30 October 2007

Peter Lance, prophet.


As the trial of ex-FBI agent Lindley DeVecchio unfolds lots of intriguing peripheral facts are coming to light; often eclipsing the DeVecchio story itself.

DeVecchio is charged with four counts of murder in what authorities have called one of the worst law enforcement corruption cases in U.S. history.

The crux of the case is focused on DeVecchio and his working relationship with Colombo boss, Gregory Scarpa Sr. Scarpa was one of the toughest gangsters the mob has ever seen.

Prosecutors say Scarpa plied Agent DeVecchio with cash, jewelry, liquor and hookers in exchange for confidential information on suspected rats and rivals in the late 1980's and early 90's mob wars.

Yesterday Linda Schiro took the stand. Schiro was Gregory Scarpa Sr.'s long-time girlfriend.

Love birds: Gregory Scarpa Sr. and Linda Schiro in 1991

Scarpa died behind bars in 1994 but yesterday in court, his girlfriend Linda dropped a bomb amongst bombs.

Linda testified that the FBI used the mafia's muscle to solve the 1964 disappearance of three civil rights volunteers in Mississippi; becoming the first witness to repeat in open court a story that has been underworld lore for years; a story I first learned, among many others, in the pages of Peter Lance's eye-opening book, "Cover Up". Go buy it today on your lunch break, you won't be disappointed.

So Linda said that her boyfriend was recruited by the FBI to help find the volunteers' bodies. She said Scarpa later told her he put a gun in a Ku Klux Klansman's mouth and forced him to reveal the whereabouts of the victims.

The notion that Scarpa strong-armed a Klan member into giving up information about one of the most notorious crimes of the civil rights era has been talked about in mob circles for years.

It supposedly happened during the search for civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who were beaten and shot by a gang of Klansmen and buried in an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Miss. The case was famously dramatised in the movie "Mississippi Burning''

Investigators struggled for answers in the early days of the case, stymied by stonewalling Klan members.

Linda testified that after being recruited by the F.B.I., she and Scarpa traveled to Mississippi in 1964. She said they walked into the hotel where the FBI had gathered during the investigation, and the gangster winked at a group of agents. She said an agent later showed up in their room and handed Scarpa a gun.

The killings galvanised the struggle for equality in the South and helped bring about passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Seven people were convicted at the time, but none served more than six years.

Mississippi later reopened the case, winning a manslaughter conviction against former Klansmen and part-time preacher Edgar Ray Killen two years ago. He is now serving a 60-year prison sentence.

Amazingly Schiro's story about the Mississippi episode were only a brief part of her full day of testimony.


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