Book 'Em is an exciting new feature on Crimesider. Every week we interview a top true-crime author to get the story behind their story.
(St. Martin's Press)
For our first week, we spoke with journalist and bestselling author Sandra Harmon, whose new book, Mafia Son: The Scarpa Mob Family, the FBI, and a Story of Betrayal, tells the story of Greg Scarpa, Jr., a hardened criminal and former Mob "wiseguy," who, according to Harmon, became a jailhouse spy who gave the FBI information that might have averted the tragedy of 9/11, if only the Feds had listened.
In her book, Harmon details how she gained inside access to both Mob and law enforcement figures and became a trusted confidante to an unrepentant mob killer turned FBI informant.
Harmon told Crimesider about the dangers of reporting on the Mob, the FBI's missed opportunities to prevent 9/11, and the intriguing sex life of one of the mob's most dangerous men.
Interview By Barry Leibowitz, Senior Writer at 48 Hours | Mystery
What drew you to this story?
Harmon: Although I had never before written about crime - my biggest bestseller was "Elvis and Me," written with Priscilla Presley - I became intrigued by the twisted and sometimes tragic tale of the Scarpa family.
Gregory Scarpa, Sr. was a mafia kingpin, so addicted to violence and murder that he was nicknamed The Grim Reaper. But Scarpa had hubris; he played both sides of the fence. For the thirty years he was leading a crew of fifty mobsters in a life of crime, he was also a top echelon informant for the FBI. For decades, his intimate relationship with his "handler," the much publicized former FBI agent Lin DeVecchio, protected Scarpa and granted him a virtual license to kill, which he did, quite often, and always with obvious relish.
Photo: Gregory Scarpa, Sr.
I learned about the extraordinary love affair between Greg Sr. and a woman named Linda Schiro. Although married to others, they raised a family together and remained "intimate" – demonstrating such deep and obvious love for each other and devotion to their family – that I wondered how they could have led such a heinous, amoral existence.
Then, I learned of Linda's fondness for "threesome's," and Greg Sr.'s total acceptance of another man sharing their bed for fifteen years – Larry Mazza, a man who rose in the mafia to become Greg's right hand man - at the same time sleeping with his boss's mistress – often with all three in the same bed. Why would this psychopathic killer allow another man in his bed? Did he love Linda so much that he would do anything to make her happy? Or did he do it for himself? I admit I was intrigued.
But intrigue is not enough for me to take up the long and arduous task of writing a book. What first pushed me forward was the need to uncover what I believed was the corrupt and self serving relationship between Greg Sr. and Lin DeVecchio. Ultimately, I became so involved in the story that I sent an affidavit to the Brooklyn District Attorney, which, in part, resulted in Lin DeVecchio being indicted on four counts of murder. In fact, I became so embroiled in the story that I was actually subpoenaed by both the prosecution and the defense to tell all I knew, and was forced to hire a first amendment attorney to protect my journalistic rights. It was a great eye-opener for me about all aspects of the "crime community," the bad guys and the supposed good guys as well.
What's the most compelling or surprising aspect of this story that you can reveal?
Harmon: The most compelling and surprising aspect of this story is that of Gregory Scarpa Jr., who was a promising young athlete until, to please his Machiavellian father, he entered the family business and became a mobster. In the late 80's, he was betrayed by Greg Sr., who sacrificed his son to save himself from prison.
Photo: Ramzi Yousef.
After a decade in federal prison, and awaiting a new trial, Greg Jr. was moved to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City and placed in a cell next to Ramzi Yousef, architect of the 1993 World Trade Bombing. Greg made a deal with the government to get information from Yousef in exchange for leniency. A year later he furnished the feds with detailed intelligence on what would eventually result in the September 11th attacks.
But incredibly, Gregory's desperate warnings were both ignored and buried; he was sentenced to 40 years to life at the ADMAX Prison in Florence, Colorado. There, he would supply the FBI with intelligence on Oklahoma City bomber and fellow prisoner Terry Nichols. Again his contribution was ignored, and Gregory remains at ADMAX, where he believes he will one day be murdered.
Is there a hero?
Harmon: If there is a "hero" in MAFIA SON, it would have to be Gregory Jr., who is by no means "heroic." He was a mafia capo who has admitted to murdering 26 people. However, he did risk his life to gather incredibly accurate intelligence which might well have averted 9/11 and the death of over 3,000 people had the federal prosecutors, including Patrick Fitzgerald, and Valerie Caproni, not put their careers first and justice second, which they continue to do to this day.
Do you ever worry that your reporting puts you in any danger?
Harmon: Before the indictment against DeVecchio, I never personally felt in danger, even though I am a woman alone who was investigating the highest level of corruption in many areas of government. But after I submitted that affidavit to the Brooklyn District Attorney's office in which I attested to a murder which Linda Schiro had discussed with me -- a crime allegedly involving DeVecchio, and the details of the affidavit were leaked to the press -- all hell broke loose, with stories in major newspapers naming me specifically as the instigator of the DeVecchio investigation. This led to months of my being threatened by Mafia types, intimidated by the FBI, ridiculed in local newspapers for lacking the journalistic credentials of a "real crime writer," denigrated in cyberspace (with the greatest venom generated on a website known as the "Friends of Lin DeVecchio," and denounced in a book by a former undercover FBI agent. I was also warned that in all likelihood my phone line had been tapped, and that certain terrorist factions – through contacts in federal custody – had gained access to my address and phone number; as a result, I was encouraged to exercise extreme caution in all correspondence. I have also been threatened with nine lawsuits from different characters I write about in the book.
Do you ever have nightmares because of this case?
Harmon: I don't have nightmares, but sometimes I have trouble falling asleep because I worry about which character from MAFIA SON, who is pissed at me because they don't like what I wrote, will next show up in my life and attempt to intimidate me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
(St. Martins Press)
Sandra Harmon is the author of several bestselling books, including Elvis and Me, coauthored with Priscilla Presley. She lives in New York City.
MORE ON MAFIA SON
Exclusive: Read a chapter from Mafia Son at St. Martin's Press
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