Rendered to the Mob

How J. Edgar Hoover Found a Way
Not to Implicate the Government In Torture

Gregory Scarpa, Sr. was a Mafia “tough guy,” an assassin back in the days when television was still in black and white and a curmudgeonly bulldog (that had a penchant for wearing women’s clothes) named J. Edgar Hoover ran the FBI. Scarpa died in prison in 1994, with his nom de guerre of “The Grim Reaper” still intact.

Besides being a murderous thug, Scarpa was something else: an FBI informant. His contact at the Bureau, R. Lindley DeVecchio, is now on trial in New York, charged with helping Scarpa in planning the murders of four members of the Colombo crime family by supplying Sacarpa with inside information that compromised other investigations. In exchange, the agent got the usual swag: jewelry, money, favors, etc. The key prosecution witness is Scarpa’s former girlfriend, Linda Schiro. The articles about the trial are a fascinating, Sopranos-like retelling of some of the most gruesome actions of the mob in the eighties.

During the trial this week, Schiro talked about an incident involving Scarpa that has long been considered a legend in Mob circles, that is, Hoover calling on Scarpa to assist in finding the bodies of three young civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi in 1964 by the Klan.

According to the AP story about her testimony, using a gun given to him by the FBI, Scarpa met with with one of the suspected Klansmen, ” ‘put a gun in the guy’s mouth,’ ” and threatened to kill him. Later, she says, the FBI retrieved the gun from Scarpa and gave him “a wad of cash,” the article says.

What Hoover’s motivation was in calling on a mobster to do what the FBI was unable to is, of course, speculation. Oliver Stone might note that this is less than a year after President Kennedy’s assassination, and Hoover’s ties to the mob did not die at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital with JFK.

What is clear, is that this mentality of getting a criminally corrupt organization to do the government’s dirty work hasn’t gone away; it’s just been outsourced to Egypt and Saudi Arabia (among others). In Washington, DC, you can’t say Department of Justice without saying Hoover. The building is named after him. That a man reviled by so many people of my generation is so venerated that his name is equated with justice is like naming the White House press room the Dick Cheney Wing. Nothing says openness and candor like Cheney.

So choose your heroes carefully, America. Reserve your veneration for the people in your own community who work everyday to end poverty, refute racism, and clean up the planet. Those are the people who should be celebrated. Who would you name your house after, if you could? What about the White House? (No, Mr. Colbert, not the Doritos White House.) Is there a real national hero for whom this country’s name could be changed? “The United States of Oprah?” I kid, but you know, there are people out there for whom the Constitution tolls. It tolls for us.


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