In a stunning finish to one of the most closely watched law enforcement corruption cases in US history, a former FBI agent was cleared of giving up confidential information that a mafia family hit man used to kill four fellow mobsters -- either rivals or potential informers.
Lindley DeVecchio was cheered by his former colleagues before triumphantly leaving a Brooklyn courtroom on Thursday, finally cleared after spending 13 years under suspicion for his long and bizarre relationship with mob killer and informer Gregory Scarpa.
"After almost two years, this nightmare is over," said DeVecchio, referring to the time since his indictment. "I'll never forgive the Brooklyn DA's office for irresponsibly pursuing this case. My question is: `Where do I go to get back my reputation?'"
Prosecutors bent on bagging DeVecchio gambled by building their case on the shaky testimony of Linda Schiro, a mafia mistress since she met Scarpa at age 16. Their hopes imploded when two reporters surfaced with decade-old interviews -- captured on tape -- that left her credibility full of holes.
"We all knew he was innocent," said Jim Kossler, one of several former FBI agents who remained firmly in DeVecchio's corner. "This never should have happened. Never."
Allegations about leaks from DeVecchio to the ruthless mobster known as "The Grim Reaper" began after Scarpa's 1994 death in a Minnesota prison. A Department of Justice internal investigation found no reason to prosecute DeVecchio, who retired to Florida in 1996.
But in March last year, Brooklyn prosecutors announced DeVecchio's indictment on four murder counts, alleging the FBI agent had co-operated with the Colombo capo between 1987 and 1992.
Prosecutors had charged that Scarpa showered DeVecchio with cash, stolen jewelry, liquor -- even prostitutes -- in exchange for the confidential information. The case became a courthouse sensation, with its volatile mix of corruption, sex and mob violence.
It was not until Schiro began testifying this week that the case reached its unexpected conclusion. The key prosecution witness was the lone direct link between DeVecchio and the murders.
Once she finished her first day of testimony, veteran reporter Tom Robbins came forward with tapes made in 1997, when he and fellow journalist Jerry Capeci had interviewed Schiro for a never-published book. The tapes contradicted her sworn testimony against DeVecchio.
Her account "was so disturbingly different, we couldn't sit on it," Robbins said outside court after Thursday's dismissal.
There were discrepancies in Schiro's story even before the tapes surfaced. In the Justice Department probe and an earlier trial involving Scarpa's son, she made sworn statements that failed to implicate DeVecchio in the murders.
Schiro now faces possible perjury charges. Because of constitutional protections against double jeopardy, DeVecchio is clear of the charges and cannot be tried again.