General Foods Executive Disappeared in New Orleans in 1974
Douglas Caddy book,
Being There: Eyewitness to History
excerpt on Caporino case
[Chapter Three: Watergate]
- Caddy, center, with Woodward and Bernstein in Houston, 2014
WHO KILLED GABE CAPORINO?
By DOUGLAS CADDY
Andy Thibault, an award winning reporter and columnist, contacted me in 2016 to call my attention to a cold murder case in which General Foods Corporation played a major role. Thibault had learned how General Foods Corporation had misled and abused me as an employee by sending me to represent the company in Washington in 1969 but requiring in doing so that I work out of the Robert Mullen Company there that had handled its public relations for years. The Mullen Company, unbeknownst to me but known well to General Foods, was a CIA front that had been incorporated by the CIA in 1959. Thibault asked me analyze the role of General Foods in the cold murder case because of its close relationship with the CIA.
What I found was startling.
Reported by the late Chris Borgen, a retired New York City narcotics detective.
[sound picks up after about one minute and 13 seconds...]
Thibault jump-started my investigation by providing me with a copy of his book, More Cool Justice (Icebox Publishing, 2014), in which there is a chapter titled, “Who Killed Gabe Caporino?” In it he wrote that “On March 3, 1974, Caporino, 40-year old married father of two daughters, left his home in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. for a weeklong business trip to Houston and New Orleans. Caporino was a 17-year executive with the coffee division of General Foods. [General Foods was acquired by Philip Morris in 1983.]…..The night that he disappeared [in New Orleans] – March 7, 1974 – Caporino spoke with his wife and daughters, asking about a school parents’ night and confirming a dinner date with friends for the weekend. Found in his hotel room were his return flight tickets and his suitcases partially packed with gifts for his family.”
It intrigued me that Caporino’s disappearance took place in March 1974, which was when the Watergate scandal was approaching its peak that occurred when President Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974. From the onset of the Watergate case the Mullen Company and tangentially its client, General Foods, were subjects of public and prosecutorial interest because when the burglars were arrested at Watergate Howard Hunt was a vice president of the Mullen Company and Robert Bennett, Mullen Company president was a CIA asset who reported to the CIA on a regular basis. The last thing that General Foods wanted in March 1974 was for the media to take notice of the disappearance of one of its executives in New Orleans and start asking questions that might lead to disclosure of its relationship with the CIA and on into Watergate.
What made Gabe’s disappearance especially a sensitive internal matter for General Foods? Because of the possibility that Gabe might have stumbled upon or inadvertently discovered something General Foods might have been doing in behalf of the CIA that would have catapulted the company deep into Watergate. It is highly significant that thousands of cans of coffee were later to have been found missing from the company’s inventory at a time when it was recognized by law enforcement that sealed coffee cans were being used to transport heroin because drug dogs were not able to sniff the cans’ contents. The CIA had for decades been deeply involved in drug trafficking and had laundered its drug money through the casinos in Havana, Cuba; that is, until Castro took power and closed the casinos to the outrage and distress of the CIA and organized crime. What followed were numerous attempts by the CIA to assassinate Castro and reopen the casinos.
What did General Foods do when Caporino’s wife, Grace, expressed alarm at his not returning home on March 8, 1974? It assigned its chief of security, Jack Ison, to investigate the matter. Ison had been a FBI agent for nine years before becoming employed by General Foods. His efforts to deflect the focus of Gabe’s disappearance and classify him as a missing person include the following: refusing to investigate forgery of Gabe’s credit card that the FBI crime lab had confirmed and his fabrication of incriminating data in the New Orleans Police Department file as well as in the FBI file.
In John le Carre’s book, The Constant Gardener, he alludes to the accepted fact that the heads of security at large corporations are often responsible for dealing with employees who pose a threat to the business interests of the company. Such heads of security are also often responsible for conducting internal investigations that end up making findings that favor the corporations at the expense of the truth. Carre is a former MI5 agent and is knowledgeable about matters of this type.
Soon after his arrival in New Orleans, Ison met with the New Orleans Police and purposely excluded members of Caporino’s family from being present. As Thibault recounts in his book, “Instead of trying to find Gabe Caporino, the General Foods corporate leadership acted in concert with New Orleans police to trash him with unsubstantiated allegations ranging from gambling and unspecified industrial espionage to mob connections and inept whore mongering.”
Before Caporino went to New Orleans in 1974 he was a trusted employee of 17 year tenure having serious company responsibilities. Overnight with his mysterious disappearance he was transformed by the company into an employee with a horrible reputation. What could motivate the leadership of a General Foods suddenly to adopt such a position in regard to Caporino?
