17 Days In August:A Tale of Cops, Steroids, and The Mob!
Part Two: The Author’s Personal Revisiting of a Landmark Case
By J. R. de Szigethy
It has now been 10 years since one of the most brutal and shocking cases of police brutality in American history; in the early morning hours of August 9th, 1997, a Haitian immigrant named Abner Louima was brutally assaulted and nearly killed by a New York City police officer in the bathroom of Brooklyn’s 70th Precinct stationhouse. Now, 10 years later, this shocking crime is better understood given the disclosures of information since that crime was committed. Much of that information involves the American Mafia, much of which was exclusively reported at AmericanMafia.com. This story is an American Tragedy, in which a child loses their father, a father loses his son, and an immigrant nearly loses his own life at the hands of a cop.
The Summer of 1997 was an era of unprecedented good times for New York City. By contrast, the Summer of 1977 was that of the "Son of Sam," a deranged serial killer who preyed on young couples, killing 6 and wounding many more during his reign of terror. By the Summer of 1987, New York City was in the midst of the "crack cocaine" epidemic that brought crime and chaos to the city that would prompt Time Magazine to eventually detail the "Rotting of the Big Apple."
However, by 1997 crime in New York City had begun plummeting to historic lows as a result of the election of a tough anti-crime Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani. One of Giuliani’s first actions as Mayor was to appoint an innovative Boston cop as Police Commissioner, William Bratton. Bratton radically changed how police officers and their superiors attacked crime. Bratton attacked criminals from the top and the bottom of the crime chain. From the ‘bottom,’ the New York City Police Department actually began to arrest people for committing "small crimes" such as drug possession and subway fare beating. From the top, Mayor Giuliani closed down the annual Fourth of July block party hosted each year by Gambino Family Godfather John Gotti. During the Administration of David Dinkins, Giuliani’s predecessor, cops stood guard each year outside Gotti’s headquarters while Gotti’s gang set off a huge, illegal fireworks display. Morale in the police department at that time was understandably low and the apparent police protection of Gotti and his Mafia criminals sent a message that emboldened all criminals throughout the city.
Once Giuliani became Mayor, he also sent a message that reverberated throughout the criminal element of the City; Giuliani sent in hundreds of cops to stop both Gotti’s block party as well as the illegal fireworks display. Giuliani also closed down most of the "sex shops," many of which were run by the Mob, that had made Times Square one of the most crime ridden sections of the city. Giuliani’s message to criminals was clear; either ‘get out of town’ or go to jail. Many criminals, particularly the ‘low level’ ones, simply packed up and moved to New Jersey. Many others went to prison. Corporations such as Disney were persuaded to invest in the future of Times Square and what was once the embarrassment of the city, dating all the way back to the 1969 motion picture "Midnight Cowboy," quickly became a safe and clean "theme park" tourist destination.
Thus, as Giuliani campaigned for re-election in the Summer of 1997, his Administration had performed a clean up of the city that many residents believed could never have been accomplished. However, as Giuliani’s cops were bringing crime to record lows, there was a problem; "Who was policing the police?"
Roughly every 20 years New York City undergoes a police corruption scandal which becomes a "Media circus" with the revelations of dirty cops committing crimes with impunity and public officials performing a lot of hand-wrenching and expressing ‘outrage’ and angst while promising to "fix" the problem once and for all. The phenomenon has been depicted in motion pictures such as "Serpico" and "Prince of the City," and more such films are likely in coming years because the problem of police corruption never seems to get solved. Cops selling drugs, or "arresting" drug dealers and stealing their drugs and cash are common crimes of corrupt cops. Also, cops have been known to be involved with Mafia shakedown scams in which ‘protection money’ is extorted from small businesses.
One drug that many police officers have used nationwide for many decades is anabolic steroids. Steroids are powerful drugs that dramatically increase the muscle mass of those who use them in conjunction with a vigorous weight-lifting program. Athletes in high school and college use them, as do professional athletes, particularly football players and ‘professional wrestlers.’ Former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura has admitted using them while working as a "professional" wrestler known as "The Body." Mobsters also use steroids in the belief it will make them tougher than their fellow mobsters. ‘Mafia Cop’ Lou Eppolito, Sr., a former bodybuilder, is believed to have used steroids back in the 1960s when he won the title of "Mr. New York City."
There are two problems associated with steroids abuse: first, there are the side effects, which can be devastating. Long -term steroid use can lead to liver, colon, heart, and sterility problems. Steroids also dramatically increase the libido in most users, prompting them to engage in sexual acts that they normally might not resort to. Also, people under the influence of steroids frequently engage in aggressive, hostile, bizarre, and violent behavior known as ‘roid rages.’ The second problem with steroids is that their possession and use is illegal. Many cops rationalize their use of steroids with the excuse that they have to use steroids to help achieve the muscle mass they believe they need to effectively do their job. The simple fact is that cops who are not as physically strong as the criminals they frequently encounter are more likely to wind up dead.
Ralph Dols was a New York City Police Officer who, like many cops in the city, who are underpaid, worked a second job to make ends meet for his wife and family; in Dols’ case, the cop moonlighted as a drug dealer. Dols sold his drugs, anabolic steroids, to fellow police officers and had many regular customers who worked in Brooklyn’s troubled 70th Precinct.
