Mob-Busting Hero or Traitor?

For Roy Lindley Devecchio, life was back to normal. The silver-haired grandfather and his wife, Carolyn, ate cottage-cheese pancakes at a breakfast place called Millie's. In the gated community where he lives in Sarasota, Fla., he resumed his duties as president of the homeowners' association and chatted with residents about parched lawns and insect spraying. His neighbors, he tells NEWSWEEK, had mostly welcomed him back after a six-week absence in New York. Few seemed to notice that for the past year and a half he had worn a court-ordered monitoring device around his ankle.

Roy (Lin) DeVecchio is accustomed to living a double life. In March 2006, prosecutors in the Brooklyn district attorney's office accused him of being a corrupt FBI agent who sold fatal secrets to the mob. But then they abruptly dropped murder charges against him earlier this month. Until that point, he had been living in a strange limbo, the quiet retiree who was either a mob-busting hero of the FBI—or a mobbed-up traitor, depending on whose story was to be believed. In DeVecchio's version, he was the victim of a former mob moll who wanted to get rich from books or movies by smearing his good name.

During his 33-year career in the FBI, DeVecchio was a respected, even revered, G-man who ran investigations into organized crime; he helped cripple New York's Five Families. His specialty was handling confidential informants, wiseguys who leaked information to the Feds. Tall and tough-talking with a North Jersey accent, DeVecchio was able to win the respect of mobsters and gumshoes alike. His prized informant was Gregory Scarpa Sr., a capo for the Colombo crime family known as the Grim Reaper. Scarpa's ability to evade arrest, despite years of brutal crime, was the stuff of mob lore. Scarpa's associates said he had a law-enforcement source he called "the girlfriend," who gave him, in effect, a free pass to kill.

State prosecutors said DeVecchio tipped off Scarpa to rats or rival wiseguys and turned a blind eye when they were snuffed out. In return, the mob rewarded DeVecchio with stolen jewelry, rubberband-bound rolls of cash and prepaid hotel rooms stocked with champagne and prostitutes, prosecutors said. Pleading not guilty, DeVecchio denied it all.

The allegations of the now collapsed and discredited case are the stuff of movies. In 1984, when a mob moll began singing to the Feds, DeVecchio allegedly informed Scarpa. The mob capo invited the woman, Mary Bari, 31, to the Wimpy Boys Social Club in Brooklyn. Scarpa's own son, Gregory Jr., held her on the floor while his father shot her three times in the head, according to court files. A few days later, said the prosecutors, Scarpa and DeVecchio "shared a chuckle" that the snitch's body had been dumped beneath an elevated subway line just two blocks from Scarpa's house. In a 1990 case, DeVecchio allegedly warned Scarpa that an 18-year-old named Patrick Porco might implicate Scarpa's son Joey in the murder of another teenager. A Scarpa crew allegedly picked up Porco and executed him. Porco, one of Joey Scarpa's close friends, attempted to block the bullets with his arms and hands, according to court testimony. When Joey moped around after Porco's execution, DeVecchio supposedly retorted he would feel worse in jail.

Some of DeVecchio's fellow G-men began to wonder about him when he seemed to take sides in a mob war that broke out in 1991. At the time, DeVecchio was running the squad investigating the Colombo family. Prosecutors said Scarpa asked a favor from his FBI handler: could he possibly provide the address of a rival gangster, Lorenzo Lampasi? Prosecutors said DeVecchio checked FBI surveillance and not only supplied Scarpa with an address but the time Lampasi, 66, habitually left for work, along with a description of how he would get out of his car to close the gate to the parking lot near his home. Nearly a year into the war, allegedly armed with the information, Scarpa and his hit men pulled up alongside Lampasi as he closed the gate one morning and shot him to death.

At FBI headquarters, DeVecchio was told of the gangland slaying. "We're gonna win this thing!" he allegedly responded, slapping his hand on the desk. By "we," he apparently meant Scarpa's branch of the Colombo syndicate. (The incident, publicly reported years later as part of an internal FBI investigation into DeVecchio's handling of Scarpa, became the basis for a scene in "The Sopranos" finale.) Scarpa was finally convicted of murder and racketeering. He died of AIDS, contracted from a blood transfusion, in prison in 1994. A Justice Department inquiry that began that year failed to turn up enough evidence to prosecute or discipline DeVecchio. But then, two years ago, Linda Schiro, Scarpa's longtime girlfriend (and mother of Joey) began talking. She tied DeVecchio, who had retired from the FBI in 1996, to four murders. Schiro said she had initially kept quiet to protect herself from DeVecchio. Prosecutors said DeVecchio even called her a "stand-up broad" for keeping her mouth shut when investigators questioned her in the inquiry.

At DeVecchio's trial, which opened to much press fanfare in mid-October, defense lawyer Douglas Grover (himself a former mob prosecutor) charged that Schiro was a liar who was framing DeVecchio to line her own pockets. The defense pointed to Schiro's work with a self-styled "relationship coach" to sell a book about her 30-year romance with Scarpa. "Watch the money," Grover told the court. "Watch the books. She is talking to authors, and there are more deals."

Schiro had been talking, all right—telling different stories to different people. In a 1997 interview with Tom Robbins of The Village Voice and veteran mob reporter Jerry Capeci, Schiro said DeVecchio had not been involved in the Bari and Lampasi murders. (Schiro corroborated the prosecution's charge of DeVecchio's role in the Porco murder, but another witness said Porco had told the Scarpas himself that police questioned him.) After wrestling with his duty to a source—Schiro had been speaking under a confidentiality agreement—Robbins decided he had to come forward, and the Voice published the story of the 1997 Schiro interview during the second week of trial. Robbins provided tapes of his Q&A to the prosecutors. After listening to it, the Brooklyn D.A.'s office decided that the credibility of the prosecution's star witness was damaged beyond repair. The prosecutors decided to drop all charges. State Supreme Court Justice Gustin L. Reichbach agreed, though he noted that the FBI had made "a deal with the Devil" in employing Scarpa as a confidential source.

Back in Florida, sitting at his kitchen table 10 days after he walked free from a Brooklyn courtroom, DeVecchio said he was "angry, you bet. Still am." His wife piped up, "We've tried to keep a good sense of humor through the whole thing." Deadpanned DeVecchio, "It's kind of a black comedy." He said he's looking forward to the small things he missed while under indictment: "I wasn't going to go to the beach and show my ankle bracelet off." "Two summers without wearing shorts or a bathing suit," his wife added. DeVecchio has big legal fees to pay off. "I have a story I'm going to need to sell," he said. Who would play him in the movie? Mark Wahlberg, he said. He is a fan of "The Departed," in which Wahlberg plays a cop who kills a colleague who gets too close to a mobster.