop: The Story of an Honest Cop Whose Family Was the Mob): He liked putting bad guys away. The NYPD, in its history, has never been known as the cleanest of police organizations, and in that sense, Louis kind of fit right in. I don't think he was a thief. I don't think he was shaking people down, like some other police officers at the time were. I think that he enjoyed, really enjoyed, being a cop.
MONTAGNE: Bob Drury co-wrote the book, Mafia Cop: The Story of an Honest Cop Whose Family Was the Mob. He met Detective Eppolito in the late 1980s, long before Eppolito went on trial for moonlighting as a mafia hit man. Author Bob Drury.
Mr. DRURY: It is odd for a guy to come out of a family, and that family is a dual family - A) it's the Eppolito family, and B) it's the Gambino family - I doubt very much highly if there's more than three or four people in the history of the New York Police Department whose family was so entangled with organized crime.
MONTAGNE: His father, Ralph Eppolito, was known as Fat the Gangster, at one point.
Mr. DRURY: Fat the Gangster.
MONTAGNE: His uncle was Jimmy the Clam. Just...
Mr. DRURY: Well, I mean it, come on, this is a world populated by Crazy Tonys and the Louis the Lips. I mean, anybody who watches the Sopranos realizes the worth of a good nickname. His father was an old-school mobster. His father hated cops. Louis Eppolito rebelled against that, and he said I'm not going to become what my father was. I'm not going to become what my uncle and my cousins are. I'm going to go in the other direction.
Yet, deep down, I think there was a lot of Fat the Gangster in Louis Eppolito. When he was a young cop, a patrolman, I mean he was renowned for running down -I mean literally, Starsky and Hutch type, running down - perps on the street. There some old lady was mugged and Louis Eppolito would chase the guy over fences and across sidewalks and around buildings, half-hour chases, and he'd get the guy.
MONTAGNE: When he retired he had more medals, like how many...
Mr. DRURY: Right.
MONTAGNE: ...the second most medals...
Mr. DRURY: Depending on how you count them up, he was one of the most decorated police officers ever in the history of the NYPD. Which I think makes Eppolito's alleged fall from grace all the more fascinating.
MONTAGNE: So how did he fall from grace? While he was still a police officer...
Mr. DRURY: While he was in the - that's right, in 1986 he was brought up on internal charges for consorting with known mobsters. And he freely admitted, yes, I consorted with mobsters, because they were my uncle's friends. What, am I going to go out of my way not to say hello to my uncle's friends, my father's friends, my cousin's friends? But if you've got anything on me, show it to me right now, because I've never done anything for, with, against the law, with anyone who's in the mafia. And they came up with no proof, and he beat the rap. But I think that left some kind of scar on him.
MONTAGNE: So after he was exonerated, well, the first murder charge under this conspiracy was in 1986.
Mr. DRURY: Correct. I met Eppolito, I guess I was introduced to him around '88. This is the time when he is alleged to have been killing people for the mob. And did I think him capable of killing someone? Most definitely. This was not a gentle man, whatsoever. But I didn't, he never struck me as the type of guy who would kill somebody for money. Perhaps I'm wrong. I guess we'll know when the next court case comes around.
But this is a hard case. This is not as cut and dried as - and I'm an old tabloid guy. I love tabloids. I worked for the New York Post as a sports columnist, I worked for the Daily News as a crime writer, and I love tabloids. But the tabloids like to put this out black and white, and you know, they need a hero, they need a villain. And this case is not as cut and dried as, I think, some of the newspapers make it out to be.
MONTAGNE: Bob Drury, thanks for joining us.
Mr. DRURY: My pleasure, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Bob Drury is author of Mafia Cop.
The government is appealing the judge's ruling that the statute of limitations has run out on the conspiracy murder charges. Meanwhile, Louis Eppolito remains in solitary confinement while awaiting trial on other charges of drug dealing.
INSKEEP: Our conversations on the American underworld continue tomorrow. We will meet a woman who knew one of the victims of the cops-turned-hit men. Andrea Giovino was married to a string of mobsters and thugs.
Ms. ANDREA GIOVINO (Acquaintance of Murder Victim): I've known about murders where they put the guy in the tank over the pier and then they shot shots into the tank to torture him before he died. And then they threw it off the pier and threw it in the water. I've seen and witnessed a lot of it.
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