A Tale of Cops and Mobsters Who Failed to Overlap
There were two surveillance teams on the streets of southern Brooklyn that day in January, 1992. One was the law: a task force of federal agents and police detectives. The other was the mob: a crew of gangsters who had disguised their sedan with a fake police light and a cardboard cup of coffee on the dashboard.
Although they came from opposing sides, their target was the same: a Colombo family captain by the name of Nicholas Grancio. The agents and detectives wanted to tail their mark at the height of a bloody Mafia civil war. The gangsters, with revenge in mind, had a darker purpose: They wanted him dead.
Soon after the detectives left that day, the gangsters arrived, and got their wish.
What eventually happened that day, near Avenue U and McDonald Avenue, is now the subject of a new investigation by the Brooklyn district attorney's office, according to law enforcement officials who have been briefed on the case. Fourteen years after Mr. Grancio was murdered, investigators are trying to determine if a former F.B.I. agent, who supervised the government surveillance team, may have had a hand in his death.
The investigation has focused on that agent, R. Lindley DeVecchio, a career investigator and onetime head of the F.B.I.'s Colombo and Bonanno families squads. Mr. DeVecchio, who is now retired, had developed a remarkable mole within the Mafia, a grim Colombo family killer named Gregory Scarpa Sr.
They became close, so close that Mr. DeVecchio would chat with Mr. Scarpa at his kitchen table while two of his F.B.I. colleagues waited in the living room. And close enough for other agents to whisper to their bosses that Mr. DeVecchio had crossed a line.
It was Mr. Scarpa's hit team that pulled alongside Mr. Grancio's car on Jan. 7, 1992, and dispatched him with a shotgun blast to the head. What investigators now want to know is if Mr. DeVecchio had ordered a withdrawal of his own surveillance team and, in so doing, cleared the way for Mr. Scarpa and his crew to swoop down on Mr. Grancio .
Word of the investigation has reached F.B.I. headquarters in Washington, where top-ranking federal officials have been briefed about the case. An F.B.I. spokesman, John Miller, said yesterday that he could not comment. Mr. DeVecchio's lawyer, Douglas Grover, has dismissed the current inquiry as baseless, insisting his client has done nothing wrong.
What breathed new life into a 14-year-old murder case remains unclear, though one law enforcement official said the district attorney's office recently received a tip from an informant. Among the people expected to be interviewed are two former police detectives who were on the surveillance team and who recall being pulled back by the F.B.I. to the agency's New York headquarters from the streets of Gravesend, Brooklyn, only hours before Mr. Grancio was killed.
Already, investigators have made arrangements to speak to a former mobster who was part of the hit team and now lives in Florida. The man, Lawrence Mazza, said in an interview that he remembers being surprised a decade ago when federal agents who arrested him kept asking him if he knew that the surveillance team had, in fact, been sent away before the hit team struck.
On the other hand, an F.B.I. agent who worked for Mr. DeVecchio and directed the surveillance team has filed an affidavit suggesting that Mr. Grancio was killed at a time when the authorities typically did not have him under surveillance.
Remarkably, this agent was one of the first to raise his voice against Mr. DeVecchio, sparking an internal Justice Department investigation that examined charges against Mr. DeVecchio that his relationship with Mr. Scarpa had been untoward.
The Justice Department's two-year inquiry heard a host of complaints by colleagues - including charges that Mr. DeVecchio had leaked information to Mr. Scarpa and had helped him track rivals, which Mr. DeVecchio denied. And in September 1996, the government declined to bring charges. The tangled tale of Lin DeVecchio, the diamond-cuff-linked agent, and Gregory Scarpa, the gangster who died of AIDS in 1994, has long stood as one of the odder stories from the underworld. The current chapter homes in on a few short months in 1991 and 1992, after the boss of the Colombo family, Carmine Persico, was sent to prison and its opposing factions went to war.
Mr. Scarpa was a leader of the loyalist brigade and feared for his life. He suspected Mr. Grancio of having tried to kill him and, according to court documents, set about to seek revenge. The task force run by Mr. DeVecchio was charged with ending the gruesome violence that the war had wrought. To that end, two detectives, Joe Simone and Patrick Maggiore, were sent to watch Mr. Grancio on Jan. 7, 1992, from a post called Plant 26, near Avenue U and McDonald Avenue.
"It was a routine day," said Mr. Simone, who is retired and lives with his family on Staten Island. Then, he said, a call came in with orders to return to 26 Federal Plaza, the local F.B.I. headquarters, for a meeting.
"It was kind of unusual," he said, to be pulled off in the middle of a tail. "Very unusual."
According to Mr. Simone's duty log, he was at Plant 26 from 12:40 to 1:30 p.m. The next entry reads: "1330-1440 ERT 26 Fed Pl w/Maggiore," which meant that, with his partner, Mr. Simone was en route to the F.B.I. office from 1:30 to 2:40 p.m.
Around 4 p.m. that day, shocking news buzzed through the office: Nicky Grancio had just been killed.
"We were called and we went back," Mr. Maggiore, also retired, said in a separate interview. "Then he gets whacked when we're supposed to be on him. We looked at each other and couldn't believe it."
The man who pulled the trigger that day was a fit young up-and-comer in the Colombo family named Larry Mazza. Over surf-and-turf at a Florida steakhouse, Mr. Mazza, having served his term in prison, recalled how he, Mr. Scarpa and a third man spotted Mr. Grancio, followed him through Lady Moody Square - close to where the detectives had been parked - and pulled up beside his car. Mr. Mazza leaned his torso out the back window, put a shotgun near his victim's head and fired, he said.
Mr. Scarpa admitted his role in the killing. And when Mr. Mazza was later arrested, he agreed to cooperate with the F.B.I. He said he remembered thinking it was odd that the agents who debriefed him kept asking him if the gunmen knew that the government surveillance team had been pulled back.
A spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, declined to comment.
Mr. Grover said that his client, Mr. DeVecchio, has been through this before - the long grind of an investigation. Indeed, during the F.B.I.'s internal inquiry, Mr. DeVecchio submitted an affidavit in which he presented his relationship with Mr. Scarpa as an appropriate law enforcement tool. The only thing he ever received from Mr. Scarpa, he said, was a Cabbage Patch doll, a bottle of wine and a pan of lasagna.
Mr. DeVecchio later told investigators he gave the doll away to a friend's niece. "I gave the bottle of wine to someone whom I don't recall," he said, "and I consumed the tray of lasagna."