Dols was also "connected." In 1995 Officer Dols married Kim Kennaugh, whose brother, a member of the Colombo Mafia Family, was convicted in 1981 for the murder of a New York restaurant owner. Kennaugh’s first husband, Enrico Carini, was also a member of the Colombo Family, until he was murdered in 1987 while sitting in a car in South Brooklyn. Helping Kim to get over this tragedy was Joel "Joe Waverly" Cacace, who as Underboss of the Colombo Family played a central role in the Mob war that was waged in that Family from 1989 to 1994. Cacace is also a suspect in the murder of Kim’s husband, although Carini’s mother, according to the Staten Island Advance, has claimed Sammy "the Bull" Gravano was responsible. After her affair with Cacace was over Kennaugh married Officer Dols and somewhere along the line Dols began to sell anabolic steroids to fellow NYPD cops. Dols’ suppliers were members of the Russian Mob, who have extensive operations in Brooklyn, many in partnership with members of the Italian Mafia.
In the early morning hours of August 9, 1997, a call was made to the 70th Precinct regarding a fight that had spilt into the street outside a nightclub called the ‘Rendez-vous.’ Two women, patrons of the club, were fighting, one of whom was completely naked. A crowd of spectators had surrounded the two women, howling their encouragement in their lustful delight.
Cops arrived from the 7-0 to break up the fight and disburse the crowd that had brought traffic on the street to a halt. Among the cops were Eric Turetzky and Justin Volpe. Officer Turetzky ordered a group of on-lookers to disperse from the area or face arrest. A young Haitian woman then stated to Turetzky: "You can’t arrest me! I’m pregnant!" Turetzky then replied: "If you don’t move, I’ll kick you in the stomach!"
While Officer Volpe was himself ordering the crowd to disperse he was suddenly blindsided when a Haitian immigrant sucker-punched him in the ear. The melee outside the nightclub was quickly escalating into a riot as some of the patrons began to assault police officers. One of the assaulted officers was a huge young man from Staten Island named Charles Schwarz. Schwarz, a former Marine, had his uniform torn during the melee that night.
What happened next will probably never be determined because several of the Haitian immigrants - Abner Louima included - would tell stories to law enforcement about the events of that night that would later be proven to be not true. What is known is that Abner Louima and his cousin Patrick Antoine were arrested by cops at the scene and taken to the 70th Precinct. Louima would later testify that en route to the stationhouse the car was stopped alongside another patrol car and that cops from both cars beat him. Federal authorities would never obtain a conviction regarding this allegation.
What happened at the stationhouse is also not clear; what is known is that Abner Louima was booked at the front desk and his belt was removed as a standard procedure to prevent prisoners from hanging themselves. Louima’s oversized pants then fell to his ankles. As Louima was not wearing underwear, his naked buttocks were exposed as he was marched further into the stationhouse by a cop, Louima’s hands cuffed behind his back.
Louima was then taken inside the bathroom of the 70th Precinct. There, a violently angry Justin Volpe was waiting for him. Volpe was wearing gloves he borrowed from a fellow cop. In Volpe’s hand was a broken-off wooden stick, variously described in Court proceedings as either the handle from a mop or the handle from a plunger.
For the purposes of this narrative the issue of police officers wearing gloves needs to be examined. In 1982, the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta issued a finding on the new disease spreading across the country caused by the virus that causes AIDS. The CDC found that the virus was most prominent in several populations: gay or bisexual men with multiple sex partners, hemophiliacs, Haitian immigrants, and intravenous drug users. As a result of these findings, police officers nationwide, but particularly in large cities, adopted the practice of wearing gloves whenever they had physical contact with members of these populations. In 1985 the CDC removed "Haitian immigrants" from it’s list of populations at risk for HIV yet the stigma still remained for that population among some in law enforcement.
Thus, the fact that Officer Volpe went to the trouble of securing gloves from a fellow cop suggests that in his mind he was planning to inflict injury on Louima that would result in his coming into contact with Louima’s blood. Exactly what happened next is still in dispute 10 years after the event; Federal authorities would later charge that Schwarz held Louima down so that Volpe could sodomize him with the broken-off stick. Volpe would later claim that Schwarz was not there but that Wiese was, who took no part in the assault. This reporter was the first to analyze the available evidence and determine that there were at one point 3 cops in the bathroom, an allegation subsequently made by Federal authorities and eventually corroborated in Court testimony by Louima.
What is known is that Volpe began beating Louima with the stick. Louima then was either pushed or fell to the floor, at which point Volpe violently rammed the stick up into Louima’s rectum, puncturing a hole in Louima’s colon and bladder. While at least one other cop looked on, Volpe then shoved the stick in Louima’s face, covered with Louima’s feces and blood. "Look what you made me do!" Volpe would later claim he screamed at Louima.
Minutes later, Louima was taken to a holding cell by Volpe, his hands still cuffed behind him, his pants still at his ankles. "Get on your knees!" Volpe demanded. The terrified immigrant complied, after which Officer Volpe leaned into his face and warned: "If ever you tell anyone about this, I’ll kill you!"
Eventually, a good cop, Thomas Bruder, would come to Louima’s aid and remove his handcuffs, pull up his pants for him, and call an ambulance. Louima would later state that this cop saved his life.
Abner Louima was taken to Coney Island hospital where he underwent emergency surgery to repair his torn colon and bladder. As he had been arrested for assaulting a police officer, Louima was handcuffed to the gurney. A police officer nearby, it was difficult for Louima to tell his incredible story to others. Someone anonymously contacted Daily News reporter Mike McAlary with the story, that person believed to have been a cop. Internal Affairs was also contacted by a nurse at the hospital.
On the third day of the scandal Abner Louima was awakened by Lt. Reinaldo Daniels of Internal Affairs. Instead of having a rectum Louima now had a colostomy bag on his stomach. Clearly, something violent to his body had occurred on the morning of August 9th. Lt. Daniels showed to Louima a series of photos of police officers, unaware of the identities of any of them. Louima indicated that one of the photos was in fact that of the cop who had sodomized him.
