A former FBI agent whose reputation was considered unimpeachable by colleagues was indicted Thursday on four murder charges for allegedly providing inside information to a mob figure, who then ordered the killings.
Lindley DeVecchio had a "corrupt" relationship with Colombo crime family boss Gregory Scarpa Sr. that led him to provide specific, detailed information that led to the murders, according to the indictment unsealed today by New York City's Brooklyn prosecutor, Charles "Joe " Hynes.
DeVecchio at least once suggested Scarpa commit a murder, Hynes said.
"Over the last four months, a special rackets grand jury has heard from over 30 witnesses ... as a result, the grand jury has voted an indictment," he said.
Those witnesses included agents from the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Hynes said the investigation into DeVecchio began as Rep. William Delahunt, R-Mass., was preparing for hearings into allegations against FBI agents involved in organized crime investigations.
"After each of the murders, DeVecchio met with Scarpa," Hynes said.
Hynes said DeVecchio took weekly payments from Scarpa from 1980 to 1982. He said DeVecchio met with Scarpa to discuss information and receive money. Hynes said that the FBI approved a DeVecchio request for payments to Scarpa. But more than $66,000 earmarked for Scarpa never arrived in Scarpa's hands.
For 30 years, DeVecchio was one of the FBI 's most important mob busters.
DeVecchio was Scarpa's handler, and Scarpa was more than an ordinary stool pigeon -- he had also allegedly served as muscle for the FBI when the bureau needed some extra legal assistance in making difficult cases. As a result, he was allegedly accorded special, sometimes questionable, favors, including tips on coming indictments that allowed Scarpa's associates to skip town in advance. But, in aiding his informant to commit murder, prosecutors now allege that DeVecchio went too far in protecting his valuable mob asset. Law enforcement sources say DeVecchio may have also enriched himself in the process.
DeVecchio voluntarily surrendered to authorities yesterday on four counts of second-degree murder contained in the still-sealed indictment that was handed down last week by a Brooklyn grand jury, law enforcement sources and DeVecchio's attorney confirm.
"We've been advised that there is an indictment filed. We have been asked to surrender today," said DeVecchio's attorney, Douglas Grover, a former senior special attorney for the Justice Department's Brooklyn-based Organized Crime Strike Force.
DeVecchio's indictment is the latest chapter in a long, controversial relationship between the FBI and Scarpa that law enforcement sources say dates back to the 1960s and includes the FBI's use of Scarpa to punch, kidnap and pistol-whip suspects. In this relationship, law enforcement sources say, Scarpa served as a well-placed mob stool pigeon who, for decades, provided the FBI with information against his underworld rivals. In turn, the FBI provided Scarpa with information that allowed his mob associates to skip town before they were indicted, according to law enforcement sources and multiple published reports.
According to law enforcement sources and published reports, Scarpa was used as a "soldier of fortune" to help J. Edgar Hoover's FBI solve the 1964 murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Mississippi. With Southern racists mocking the FBI for its inability to solve the murders, Scarpa was allegedly sent to the hamlet where the three young men disappeared.
Once there, he visited a Klan-linked appliance merchant whom he punched and tossed in the trunk of a car and drove to a remote spot where, under FBI supervision, he removed the man from the car, stuck a gun in his mouth and threatened to blow his brains out if he did not tell him where the bodies were buried, the sources said. The man directed the FBI to a clay dam, where the bodies were found. The incident is fictionalized in "Mississippi Burning," though in the movie Scarpa's alleged role is given to an unnamed black special agent who gets the Klan sympathizer to confess by threatening him with castration.
Prosecutors say this cozy and questionable relationship appeared to have ended in the early 1970s when Scarpa's handler at the FBI retired and Scarpa himself was placed on a list of inactive informants. DeVecchio however, reviewed that list, prosecutors say, and believed Scarpa could be of value to his own anti-mob campaigns, and got the stoolie reactivated.
By the early 1990s, the relationship between the agent and the informant had spawned a series of allegations, including one that DeVecchio had aided Scarpa in mob murders, but an FBI Office of Professional Responsibility investigation determined the allegations were unfounded. Supporters of DeVecchio cite that determination as one reason why they believe the current charges will be found baseless.
ABC News has learned that Hynes has developed new witnesses whose testimony the prosecutors believe will be relatively credible. That testimony is expected to also help demonstrate that DeVecchio may have used both Scarpa and the FBI -- skimming money from each -- to enrich himself, law enforcement sources said. Whether information from those witnesses can be substantiated by documents is something that prosecutors admit they will have to prove at trial, and that would require records from the FBI.
"We think the people that are testifying to the DA today have their own baggage," said DeVecchio's attorney. He said that he expects to be able to show that any testimony could be contradicted by previous statements made by those same witnesses, as well as by other federally protected witnesses.
Although the FBI has never confirmed the allegations that it used Scarpa as an "op" in jobs too seedy for a badge-carrying federal lawman, the Brooklyn prosecutor's office hinted that it has developed information about the ways Scarpa was used that is independent of the previously published accounts, and which may expand on them. Those detailed, published accounts were first reported in 1994 in the New York Daily News by Tom Robbins, now of the Village Voice, and Jerry Capeci, the mob chronicler whose Web site, GANGLAND, is widely read by mob buffs and law enforcement officials. Robbins and Capeci first disclosed the relationship between Scarpa and the FBI on the 30th anniversary of the civil rights murder. Selwyn Raab, a retired reporter for The New York Times, separately corroborated it in his mob history, "Five Families."
An all-star cast of former top FBI agents is in DeVecchio's corner, including one of the most highly regarded inflitrators of the mafia in FBI history, special agent Joseph Pistone, more familiar to moviegoers as Donnie Brasco. These men say DeVecchio's indictment is the result of mob lawyers pressuring prosecutors to examine the allegations against DeVecchio -- his conviction could potentially lead to verdicts against their clients getting tossed out. They say that the federal courts have already rejected the suggestion that DeVecchio could have been working not against but for the mob.
While the former federal agents who stand firmly with their colleague have protested his innocence, the Brooklyn prosecutor would not bring charges lightly. Hynes has a long record of success in controversial cases, including his role as a special prosecutor in a racially charged murder that threatened New York with riots in 1986, and which was the subject of the book "Incident at Howard Beach," and his role as the special prosecutor who exposed corruption in the state's nursing home system. He has recently convicted the former head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party in a political corruption scandal.