To make matters even worse, the company took steps to sever its obligatory relationship with Grace Corporino, Gabe’s wife, so as to deny her and her two children financial assistance. These include Workmen’s Compensation Widow’s benefits, Social Security Widow’s and children’s benefits, and all contractual employee insurance death benefits.
By chance on a visit to the New Orleans Police Grace was briefly able to peruse a three-and-a-half inch file on his husband’s case before it was whisked away. Later the file disappeared and to this day has not been found. What was in the file that was so disconcerting that the police and perhaps the CIA decided that it had to go missing as had Gabe? It would take almost ten years of Grace’s Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain the FBI file on Gabe, which was redacted as to sources but replete with damning fabrications against Gabe.
On November 3, 2017, NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune carried an article titled, “Public corruption in Louisiana ‘can’t get much worse,’ says outgoing FBI New Orleans director.” The outgoing New Orleans FBI special-agent-in-charge, Jeffrey Sallet, declared in the article that “I have had the unique opportunity of working in the area of corruption for the four New England states of Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. I had the perspective of being the national chief on corruption and civil rights, and I would say that the corruption in this state is at an extremely unacceptable level.”
In 1954 and 1955 I attended meetings in New Orleans organized by Assistant Police Superintendent Guy Banister, a former FBI agent, which focused on the efforts of the Aaron Kohn Crime Commission’s to investigate organized crime in the city. Almost seven decades later not much has changed. Corruption is still a way of life in the Big Easy. What makes the cold murder case of Gabe Caporino unique from that of other persons who have gone missing in New Orleans is the possibility that he had learned something about heroin being transported in General Foods coffee cans in an operation clandestinely orchestrated by the CIA. It could also be that by chance he saw something else happening in General Foods that he should not have seen. Whatever it was cost him his life.
Gabe Caporino is no longer among the living. However, his cold murder case cries out for justice because of its national security implications. Grace has compiled a time-line of events in the case and a mound of helpful documents and stands ready to assist anyone who would cherish the challenge of turning this cold case into a hot one. To contact Grace Caporino send a letter addressed to her c/o Trine Day, P.O. Box 577, Walterville, OR 97489. The letter will be forwarded to her.
more COOL JUSTICE, Chapter 4:
Who Killed Gabe Caporino?
Freedom of Information in a criminal investigation
Aug. 17, 2011
NEW ORLEANS, LA – The world of missing persons is like another dimension.
I’ve made just a couple forays into this world. It’s a world of forced enlightenment for the families of victims. For me – in semi-retirement after a career writing and teaching – the journey has crystallized impressions of how police work or don’t work to solve crimes.
As a young reporter, I learned quickly how some cops, prosecutors and judges will do virtually anything to stop crimes from being solved.
In New London, Connecticut, I covered a case in which cops destroyed evidence and a judge tipped off a politically-connected suspect in a hit-and-run. During a stint in Washington, D.C., I learned how payoff systems are institutionalized by slicker and smarter operatives of all political stripes. More recently, in a missing person case in Waterbury, Connecticut, I uncovered a scheme in which police suppressed records showing they refused to follow up compelling leads in the strangulation and burial of a local man.
In all these cases, the search for public records and intense investigative reporting exposed law enforcement and political corruption that delayed or kept crimes from being solved. Even in this morass, I was privileged to meet many good cops, prosecutors – and yes, even a couple good judges – who would love to do their jobs without corrupt influence.
My initial experience with a missing person case opened the door to an overwhelming barrage of horrendous tales. I can barely take one at a time.
Yet, here I am in New Orleans, walking where Gabe Caporino walked.
Gabe Caporino, a 40-year-old corporate executive from Westchester, NY, never returned to his wife and two teenage daughters after a business trip in 1974. The night he disappeared, Gabe Caporino spoke with his wife and daughters, asking about a school parents' night and confirming a dinner date with friends for the weekend.
After looking into this case for the better part of a year, I suspect there are those who did not want him to return, at least not alive.
There isn’t much of a trail for Gabe Caporino, but we know a good bit of what police did and did not do in the crucial days following his disappearance on Thursday, March 7, 1974. We also know some of what his employer, the General Foods corporation, did and did not do.
Under pressure from Gabe Caporino's wife, Grace, now a retired teacher and recognized Holocaust scholar, General Foods sent a team to New Orleans over the weekend. One of them, Bill Bevans of the personnel department, snatched Gabe Caporino’s briefcase from his hotel room. The other GF team members were security director Jack Edward Ison, who had been an FBI agent for nine years; and White Plains, NY police detective James Lynch.
“Our chief of security Jack Ison will ... take over this investigation,” GF personnel director Frank Dorito told Grace Caporino.
Indeed, he did.
