Linda Schiro, the key prosecution witness in the startling murder trial of former FBI agent R. Lindley DeVecchio, took the stand Monday, and it was hard not to find her deadly story convincing.
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 wasn’t much difference between the gangster and the FBI agent. “You know, you have to take care of this, she’s 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 Scarpa’s 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 Scarpa’s 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, “I’d be getting on the A train right now, headed for JFK and a plane someplace far away. He’s 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 city’s 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 book—not 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 promise—however difficult to enforce—that we not cooperate in any law-enforcement inquiries stemming from said book’s 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 DeVecchio’s and Scarpa’s relationship. A trio of FBI agents said they believed that their colleague had steadily tilted in Scarpa’s 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. That’s Schiro’s 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 story—one she later learned was apocryphal—about 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 Bari’s body had been dumped just a couple of blocks away.
“Why didn’t you just bring the body right in front of the house?” she said DeVecchio laughed to Scarpa.
Schiro said in our interviews that, as far as she knew, DeVecchio had nothing to do with the 1987 murder of a longtime Scarpa pal, a Colombo soldier named Joe DeDomenico, who went by the nickname of “Joe Brewster.”
Scarpa, she said, was so close to DeDomenico that he had been the best man at DeDomenico’s wedding and had stood as godfather to his friend’s son. But by 1987, Schiro told us, “Joe Brewster had started getting a little stupid.” She recalled a visit by DeDomenico to the couple’s home. “He was kind of drooling,” she said. “He was starting to use coke.” Schiro told us that Scarpa was also disturbed because he had asked his friend to “do something”—an unspecified crime—and been refused by DeDomenico, who said he was becoming a born-again Christian, an awkward creed for a mobster.
“Yeah, Greg had him killed,” Schiro said, naming Scarpa’s son Gregory Jr. and two of Scarpa’s crew members as the assassins. “They told him he had to go someplace, and they got all dressed up and they killed him.”
That interview took place on March 1, 1997, the day after agent DeVecchio had himself been forced to take the witness stand in Brooklyn federal court, where he was grilled by attorneys for a pair of Colombo crime family members seeking to have their convictions overturned. Their claim was that they were the victims of the FBI’s misbehavior with Scarpa, its prized informant.
Brewster’s name had been raised by one of the defense attorneys, who asked DeVecchio if he’d ever given Scarpa information about him. DeVecchio angrily denied it.
Having heard that exchange, we asked Schiro whether Lin DeVecchio had had anything to do with the death of Joe Brewster. She seemed briefly confused by the question. “No,” she said. “He never met Joe Brewster.”
Schiro said then that she had been puzzled, along with members of Scarpa’s crew, at Scarpa’s insistence that his old friend had to go. “I liked Joe Brewster too. I couldn’t understand. Bobby and Carmine couldn’t understand,” she said, referring to a pair of Scarpa’s cronies, one of whom, Carmine Sessa, testified last week in DeVecchio’s trial.
Most of our conversations with Schiro were tape-recorded. Some tapes have long since gone missing. Audibility is a problem in others. But the conversation about the murder of Joe Brewster has survived. So has Schiro’s story about another killing, that of Lorenzo Lampasi, a Colombo soldier gunned down by Scarpa and his gang during the crime family’s bloody civil war in the early 1990s.
Lampasi was murdered at 4 a.m. on May 22, 1992, just as he was leaving his Brooklyn home to go to work at the school bus company he operated with another Colombo wiseguy. The D.A. has charged DeVecchio with tipping Scarpa to Lampasi’s schedule and whereabouts.
On the witness stand Monday, Schiro said that was exactly what had happened. She said that Scarpa had been furious about a note Lampasi had sent him, one that said “there was talk on the street” that Scarpa was an informant. “This fucking Larry Lampasi,” she quoted Scarpa as telling DeVecchio, “he started rumors I am an informer, that I’m a rat.”
She said Scarpa asked DeVecchio to find out “exactly where Lampasi lives and what time he leaves in the morning.” A few days later, she testified, the agent returned with the information. “I was in the kitchen, and Lin gave him the address and told him he leaves the house at 4 a.m.” The agent had also filled in the gangster, she testified, about a balky gate that Lampasi had to open and close.
After Lampasi’s murder, she testified, DeVecchio had returned to the house, that same smirk on his face. “That was good information,” she said Scarpa told his FBI handler.
In 1997, however, Schiro repeatedly insisted to us that DeVecchio had nothing at all to do with the Lampasi homicide.
Schiro raised the subject herself back then. “There’s another thing too, with Larry Lampasi,” she told us. “See, when Lin is right, I give him right. He didn’t tell Greg about Larry Lampasi.”
What had happened, she explained, was that she and Scarpa had been at a family dinner in New Jersey in late 1991. “I think it was around Thanksgiving,” she said. Whenever the date, the dinner was hosted by Scarpa’s sister. At the table, Scarpa’s niece Rosemarie, a school bus driver, had complained to her powerful uncle that Lampasi was treating her badly.
“And I remember we were there, and she was crying to Greg they are giving her these crazy routes in bad neighborhoods,” Schiro told us. Lampasi wouldn’t let the niece, who lived on Staten Island, take her bus home with her, she said. “And she told Greg the times he gets in, the times he leaves. And Greg said, ‘I’ll take care of it for you.’ ”
As Schiro put it, Scarpa later “did what he did.” With Lampasi out of the picture, the new manager of the bus company gave the mobster’s niece what she wanted, Schiro said. “She does the best neighborhood in Staten Island. And she takes the bus home. So that Lin didn’t do,” Schiro told us. She added: “I know that for a fact.”