Later, at IAB headquarters, the marked photograph was identified, and his identity was almost as shocking as the unimaginable crime he committed; the cop in the photograph was Justin Volpe, the son of retired Detective Bob Volpe, one of the most respected and beloved former cops to have ever served the people of New York City.
On August 13, 1997, Mike McAlary of the New York Daily News broke the story that would stun a nation, and eventually earn McAlary a Pulitzer Prize. McAlary had interviewed Louima from his hospital bed, where he had listened spellbound to his unbelievable story of torture. The Daily News also quoted the accused cop’s father, Bob Volpe: "This is worse that getting a call that he had been shot!" the stunned Detective said of his beloved son. Later that day, police arrested Justin Volpe for the sodomy of Abner Louima.
In a city such as New York where everything is somehow politicized, it only took 6 days into the scandal for politics to rear it’s ugly head. Mayor Giuliani and his police commissioner met privately with Abner Louima, as did the Reverend Al Sharpton, who was also running for Mayor that Summer. Sharpton would later be accused by the New York Post of having concocted Louima’s explosive claim that the cops who allegedly beat him in the patrol car shouted: "It’s not Dinkins time, anymore; it’s Giuliani Time!"
This statement would polarize a city already in shock over the savage attack that Louima claimed he had been subjected to. Such were the tensions in the various communities in those first hot, Summer days of the scandal that many feared that riots would result. The "Giuliani Time" claim was just the sort of ‘sound-bite’ certain self-appointed community activists were looking for to step up their attacks on a Mayor whose Police Department had, in a few short years, changed New York City from one of America’s most dangerous cities into the safest large city in the U. S.
But at what price, critics would claim? Abner Louima would become the ‘poster boy’ for the ‘price’ of ‘Giuliani time.’ Only months later would Abner Louima admit that he fabricated the ‘Giuliani time’ remark. At the trial of Justin Volpe and his alleged accomplices Louima testified that it was a relative of a hospital nurse who convinced him to make the "Giuliani time" remark and not Sharpton, who offered to testify himself in regards to this.
Sharpton had visited Louima in his hospital room accompanied by former Mayor David Dinkins, New York’s first African-American Mayor, who had been defeated for re-election in 1993 by Rudy Giuliani. During the visit, Louima revealed his concerns for his family’s finances. Taking his cue, Sharpton put a call in to boxing promoter Don King. The very next day King accompanied Sharpton to the hospital where King agreed to put Louima on the payroll of Don King productions.
It was ironic for Don King to be sympathetic towards a victim of brutality, as King himself has brutally killed two people. In his younger days, King was a feared associate of the Cleveland Mafia Family who brought in a substantial income through illegal gambling operations in the African-American community. One day in 1954 three men tried to rob one of King’s gambling houses and King opened fire on them. When the smoke had cleared, one of the men was dead, but the local Prosecutor ruled the death a ‘justifiable homicide.’ In 1966 Don King brutally kicked a former employee to death in broad daylight on a Cleveland sidewalk. The jury convicted King of second-degree murder, which carried a maximum sentence of life in prison. However, in a secret proceeding, Judge Hugh Corrigan reduced King’s charge down to Manslaughter. King biographer Jack Newfield would years later uncover FBI documents which showed Judge Corrigan had been bribed by "Jack White" Licavoli, who would eventually rise to be Godfather of the Cleveland Family. For the Manslaughter rap, King spent 3 years in the Marion Correctional Institution.
Thus, just one week into the scandal, the major players had already taken their place in what would become a Media circus regarding the assault on Abner Louima; Justin Volpe, Mayors Giuliani and Dinkins, Al Sharpton and Don King. Then, another player in this saga was added, Charles Schwarz, who was arrested for allegedly holding Louima down while Volpe assaulted him.
Four theories began to emerge among those reporters scrambling to get a piece of one of the biggest police corruption stories of the Century; 1. That the entire story was a hoax. 2. That Justin Volpe did sodomize Louima, as a result of insanity. 3. That Volpe did sodomize Louima, as a result of racism. 4. That Volpe was using steroids, and sodomized Louima out of ‘roid rage.’
By this time, New York City had been convulsed, and several hundred cops were now investigating EVERY cop within the 70th Precinct. The top brass in Internal Affairs believed that for many 70th Precinct cops, only the threat of being charged with a crime would be enough to force them to break down the ‘blue wall of silence’ and testify as to what they knew about the crime.
On August 17th, another player was added to the list in this story. Officer Eric Turetzky had alleged that he saw Officer Schwarz lead the handcuffed Louima into the bathroom and that he later saw Justin Volpe leading Louima to his cell. Mayor Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir praised Turetzky as a "hero." It would be almost 2 years before the public would learn that Turetzky the "hero cop" had threatened to kick a pregnant Haitian woman on the sidewalk outside the club Rendez-vous on the night in question.
Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder were then arrested for their alleged role in the assault on Abner Louima. Like Officers Volpe and Schwarz, both men were physically huge, further fueling the steroids theory. Wiese had taken and flunked a polygraph in which he tried to exculpate himself and his partner Schwarz. Despite being the cop who saved Louima’s life, Bruder was charged with being one of four cops who allegedly beat Louima in a police car while one was said to have yelled the "Giuliani time" remark.
In regards to what happened in the bathroom, this reporter analyzed the evidence and determined that at one point there were three cops in the bathroom. My "Three-cop theory" was first proposed on June 1, 1999 in the Forum of AmericanMafia.com. Three weeks later, Federal prosecutors in the case presented their belief in the ‘three-cop theory’ in a letter from one of the Prosecutors to one of the Defendant’s attorneys, the New York Post would reveal.
