Gregory Scarpa Sr. (May 8, 1928 – June 4, 1994) nicknamed The Grim Reaper and also The Mad Hatter, was an American capo and hitman for the Colombo crime family and an informant for the FBI. During the 1970s and 80s, Scarpa was the chief enforcer and a veteran hitman for Colombo boss Carmine Persico. Scarpa was responsible for committing three murders in 1991 and is suspected to have committed a minimum of 80 murders from the early 1950s through 1992. Scarpa is believed by the FBI to have murdered 100 to 120 people.
May 8, 1928
Brooklyn, New York, United States
June 4, 1994 (aged 66)
Rochester, Minnesota, United States
American capo and hitman for the Colombo crime family, FBI Informant
Scarpa was born to first-generation immigrants, Salvatore and Mary, from the town of Lorenzaga of Motta di Livenza near Venice, Italy. He was raised in the working-class neighborhood of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn. As a child living in the Great Depression, Scarpa helped his father deliver coal throughout New York City. His older brother, Salvatore Scarpa, may have introduced Gregory to the Colombo crime family which he reportedly joined in the 1950s.
In the 1950s, Scarpa married Connie Forrest; she and Scarpa had one daughter and three sons, including Gregory Scarpa Jr., who would follow his father into the Colombo family, eventually becoming a capo. Scarpa and Forrest separated in 1973. Scarpa also maintained a 30-year relationship with girlfriend Linda Schiro that resulted in two children, Joseph and Linda.
Scarpa was a stylish dresser who routinely carried $5,000 in pocket money for purchases and bribes. He had use of an apartment on Manhattan's Sutton Place and owned homes in Brooklyn and Staten Island, as well as Las Vegas, Nevada, and Singer Island, Florida. His power, guile and brutality earned him the nickname "the Grim Reaper" and helped him escape prosecution for many years. Schiro later said that Scarpa would sometimes leave the numbers "666", the biblical Number of the Beast, on his victims' pagers.
A career criminal, Scarpa eventually became a caporegime in the Colombo family, as well as the proprietor of the Wimpy Boys Social Club. Scarpa was involved in illegal gambling, loansharking, extortion, hijacking, counterfeit credit cards, assault, stock and bond thefts, narcotics and murder. Many of the highest-ranking members of the Colombo family today were members of Scarpa's crew. In March 1962, Scarpa was arrested for armed robbery. To avoid prosecution, Scarpa agreed to work as an undercover informant for the FBI, beginning a 30-year relationship with the agency.[better source needed]
Murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner Edit
Main article: Murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner
In the summer of 1964, according to Schiro and other sources, FBI field agents in Mississippi recruited Scarpa to help them find missing civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner. The FBI was convinced the three men had been murdered, but could not find their bodies. The agents thought that Scarpa, using illegal interrogation techniques not available to agents, might succeed at gaining this information from suspects.
Once Scarpa arrived in Mississippi, local agents allegedly provided him with a gun and money to pay for information. Scarpa and an agent allegedly pistol-whipped and kidnapped Lawrence Byrd, a TV salesman and secret Klansman, from his store in Laurel and took him to Camp Shelby, a local Army base. At Shelby, Scarpa severely beat Byrd and stuck a gun barrel down his throat. Byrd finally revealed to Scarpa the location of the three men's bodies. The FBI has never officially confirmed the Scarpa story. In addition, the story contradicts evidence from investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell and Illinois high school teacher Barry Bradford, who claimed that Mississippi highway patrolman Maynard King provided the grave locations to FBI agent Joseph Sullivan after obtaining the information from an anonymous third party.
In January 1966, Scarpa allegedly helped the FBI a second time in Mississippi on the murder case of Vernon Dahmer, killed in a fire set by the Klan. After this second trip, Scarpa and the FBI had a sharp disagreement about his reward for these services. The FBI then dropped Scarpa as a confidential informant.
FBI informant Edit
In 1980, FBI agent Lindley DeVecchio became Scarpa's contact and handler and restarted his relationship with the Bureau. Scarpa had refused contact with the FBI for the previous five years, but DeVecchio persuaded him to cooperate again. Gregory Jr., Schiro, and federal prosecutors later claimed that Scarpa had numerous illegal dealings with DeVecchio. Scarpa allegedly provided DeVecchio with cash, jewelry and other gifts along with information of questionable value on the Colombos. In return, DeVecchio allegedly protected Scarpa from arrest and provided him with information about his rivals during the Third Colombo War.
Over the years, the FBI reportedly paid Scarpa $158,000 for his services. According to mob associates, he would joke about "Girlfriend", a female friend in law enforcement who gave him information. For ten years, DeVecchio met alone with Scarpa, often at an apartment or hotel room provided by the FBI. DeVecchio was a frequent dinner guest at Scarpa's house and on one occasion received a hard-to-find Cabbage Patch doll from Scarpa as a gift. Some of DeVecchio's fellow agents were disturbed by his closeness to Scarpa, and were soon reporting it to their FBI superiors.
In 1985, federal prosecutors indicted Scarpa for running a major credit card scam. After he pleaded guilty, prosecutors asked the court to give him a sizable fine and a prison sentence. However, DeVecchio submitted a memo to the judge that listed all of Scarpa's contributions to the FBI. The judge finally sentenced Scarpa to five years probation with no prison time and a $10,000 fine. Colombo members were so surprised by Scarpa's light sentence that some started wondering if he was working for the government.
