Dispatches From a Mob Trial
Anatomy of a Mafia mole.
Kaplan wound up in Allenwood Camp, a minimum-security federal jail. There he met a raft of gangsters, including Anthony Dilapi, a made member of the Lucchese family, whose murder he would eventually facilitate, and Frank "Frankie Junior" Santora Jr., who was "loosely associated" with the Gambino family. Santora became Kaplan's best friend in jail and, as it happened, he had a cousin in the NYPD named Louis Eppolito.
Two years out of prison, in 1985, his garment and marijuana businesses flourishing, Kaplan threw a wedding for his daughter, then a recent law school graduate. The wedding party bridged his two worlds. Christopher "Christy Tick" Furnari, consigliere of the Lucchese gang attended, and his presence was, as Kaplan testified, "an honor"; Anthony Casso and Victor "Little Vic" Amuso, who later became the Lucchese boss, were also on hand. Several friends from Allenwood were there, as well as a lot of lawyers and garment executives. Kaplan had the photos to prove it, shown in court and the next day in the Daily News.
Asked on cross-examination whether a soon-to-be-minted attorney might be embarrassed by elements of that guest list, Kaplan denied it: "She might have become a criminal-defense lawyer," he said testily.
In fact, Deborah Kaplan did become a criminal-defense lawyer, leaving a high-paying law firm job to join Legal Aid in 1986. In 2002, and while her father was serving a 27-year sentence for drug smuggling, Deborah Kaplan was elected a criminal-court judge in Manhattan.
Frank Santora was at the wedding, too. Like Kaplan, Santora was from the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. When he came home from Allenwood, he made Kaplan an offer. Santora, Kaplan testified, said he had a cousin who was an NYPD detective. His cousin and his cousin's partner could give Kaplan a heads up if he was under investigation or surveillance. If necessary, testified Kaplan, Santora said his cousin was capable of murder, too.
At first, Kaplan told him no because he didn't want to be in business with cops. But Casso had obtained some stolen Treasury bills and needed a fence. Kaplan coordinated the sale with the help of Joe Banda, a Hasidic Jewish diamond dealer with connections to bankers overseas. After some initial success, there was a hiccup, and Kaplan suspected that a jeweler brought in by Banda might turn on Banda, who would implicate Kaplan. He called on Santora: "I asked him if he had the ability to take a murder contract," Kaplan testified. "Without a doubt," Santora replied, and he said he would enlist his cousin and his cousin's partner to help carry it out. The two cops "arrested" the jeweler, put him in a car and delivered him to Santora, who shot him, said Santora, according to Kaplan. The payment was $30,000.
Soon after, in 1986, someone shot, but failed to kill, Casso. Naturally, he wanted revenge. As luck would have it, Casso was shot in the 63rd Precinct, where Eppolito worked. Eppolito gave Santora the investigation file on the attempted murder. Santora gave it to Kaplan, who shared it with Casso. The file pointed to a young wannabe gangster named Jimmy Hydell, and a man named Nick Guido.
Now Casso knew Hydell. Hydell had once permitted his Doberman pinscher to growl at a friend of Casso's just outside a social club Casso frequented. In response, Casso went into the club, got a gun, came out, and shot the dog.
When he saw the police file, Casso, working through Kaplan and Santora, had the crooked cops find Hydell and deliver him for execution. "He took great pleasure in telling me he did it himself," Kaplan testified. Casso paid Santora and the cops $35,000, plus a $5,000 bonus.
Nick Guido was harder to track down. Casso sent word, again via Kaplan, that he wanted more information on him. The cops asked for an additional $4,000, but Casso thought they were being greedy. After all, he had just paid them the extra $5,000. He located Nick Guido on his own. Unfortunately Casso found—and killed—the wrong Nick Guido. To this Santora allegedly observed, "Maybe Gas [Casso] should have paid the $4,000 and got the right Nick Guido."
In 1987, Santora was murdered. (He was in the wrong place when another mobster was gunned down.) At this point, Kaplan was introduced to Eppolito directly. He had seen the two detectives previously but had never met them or been told their names. When Kaplan found himself sitting across from Eppolito in Frank Santora's widow's dining room, businessman that he was, he formalized the relationship. Eppolito suggested a $4,000 monthly retainer. Special work, like murders, would be extra. Kaplan went to Casso, who agreed.
Dan Ackman is a lawyer and journalist based in Jersey City, N.J.
Photograph of Louis Eppolito on Slate's home page by Bryan Smith/ZUMA Press.