United States v. Eppolito, No. 06-3280-cr (2d Cir. September 17, 2008) (Kearse, Sack, Hall, CJJ)
Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa were NYPD detectives who, for many years, also worked for the Lucchese organized crime family – and occasionally other Mafia families – on the side. They were were convicted of RICO conspiracy and other offenses after a jury trial. Judge Weinstein granted the defendants’ post-verdict Rule 29 motion on the RICO conspiracy, finding that the prosecution was time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations. He also granted a conditional new trial on the remaining counts, in the event the dismissal of the RICO conspiracy was not overturned on appeal.
On the government’s appeal, the circuit reversed and remanded the case for sentencing.
The trial evidence revealed that, in the early 1980’s, while working for the NYPD, the defendants gave law enforcement information and other assistance to the Lucchese family. Sometimes the detectives passed on information that permitted family members to evade arrest; other information led to the murder of Lucchese enemies or informants. Often, the defendants themselves participated in the murders. The defendants were paid for their work, and were even, for a time, on retainer.
Eventually the officers retired from the NYPD, but continued to provide assistance to the family until 1996, when they moved to Las Vegas. There, they got out of the murder business, but, until 2005, continued to have contact with organized crime in other ways, including: borrowing drug money to build a house, soliciting mob money to fund a movie project, and supplying methamphetamine.
The District Court’s Ruling
In dismissing the RICO conspiracy count, the district court held that once the defendants retired and moved to Las Vegas the conspiracy that began in New York in the 1980’s came to a “definite close.” The court distinguished the defendants’ Las Vegas-based activities as sporadic and unconnected to the original racketeering enterprise. They were, “at best,” acts that furthered a “new enterprise, unconnected to the original one and conducted through an entirely different type of activity.” Thus, in the court’s view, the government failed to prove that any activity connected to the charged RICO conspiracy occurred with the five-year statute of limitations.
The Circuit’s Ruling
The circuit reversed primarily because it disagreed with the district court’s characterization of the nature of the racketeering enterprise. “Our principal difficulty with the district court’s statute-of-limitations-based acquittal … is that the court’s view of the enterprise, its purposes, its location, and its duration were more restricted than what was alleged in the Indictment and than what the jury could infer from the evidence at trial.”
Specifically, the court noted that the Indictment defined the enterprise and its participants very broadly, and that the defendants’ association in providing services to members of organized crime did not cease to exist, as a matter of law, before March 9, 2000, the limitations cutoff date. Here, there was “ample evidence” that would permit a jury to find otherwise.
In addition, the court noted that the goal of the enterprise, as charged, was quite general – “to generate money for its members and associates” – and was not, as the district court had found, limited to the defendants’ using law enforcement information and acting “under color of law.” The jury was not required to find that the enterprise alleged in the indictment was dependent on the defendants’ access to confidential law enforcement information or that it ended when they retired from the NYPD.
Finally, the court took issue with the district court’s conclusion that the defendants’ relocation to Las Vegas marked the end of the enterprise through which they sought to earn money by providing services to organized crime figures. Rather, the jury was entitled to find that the defendants’ activities in Las Vegas were a continuation of this same type of activity.