The ‘three-cop theory’ gets it’s genesis from the tragic events of April 21, 1993. On that date, a career drug dealer, Danny Cook, asked to be escorted to the bathroom of the 70th Precinct stationhouse. Cook was led into the bathroom by Officer Robert Noblin. Cook was handcuffed but with one hand free. Cook then grabbed Noblin’s service revolver and began firing, striking Noblin in the neck and torso and another Officer, Mary Capotosto, in the head. Cook then committed suicide.
This tragedy could possibly have been prevented if the NYPD had adopted stricter security standards when dealing with prisoners after a similar incident two decades earlier. On February 15, 1971 Detective Joseph Picciano of the 41st Precinct was fingerprinting a prisoner when the man suddenly jumped Picciano and was able to grab his service revolver. Detective Picciano was killed by the prisoner who was then shot to death by other officers. Picciano, who left behind a wife and three kids, was a partner of narcotics officer Bob Volpe.
After the shooting incident in the bathroom of the 7-0 Precinct, an unwritten rule was established that the bathroom door would be propped open at all times by a garbage can. However, on the night that Abner Louima was escorted into that same bathroom, Justin Volpe would have undoubtedly closed the door so no one else could see or hear what was about to occur. Thus, Justin Volpe violated the unwritten rule and at one point a police officer walked by and noticed the door was closed. Sensing that something was wrong because the door was always supposed to be open, the cop opened the door, saw Volpe sodomizing Louima while another cop was present, and then the ‘third cop’ turned and walked out, closing the door behind him, taking no further action. The list of suspects for the ‘third cop’ is hampered by the fact that it has never been established who the ‘second cop’ was with Volpe in the bathroom. The third cop, could, in fact be someone whose name has not yet been linked to this case. In the fourth trial regarding this case, Abner Louima testified that he remembered the door opening and closing while he was being assaulted.
On August 21, 1997, Federal prosecutors for the Eastern District of New York took over the case from the Brooklyn District Attorney‘s office. The reason for doing so was that Federal prosecutors could charge the officers in the case with civil rights violations which could result in Life without Parole. The investigation, however, would soon be marred by allegations against Prosecutors and Witnesses alike. In January 1998 the investigation was stalled after Prosecutors became convinced that Louima had fabricated his statement that cops had made the infamous "Giuliani Time" remark while allegedly beating him. This stunning development was broken by Peter Noel of the Village Voice. The next month, Prosecutors hauled before the Grand Jury Justin Volpe’s father Bob, and his fiancée Susan.
To prove the civil rights charge, the Feds needed to prove that the crime committed was racially motivated. However, there were three women who stood in the way of such a claim; the African-American wife of Thomas Wiese, the Puerto Rican girlfriend of Thomas Bruder, and the African-American fiancée of Justin Volpe. Once before the Grand Jury, Volpe’s fiancée was viciously attacked by lead Prosecutor Cathy Palmer, who demanded Susan disclose the details of every sexual partner she had had since high school. Young Susan would not budge nor waiver in her support of her fiancée and the question as to whom she may have had sex with back in high school was seen by many as having no relevance as to whether or not Justin Volpe assaulted Abner Louima.
Members of Palmer’s own Prosecution team were so shocked and outraged by her actions that complaints were forwarded to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility. An investigation was launched. Soon after the ‘investigation of the investigation’ began, Cathy Palmer resigned her position with the U. S. Attorney’s Office.
The civil rights charges that were to come would also be problematic given that it fueled the fury of self-appointed community activists, some of whom sought to capitalize on the tragedy for their own selfish gains. Two weeks into the scandal racial tensions in New York were reaching a critical point. Leaders of New York’s numerous labor unions produced a "Justice Rally" on August 24, 1997, during which thousands of protesters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall where Mayor Giuliani was hung in effigy.
On the next day, the 17th of the scandal, a New York City police officer would be murdered. Ralph Dols had been making good money for himself and his suppliers of the steroids he blatantly sold to cops in the 70th Precinct. However, once hundreds of Internal Affairs cops descended upon the 70th Precinct, looking for any excuse to arrest a cop in the hopes of obtaining information about the assault on Louima, those cops could not only NOT be seen in Dols’ company, but could no longer use, let alone buy, the illegal drugs Dols had to sell.
Dols’ suppliers were worried; all it would take would be for one 70th Precinct cop to be arrested for steroids possession, and if that cop agreed to finger Dols as his supplier in exchange for leniency, Dols himself could be arrested. Facing 20 years for drug dealing, Dols could be squeezed into himself giving up his suppliers of steroids. Officer Dols was thus left literally ‘holding the bag,’ a bag full of steroids that he could no longer sell, and whose suppliers wanted their cut of the profits. In just two week’s time, Officer Dols had gone from being an asset to the Russian mob, to a liability.
On the night of August 25, 1997, while Dols parked his car in the ‘Mobbed-up’ neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay, Officer Dols heard the approach of a speeding auto. Inside were two men, both wearing black outfits and gloves, holding guns. The men opened fire and then sped off. Officer Dols died hours later in the same operating room of Coney Island Hospital where 17 days earlier doctors had saved Abner Louima’s life.
To date, the murder of Officer Dols has yet to be solved. Two theories have emerged among law enforcement as to who killed him; his suppliers in the Russian Mob or members of the Colombo Family. Dols’ name does not appear on the "Wall of Honor" inside Police Headquarters that details those New York City cops whose deaths were directly the result of their police work.
THE FIRST TRIAL
In May, 1999 the first trial began in Brooklyn Federal Court of Justin Volpe and four alleged accomplices in the assault on Abner Louima. The trial would be one of the most sensational of the decade. Competition was fierce among those journalists desperate to obtain one of the few seats set aside for members of the Media. This reporter got inside the Courtroom of Judge Eugene Nickerson by sitting with Justin’s father Bob in the seats set aside for the family and friends of the Defendants.
