Wearing glasses and a mock turtleneck, his temples graying, Carmine Sessa looked more like a tailor calculating the hem of a suit than the former consigliere of the Colombo crime family.
The years he'd spent in the witness protection program had obviously been good to the middle-aged former mobster. Appearing relaxed and physically fit, muscles bulging under his shirt, Sessa emerged from hiding to take the stand in Brooklyn Supreme Court Thursday as one of the chief prosecution witnesses in the government's case against former FBI supervisor Lindley DeVecchio, who is accused of helping another mobster commit four murders in the 1980s and 1990s.
Sessa calmly described his life of burglaries and bank robberies, as well as his involvement in 13 homicides, including the murder of Colombo mobster Vincent "Jimmy" Angelina, who was lured to a house to be killed by Sessa.
"When he came in the basement door, somebody pushed him and he knew something was wrong. He ran upstairs and he ran right into me. And I shot Jimmy Angelina," Sessa said.
The testimony shed some light on Sessa's time in the witness protection program, by which the government relocates witnesses to crimes and their families to protect them from retribution. Since 1971, the program has relocated more than 7,500 witnesses and more than 9,500 family members, according to the U.S. Marshal Service. No one in the program who has followed the security rules has ever been harmed while under protection.
Among the famous examples of survivors is Henry Hill, the gangster whose story of life in the mob was turned into director Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas."
After his arrest in 1980, Hill became an informant, and his testimony led to 50 convictions. When Hill, his wife and two children entered the witness protection program, they changed their names and were relocated to several locations in Omaha, Neb., Independence, Ky., and Redmond, Wash.
After several arrests on narcotics-related charges, Hill and his wife were expelled from the program in the early 1990s, and the couple soon divorced. He currently lives in Malibu, Calif., with his fiancée, Lisa Caserta, sells paintings on eBay and is opening a restaurant called Wiseguys tonight in West Haven, Conn.
Another mobster, Frank Cullotta, an infamous member of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang who was played by actor Frank Vincent in "Casino," entered the program in 1983. After he chose a new name and underwent a psychological test, he was handed a birth certificate and a new Social Security card along with some cash, and he relocated with his family. For a Chicago mobster, life in the sticks could be difficult.
"It was boring as hell," Cullotta told ABCNEWS.com. "I lived in Mobile, Ala. It's so small you see yourself coming and going. I lied and told the feds that I'd been spotted just so they could move me to Biloxi. ... Back then, it was more rural down there. They all used to say to me, 'What the hell you doing down here, Yankee?'"
"He was like a fish out of water," recalled Dennis Arnoldy, a retired FBI agent who'd handled Cullotta. "These guys were making lots of money, buying cars and jewelry, and here he is in some small town and we're paying him $1,300 a month."
And the program has not been without its close calls.