So this man died because of a fight over a job assignment? Schiro said that was beside the point. At the time, Scarpa was suffering from AIDS, which he contracted after receiving tainted blood in a transfusion. “Greg’s attitude at this time,” she told us, “was he was going to fuck everybody. He don’t give a fuck who he kills.”
But DeVecchio had nothing to do with it, she insisted. “We were sitting there when she told Greg all about Larry Lampasi,” she said. “Lin did not tell.”
A week later, we raised the Lampasi murder again after his name came up in a court hearing. Had she ever heard anything about a note that Lampasi had supposedly sent Scarpa, one that accused Scarpa of being a rat?
“No,” she said. “I told you about Greg’s niece.”
It’s possible, as prosecutors have suggested, that Linda Schiro previously hid her knowledge of DeVecchio’s role in these murders simply because she was frightened of him. The agent is a big man who served 33 years with the bureau, where he made powerful friends. Moreover, DeVecchio had already escaped punishment after an internal Justice Department probe of his handling of Scarpa.
But if she was scared of him—and she never said so on the stand Monday—Schiro showed no sign of it in 1997. When she talked with us about the FBI agent, she sounded unconcerned. “I was friendly with Lin,” she said at one point. She even put him in lesser crimes, claiming that Scarpa had sometimes passed cash to DeVecchio and, on one occasion, gave the agent a couple of baubles from a jewelry heist.
And if fear made her hide the agent’s role in the murders of Bari, DeDomenico, and Lampasi, it seems strange that she didn’t hesitate at the time to put DeVecchio directly into another murder, that of Patrick Porco, the teenager who had been her son Joey’s best friend until Greg Scarpa decided he was a threat who needed to stop breathing.
On the witness stand Monday, Schiro said she has told the sad story of Porco’s murder—and DeVecchio’s role—to several writers. “It’s because I love Patrick,” she said. “He was like a son to me.”
Porco was just 18 when he was shot to death on May 27, 1990. His mistake had been to spend the previous Halloween cruising the Bensonhurst streets in a white stretch limo with Joey Schiro and two other pals. Along the way, they’d been pelted with eggs by a rival gang of kids. The teens decided to imitate their adult role models. They returned with a shotgun and blew away a 17-year-old standing on the steps of Our Lady of Guadalupe Roman Catholic Church.
Greg initially ordered Joey and his friend to get out of town, sending them to a New Jersey farm owned by relatives. Bored, the boys returned to Brooklyn. Police soon brought Porco in for questioning about the homicide.
Last week, at the DeVecchio trial, a prosecution witness named Rey Aviles, who was present at the Halloween shooting, testified that it was Porco himself who told Joey Schiro and his old man about his encounter with the cops.
But Linda Schiro told us in 1997—and testified on the stand this week—that the information came from DeVecchio. “Lin called, he said the kid was going to tell the detectives what happened,” Schiro told us. She remembered that the agent was unusually secretive. Usually, she said, DeVecchio was willing to chat on the home phone with his informant. This time, Schiro said, he insisted that Scarpa call him back from an outside line. “I drove him to the pay phone,” Schiro said. They used what she said was a special, untraceable number to call DeVecchio. “Greg got back in the car and told me that this kid Patrick was going to rat on Joey,” said Schiro.
Scarpa initially wanted one of his crew members, a man named Joe “Fish” Marra, to do the job on his son’s friend. But Joe Fish’s car broke down, and Schiro said Scarpa didn’t want to waste any time. He ordered Joey, along with Schiro’s cousin, John Sinagra, to do it themselves.
Schiro said Joey pleaded with his father. “Joey was saying, ‘Dad, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Patrick wouldn’t do that.’ ”Schiro said Scarpa refused to listen. She said Scarpa slammed his hand on the table. “Joey, listen what I’m telling you,” she quoted Scarpa as saying.
When her son came back home after the murder, she said, he told his father that he’d pulled the trigger. “But I don’t know if Joey had it in him to do that,” she said. “They left his body by the Belt Parkway.”
After the slaying, Schiro said, her son stayed in his room, refusing to go to the wake. “Joey was sick about it,” said Schiro. “He loved the kid.” Scarpa, however, ordered Linda to go. “I says, ‘I have to go to the wake?’ Here I am, sitting in the funeral parlor, and the mother comes out—she knows how close [her son] was to Joey—and she’s hysterical, crying. I get the chills just thinking about it.”
On the witness stand, Schiro added a chilling coda to the story when she testified that DeVecchio had later brushed off Scarpa’s lament that his son was inconsolable over his friend’s murder. “Better he cries now than he goes to jail,” Schiro said the agent replied. Despite our questioning, she somehow never mentioned that memorable comment to us.
Greg Scarpa Sr. died in prison in 1994, jailed for his participation in multiple murders during the Colombo civil war. Ravaged by AIDS, the body that federal prison authorities sent home to Schiro weighed just 56 pounds.
Nine months later, her Joey was dead as well, murdered in a drug deal gone wrong.
According to the D.A.’s office, it was the cop who solved that case, Detective Tommy Dades, who eventually convinced Linda Schiro to finally tell about how the FBI agent who was supposed to be harvesting secrets from his top informant traded back murderous secrets of his own.
At the trial’s opening, DeVecchio’s defense attorneys, Doug Grover and Mark Bederow, offered their own explanation for Schiro’s decision to talk. They said she’s trying to sell a book.