On Sunday, March 10, 1974, Ison and his colleagues met privately with New Orleans police, barring members of the Caporino family. This crucial meeting presaged, if it did not predestine, the shocking and abysmal refusal of the New Orleans Police Department to follow up on basic and compelling leads, including the forgery of Gabe Caporino's credit card four days after he was reported missing. This forgery was ultimately documented by the FBI crime lab. Significantly, a Sears employee who witnessed three individuals using Gabe’s credit card recanted after a visit by New Orleans police.
Instead of trying to find Gabe Caporino, the GF corporate leadership acted in concert with New Orleans police to trash him with unsubstantiated allegations ranging from gambling and unspecified industrial espionage to mob connections and inept whore mongering.
CBS producer Barbara Gordon, on assignment in 1974, put it this way: “The New Orleans Police Department is holding hands with General Foods and there is a cover-up down here.”
The Gabe Caporino case was the subject of a CBS documentary produced by Gordon and reported by Chris Borgen, a retired New York City narcotics detective. The program aired beginning in May 1974 on the show Eye On New York. It was rebroadcast in New York and several times throughout the country on local affiliates – but not in New Orleans.
As the air date neared, Borgen told Grace Caporino the reporting team received threats that GF might pull advertising from CBS. Borgen recounted the phone call from a GF public relations staffer: “This documentary is not in our best interests. We have a significant advertising budget with CBS.”
The FBI reports on this matter reveal a bizarre tale of a rogue former FBI agent steering the investigation away from any meaningful cooperation. This was accomplished with the full involvement of police officers including Roma Ajubita Kent. Jack Edward Ison had a willing accomplice / stooge in Roma Ajubita Kent. The cover-up continues to this very day and remains like a filthy, evil deposit on the front doorstep of 715 South Broad St., NOPD headquarters.
It was Roma Ajubita Kent who got the Sears clerk to change his story. Initially, the clerk said he remembered the transaction because sales to New Yorkers were infrequent. Three young people made the purchase. The clerk described them as “hippie types.” He said they also produced Gabe Caporino's Allstate insurance card when asked for further identification.
New Orleans police including Kent reported the discovery of Gabe Caporino’s rental car in a way that could not have occurred.
During a recent trip to New Orleans I visited the neighborhood where the car was found by Spain and [N.] Ramparts streets – where it allegedly stayed untouched for more than a week with the keys stuck outside the car in the door lock. Police officers told me a car in this location with the keys outside the vehicle might have lasted there up to an hour. Additionally, it appears that any fingerprints left in or on the car were wiped off.
“It is certainly not the kind of place where a new car would sit for a week with the keys in the door,” said Gabe Caporino’s nephew Anthony Emma, who made two trips to New Orleans in 1974. “Certainly not the kind of place a new car would sit even locked up without being disturbed for a week ... I always found that hard to believe.”
During the spring of 1974, friends and family of Gabe Caporino started a reward fund drive to help solve the case. A real estate broker in Yorktown, NY, chaired the effort. Reporter Lou Wein of the Yorktowner newspaper called New Orleans police officer Roma Ajubita Kent for comment. Kent told Wein that prostitutes interviewed by NOPD stated Gabe Caporino approached them, but they found him so obnoxious they turned him down.
Had this tale gained wider circulation, it might have made the Guinness Book of World Records. “That doesn't happen,” a local police officer said. “They want money. They’re looking for the green stuff.”
But, the chairman of the reward fund drive, fearing such publicity might generate unfounded attacks on Gabe Caporino's character and harm his own business reputation, quit. Friends and relatives in New Jersey generated reward money, which Grace Caporino publicized in New Orleans later that year.
Postscript: Sometimes a waitress is just a waitress. A retired New York City detective, working for Grace Caporino as a private investigator, confronted one of the alleged hookers. He determined the subject was not engaged in the sex for cash business.
As time went on and the Caporino family struggled to survive, General Foods appealed the awarding of benefits to the widow and children multiple times. At one of the hearings, Jack Edward Ison admitted he was the source of the smears about Gabe Caporino in law enforcement files.
A hearing officer asked Ison: “How do you know this about Mr. Caporino?”
“Just things you hear people say,” Ison responded. He was not pressed to elaborate.
In a particularly disturbing incident on March 16, 1974 – the day that would have been Gabe Caporino’s 41st birthday – family, friends and neighbors gathered at the home in Yorktown Heights. Ison called Grace Caporino. She told Ison family and friends did not want her to be alone on that day. Ison paused and said: “Well, if Gabe has any heart, surely he'll call you on his birthday. Bye, I’ve got to go.”
These are just some of the irregularities, taunts and examples of malfeasance gleaned from limited data in the New Orleans Police Department’s purported investigation into the disappearance / homicide of Gabe Caporino. As more rocks are turned over and documents obtained, I am optimistic that those responsible for the tragic end of this life will be exposed and held accountable.