As incredible as it may seem now, some reporters following this case were not convinced that Justin Volpe was guilty at the time the trial began. Justin’s most vehement supporter was his father Bob, and his background was not the sort one would expect that would produce a son who could commit such a horrible crime. Bob Volpe was already an artist when he joined the NYPD back in 1964. As the "Flower children" generation of the late 1960s developed, Bob himself adopted the persona of ‘Hippie artist,’ wearing his hair long - something cops simply did not do in those days. Predictably, Bob Volpe was called a ‘fag’ and harassed by some of his fellow officers, although there was only so far that his critics could go; Bob was a tough guy who took crap from no one and would not hesitate to stand up for himself. Bob Volpe used his hippie appearance to his advantage as a cop, easily able to portray a druggie in undercover narcotics work. Tragically, two of Volpe’s partners were murdered by drug dealers. Volpe’s work as an artist also qualified him to become the NYPD’s first ‘Art Cop,’ investigating the international world of stolen art masterpieces in the hopes of their recovery.
Bob Volpe married an artist named Grace and the two raised three sons on Staten Island. Volpe was also a biker; thus the Volpe household that Justin grew up in was populated by artists, bikers, and cops, an unusual mix that sent a message of tolerance to the three Volpe boys. Growing up, Justin was very nurturing and would adopt abandoned pets into the Volpe home. Thus, Bob Volpe had credibility with many when he claimed his son was innocent and was, in his words, the victim of a "Tawana Brawley-style hoax!"
Thus, given Bob Volpe’s reputation, the first trial over the Abner Louima assault had some observers in doubt as to what had actually occurred. Many thought Officers Bruder and Bellomo should never have been charged. Some believed that Volpe was guilty but that racism had nothing to do with the crime he committed. Also, most of the Prosecution Witnesses had what some perceived to be major credibility problems.
A turning point came with the testimony of Abner Louima. As he recounted the horrific crime committed against him, Louima had some jurors in tears. As the trial progressed it became apparent to this reporter that Justin was in fact guilty and would most certainly be convicted, for which he would be sentenced to Life without Parole. It was at that point that I pulled Bob Volpe aside and forced him to face the inevitable; his son would have to change his plea from "Not Guilty."
A few days later the Village Voice published a story about my role in securing Justin’s new plea. Unfortunately, actions that should have been taken in this case did not occur. On the night in question, Justin Volpe and other cops went to the hospital to attend to the wounds they received during the riot. Volpe, however, was not given tests to determine what - if any - degree of brain damage he experienced due to the blunt force trauma to his head when he was punched in the ear. Volpe was not tested for steroids and his father always denied his son ever took them. Either such tests could have supported an insanity plea but because this possibility was not pursued, it was too late; the only plea Volpe could then enter was "Guilty," with the hope that the Judge would be lenient in his sentencing.
On the morning that Justin changed his plea to "Guilty," the Courtroom was packed to capacity. Volpe tearfully apologized to his family for the shame he had brought upon them. This show of emotion was in stark contrast to Justin’s demeanor throughout the trial. As his attorney had forbidden him to speak to reporters, I respected that request but one day my frustrations got the better of me and I walked up to Justin in the hallway of the Courthouse and asked how he could be so calm and cool while his father was yelling to any reporter who would listen to him about the course of the trial. Without missing a beat to think, Justin looked me in the eyes and softly stated: "I have to be strong for my Dad!"
Finally, there were tears of emotion in Justin Volpe’s eyes as he pleaded guilty to one of the most horrific police brutality crimes in U. S. history. His father just sat there stoically; perhaps he felt he had to be strong for his son. After the proceeding, Justin was taken downstairs, where he would say goodbye to his beloved father, now separated from him by a thick partition of Plexiglas. "I love you," Justin said. "I love you," his father replied. "Be strong."
AFTERMATH OF THE FIRST TRIAL
Justin Volpe’s guilty plea was by no means an end to this story; there would be four more trials to come and more developments that would keep the story alive for a decade. When the first trial went to the jury it was not clear to any of the trial’s observers as to what the jury would decide. The ‘safe’ bet was that Sgt. Bellomo would be acquitted of participating in the alleged cover-up. Bellomo’s attorney was John Patten, a modern-day "Perry Mason" who only took clients he was convinced were innocent. Patten was best known for his successful defense of Detective Joe Simone, falsely accused of being a ‘mole’ for the Colombo Family. Predictably, the jury acquitted Bellomo of all charges.
The jury also had to determine whether Volpe, Schwarz, Wiese, and Bruder had beaten Abner Louima in a patrol car en route to the 70th Precinct. Louima’s credibility in this regard was shattered by his earlier Perjury regarding the "Giuliani time" remark he claimed was yelled at him as he was allegedly being beaten. The jury came back with "Not Guilty" verdicts on these charges.
The final decision for the jury was the most controversial; was Charles Schwarz the second cop with Volpe in the bathroom, and did Schwarz hold Louima down while Volpe sodomized him? The jury voted "Guilty" on this charge, sending Schwarz and his family members into outbursts of rage and fury when the Verdict was rendered.
Next came the matter of sentencing. On 3 July, 1999 I sent a letter to Judge Eugene Nickerson, making the case over several pages why I was asking that Volpe receive the minimum sentence allowed, that of 30 years, instead of Life without Parole, the sentence the Prosecutors were seeking. In the letter I spoke of the Volpe family and their values and my belief that insanity, not racism, was what motivated Justin to commit this horrible crime. I also raised the possibility that steroids was a factor, not as an excuse but as an explanation. I also wrote of the Judeo-Christian heritage upon which our Nation is built, which includes the principles of Compassion, Mercy, and Forgiveness.