HIV infection Edit
After having emergency ulcer surgery at Victory Memorial Hospital in Brooklyn in 1986, Scarpa received several blood donations from family members and associates. Scarpa had refused blood from the hospital blood bank because he feared that the blood might have come from blacks, whom he despised. Scarpa eventually got blood from mobster Paul Mele, a body builder who was abusing steroids. Mele had contracted HIV from a dirty needle and transmitted it to Scarpa in the blood transfusion.
Surgeons at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan eventually removed Scarpa's stomach. On August 30, 1992, he received a $300,000 settlement in civil court from his first surgeon and Victory Hospital for negligence. As Scarpa's illness progressed to AIDS, he and his relatives told everyone that he was suffering from cancer.
Assassination attempt and retaliation Edit
In 1991, supporters of Colombo rebel and acting boss Victor Orena attempted to kill Scarpa. Earlier in 1991, a struggle between Orena and imprisoned Colombo boss Carmine Persico resulted in violence. Persico's loyalists had unsuccessfully attempted to kill Orena at his Brooklyn home. In retaliation, Orena decided to murder Scarpa, one of Persico's strongest supporters. On November 18, 1991, Scarpa was driving his own vehicle in Brooklyn, followed behind by his daughter and grandson, when he was stopped by two cars. Hitmen ran from their vehicles with guns drawn and converged on Scarpa's car. But Scarpa managed to drive away from the ambush, crashing into anything that got in his way. A few bystanders were injured, but Scarpa and his relatives escaped unharmed.
During the seven-month conflict between Persico and Orena, Scarpa served as Persico's military commander. Although weakened by illness, he constantly cruised along Avenue U in Brooklyn, looking for Orena supporters in social clubs and bars. Incensed by the murder attempt on his family, Scarpa was especially watchful for Orena loyalist William Cutolo, who had organized it. Over the next few weeks, Scarpa and his associates killed (mistakenly) Genovese family mobster Thomas Amato and Orena loyalists Rosario Nastasa, Vincent Fusaro, and James Malpiso. Scarpa allegedly shot Fursaro as he was hanging Christmas lights on his house.
Prison and death Edit
In 1992, Scarpa's AIDS lawsuit was settled with $300,000 in cash payments to his family. In 1992, while appearing at a New York civil courtroom for his medical lawsuit, Scarpa was arrested for violating state firearms laws. Soon after, he was indicted on federal racketeering charges involving three murders.
On December 29, 1992, while under house arrest with an electronic monitoring device, Scarpa lost an eye in a shootout with other mobsters. Two Lucchese family mobsters, Michael DeRosa and Ronald Moran, had threatened Joey Scarpa, Gregory's son, over a drug deal. Climbing out of bed, the elder Scarpa drove with Joey to DeRosa's house and shot DeRosa. Moran fired back and hit Scarpa in the eye. Back at his house, Scarpa allegedly poured some Scotch Whisky into his wound, assured the authorities everything was fine, and later went to the hospital. Prosecutors revoked Scarpa's house arrest and sent him to jail.
By 1993, Scarpa was blind in one eye, emaciated and in poor health. On May 6, 1993, he pleaded guilty to three murders and conspiracy to murder several others. On December 15, 1993, Scarpa was sentenced to life in federal prison. This sentence was later reduced to ten years due to Scarpa's poor health On June 4, 1994, Gregory Scarpa Sr. died in the Federal Medical Center (FMC) for prisoners in Rochester, Minnesota, from AIDS-related complications.
Scarpa's status as an informer was only revealed in 1995, during a racketeering and murder trial of seven members of the Orena faction. At that time, former Colombo family consigliere Carmine Sessa, now a government witness, told prosecutors about DeVecchio's corrupt dealings with Scarpa. Eventually, prosecutors were forced to reveal that DeVecchio might have revealed confidential information, including information about former Colombo members who had turned informer, to Scarpa. Ultimately, 19 Orena supporters had murder charges thrown out or murder convictions reversed after their attorneys contended DeVecchio's collaboration with Scarpa tainted the evidence against them. The attorneys argued that DeVecchio gave Scarpa information he used to kill members of the Orena faction, thus making any killings committed by their clients acts of self-defense.
On March 30, 2006, DeVecchio, who was forced to retire from the FBI in 1996, was indicted on charges of complicity with Scarpa and other Colombo mobsters in four murders during the 1980s and 1990s. The government case rested on the testimony of Linda Schiro, who was soon discredited as a witness after Tom Robbins of The Village Voice revealed that she had granted an interview to Robbins and Jerry Capeci a decade earlier and denied the agent had ever been involved. On November 1, 2007, the judge dismissed all charges against DeVecchio at the request of prosecutors.
Scarpa's other son, Greg Scarpa Jr., was sentenced to 40 years in prison for racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder and other charges. Scarpa Jr. has been linked to 24 murders. He was active in the Colombo crime family throughout the 1970s to 1990s. He ran a large and profitable marijuana ring for the Colombo family in Brooklyn and Staten Island, and controlled the market in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, even extorting money from other drug dealers in the area. Judge Edward Korman commuted his sentence by 10 years in January 2016 after he provided information to the FBI in regard to the whereabouts of explosives, which were found hidden at the home of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols; however, his original sentence was reinstated in mid 2017.