Lindley DeVecchio, who had denied the charges for years, heard the news in a Brooklyn courtroom one day after a key government witness, mob moll Linda Schiro, had her testimony undermined by a taped interview she gave to reporters a decade ago.
As DeVecchio stood in the courthouse, well after the judge granted prosecutors' request to drop the charges, there was applause - much of it from former FBI agents who worked side by side with him.
"We all knew he was innocent," said former colleague Jim Kossler. "This never should have happened. Never."
Schiro testified earlier this week that DeVecchio had fed her gangster boyfriend, Gregory Scarpa, secret FBI intelligence that was then used to kill four suspected rats or rivals in the Colombo crime family. But this week, journalist Tom Robbins revealed in the Village Voice that Schiro had provided him with a different account during a 1997 interview.
"I guess the worst thing is that I wish we had the information at an earlier time where we could have evaluated it and then made a judgment," Brooklyn District Attorney Charlies Hynes told the New York Post. "There's no way we would have brought a prosecution if we had that kind of information."
"The inconsistencies are so devastating that it's just game, set, match," said one source to the Post. "Even without the tapes, it was a tough case."
It was a stunning collapse of the case against DeVecchio in the midst of his trial.
Prosecutors had claimed DeVecchio was plied with cash, jewelry and prostitutes by Scarpa in return for the confidential FBI intelligence that was then used in the killings during the late 1980s and early '90s.
The 1997 interview with Schiro became the focus of a legal fight Wednesday when defense attorneys announced they had subpoenaed tapes of the question-and-answer session, hoping the tapes would undermine her crucial testimony against DeVecchio.
The interviews were conducted by Robbins and fellow reporter Jerry Capeci. Robbins revealed their existence in a Village Voice piece published this week.
"One thing is clear: What Linda Schiro is saying on the witness stand now is not how she told the story 10 years ago concerning three of the four murder counts now at issue," Robbins wrote in a story headlined "Tall Tales of a Mafia Mistress."
"A guy was facing prison for life over this, over her testimony, and I didn't see how i could sit silent," Robbins told CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor.
"I am surprised," Robbins said, "I am surprised that the D.A. - Joe Hynes is a veteran. I am surprised that they went as far as they did, based on this one shaky witness."
Prosecutors and defense attorneys listened to the tapes behind closed doors in an effort to determine how damaging they would prove to the prosecution's case. Schiro had been expected to undergo a second round of cross-examination, but court was canceled for the day.
Defense attorney Douglas Grover predicted the tapes would fully discredit Schiro and vindicate DeVecchio, who has consistently declared his innocence.
"We're just thankful that it's all come out," he said.
In her testimony, Schiro, 62, said she would regularly sit in on weekly meetings between DeVecchio and Scarpa, who died in prison in 1994. She also said she overheard the agent warn her boyfriend about potential rats and rivals in a power struggle within the Colombo family, including the four slaying victims.
But the Village Voice reported that in the 1997 interview, Schiro linked DeVecchio to only one of the slayings in the indictment. For instance, when asked about one victim, she insisted the agent had nothing to do with it. "Lin did not tell," she said.
Because a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime, DeVecchio is free and clear of the charges. Schiro could face possible perjury charges, said Vecchione.
State Supreme Court Justice Gustin Reichbach said he had no choice but to approve prosecutors' request to drop the charges, but expressed disgust with the long relationship between the FBI and its informant.
"That a thug like Scarpa would be employed by the federal government to beat witnesses and threaten them at gunpoint to obtain information ... is a shocking demonstration of the government's unacceptable willingness to employ criminality to fight crime," the judge said.