I’ll never know what, if any, impact my letter had on Judge Nickerson, but I doubt he received many such letters. He did, of course, receive similar appeals from Justin’s parents. At any rate, Judge Nickerson, against prosecutor’s demands, imposed the minimum sentence of 30 years on Justin Volpe, an action Nickerson would receive criticism for from several quarters, including legal scholars. For his conviction for holding down Louima while Volpe sodomized him, Judge Nickerson sentenced Charles Schwarz to 15 years and ordered him to compensate Louima for over $200,000.
STEROIDS AND THE AMERICAN CULTURE
After Justin Volpe pleaded guilty I was determined to solve the case as to who did what and why in the Abner Louima affair. Among other things, this meant investigating the nationwide problem of steroid abuse. Little was being written about the problem at the time and only in recent years has the Media been forced by steroids scandals to turn their attention to this problem.
Steroids are part of the world culture today primarily due to a single madman from the past who was responsible for their discovery; Adolph Hitler. In 1936 the Olympic games were held in Berlin during the ascension of the ‘Third Reich’ of Nazi Germany. The Nazi regime was built around an ideology of racism, which purported that the "Aryan" race was superior intellectually and physically to other races. It was the hope of Hitler that the German athletes would prove this racist theory by sweeping most of the medals during the games. However, one athlete, an African-American named Jesse Owens, proved the Nazi theory wrong by winning four Gold medals in track and field events.
Hitler was incensed and made it a top priority of his regime to discover substances that would enhance athletic performance. Nazi doctors discovered steroids and how to synthesize them, as well as other drugs, including methamphetamine. Because the effects of these new drugs were so severe and because long-term consequences had not yet been determined, the Nazis experimented with them on prisoners in concentration camps during World War II.
After the defeat of Nazi Germany, the world descended into a "Cold War" between those nations under Communist subjugation versus those of the Capitalist West. As with Hitler and the Nazis, the Communists sought the propaganda value of success at the Olympics as "proof" that their system of government was superior to those of the West. Thus, Communist governments began to devote enormous resources to the training of their athletes to compete in the Olympic games. One such tool resorted to was the use of steroids. By the 1960s most of the athletes in Communist countries were training with steroids, the most notorious being the athletes in East Germany. In particular, the East German women’s teams were aggressively abusing steroids, which would make these athletes the subject of much satire and ridicule.
Although the rules of the International Olympic Committee forbids the use of steroids, the Communists routinely ignored these rules. Some American athletes thus felt it necessary to partake of steroids themselves in order to stay competitive with the Communist athletes. Thus, a nation descended into a period of decades during which America’s young men and women trained on drugs - steroids - with devastating consequences to their long-term health, as well as the damage to Society these drugs would bring. One consequence of the Cold War was the emergence of a market for these drugs, a market the American Mafia was all too eager to capitalize on.
During the 1970s two sports, professional football and bodybuilding, would become enormously popular. One consequence of this phenomenon was a dramatic increase in the market for anabolic steroids. During this time, steroids were still not illegal and could be obtained by a physician.
As America’s appetite for steroids increased, so did the evidence of the dangers of such use slowly begin to emerge. In 1988, Steve Courson, an Offensive Linemen who served on the Pittsburgh Stealers professional football team during 2 of their Super Bowl victories, was diagnosed with an enlarged heart. Advised that he would not live without a heart transplant, Courson fought back with diet and exercise and recovered his health without surgery. In litigation Courson blamed his use of alcohol and steroids use for his heart condition. Courson went on to write the book ‘False Glory: Steelers and Steroids,’ his personal account of steroids abuse and the affects they had over time on his body. In 1992 former Oakland Raiders All-Pro Lyle Alzado died of a rare brain tumor that he blamed on his massive use of steroids. Alzado was 43 years young at his death.
In 1989 George Herbert Walker Bush became President of the United States. At the prompting of the Bush Administration, Congress passed the Crime Control Act of 1990, legislation which made the possession and distribution of steroids a Federal crime. One of the fist notable Federal prosecutions involving steroids trafficking took place in New York in 1994, when Vince McMahon, President of the World Wrestling Federation, was put on trial. McMahon was accused of supplying steroids to the bodybuilders who performed for him in his business and faced 8 years in prison. After a sensational trial that featured some of the top names in the business, McMahon was acquitted.
The McMahon trial was also notable for the introduction of the ‘book deal’ defense, in which an attempt was made to discredit a Prosecution witness by accusing that person of pursuing a book deal about their interactions with the Defendant. That strategy is currently being pursued by supporters of retired FBI agent Lin DeVecchio, under indictment for allegedly helping Colombo Family hitman/FBI Informant Greg Scarpa in the murders of four people. DeVecchio’s supporters maintain that the indictments are the direct results of ‘book deals’ being sought by both the Prosecutor in the case as well as a Prosecution witness, the wife of hitman Scarpa.
In the 1992 trial of Gambino Family Godfather John Gotti, Defense attorneys attempted to discredit the key Prosecution witness, former Underboss Sammy Gravano, by addressing the issue of Gravano’s addiction to anabolic steroids. Gravano, a former hairdresser, was believed to have had a complex about his short stature and thus began ‘bulking up’ with the help of steroids, further cementing his nickname "The Bull." After Gravano left the Witness Protection Program he set his son and daughter up in drug trafficking, and when arrested by the DEA in 2000, Gravano was found in the possession of steroids.
