Leuci prided himself on being a tough cop -- they all did -- but in the end he proved far less tough than any of the others. Perhaps he had more conscience than they did, or perhaps he merely was troubled by what all of them were doing. In any case he was the one who stepped forward, and, in so doing, brought on the ruin of everyone else. It was almost biblical. Like Samson, he first did penance, and then he pulled the temple down .
Robert Daley "Prince of the City"
It's cold and late on the edges of Manhattan's Little Italy, and detective Rovert Leuci has judt proven his manhood gustatorially, wolfing down a plate of marinated calamari , a dish of fettuccine and a bowl of tripe.
In the course of dinner, he admits to even greater prowess, the true feat that separates Italian men from boys: He loves to eat coppozella -- the baked head of a sheep -- and, yes, he eats the eyes.
But Leuci is a man of fascinating paradoxes. His deep-set brown eyes seem hard enough to stare down the meanest of street thugs, but on his hairy chest, visible beneath an open collar, sit a St. Christopher medal and a gold cornutta , the ram's horn that wards off evil spirits.
And although Leuci, 38, keeps a loaded Smith and Wesson.38 Special in his unzipped attache case -- he used to keep it zipped -- he travels with Det. Billy Hannon, his bodyguard, who has a similiar piece packed inside his gray three-piece suit.
After the meal, two tough-looking guys approach Leuci. Hannon had been keeping an eye on them as they ate dinner with a Roman Catholic bishop, and now one of the guys says:
"Aren't you Bob Leuci?"
"Yeah, I'm Bob Leuci."
"What are you doing here?"
"Same thing as you, eating dinner with some friends."
"Well listen, buddy," one of the two says. "I'm with the bishop so I won't tell you what I think of you."
They walk out of the restaurant and Leuci tries to slice the tension that has silenced the coversation.
"Nice guys" he says, shaking his head and running his gold-braceleted left hand through his thick, coal-black hair.
This constant insecurity may be the price Leuci has to pay for having been a crooked detective who turned on his brother cops, and on his heritage. As a result, his family was relocated twice, his house protected by federal marshals, his kids escorted to school by guards with automatic weapons.And Leuci himself was driven to the point of suicide -- a psychic casualty of the strange world of high-stakes drug enforcement where tradeoffs are a way of life and morality blinks on and off like a neon beacon, now shadowing the hunted, now the hunters.
Bob Leuci can't walk around town the way he used to, can't intimidate people in the name of the law as he once did. But he's making his confession in public because "to run away or change my identity" he says "would be to admit to myself that I was worthless."
From Baby Face to Snake
Little Italy used to be open territory for Bob Leuci, a place he could buy bread, or meet with Mafia informants, or stop for a plate of pasta after a 16-hour shift as a narcotics detective. He loved being Italian; went to see "The Godfather" three times, and tells tales about relatives in Corleone, Sicily, with a distances sense of mythology.
He was born and raised in the Italian section of Queens, his father a foreman in a pipe factory, his mother a laborer in a sewing-machine plant. He was the first kid in his family to finish high school, and when he left Baker University in Kansas after a year of playing football to return to New York and become a cop his parents thought that young Bobby was going to make something of himself.
Leuci got his badge on Oct. 18, 1961, when he was 21 years old. He was a street-wise kid and he knew how to hustle crooks and junkies in Queens' 100th precinct faster than they could outwit him.
In less than four years he had entered the elite world of New York detectives, specifically the Special Investigating Unit, a choice group with city-wide jurisdiction who chose their own targets and roamed the city at will. "Someone once called them the Princes of the city, for they operated with the impunity, and sometimes with the arrogance, of Renaissance princes," says Robert Daley in his book on Leuci. "They could enforce any law or not enforce it, arrest anyone or accord freedom. They were immune to arrest themselves."
By 1971 Leuci had made hundreds of arrests, and they had stuck. When his cousin Johnny "Tarzan" Lusterino, a captain in the Colombo family, got out of jail after doing 15 years for stealing furs, he told Leuci that he was a hero among the cons.Jonny told Bobby, "They used to be proud that they had been sent up by Baby Face," a nickname that's still apt.
But then in February 1972 Leuci met a New York city prosecutor named Nick Scoppetta, who became his paisan and father confessor.