I have shared the documents I obtained in recent months and other data with a number of trusted and experienced friends in law enforcement. One veteran law enforcement officer said the Gabe Caporino case raises many questions: “This was a sloppy case or a cover-up - some of the worst police work I've ever seen.”
Others have made many helpful suggestions in the pursuit of truth and justice.
What caused the General Foods corporation to dehumanize a well-liked and respected executive?
Why did the NOPD play along as a mere instrument in a concerted smear campaign?
Did Gabe Caporino see something he should not have seen?
Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, sources report that General Foods shut down its Maxwell House Coffee plant in Hoboken, NJ, after thousands of cases of coffee disappeared.
“Some higher-up in top management was forced to take the rap for the missing coffee,” a source said. “The theft was covered up.”
Law enforcement sources say that during this era it was standard practice to smuggle heroin in coffee containers as drug dogs could not distinguish the scent.
Is this a false lead? Maybe, maybe not. What bugs me about the Gabe Caporino case is the similar knot I get in my stomach watching the films Silkwood and Michael Clayton, tales about whistleblowers getting knocked off. It makes me think of the scene in Godfather II: Michael Corleone, in a meeting with corporate executives in The Mob State Known As Havana, sitting nearby the Meyer Lansky character as the Battista character thanks the ITT representative for a golden phone. But, first, he thanks the General Foods representative.
Those guys really knew how to do business.
Diary of a Big Easy public records request, Part One
‘Under investigation as a suspicious person’
Aug. 24, 2011
Editor’s Note: The first in a series of requests for public records in the Gabe Caporino Missing Person / Homicide Cover-Up was hand-delivered on Aug. 17 to the office of New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas. The history of the Caporino case was reported by The Register Citizen in a column published that same day...
NEW ORLEANS, LA - On Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011, I was standing on a sidewalk by the New Orleans Police Department. I was facing the parking garage which is behind the main building.
If you were facing the front of the building, I would be on the street to the right. I was directly across the street from the police superintendent’s black Crown Victoria and his personal car, a white Ford Explorer. Those vehicles were parked in the garage. Behind me was a police parking lot with vehicles including a vintage car marked New Orleans Police 54.
The day before, I had entered the suite of Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas and presented his personal aide – officer Darnell Saunders – notice of compliance for a public records request related to the cover-up in the Gabe Caporino missing person / homicide case. Officer Saunders advised me to call Miss Jane at 504-658-5757 for an appointment with the superintendent.
A column I wrote detailing malfeasance in the Caporino case by the NOPD and others – along with the public records compliance notice – was published Wednesday by a newspaper group with many affiliates throughout the country. It was picked up by news sites and blasted by many news people and others via Twitter, Digg, Facebook and other new media devices.
I called Miss Jane on Thursday. An aide told me she would return from lunch at 1:30 p.m. I called back after 1:30 and Miss Cheryl placed me on hold for about two minutes, then said Miss Jane was not available. Miss Cheryl took my phone number and said Miss Jane would call me back. I told Miss Cheryl I wanted to see the superintendent about my request and that I had a book for him.
This week I learned that Superintendent Serpas had also served as head of the Washington State Police. I told Miss Cheryl I had a copy of my book on the official History of the Connecticut State Police. I thought this might give some additional weight and meaning to my request and that the superintendent and I might have some common acquaintances or friends.
About 3 p.m. I went back to police headquarters and asked to see the superintendent or Miss Jane. Anthony Mitchell at the front desk called upstairs.
“Neither one of them are there, but you can leave the book,” Mitchell said.
I asked him if he was speaking to Miss Cheryl or Miss Jane. He said he did not know.
I left the book with a short note to Miss Jane, including my phone number. I called her twice shortly after that, leaving voicemails trying to get that appointment.
During the next four hours or so, I walked on the sidewalk by the parking garage, writing notes in my notebook and making phone calls. I focused on the superintendent’s vehicles. If I couldn’t get to see the superintendent through the front door, I would be happy to see him by the side door. I intended to say, “Hi Chief, it’s me, Andy, the guy who left you the state police book.”
A sign by the garage said not to pass a certain point, and I never did.
Many officers waved to me as they drove by and / or left work or went to their personal cars parked on the street. Quite a few gave a friendly or low-key hello or grunt.
After a few hours I became thirsty. I looked at the Falstaff sign across the street from the main entrance and wondered if it was a brewery. I thought about the copper sculpture in the lobby and wondered why it was missing a finger.
The only time I looked away from the superintendent's vehicles for more than a few seconds was to take a photo of Car 54.
About 5:05 p.m. a sergeant drove away in the superintendent’s black Crown Victoria.
At 7:08 p.m. an officer drove away from the street in a Chevy Blazer which had a sign in the dashboard, deputy chief.