In 2004 what became known as the ‘Balco scandal’ stunned followers of professional baseball in America. ‘BALCO’ is the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, a business that supplied nutritional supplements to professional athletes. During the latter part of the 1990s, chemists found ways around the anti-steroids laws by creating chemicals and substances that had the same effect on the human body as steroids but were not steroids themselves. One such supplement was Androstenedione, a substance that was banned by professional basketball and football but not by baseball. Thus, slugger Mark McGwire was able to use this substance - legally - during his bid in 1998 to break Roger Maris’ homerun record.
These substances - shamelessly offered for sale at various websites devoted to bodybuilding, were among those being offered to BALCO to its customers. However, agents of the DEA began an investigation into BALCO and indicted owner Victor Conte on charges of providing illegal steroids that wound up in the bodies of several major league baseball players. As the scandal has grown, several major league baseball players have been subpoenaed to testify before the Grand Jury that indicted Conte, including sluggers Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi. The scandal has been furthered by the sensational autobiography of former hitter Jose Canseco, who has ‘named names’ of prominent baseball stars he claims joined him in steroids use. Sportswriters have had a field day in exposing the dirty little secret they knew had existed for years and some have accused both Major League Baseball and the players’ Union of covering up what they see as the pervasive existence of steroids in professional baseball.
While much of the information about steroids abuse has become public in the last seven years, I still felt I had enough information in 1999 to pursue the possible factor steroids may have played in the Abner Louima case. One month after my letter to Judge Nickerson I published my Feature: "17 Days in August: A Tale of Cops, Steroids, and the Mob." To date the story remains the most aggressive and detailed examination of the role steroids may have played in the Abner Louima case. I told Bob Volpe I wanted to make his son Justin the "poster boy" for steroids abuse and it’s side effects. Despite my story, which was well received in various circles, Bob and I remained on friendly terms. Bob insisted that his son never used steroids, but stipulated at least one of Justin’s co-defendants had.
This reporter was not alone in this regard; WB11 News also reported in August, 1999 that some members of law enforcement were convinced Justin Volpe was among those 70th Precinct cops who bought steroids from Officer Ralph Dols. Volpe’s attorney angrily denied his client ever used steroids.
Despite my report, Bob Volpe and his wife Grace and I got together a few months later at an event in Harlem. In October, 1999 a group of clergy in Harlem issued invitations to what they called "The Time For Healing - Covenant for Reconciliation," an event to bring together people of all races and religions. Among those involved in this event was my friend the Reverend Betty Neal, Executive Director of Ministers of Harlem, USA, a non-profit whose primary purpose is to promote interaction between the residents of Harlem and the cops and firefighters who serve them in that community. "Reverend Betty," as she is affectionately called, is one of the most beloved community leaders in New York City and was the first female and first African-American to be named an Honorary Deputy Commissioner of both the New York City Fire Department and Police Department. I have worked for many years as a volunteer for Ministers of Harlem.
When I got the invitation, I called Reverend Betty and suggested she invite Justin’s parents to the event. The Reverend ‘upped the ante’ by suggesting that Abner Louima also be invited. Looking back, it took an awful lot of nerve to attempt something like this but the city was angry and divided over the Justin Volpe case and what the event called for - Healing - was something that was very much needed in New York City. The event was on the evening of November 29, 1999 at the historic Mt. Olivet Baptist Church on Malcolm X Boulevard and 120th Street. Bob and Grace Volpe showed up with several of Grace’s works of art, including a painting of a rose from her garden she intended to give to Abner Louima. No member of the Louima family attended as had been hoped.
Part of the program featured an impromptu appearance on stage by Bob and Grace Volpe, who apologized to the citizens of New York for the crime their son committed. Many of the members of the Congregation were moved to tears, and hugged the Volpes afterwards and wished them well. The event turned out to live up to the expectations of the event’s name.
Cynics could argue that Justin’s parents were just taking actions to keep their son alive, who will spend at least 25 years in prison given that there is no Parole for Federal prisoners. There was, of course, at the time, enormous speculation about what would become of prisoner Volpe. Oftentimes, when members of law enforcement are incarcerated - rightfully or wrongly - they are placed in Solitary Confinement to protect them from general population prisoners looking for an excuse to murder them. It was feared that prisoners of color would seek to harm Justin Volpe in retaliation for what he did to a handcuffed prisoner of color. The alternative would be Solitary confinement but almost always prisoners subjected to this are rendered insane due to the lack of human contact. The available evidence, despite what Federal authorities and some community activists had claimed, was that Justin Volpe was not a racist.
What then, was to be done with prisoner Volpe? The answer came on June 27, 2000, when the New York Post’s headline blared ‘VOLPE FINDS GOD.’ The front page featured a photograph of Volpe and Reverend Neal. The story detailed how Reverend Neal had ministered to Volpe while he was being held in Solitary Confinement at the Metropolitan Correctional Center while awaiting the trial of Schwarz, Wiese, and Bruder on charges involving the alleged cover-up. From there, Volpe was sent to the Federal prison in Rochester, Minnesota, where he underwent psychiatric evaluation for many weeks. A government psychiatrist had previously testified that he had thoroughly examined Volpe and that he had no history of mental illness. After his examination at Rochester doctors reached a similar conclusion and released Volpe into General Population, where he quickly made friends with prisoners of all races. To date, no prisoner has ever attempted to harm Justin Volpe.
THE SECOND TRIAL
In January, 2000, the second trial began relating to the sodomy torture of Abner Louima. Charles Schwarz, Thomas Wiese, and Thomas Bruder were accused of covering up the assault on Louima. All three men were convicted. However, lawyers for the three former cops Appealed their convictions, and in February, 2002 a Federal Appeals Court threw out convictions against the three, as well as the earlier conviction against Schwarz for allegedly holding down Louima while Volpe assaulted him.
