The Mob Meets the Detectives

Secret FBI Tapes Spell Trouble for Labor Bigs

Moreover, Gardell's whole alleged gambit—to get the annuity fund to hire a money manager who would place investments in mob-tied stock schemes—was "absurd," according to Scotto. "It was impossible to have happened. We don't entertain Mickey Mouse-type stock deals. We are one of the most highly efficient annuity funds in the city of New York."

Unlike the detectives' pension funds, which are jointly managed by union and city officials, the annuity fund is run by five union members. Scotto is a trustee, as was Gardell until his retirement last year. But Gardell never presented the plan to the board, said Scotto.

There was one unfortunate coincidence, Scotto acknowledged. Labate, the reputedly mobbed-up stock trader, lives across the street from him in Staten Island. But Scotto maintained, "I never even knew his last name. I called him 'Jimmy.' "

Gardell knew Labate as well from the neighborhood, according to Joseph Tacopina, Gardell's attorney, an ex-prosecutor who frequently represents police officers. And the detective's appearances at the investment firm were simply legitimate visits to a successful friend. "I have listened to the entirety of the evidence and there isn't a tape that establishes the guilt of Steve Gardell," said Tacopina. "And if there was no scheme to defraud the fund then Tom Scotto is innocent as well."

The Conversations

December 1, 1999, was the very first day the FBI started listening to its newly placed bugs in office 1604, and right away agents heard Pokross and Labate talking about a supposedly secret FBI plan to round up some other organized crime suspects the following day—a tip allegedly provided by Gardell.

"What's the story with this Gardell thing for tomorrow?" asked Pokross. "Who's going to get pinched? It don't involve the little guy?" he asked, using a reference to Lino. "Not at all," responded Labate.

The tip proved solid: The next day, the FBI swept up 39 suspects, including leaders of the small, New Jersey-based DeCavalcante crime family—the often bumbling mob group that allegedly inspired The Sopranos.

It was the second time Gardell had tipped his pals about pending arrests, prosectors claim. Earlier, on October 19, 1999, Gardell allegedly told Labate that federal warrants had been issued for eight defendants, including Colombo crime family associates, according to the feds.

That December day, the traders were grateful. They had dispatched Gardell to the Paris hotel in Las Vegas for a five-day fling with comped meals, and they left a message on his room telephone. "Steven, it's Sal," said Salvatore Piazza, another reputedly mob-tied partner in the enterprise. "Jimmy and everyone want to know how you got there and if the room's OK. Call the office and let us know how you're doing." Moments later, Piazza spoke admiringly of the detective: " . . . Everything he always said he was gonna set up, he did."

When Michael Grecco, one of the traders' friends, was charged with slugging someone at a Christmas party a few days later, Gardell allegedly took credit for getting the charge tossed by fellow detectives. "This kid was going right to the can," Pokross told Labate.

The wiseguys found the detective smart as well as useful. On February 7, 2000, Labate reported that he had spent four and a half hours talking with Gardell the night before. "[H]e knows a lot about everything. He knows all of this business, he was pickin' my brains," said Labate, adding: "If you think . . . every cop's feedin' him information, every detective feedin' him information, you're out of your mind."

Gardell's favors ranged from the sinister to the mundane, prosecutors charge. Several of the traders carried guns ("For the one time you need it," Labate explained on one tape), and Gardell helped Pokross get a carrying permit, for which Labate allegedly paid him $1000. The detective also is accused of providing other highly prized New York City items: police parking permits. The wiseguy traders were heard discussing the etiquette of their use: where to park, how to use them for HOV lanes, what explanation to offer if challenged.

"[Y]ou have to keep my phone number with you in case something happens, you're drunk and you get pulled over with it," Labate explained as he gave a permit to John Black, a stockbroker allegedly tied to the Luchese crime family. "[T]hey're gonna bring you in the station house, you're gonna call me and I'm gonna have you taken out of the station house. I'm serious. . . . How do you think we got Mikie [Grecco] help?"

Those were the perks of office, the little things that a cop with connections could offer ordinary civilians, winning their gratitude and admiration. But the nub of the conspiracy, prosecutors charge, was Gardell's access to the millions contributed annually by the city on behalf of each detective to the DEA's annuity fund, a post-retirement bonus for those who put in hard years on the job. What was in it for Gardell that an otherwise good cop would jeopardize his comrades' savings?

Fifty thousand dollars, according to prosecutors. That's what they claim Jimmy Labate was talking about on March 6, 2000, when he and Gardell discussed the upcoming arrival of a respected investment adviser from San Francisco named William Stephens.

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