It started as an adolescent showdown on a Brooklyn street 17 years ago — a Halloween-night egg fight between two groups of kids — but led to twin slayings and quickly became entangled in a tale of mob ties and betrayal, authorities said.
Soon, one way or the other, the saga will end when Craig Sobel, now a 38-year-old plumber and part-time fisherman from Hudson, Fla., goes on trial for second-degree murder.
The trek began on the last night of October 1989, when Sobel, then just 19, and some of his friends found themselves in an egg-tossing fight with some other young men on the streets around Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on 15th Avenue in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. There is no record of who won. What’s clear, is that one young man, Dominick Masseria, 17, lost and lost badly.
According to prosecutors, Masseria was standing on the church steps later that night when a white limo pulled up alongside. In addition to the driver — a man identified as Reyes Aviles — there were three others in the car: Sobel; Patrick Porco; another young man from the neighborhood, and Joseph Scarpa, the-then teenage son of alleged Colombo family captain Greg “The Grim Reaper” Scarpa. At the time, the older Scarpa was also an FBI informant.
The way authorities describe it, Sobel rolled down his window, stuck out the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun and peppered Masseria with pellets, hitting him in the head and chest. The teen died a few hours later.
It was, in many respects, a run-of-the-mill slaying, particularly in Brooklyn in the late 1980s, and likely would have generated little attention. But a short time later, Aviles, the driver, surrendered to authorities. He gave them his somewhat sketchy account of the incident. In his statement, he mentioned that among his passengers were Sobel, Porco and Scarpa’s son. Authorities questioned Porco. And that’s when the routine case took a bizarre turn, prosecutors believe.
Authorities allege that Greg Scarpa’s FBI contact, Roy Lindley DeVecchio, who at the time headed the fight against organized crime in the area, tipped off Scarpa, warning him that Porco might finger his son in connection with the shooting. Within a week, Porco was also dead — gunned down, authorities now believe, on the orders of The Grim Reaper, who subsequently died of AIDS in 1994.
For nearly two decades, the case languished. But it resurfaced last year when authorities began investigating allegations that DeVecchio provided Scarpa with information that led to four mob-related slayings during the late 1980s and early ’90s. DeVecchio has since been indicted on second-degree murder charges in the Porco slaying and is awaiting trial. He has pleaded not guilty.
A second man, John Sinagra, also has pleaded not guilty to charges related to Porco’s death.
During the course of investigating those allegations, Kings County investigators — led by Homicide Bureau Chief Noel Downey — revisited the Masseria slaying, authorities said. They knew that Aviles had been in the car the night the teen was shot; they knew about Joseph Scarpa, who was killed in an apparent drug rivalry in 1995, and of course they knew all about Porco. But they weren’t sure at first about the identity of the last man, Sobel. At first, all they knew was that his first name was Craig and that he had what was described as a “Jewish-sounding” last name that began with an “S,” authorities confirmed. However, they ultimately stumbled across a note taken by investigators at the time, which identified the suspect as Craig Sobel.
Downey tracked Sobel, who reportedly had some scrapes with the law in the ensuing years, to Florida, where Sobel had married, started a family, opened a plumbing business and made some money on the side as a charter boat captain. The investigators decided to do some fishing on their own, authorities said. They placed Sobel under surveillance, cataloged his movements and, when they thought they had his patterns down, enlisted Aviles to help them. The former limo driver agreed to wear a wire, and the investigators carefully engineered a scenario in which Sobel and Aviles would just happen to bump into each other.
They did, and as investigators listened in, the two men discussed the old times, including, authorities say, the night that Sobel allegedly gunned down Masseria.
Based on that conversation, along with other evidence, a grand jury in Brooklyn indicted Sobel earlier this year for second-degree murder in Masseria’s death. Last week, after a lengthy and contentious extradition battle, Sobel was brought back to Kings County, where he awaits trial.
His wife, Sabrina, declined an interview. His attorney, John Wallenstein, did not return telephone calls.