The Judge and the G-Man
A radical on the bench weighs an FBI agent's fate
by Tom Robbins
October 23rd, 2007
The case of People of New York vs. R. Lindley DeVecchio has now entered week two in the new Supreme Court building in downtown Brooklyn, and the parade of gangsters, molls, and G-men to the witness stand is expected to last several weeks more.
DeVecchio, a veteran former FBI agent, is on trial for allegedly helping his prized mob informant kill four foes. So far he's heard the prosecution and its witnesses call him a disgrace to law enforcement, a man so callous that he shared a chuckle with his Mafia pal after the mobster blew away the ear of an attractive young woman in a barroom slaying. Three FBI agents have testified they grew so distrustful of DeVecchio they stopped telling him what they were doing.
There is worse to come. Gregory Scarpa Jr., the son of DeVecchio's informant, who followed his father into the family business, is due to take the stand and claim that the agent fed his dad a steady diet of inside tips. The mobster's longtime mistress, Linda Schiro, will also swear an oath to tell the truth and, according to the prosecution's opening statement, explain how the agent sat in the couple's Bensonhurst home and told Scarpa Sr. about those who were talking to law enforcement, and where they could be found.
There's no jury to watch for its reaction to these accusations. Shortly before the trial began, the defendant opted, as is his right, for a bench trial in which the judge alone decides the verdict.
Supreme Court Justice Gustin Reichbach cautioned against it. "I'm a great believer in the jury system," he told DeVecchio, "and in the common wisdom of citizens."
There was also this: In the late 1960s, as a student activist at then-turbulent Columbia University, the judge himself had come under FBI surveillance. He later obtained some of those records through a Freedom of Information request. In court, he read a portion in which a witness had reported to the agency that Reichbach was "one of the most dangerous" members of the Students for a Democratic Society, an "extraordinarily powerful speaker" with "strong, charismatic appeal."
The judge said he found the description "flattering and personally satisfying." He wanted to put this on record, he said, as notice that any later claim of alleged anti-FBI bias on his part would be precluded. DeVecchio said that was fine with him, and the trial commenced.
But as the daily testimony has unfolded, the former agent could well be forgiven for having second thoughts as his gaze wanders about the courtroom where his fate is being decided.
For instance, to his right, above the empty jury box, there's a large photo of Paul Robeson, the black American actor and singer who had the kind of communist ties that made DeVecchio's old boss, J. Edgar Hoover, see deep Red. The photo captured Big Paul right as he was telling off the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1949. "You are the un-Americans," he is thundering. "And you ought to be ashamed of yourselves."
Next to Robeson is a portrait of Nelson Mandela, the soft-spoken South African revolutionary who spent most of his life in prison before leading his nation out of apartheid. ...