About 7:15 p.m. a tow truck with a dark colored and dented Ford parked about 20 yards to my right on the street. Then a large black SUV pulled up in front of me.
A while male dressed in civilian clothes exited the vehicle and approached me. He strode to within inches of me and asked in a loud voice what I was doing. He said he was a police officer and asked for my ID. I thought about asking for his ID, but it seemed clear to me he would not appreciate that. As I listened to what he had to say, he yelled at me and ordered me to step back. As they say on the street, he had violence in his voice.
This officer tentatively has been identified as Scott [ ... ].
He asked for my notebook. I told him it was attorney-client work product and he did not have my permission to read it.
This officer had a forceful demeanor and, although not in great shape, seemed to have muscles that were developed from weight lifting at some point. I did not feel I had the option to assert my right as a U.S. citizen to walk on a public sidewalk and say I don't want to talk with you, have a nice day, without putting myself in harm’s way.
This officer had a short haircut or crew cut, light brown hair. I believe I saw some tattoos on his arms.
He took my notebook and began reading it after I gave him my driver’s license.
Two other officers joined us: one a white female wearing a blue shirt; the other, a black male in a jacket and tie who was a detective or investigator.
I reminded the officer that he did not have my permission to read my notebook. He said he didn’t need my permission, that I was “under investigation as a suspicious person.”
He read the entire notebook, which contained short summaries of the Caporino case. I wrote one of those summaries for a national investigative news site while on the street, then typed it into my phone and sent it.
He asked me if I had ever been in a mental institution. I laughed and started to say some people think I belong in one, then thought better of it and said no. He said I was on a surveillance tape for five hours.
He again told me to step back, then loudly ordered me to sit down and took my shoulder bag. I told him he did not have my permission to look inside. But, he did, thumbing through files and pulling out a newspaper.
The woman officer told me that after 9-11 I can't stay on the sidewalk near the police station. She referred to the area including the station, street and sidewalk as private property. I stated I was on a public sidewalk.
The detective said I reminded him of the famous Howard Johnson's sniper who terrorized New Orleans in 1973, killing 19 people including 10 police officers. “You act just like him,” he said.
I told the officers I was a klutz and a danger to myself with weapons so I don’t use them.
At times I thought I might get punched out by the white officer and I felt pressured to explain why I was on a public sidewalk. I did not want to give anyone any excuses and I did not want to give up my files.
Consequently, I told them about the Caporino case and the department’s refusal to follow up on basic leads. I told them I was waiting for the chief and asked them to pass on the message I was sorry he had to work so late.
They let me go after about 20 minutes.
I will return to the front door later this morning.
8-19-11, 5:10 a.m. CST
I shared this incident with a number of friends and colleagues in law enforcement in New Orleans and around the world. Here are some of their reactions:
Ah, the vagaries of Southern hospitality. There is such a thing in Southern law enforcement as GP = general principle. They will lock your ass up if they do not like your looks ... or, you ain’t from around here boy, is yah? Consider yourself lucky they did not do more.
I guess the chief doesn’t want to talk to you. The part I found amusing from a Mayberry RFD point of view: these [guys] didn’t pat you down for a gun before they started breaking your [stones]? And you left your cell number with them how many times?
Because of your attempts to meet with the Superintendent on the Caporino case, they are now taking the following action: Opening a full investigation into Andy Thibault, including an intelligence workup. They apparently believe that you are tracking the movements of certain command staff personnel.
My diary notes the deputy chief left work shortly after 7 p.m.. The officer who illegally searched me and seized my notebook read this from my notes. A reasonable person might wonder why the deputy chief would be concerned about anyone observing his activities. In context, I paid more attention to the copper statue with the missing finger.
I expect to receive more information about this investigation soon from a number of sources. As a citizen, I have to say this is a curious use of taxpayer resources. During the community meeting at NOPD headquarters Friday morning, I heard police management report that witnesses who had pleaded out were shot on the street. There was no indication that any of these witnesses were given protection or of any plans to do so.
Also at the community meeting, citizens approached and spoke with the chief during break. When I attempted to approach and speak with the chief, I was blocked by Deputy Chief of Staff / Department of Justice Liaison Superintendent’s Office Daniel V. Cazenave. He directed me to Communications Director Remi Braden for an appointment. Ms. Braden directed me to Miss Jane of the chief’s office, whom I had been trying to reach since Wednesday, unsuccessfully, despite repeated messages and visits.
Since Aug. 17, I have called the chief's office and / or the communications office every business day. I still have not received any official word on the status of the public records compliance notice.
As I side note, I had the pleasure of meeting an officer who worked at the Falstaff building when it was an actual brewery.
