By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
In a soft voice and a strong South Brooklyn accent, Schiro, 62, nervously but soberly laid out how Lin DeVecchio had regularly visited the homes she shared in Bensonhurst with the love of her life, a swaggering Mafia soldier and secret government informant named Greg Scarpa Sr. On four of those visits, Schiro said, DeVecchio had provided Scarpa with the lethal information that her gangster lover then used to murder four people.
To hear Schiro tell it, there wasnt much difference between the gangster and the FBI agent. You know, you have to take care of this, shes going to be a problem, she quoted DeVecchio as saying prior to the 1984 murder of a beautiful girlfriend of a high-level member of Scarpas Colombo crime family who was allegedly talking to law enforcement.
She had the agent, a smirk on his face, talking the same way in 1987 about a drug-addled member of Scarpas crew. You know, Schiro said DeVecchio told Scarpa, we gotta take care of this guy before he starts talking. The crew member was soon dead as well.
When Supreme Court Justice Gustin Reichbach called the first break of the day, reporters polled one another as to whether this crucial witness was believable.
If I was him, said one old hand, pointing at the defendant, Id be getting on the A train right now, headed for JFK and a plane someplace far away. Hes dead. A veteran reporter sitting next to him nodded in agreement.
The first time I heard Linda Schiro, she also sounded convincing.
That was 10 years ago, when Schiro sat down to talk with me and Jerry Capeci, then and now the citys most knowledgeable organized-crime reporter. But the story she told us then is dramatically different from the one she has now sworn to as the truth.
Which puts us in no small bind.
The ground rules when we spoke to Schiro in 1997 were that the information she provided would only be used in a booknot in news articles. She also exacted a pledge that we would not attribute information directly to her. And in a cautious but not unreasonable demand for a woman who spent her life married to the mob, she required a promisehowever difficult to enforcethat we not cooperate in any law-enforcement inquiries stemming from said books publication.
Sadly, no book ever emerged. The law-enforcement inquiries, however, did. They have taken on a life of their own, and it is Schiro, having shed her former concerns about confidentiality, who has now become the cooperator.
In the eight days of testimony before Schiro took the stand, a parade of mob cooperators and investigators testified about their suspicions concerning DeVecchios and Scarpas relationship. A trio of FBI agents said they believed that their colleague had steadily tilted in Scarpas favor, possibly passing crucial information to him.
But suspicion is all anyone offered. Not a single witness, prior to Schiro, was able to put the former agent in any of the four murders for which he was indicted more than a year ago. Thats Schiros task. The D.A.s case appears to rest on her.
If convicted, DeVecchio, 67, faces life in prison.
Those are the kind of high stakes that take precedence over contracts and vows of confidence, no matter how important they may be to the business of reporting, and regardless of how distasteful it may be to violate them. The threat of a life sentence trumps a promise.
Lin DeVecchio may be guilty, or he may be innocent. But one thing is clear: What Linda Schiro is saying on the witness stand now is not how she told the story 10 years ago concerning three of the four murder counts now at issue.
Schiro told us then, as she did the court this week, that Scarpa hid nothing from her, letting her share in both his Mafia secrets and his precarious position as an FBI informant. In the 1984 murder of Mary Bari, the glamorous young woman who was dating a Colombo crime family figure, Schiro told how Scarpa and his gang had lured her to a mob social club and then shot her in the face. She told the ghoulish storyone she later learned was apocryphalabout how a pet boxer had sniffed out an ear from the victim that, unbeknownst to her killers, had been shot away during the grisly murder. But Schiro said she knew little as to the why of the slaying.
All I know is they had word she was turning; she was gonna let information out, Schiro told us then. Back then, she made no mention of DeVecchio at all in connection with the slaying. But in court this week, she said the one who claimed that Mary Bari was an informant was DeVecchio, describing her as a problem to be taken care of. After the murder, she testified, DeVecchio had returned to the home she then shared with Scarpa on Avenue J and joked about the way Baris body had been dumped just a couple of blocks away.