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Conviction Of 'Mafia Cops' Stands

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A federal appeals court has reinstated a jury verdict against two former police detectives who were convicted of moonlighting as gangsters and carrying out a series of hits for the mob.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa can be sentenced on a racketeering conspiracy conviction that was tossed out by U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein in Brooklyn. Weinstein said the conspiracy did not continue past a five-year statute of limitations.

The three-judge appeals panel disagreed. It said a conspiracy to provide services to members and associates of organized crime continued well past the March 2000 point when charges otherwise would have had to have been filed. Many of the worst crimes occurred between 1986 and 1990.

In April 2006, a jury in Brooklyn concluded that the so-called Mafia Cops were responsible for eight murders, kidnapping and other crimes. It agreed with the government that the pair led double lives, working for the New York Police Department and Luchese crime family underboss Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso.

The trial laid bare one of the worst cases of corruption in the history of the NYPD. Prosecutors said they were paid $65,000 for the slaying of a mobster during a phony traffic stop while providing Casso inside information of law enforcment investigations of the mob, among numerous other misdeeds.

The appeals court said there was ample evidence for the jury to decide whether the conspiracy continued into the five-year period that preceded the start of the prosecution. It said there was evidence that the defendants' retirements from the NYPD did not end their association with each other or with their criminal contacts.

The appeals court noted that testimony and audio tapes indicated that in Las Vegas in 2004 and 2005, Eppolito sought to earn money from members of organized crime by offering a money laundering service and was then inundated with requests for it.

The appeals judges said Eppolito, 60, and Caracappa, 66, had the burden of proving that the conspiracy with which they were charged had come to an end or that they had withdrawn from it.

They wrote that the jury was "easily entitled" to conclude that the conspiracy continued well past 2000 based on evidence of the defendants' conduct in Las Vegas, including Eppolito's impatience in 2005 at the slow arrival of money from a contact's supposed Mafia drug dealer.

And they said it was reasonable for the jury to conclude that the conspiracy that began in New York continued to exist in Las Vegas after both men moved there.

Telephone messages left with lawyers for both men on Wednesday were not immediately returned.

U.S. Attorney Benton J. Campbell said he was gratified with the ruling.

Eppolito, whose father was a member of the Gambino crime family, retired from the NYPD in 1990. He played a bit part in Martin Scorsese's 1990 mob drama, "GoodFellas," and launched an unsuccessful career as a screenwriter.

Caracappa retired in 1992 after establishing the police department's unit for mob murder investigations.

Weinstein had refused to grant bail to the men. He had ordered that they stand trial on drug and money laundering charges if his decision to toss out the conspiracy charge was upheld.

He has called them "dangerous criminals with no degree of credibility" and said the crimes of which they were accused were "probably the most heinous series of crimes ever tried in this courthouse."

Caracappa has maintained his innocence, and told CBS News' Ed Bradley during a 60 Minutes interview in 2006 that the allegations against him are ridiculous.

"It's ludicrous. Anybody that knows me, knows I love the police department. I couldn't kill anybody. I shot a guy once on the job, and I still think about it. It bothers me," he said in 2006.