The Good Rat

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-05-22
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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In his inimitable New York voice, Pulitzer Prize winner Jimmy Breslin gives us a look through the keyhole at the people and places that define the Mafia-characters like John Gotti, Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso (named for his weapon of choice), and Jimmy "the Clam" Eppolito-interwoven with the remarkable true-crime saga of the good rat himself, Burt Kaplan of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, the star witness in the recent trial of two NYPD detectives indicted for carrying out eight gangland executions. Through these unforgettable real-life and long-forgotten Mafia stories, Jimmy Breslin captures the moments in which the mob was made and broken.


The Good Rat
A True Story

Chapter One

United States District Court
Eastern District of New York

U.S. Courthouse
Brooklyn, New York
March 14, 2006
10:00 A.M.


United States of America v.Stephen Caracappa and Louis Eppolito

Before the Honorable Jack B. Weinstein
United States District Judge, and a jury.


For the Government:

Roslynn R. Mauskopf
U.S. Attorney
By: Robert Henoch
Mitra Hormozi
Daniel Wenner
Assistant U.S. Attorneys
One Pierrepont Plaza
Brooklyn, New York 11201

For the Defendants:

Edward Walter Hayes, Esq.
Rae Downes Koshetz, Esq.
For Defendant Caracappa
Bruce Cutler, Esq.
Bettina Schein, Esq.
For Defendant Eppolito
(Open court-case called.)

The Court: Good morning everyone. Sit down, please.

The United States calls Burton Kaplan.

The Clerk: Stand and raise your right hand. Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth under penalty of perjury?

The Witness: I do.

The Clerk: Your full name, sir.

The Witness: Burton Kaplan.

Direct examination of Kaplan by Assistant U.S. Attorney Henoch

Q: How old are you, sir?

A: Seventy-two.

Q: Are you currently incarcerated?

A: Yes.

Q: Sir, I would like to ask you to look around the courtroom, specifically at this table, and tell the jury if there is anybody sitting there that you recognize.

A: Yes.

Q: Can you tell the jury who you recognize?

A: Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa.

Q: Can you please for the record point out an article of clothing that Mr. Eppolito is wearing?

A: Gray suit with a light tie.

Q: What about Mr. Caracappa?

A: Dark suit.

Q: Did you have a business relationship with Mr. Eppolito and Mr. Caracappa?

A: Yes.

Q: Can you please tell the jury what the nature of that business relationship was?

A: They were detectives on the New York Police Department who brought me information about wiretaps, phone taps, informants, ongoing investigations, and imminent arrests and murders. They did murders and kidnapping for us.

Q: What did you do for them in exchange for this?

A: I paid them.

He cannot believe that he is doing this, that he is sitting on a witness stand to tell of a life of depravity without end. Burton Kaplan looks like a businessman in the noon swarm of Manhattan's garment center: an old man with a high forehead and glasses, in a dark suit and white shirt. His face and voice show no emotion, other than a few instances of irritation when one of the lawyers asks something he knows and they do not. "You are wrong, Counselor," he snaps. His eyes seem to blink a lot, but his words do not.

"Are you a member of the Mafia?" he is asked.

"No, I can't be a member. I'm Jewish."

Jerry Shargel, Kaplan's lawyer for years, says, "Bertie looks like a guy who is standing outside his temple waiting for an aliyah." An honorary role in the service.

Kaplan's face has no lines of the moment, the voice is bare of emotion, with no modulation, as if a carpenter makes level each sentence. He does not differentiate between telling of a daughter's wedding reception and of an attempt to bury a body in ground frozen white in a Connecticut winter. It was bad enough that he had to drive alone with the body in the trunk and on a night so frigid that he shook with the cold. He finally tossed the body through the ice and into the nearest river.

Burton Kaplan brought that ice into the courtroom. Right away I see this old ice-house on the corner of 101st Avenue in Ozone Park. The guy on the platform pulls the burlap cover from a frozen block and with an ice pick scratches the outline of the fifteen-cent piece I am there to get. He stabs the ice and first there is a crack that looks like a small wave and then the block explodes into white. One tug and the fifteen-cent piece goes on your shoulder for carrying to the icebox on the back porch. And now I have a name for Kaplan. "Icebox."

This suggests that he has bodies on hooks in a freezer somewhere. Close enough. Ask Burt Kaplan a question on the stand and he draws an outline in the ice, and then he answers and there is the explosion. The fifteen-cent piece separates from the block, and Burt Kaplan comes out of the cold with stories that kill. Yes, they did murder Eddie Lino. Caracappa did the firing. Yes, poor young honest Nicky Guido got killed by mistake. Gaspipe Casso wouldn't pay any extra money to find the right guy. Kaplan has a morgue full of answers.

He does not come out of a hovel where tough guys, as they are called, are raised three and four in one bed in a wretched family and dinner is anything stolen. He was raised on Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn, a street of neat two- and three-story attached houses with stores on the first floor. Everybody had a job. Kaplan's father was an electrician. The family had an appliance store and a liquor store. He went to one of the best public high schools in North America, Brooklyn Technical, and, in what often seemed to be the story of his life, he stayed there for a year and a half and was so close to legitimate success when he quit. Of Brooklyn Tech, he laments, "I wish I stood there."

Instead, he was a great merchant, too great, and after he sold everything that did belong to him, he sold things that did not. As there were no thrills in constant legitimacy, he loved thievery. This resulted in him moving up from Vanderbilt Avenue at age thirty-nine to Lewisburg Penitentiary on his first sentence, four years, federal.

Today, at seventy-two, he still owes eighteen years to the penitentiary on drug charges, and he is in court to talk his way out of them.

The Good Rat
A True Story
. Copyright © by Jimmy Breslin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from The Good Rat: A True Story by Jimmy Breslin
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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