Friday, June 30, 2017

Booknote: Friends of the Family

Tommy Dades and Mike Vecchione, with David Fisher, Friends of the Family: the Inside Story of the Mafia Cops Case. New York: Harper, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-06-087427-8.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: true crime, police corruption, Mafia, the mob, New York City
Format: paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

After reading Casino and The Way of the Wiseguy (links go to my reviews of those), I wanted to try out the true crime genre a bit more. I saw Friends of the Family at the library. It seemed interesting, so I picked it up. It is the kind of story  that might make a decent made-for-television movie but not so much a Hollywood film.

This is the story of two cops, Louie Eppolito and Steve Caracappa, who went on to be highly ranked and decorated NYPD detectives. They also became paid hit men for the mob and moles for the mob inside the police. At the time, this was the biggest scandal and betrayal of the badge the NYPD had ever seen. They almost got away with it. They were not caught at the time, and they happily retired to Las Vegas, Nevada in the 1990s. They were living the good life. A decade later, another NYPD police detective, Tommy Dades, who is close to retirement, takes a long look at the case, and working with Brooklyn ADA Mike Vecchione, brings the case back to life, turning it into a historic case.

The book has drama, and suspense, and characters you can root for. It also has a lot of procedural details. If you like reading about the work investigators do behind the scenes and about legal wranglings, this book is for you. Those are the not so glamorous parts that don't make it into legal dramas but make the bread and butter of police work. So you may find it interesting or a bit slow reading at times. Then you get to a real infuriating part, the legal maneuvering for fame and glory. Brooklyn started building a case the feds all but forgot. The moment the feds sniffed a chance at press and glory, they did every cheat, lie, and trick to steal the case from the city, even reneging on deals they made with  the city for collaboration, so on. That part I found particularly disgusting because the feds showed that justice did not matter as much as getting headlines even if it meant taking credit for work they did not do. Despite that, the cops were eventually taken to trial, but getting them there took a lot of drama.

The book's pacing varies. It has parts where the narratives moves fast and draws you in. Then it has other parts where it slows down, and at times it may get bogged down in minutiae. So in terms of reading experience, it can be a little inconsistent. Yet overall it is a dark tale of corruption and justice served. Overall, I liked it. It's a book to read once and enjoy; certainly a book to borrow.

3 out of 5 stars.

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Additional Reading Notes:

So, how bad were these cops? Well, at the time, nothing like this had happened. The closest thing was a 1914 case of an NYPD lieutenant who was associated with street gangs. The two cops' damage was so bad we may never know all of it:

"The extent of the damage that Eppolito and Caracappa did to the department may never be completely totaled. They gave up informants to the mob, who murdered them. They informed the mob about wiretaps and investigations, they warned men who were about to go on the lam, they forced innocent people to confess to crimes they hadn't committed by threatening to kill their families, they provided whatever  information the mob needed, they kidnapped people and turned them over to wiseguys to be tortured and killed, and finally they put on their badges, pulled their guns, and murdered at point-blank range. There's no possible way of figuring out how many investigations they destroyed, how many people died because of them" (7). 

Turns out that, as if all else was not bad enough, the two cops even had instances of passing on the wrong information:

"Casso found out they'd wacked the wrong Nicky Guido from the newspapers. According to the story in the papers, this Nicky Guido was an installer for the telephone company. The murder of Nicky Guido had been a simple mistake. The two cops had provided the wrong address. No one knew what the intended victim looked like, so they had killed an innocent person" (87). 

One way investigators fill in information gaps:

"There are information gaps in every investigation. Usually, they can be filled in by putting together causes and events, what had to happen to enable the next action to take place. It's a leap of information, sort of the way a nerve impulse will leap across a synapse from one neuron to another" (146). 

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This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

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