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."