The three-Judge panel of the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that there was a conflict of interest regarding Schwarz’ defense in the first trial given that Schwarz was represented by a police Union attorney who failed to call Volpe as a Witness once he pleaded guilty and implicated another cop, Thomas Wiese, as his accomplice during the bathroom assault. Wiese, the partner of Schwarz, was also a police Union delegate. While Volpe’s plea was not made in the presence of the jury in that trial, the Appeals Court also found that jurors became informed of Volpe’s admission of guilt and that it tainted their deliberations regarding Officer Schwarz.
In regards to the decision by the Court to throw out the convictions in the conspiracy trial, the Judges claimed there was insufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict against the three cops. Wiese and Bruder had remained free since their convictions while appealing their case. Schwarz had been in solitary confinement in a variety of Federal prisons since his convictions.
THE THIRD TRIAL
In June, 2000 police officer Francisco Rosario went on trial in Federal Court on charges of lying to authorities about what he witnessed on the night of the assault on Louima. Rosario initially told authorities he was not in the area of the holding cell when Volpe escorted Louima into the cell just moments after the assault. Prosecutors alleged that Rosario lied in order not to be called to testify. Rosario’s partner that night, Rolando Aleman, had previously pleaded guilty to similar charges. Rosario was convicted. Judge Eugene Nickerson later sentenced Rosario and Aleman to Probation. Both cops lost their jobs as police officers.
THE FOURTH TRIAL
In the Spring of 2002 the fourth trial stemming from the Abner Louima incident began in Brooklyn Federal Court. Schwarz was charged with Perjury for claiming he did not lead Louima into the bathroom and denying he was in the bathroom, as well as the original civil rights charges from the first trial in which prosecutors alleged Schwarz held Louima down during the assault. Jurors convicted Schwarz of the first Count of Perjury but deadlocked on the remaining Counts. Federal Judge Reena Raggi set a date in September of that year for a re-trial on the deadlocked Counts.
Racism reared it’s ugly head in this trial, as revealed by the Jury Foreman who published a story in the New York Observer in which he accused a fellow juror of being anti-Semitic.
THE FIFTH TRIAL
In September, 2002 jury selection began for the fifth trial, a re-trial of Charles Schwarz on Perjury and civil rights charges. At the last minute, Schwarz accepted a plea bargain in which he would serve 5 years for his previous conviction on the Perjury charge in exchange for Prosecutors dropping the remaining charges. Part of the plea agreement was a gag order to be in place on Schwarz and his wife during his incarceration. If both adhered to the agreement, a 13-month sentence reduction would be applied.
Schwarz and his wife kept their end of the bargain. However, when it came time for Schwarz to be released, the Federal Bureau of Prisons refused to honor the agreement. Judge Reena Raggi also refused to enforce the agreement and re-sentenced Schwarz to the original 5-year sentence.
Earlier this year Schwarz was finally released from custody. His former co-defendants, Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder, lost their Court fight to be reinstated to the New York City Police Department. Abner Louima marked the 10-year anniversary of his assault by appearing at an event by the Reverend Al Sharpton called to denounce the Presidential campaign of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Last Summer I met with Bob Volpe at his art club. A civil-rights activist was there that day, filming a documentary on the Abner Louima case. Bob and I got together to discuss various stories, most Mafia-related, including that of former Congressman James Traficant of Ohio. Since 1998 I had been detailing the evidence regarding Traficant and the Mafia at AmericanMafia.com. Traficant was convicted in 2002 on bribery and racketeering charges and was sent off to a Federal prison. Then, without explanation, in 2004 Traficant was transferred to the Federal Medical prison facility at Rochester, Minnesota. Traficant’s constituents back home were anxious for any information as to why he was transferred. Had Traficant suffered some sort of breakdown? Nobody with information was talking. What I wanted to know from Bob was if Traficant was in contact with Justin, they both being held in the same facility? There was also the matter of both of them taking up artwork while in prison. Bob used the occasion to pitch a story to me he wanted me to pursue.
A couple months later I spoke to Bob on the phone with another reporter during a break in a Mafia trial. Regrettably, I never found the time to meet up with Bob to pick up where we left off. Bob died suddenly of a heart attack on November 28, 2006. Bob was only in his mid-sixties, but the stress from his son’s situation had weighed heavily upon him. Reverend Betty and I attended Bob’s funeral; the Church was packed with cops, artists, and bikers. One of Bob’s sons eulogized him, stating from the pulpit that he would continue his father’s fight to "bring Justin back home!" At that point the Congregation leapt to their feet cheering in approval.
These people, many in number, family and friends and of varying backgrounds, all loved Justin Volpe before he committed his unspeakable act against a handcuffed prisoner. They still love Justin Volpe. It’s not hard to understand, given the kind of family the Volpe family is.
What’s hard to understand is why Justin Volpe committed that crime. 10 years after the fact, this is one of many mysteries about this case yet to be solved. Who was the ‘second cop’ in the bathroom during the assault, and what did they and didn’t they do? Who was the Haitian man who sucker-punched Justin in the ear, and why was that criminal never brought to Justice?
Did Justin Volpe ever use steroids?
Many Americans were stunned in June when a professional wrestler named Chris Benoit brutally murdered his young son and his wife before hanging himself with a cord from one of his weight lifting machines. It was no surprise to those such as myself when the evidence showed this crime was the result of ‘roid rage.’
At long last, the American people have a ‘poster boy’ for the dangers of anabolic steroids.
Related Features by this author:
17 Days In August: A Tale of Cops, Steroids, and The Mob!
Steroids and the Mob
James Ridgway de Szigethy can be reached at:
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