Meanwhile, a back-channel source reports they might be able to dig up the original police report on the Caporino case. As noted in the public records request, the original file was more than three inches thick.
That simply won’t work.
What happened to the rest of the file? We know it wasn’t lost during Hurricane Katrina because the flood waters did not rise to the level of the files in the police headquarters.
Diary of a Big [Un]Easy public records request, Part Two
October 10, 2011
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of columns examining how the public records laws work – or don't work – in New Orleans, LA. Louisiana does not have a state Freedom of Information Commission or regulatory agency to adjudicate public records disputes. Rather, citizens must file their complaints in local courts. The previous columns were published on Aug. 17 and 24:
NEW ORLEANS, LA – Thirty seven years ago – with several police officers crowding her – Grace Caporino briefly touched and read a number of pages in a 3-inch-high stack of reports about her missing husband. After a few minutes, they forced her to leave.
Today, the New Orleans Police Department still doesn’t want to know or hear anything about the Gabe Caporino case – or the reports. That’s why I filed a lawsuit Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011 in the Parish of New Orleans. My attorney, Brett Prendergast, also filed a related motion to obtain all investigative files on behalf of Gabe Caporino’s family.
I met the widow Grace Caporino through a mutual friend in a missing persons network. Now a retired public school teacher and college professor, Grace Caporino asked me to obtain the file. The current New Orleans police superintendent, Ronal Serpas, ignored two certified letters she sent him last year.
The New Orleans Police Department – notorious as perhaps the most corrupt and incompetent in U.S. history – has routinely engaged in public executions of civilians. The coroner tends to call these homicides slips and falls or accidents, even when someone’s face and teeth are kicked in and various body parts have hemorrhaged. Officers have worked as cocaine dealers on the job, hired hitmen to kill civilians, stolen from car dealers and held up liquor stores in uniform. Officers have been heard on police scanners saying: “Is he dead yet? No. Kill him now. String him up by the balls.”
A short list of recent convictions includes two officers who beat and kicked a local man to death, then covered it up. In the infamous Danzgier bridge trial, also this year, five current and former officers were found guilty of shooting six civilians – killing two of them – and covering it up. Those local citizens were walking to a grocery store.
Civilians filming police assaulting civilians are routinely charged with inciting a riot. After police shot and killed unarmed trombone player Joe Williams, returning from a jazz funeral in 2004, officers broke up a memorial service for the popular member of the Hot 8 Brass Band. Local attorney Mary Howell told the PBS show Frontline police advised her that “merely having a video camera or camera in a situation like this where the police are interacting with the community was considered to be inciting a riot.”
After Hurricane Katrina, the National Rifle Associaton sued New Orleans Police for stripping law-abiding citizens of their ability to defend themselves. “They just stole people’s guns and weapons,” Howell said.
The unofficial body count from Hurriance Katrina is upwards of 1,500. “We do not have a clear understanding of how many people were shot and killed by the New Orleans Police Department,” Howell told Frontline.
Of course, there are also many officers who keep their oath to protect and serve no matter what the risk from criminals and buffoons in the streets or among their ranks and supervisors. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few of these local officers. They carry a heavy burden and somehow do their jobs with courage and honor.
Under reform chief and outsider Richard Pennington in the 1990s, hundreds of officers were arrested or fired. The current superintendent, Serpas, is a local product and the department is technically operating under federal supervision.
New Orleans has an incredibly rich history loaded with all kinds of criminals and characters going back to the French unloading men and women’s jails and sending entrepreneurs to Louisiana with the promise of pearls, gold and silver. The city has also served as a launching pad for many official and unofficial military adventures throughout the hemisphere, particularly Mexico and Cuba.
It’s quite a maze to navigate.
New Orleans police, instead of searching for Gabe Caporino, engaged in a bizarre pattern of hiding public records, concocting false scenarios and besmirching Caporino’s character. They put a lot of effort into this, seemingly to provide an excuse for not doing their sworn duty.
Gabe Caporino, a US Navy veteran and a General Foods executive from Westchester, NY, disappeared mysteriously on a routine business trip in March 1974. Among his duties for General Foods was supervising production at coffee factories from New Jersey to Texas and California. He was declared dead in 1979.
While demanding the file and asking questions, I have pursued many leads and several theories of the case. A team of investigators from various parts of the country – including New Orleans and New York – has helped. A number of retired police officers and federal agents have also provided useful information and perspective. As part of my immersion in the local culture, I have also enjoyed the novels of James Lee Burke and Sara Gran as well as Herbert Asbury’s history of the French Quarter.
When I tried to meet with Superintendent Serpas several times in August, I had a number of interesting encounters with New Orleans Police. I was thrown out of the police station on the first visit, denied entry on the second. Then, I was harassed, illegally detained and searched on a public sidewalk. My notebook was seized. On another visit I was physically blocked from speaking with the superintendent at a public meeting while other civilians took turns chatting with him.
