Bookshelf: Deal with the Devil

Anyone who thinks that investigative reporting is dead has never read Peter Lance.

Lance, no doubt aided by graduate degrees in both journalism and law, was the first mainstream journalist to argue that Ramzi Yousef was a chief architect of both World Trade Centre attacks, documented the many intelligence failures of the CIA and FBI in the lead up to 9/11, and defied the threats of federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to suppress his work. Now, in his latest book, Dead with the Devil, he’s turned his thorough attention to the FBI’s thirty-year relationship with mobster and murder Greg “the Grim Reaper” Scarpa, Sr.

Scarpa, who died of AIDS in 1994, was a major force in the Colombo family of New York, ran gambling, loansharking, extortion, and hijacking operations, and was a man who, by his own admission, stopped counting his murders after fifty. Here’s the other thing about Greg Scarpa: for thirty years, he was a rat, and he committed his crimes under the supervision of the FBI. What’s more, Lance argues, Scarpa not only used his connection to the FBI to keep himself out of trouble, like recently convicted gangster Whitey Bulger, but he also manipulated the FBI into arresting his enemies, paying him outrageous amounts of money, and feeding him information he used to engineer the three Colombo wars.

Lance’s case is built on 1,153 pages of FBI files never before seen outside the bureau. He takes us through Scarpa’s thirty-year relationship with the FBI, laying out FBI report after report, contrasting these with other sources of FBI history, including former agents, and other legal cases, and then meticulously picking apart every bit of equivocation, every inconsistency, and every outright lie. The result is a damning 500-page indictment against an agency too naïve to know it was being manipulated, too stubborn to see the one-sidedness of its Faustian bargain, and too proud to admit that they were played by a killer.

Of particular focus is once-celebrated FBI agent Lin DeVecchio, the man responsible for handling Scarpa over the course of the latter half of Scarpa’s years with the FBI, during which he committed at least a dozen slayings. Lance details the extent of DeVecchio’s twisted relationship with Scarpa, why the government granted DeVecchio a sort of amnesty for the crimes he was accused of, why the Brooklyn DA’s case against him fell apart, and what the US government should do to make things right.

Given that the US government never admits it’s wrong until the parties they’ve wronged are dead and can therefore no longer sue, it’s doubtful that anyone will act on Lance’s advice. That’s a shame, given that FBI informants are still running amok. What’s more interesting, however, will be to see whether anyone dare sue Lance for libel. Considering the weight of evidence presented in Deal with the Devil, I somehow doubt anyone will try.

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Dave Robson is the editor of DailyXY. He spends his time reading books, drinking Scotch, and smoking cigars.

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