In 1980, a bright young Harvard graduate named John LeBoutillier was elected to Congress representing Nassau County. A Republican with the family fortunes of Vanderbilts and Whitneys in his pockets, he was just 28 when he was carried into office by the Reagan landslide. Two years later, voters promptly ushered him out. But even that short stint gave him a spot in the sun which forever endeared him to the far right. He taunted House Speaker Tip O'Neill as "fat, bloated, and out of control, just like the federal budget." He called New York senator Pat Moynihan "a drunken bum." George McGovern was "scum."
He called himself "the Boot" and Rolling Stone dubbed his act "Republican Punk," an attitude which registered with those who found the National Review timid and stolid, if not with mainline voters. His spunkiness still intact, these days LeBoutillier divides his time between a column on a conservative website, appearances on Fox News, and a pair of causes dear to his patriotic heart.
One is skewering the Clintons. His "Stop Hillary" committee, launched last year, vows to unleash squads of truth tellers "the very minute" she announces for national office. His "Counter-Clinton" libraries, to be built in Washington and Little Rock, will serve as repositories for documentary evidence of Clintonian malfeasance.
His other crusade is of even older vintage and is waged against tougher odds: the rescue of American prisoners of war supposedly held hostage in Russia and Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War. The American, Russian, and Vietnamese governments insist no such P.O.W.'s exist, which makes his battle all the harder and leads him to recruit allies wherever he can find them. Currently, this includes the Federal Correctional Institution at Allenwood, Pennsylvania, where inmate No. 18344053, Frank "Frankie Blue Eyes" Sparaco, former captain in the Colombo crime family, is serving out a 288-month sentence for murder and racketeering.
Sparaco, 48, is a prisoner of a different war. He was a top lieutenant of imprisoned Colombo boss Carmine Persico and his son, Alphonse "Allie Boy" Persico, during the bloody mob strife that raged in Brooklyn's streets in the early '90s. Their faction wasn't known for military brilliance. Along with two other Colombo mob bigs, Sparaco was arrested in 1993 during what was somehow supposed to be a secret meetingthey were caught outside St. Patrick's Cathedral on Palm Sunday. Ten minutes after their arrest, Colombo family consigliere Carmine Sessa agreed to cooperate with the government and tell all. This helped convince Sparaco to plead guilty to five murders.
Before he went away, however, Sparaco said goodbye to an old pal whose East Side bar he had once frequented. The bar owner, Tim Secor, suggested Sparaco just might like to talk to his influential relative, LeBoutillier. "I put it together," Secor acknowledged last week. "Frank was one of my best friends."
Some time later, LeBoutillier told the Voice, Sparaco enlisted in a new struggle: using his unique talents and connections to reach out to imprisoned Russian, East European, and Vietnamese gangsters who might have knowledge of where missing P.O.W.'s are allegedly being held.
"In our prisons are hundreds of Russians, many of nefarious background; some were even in the KGB," said LeBoutillier last week. "You and I could not go and find these guys and talk to them. If anyone in there could talk to them, that's what I want. It doesn't matter what his background is, if he can help get information about American prisoners of war I'll talk to him."
LeBoutillier did more than talk to Sparaco. In addition to visiting the inmate at least four times in prison, he has also written repeatedly to federal officials asking them to place Sparaco in better accommodations.
In one such letter obtained by the Voice, LeBoutillier wrote in June 2001 to the warden at a federal prison in Schuylkill, Pennsylvania, where Sparaco was then being held. "Warden," he wrote, "would you please personally intervene and arrange to move Frank Sparaco from your facility to another FCI?" LeBoutillier asked, specifying low-security prisons at Fort Dix or Allenwood. "Frank and I continue to work on a most important issue," he confided, "that of the U.S. P.O.W.'s captured in Vietnam and Laos and taken to the Soviet Union. If Frank is moved too far away it makes this work very difficult."
Last May, LeBoutillier wrote again, this time to the warden of Sparaco's then residence, Fairton Federal Correctional Institution in southern New Jersey. This time, LeBoutillier asserted that his gangster-intelligence scheme was making big headway.
"For the past four years," he wrote, "[Sparaco] has used his contacts inside organized crime to approach the Russian Mafia to find U.S. P.O.W.'s taken from Vietnam to Russia and held there against [their] will. Mr. Sparaco has been immensely helpfuland successfulat this task. We are making serious progress because of his influence and never ending efforts. We may have located several U.S. airmen shot down over North Vietnam and then taken to Moscow. Later this summer we may successfully be able to bring these men home after more than 30 years as prisoners of war. My staff, my lawyers, and I need to visit Frank quite often," added LeBoutillier. "Thus it would greatly facilitate things if Frank were moved to either Ft. Dix or Allenwood Low [security]."
Prison records show that Sparaco was steadily moved around after his 1993 incarceration, eventually winding up in Allenwood last year, albeit in a medium-security prison, not the camp-style facility LeBoutillier had sought. Still, Frankie Blue Eyes, according to a friend of the inmate, credited his well-connected friend with his relocation.
A spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons said he couldn't comment on Sparaco's prison transfers or whether the ex-congressman's pleas were heeded or even received. And LeBoutillier said he doubted that his letters had any effect. "I am not terribly popular with this administration," he said. "After all, I accused former president Bush of participating in the cover-up of the P.O.W.'s." In fact the federal government, he said, was actively trying to undermine his efforts to find the P.O.W.'s and was undoubtedly the source behind the leaking of his letters to the Voice.
"This intrinsically proves that there are P.O.W.'s out there," he said. "When the government starts attacking me, leaking out my documents and memos, they must have an ulterior motive. If there are no prisoners, who gives a damn? So why leak my letters?"
For Sparaco's part, according to a friend who asked to remain anonymous, the prisoner is not only excited about his mission, but believes it could get him out of jail.
"LeBoutillier promised him he would get a presidential pardon if this comes off; that he'd be a hero," said the Sparaco pal. "He believes in this thing 100 percent."
The Boot denied it. "I always told him anything done to bring home American prisoners would be greatly appreciated by the American people, but I can't imagine a pardon or how to get one. I don't believe he ever said that," he said. And despite the claims in his letter, he said Sparaco has produced no news of missing P.O.W.'s. "The guy hasn't come up with anything," he said.
Sparaco's friend, however, said that the inmate insists not only that the campaign has borne fruit, but that a trio of secret government agents visited the gangster last year in prison, warning him to steer clear of LeBoutillier's wild ideas.
It wouldn't be the first time the crusader has been accused of inflating his claims. A 1993 senate committee investigation headed by war-hero senators John McCain and John Kerry accused LeBoutillier's organization and similar groups of making funding pitches to the public that were "outright frauds."
LeBoutillier said the attack was political, aimed at undermining the P.O.W. effort in order to normalize relations with Vietnam. In a column on newsmax.com last April, the former congressman, who spent the Vietnam years at Harvard, called both senators "liars" and "evil." Of the former pilot who spent six years in a Hanoi cell, he wrote: "To know McCain is to detest him."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.