Scoppetta caught Leuci at precisely the right moment. The detective had already pocketed $18,000 that he and his partners had skimmed from dealers in dope busts. He felt guilty. The prosecutor spent three days with Leuci, playing up their common Italian heritage, the Song of Italy business. He convinced him that he could help clean up the whole criminal justice system -- not just the cops, but the big guys, too. And he could start a clean, fresh life for himself and his family.
For the next 16 months, while continuing work as a narcotics detective, Leuci became an undercover agent, making hundreds of hours of clandestine tapes that would be used in cases against 75 individuals in the New York criminal justice system including over 50 of his fellow cops.
In the months that followed, two of his friends committed suicide, two dropped dead from heart attacks, another went insane. His cousin Johnny was bumped off -- Leuci believes by a Mafia hit man. And Bob Leuci, the tough cop from the special investigations unit, had become a rat -- the kind of rat that unified cops and dope dealers and gangsters in hatred.
After his first good case had been made, Scoppetta congratulated Leuci. But as Leuci told Daley, "Tonight I felt like a snake that had crawled into this guy's bed, and I struck out at him."
"He had betrayed the police department code of silence," Daley writes in "prince of the City -- The True Story of a Cop Who Knew Too Much," "and also their code of silence that had its origins in the mountains of Sicily, and that had been brought to America by Leuci's own forebears, among others, remaining to this day a deeply rooted instinct in the breast of every young man of Italian origin. Silence and honor were the same."
Now Leuci is doing his penance. He spent a year on the book with Daley, a former New York deputy police commissioner. It was published on Monday, and next Monday Leuci will begin a three-week publicity tour, "subjecting himself to questions bout his past."
Leuci will get approximately 30 percent of the preceeds from the book. Although the advance on the hardback was only $25,000, paperback rights were sold for a reported $650,000 and John Travolta's Orion Films is said to have paid $500,000 for the movie rights. Playwright David Rabb wrote the screenplay, to be directed by Brian De Palma.
"I don't understand this Italian business," Daley says of his subject. "I don't exactly remember how I felt when I met Leuci. I'm certain I didn't admire what he stood for. I took pleasure in our interviews, in putting him through pain. But it was almost like he wanted it. I couldn't believe how much he was still involved with the Catholic thing. Redemption is what Bob Leuci is after."
Leuci himself still has trouble facing the issue squarely. "I can't talk about it now," he says. "It's very complicated."
It's been a long evening. Now, in an East Side bar that has emptied and is about to close, Leuci is pushing his drink around the tablecloth, never removing his hand, like a master chess player trying to find the one weekness in a defense.
He is asked again -- how he could rat on his friends.
"Don't give me that loyalty !" He's in a rage now. "Donht judge me! You've got to be there. It's easy to be a hero when nobody's gonna cut your off. I have to get up every morning and look at my wife and two kids.
Several days later the calm has returned and Leuci can make his confession, from the beginning -- from the times before he became an informer. How hard it had been to make dope cases without holding a little heroin back to reward informants. How the other guys would have thought he was crazy if he had refused to divide cash they found on dealers after a bust. How you couldn't get along on the $40 a month the department allowed in expenses.
And then two things happened.
"I was having a barbecue one day, and a lot of my partners were there, and my father happened to be driving by and he stopped in. And he talked to one guy and noticed he had an expensive shirt on, and he talked to another guy who had a ring on and he pulled me aside and said, 'You know, these guys you call your friends are crooks. And look at you, $40 pants. How can a cop afford $40 pants? You're my oldest son. I'm ashamed of you. You're a crook too.' And he walked out and I felt like .
"Then, another time, in the Brooklyn DA's office, there were about 25 detectives hanging around getting warrants for a raid that night. A few months earlier, Frank Serpico had testified before the Knapp Commission, and informed on another cop, and somebody came out of the elevator and said, 'Serpico's been shot.' There was a cheer. Everybody went, 'Yea!' I got the feeling right then that something was wrong with my job.
"I had a tremendous sense of guilt about what I was doing but I kept doing it. And Scoppetta, whose file was clean, was giving me a chance to make a mew life for myself. Jesus, I tried to dance around my buddies. I wanted to get the crooked lawyers and DAs and bail bondsmen and judges. It just got too big. It was a federal investigation now, and I'd get flown down to Washington and get brought into this office where I could see the White House and I heard 'The Star Spangled Banner' playing in my head."