So, what is the New Orleans Police Department hiding?
Federal authorities say it was common practice in the 1970s to store heroin in coffee because drug dogs could not detect it.
Was there a connection between Gabe’s disappearance, the orderly fumbling of his case by New Orleans PD and the disappearance some time later of thousands of cases of coffee in Hoboken, NJ?
Were New Orleans police working with a corporation and various other entities to cover up a murder? Were cops getting paid off or otherwise persuaded to botch the Caporino missing person case? Why did the files and reports disappear?
The actions and lack of actions by the New Orleans Police Department make a variety of seemingly outlandish theories of this case plausible.
The New Orleans Parish Court has the power and authority to pry off the stranglehold on the Caporino files and hold the police department accountable. In this process, hopefully new sources will come forward and new leads will be generated.
Where people disappear, there are no missing persons files
Aug. 11, 2012
“A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps, both ... A people who mean to be their own Governor, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
-- James Madison, fourth President of the United States
NEW ORLEANS, LA – So, I won this big freedom of information case. Or so it seemed.
After nearly a year of knocking on doors, getting tossed from the police superintendent’s office and community meetings and following up with various requests, the New Orleans Police Department actually admitted it had failed to comply with the Louisiana public records law. This happened through a series of depositions of detectives and other personnel after I was compelled to file suit in the Civil District Court for the Parish of New Orleans.
“Nobody has gone digging through those files specifically looking for a file relative to the disappearance of Gabe Caporino, have they?” The question was posed by my local attorney, Brett Prendergast.
“No, sir,” Detective Gwen Guggenheim responded.
This admission allowed Prendergast to negotiate for a supervised search of the NOPD “storage area” by a colleague of ours, local private investigator Bruce Johnston. On June 4, 2012, Johnston entered a dimly-lit and musty room on the second floor by the NOPD parking garage.
Most of the boxes of files were covered with layers of grime and old insulation. He had to move evidence including sections of a chain-link fence to get at the boxes.
The files dated from 1890 to the present. Besides homicide cases, there were also files for juvenile offenses and sex crimes.
There was not a single missing persons file in storage.
To me, this says something. It says the New Orleans PD - which routinely tells families of missing persons that people go to New Orleans to disappear - cannot pretend as it now does to be anything other than just another gang with guns and badges.
The Caporino file existed in 1974. At least a few officers and detectives were said to be interested in pursuing the case of the missing corporate executive. Caporino’s widow Grace, now a college lecturer and Holocaust scholar living in Westchester, NY, held a 3 ½-inch high stack of documents in her hands at the New Orleans Police Department as detectives monitored her. A nephew, Anthony Emma, witnessed it.
Caporino’s mysterious disappearance and probable homicide was the subject of a CBS documentary. In three prior columns, I outlined a theory of the case citing collusion between General Foods Corporation and the NOPD to trash Caporino's reputation instead of solving the riddle of his passing.
As recently as 1995, then-Police Superintendent Richard Pennington had a detective review the Caporino case and all the reports and documents. Now, the official word is, the file does not exist – just as missing persons don't officially exist.
Is freedom of information a charade to placate citizens and give them the false impression that they have a role in a democratic republic? Certainly in this case it is a façade, or, as President Madison might say, a tragedy and a farce.
What now, to crack the Caporino case? Just as with any other story in which information is suppressed, the cure includes more source development, more reporting and more sunshine.
Fabricated FBI reports detailed in corporate exec’s mysterious disappearance
Jan. 27, 2014
It appears FBI reports were fabricated to derail an investigation into a missing Navy veteran and corporate executive who was killed in New Orleans 40 years ago.
This is a new development in the ongoing saga of Gabe Caporino and of his widow’s relentless efforts to determine not only what happened, but also to preserve his dignity and memory in the face of obstruction from police, his employer and a legal system which even to this day wrongly presumes adults go missing voluntarily and deliberately.
On March 3, 1974, Caporino, a 40-year-old married father of two daughters, left his home in Yorktown Heights, NY, for a weeklong business trip to Houston and New Orleans. Caporino was a 17-year executive with the coffee division of General Foods. [General Foods was acquired by Philip Morris in 1985.]
The new evidence is derived from uncensored FBI reports. Blanks in the pages of censored copies were filled in by two witnesses who examined the unredacted FBI reports.
A lawyer for the estate of Gabe Caporino had threatened General Foods Corporation with a $10 million lawsuit, claiming the company deflected the focus of the New Orleans investigation and prevented a full and proper probe to find Caporino’s body. Following that action, drafted by legendary New York personal injury attorney Harry Lipsig, lawyers for Caporino’s widow won employee benefits settlements with the New York State Worker’s Compensation Board and the life insurer.
Here are some of the fabrications in the FBI reports:
A false assertion that Caporino had been investigated for industrial espionage; it turned out General Foods Security Director / former FBI agent Jack Ison falsely stated that Caporino had taken a $16,000 advance and disappeared. Ison died in 2009. Ison’s protégé at GF, Emil Monda, last month admitted to a law enforcement official that the claim was untrue. Monda, retired and living in California, was traveling in recent days and not available at press time.
Ison told the FBI Caporino had a relationship with a woman in Houston. There is no record of the woman named by Ison having lived at the address he provided. This determination follows checks of utilities, driver’s licenses, court and employment records and vehicle registrations. Monda told the FBI that the woman had been interviewed by Houston police. However, the Houston Police Department has no records related to Caporino or the person named in the FBI report.
In line with the scenario allegedly concocted by Ison, Monda and persons unknown, the FBI was told Caporino slept with a New Orleans waitress working at the former Fairmont Roosevelt Hotel on or about March 6, 1974. A retired New York City police detective working as a private investigator described the woman as an attractive brunette. However, it turns out she was with someone else: According to the uncensored FBI report, the woman told New Orleans Police she spent the night in question with a popular comedian who starred in a hit TV show. I reached out to the comedian via one of his lawyers, a booking agent and his email, but have not heard back.
There is a five-year statute of limitations for false statements to a federal agent. However, in a homicide case there is no statute of limitations. Potentially, there could be conspiracy charges for obstruction depending on the will and perspective of federal law enforcement. I began researching the Caporino case with several other investigators three years ago and walked the streets where he spent his final days.
Periodically I stepped back to gain perspective, develop new sources and hunt for more documents. As I wrote a series of columns about the case in 2011 and 2012, I came to realize that New Orleans is like a separate country or a distinct universe. Normal laws do not apply and right and wrong have no meaning when it comes to police matters. As the novelist Claire Dewitt put it: “People kill each other everywhere. The difference was that in New Orleans, no one tried to stop them.”
The night he disappeared – March 7, 1974 – Caporino spoke with his wife and daughters, asking about a school parents’ night and confirming a dinner date with friends for the weekend. Found in his hotel room were his return flight tickets and his suitcases partially packed with gifts for his family.
His rented car was found abandoned about 10 days later in front of a school by Spain and [N.] Ramparts streets with the keys stuck outside the vehicle in the door lock. Police officers told me a car in this location with the keys outside the vehicle might have lasted there up to an hour. Additionally, any fingerprints left in or on the car were wiped off.
Then, a credit card statement showed that four days after Caporino disappeared, someone used his Sears card to buy a camera and some clothing. A FBI analysis obtained by Yorktown Police showed the signature was a forgery. The sales clerk identified the purchasers as “hippie types, two boys and a girl in their early 20’s.” New Orleans Police refused to investigate the forgery. Officer Roma Kent, who went on to work as a federal public defender, got the clerk to change his story. Kent also gave local Westchester reporter Lou Wein a version of the General Foods narrative on Caporino in May 1974, stalling efforts by a local committee to raise reward money.
What caused General Foods to falsely malign a loyal employee and sabotage the NOPD probe? I am continuing to develop theories based on Caporino seeing something he should not have seen.
Caporino’s widow Grace, a retired public school teacher and Holocaust scholar, pleaded with corporate officials, politicians and law enforcement over the years to follow up leads on her husband’s case, but said she was met with dodges, delays, deceptions and denials. While dealing with the loss, she was able to raise her daughters and put them through college. As a teaching fellow for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, she researched the fate of Jewish converts to Catholicism in Poland, 1919-39.
Caporino was declared dead by the Westchester Surrogate Court in 1979. The time is long overdue to officially declare this case a homicide and establish a substantial reward. The New Orleans Police Department won’t do that. Nor will the state of Louisiana, barring a full-fledged miracle.
But, the U.S. Justice Department could turn the trick as easily as some of us snap our fingers.
POSTSCRIPT: Retired General Foods investigator Emil Monda, reached Monday afternoon on the West Coast, said about the Caporino case: “We always thought there was foul play, but never came up with anything.”
Monda said he did not know why the New Orleans Police failed to follow leads including the forgery of Caporino’s credit card.
Regarding the waitress who told law enforcement officials she was not with Caporino on a certain night 40 years ago, but, rather, with a famous comedian, Monda said: “She was very proud that [the comedian] gave her a necklace charm that said [Blank you].”
“I just don’t remember anything about the allegations” of Caporino consorting or taking money, Monda said, when advised FBI reports link him and his late boss Jack Ison to those stories. “I was interviewed by the FBI but I didn’t know much.
“I’d love to see it solved.”