Riding a Tiger
And so Leuci wore a transmitter. And had a recorder concealed in his car. Once, when a cop and a bail bondsman he was investigating suspected he was an informant, they dragged him to Little Italy to knock him off. Leuci spied an old Mafia informant he knew, across the street and told the two to ask the informant to vouch for him.
The informant did. "The good guys wanted to kill me," Leuci says in the book. "The bad guy saved my life."
Leuci was getting more and more confused. When newspapers began to break stories on his exploits, clips would up on his father's desk at work. Eighteen federal marshals had to watch his house, and his children were taken to school by guards with submachine guns. Leuci's family was relocated in Vienna, Va., and the prosecutors began to make more and more cases against his friends.
"I realized," he says, "that so many of these prosecutors -- Scoppetta, Andy Tartaglino, Rudolph Guiliani -- were so much like the Mafia guys in their personal style.They walked with a swagger. They played for keeps. I used to think, I'm riding a tiger. Don't play Solomon with me.
"The borders got very fuzzy."
%wearing Your Conscience
So detective Robert Leuci decided to kill himself:
As the book says: "When he reached home, Leuci went for a walk with his son. He wanted to get some sense of how far the boy had come, what he would understand about his father. What did he think about being moved to the Catskills, moved to Virginia? What did he think about having men with machine guns for playments?
"But nothing much had registered on the child's mind. Men with machine guns were good playmates, and were not otherwise significant. The little boy understood nothing at all. He was 7 years old. Kneeling, Leuci embraced him, saying goodbye.
"He got into his car. I can't just blow myself away... he told himself. What I've got to do is crash my car, so my family can collect the insurance.
"He was on the George Washington Parkway, driving fast, trying to figure out how to do it Hit some other car head-on? He couldn't risk killing some nice guy and his family coming the other way. He would have to crash into an abutment. Driving up and down the Parkway, he began looking for a good one. He drove past one abutment, past two more. He was driving 70 miles an hour, then 80, 90, and a police car came up alongside him and pulled him over.
"Leuci jumped out of the car, showing his shield. 'I'm a New York city cop.'
"The other cop, as it happened, was an Italian too. The two cops leaned their rumps against the fender and talked. The Washington cop had been in narcotics once, he said, but he got out quickly. Narcotics was a crazy scene. He wanted no part of it. He had read about all the narcotics detectives getting locked up in New York. Were any of Leuci's friends in trouble?
"'Yes,' said Leuci, 'some of my friends are in trouble.'
"They exchanged home phone numbers. The other cop invited Leuci to the Redskins' games in the fall. He had season tickets. 'I got them on the arm,' he said.
"'Of course,' said Leuci, 'what else?'"
"I destroyed camaraderie in the police department," Leuci says. "I miss being able to walk into La Luna (a restaurant in Little Italy) and have a meal. But now I teach class in one of our police schools in Brooklyn. What am I going to do, be a manufacturer's representative and go around and sell shirts?
"I figure I'm safe as long as I'm a cop. Sometimes kids still get up and ask, 'Are you the Bob Leuci...' but it's okay. I hear some of my old friends are starting to forgive me. Oh, they're upset that I'm making money off this book, and that's a real valid criticism."
"(One policeman forced to resign from the department) is head of security for a New York hotel and one of my bodyguards told me that he had read the book and he thought I had learned a lot from all this. He told the bodyguard not to let me know where he was working, but I'll find him and we'll talk.
"You know, it's tough being a cop," Leuci says. "Your conscience is pinned on your blue suit. Out there where everybody can see it. But the way the system is, 80 percent of the time a cop takes the witness stand -- whether it's a speeding ticket or a drug case -- a cop has to perjure himself. Otherwise nobody would get arrested.
"My big recurring nightmare is that one day I'll be walking down Fifth Avenue with my kids and some guy will come up to me and spit in my face -- or something worse."
One day he did run into a detective who was sitting in a car. Leuci saw him mouth the word "rat" and then spit -- only the other cop forgot to roll his window down.