Joe Occhipinti continues to be denied justice. As Greg Kaye reported in the October 1993 Chronicles, Occhipinti was the highly decorated undercover agent for the Immigration and Naturalization Service who was framed, tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison for doing his job too well. Fluent in three languages, Occhipinti had distinguished himself as an expert on Dominican organized crime—i.e., drug dealing, gunrunning, money laundering, and the counterfeiting of Food Stamps and Green Cards for illegal aliens—especially as it operates in the crime-infested area of upper Manhattan known as Washington Heights. But when his intelligence work led to so many arrests in the late 1980’s that the Dominican drug trade in this area was being seriously hindered, the heat came down on Occhipinti. It seems the Federation of Dominican Merchants and Industrialists of New York—a reputed front for the Dominican drug cartel—had donated large sums of money to Mayor David Dinkins, and ever responsive to the needs of his constituency, Dinkins led the fight to stifle Occhipinti.
Occhipinti was arrested and charged with violating the civil rights of the Dominican drug dealers—specifically, he was accused of having mishandled search warrants—and was convicted and sentenced in 1992 to 37 months in prison. When Occhipinti appeared on the Jackie Mason Show to protest the conviction, Judge Constance Baker Motley abrogated Joe’s assignment to a minimum-security prison in Tennessee, ordered him shackled in body chains and leg irons as a “dangerous criminal,” and sent him to a maximum-security facility in Oklahoma, where he was released into the “general population,” meaning Occhipinti was left to fend for his life among drug dealers and murderers whom he himself had arrested years earlier. After seven months of this near death sentence, friends of Occhipinti convinced George Bush, in one of his last acts as President, to commute Joe’s sentence in January 1993.
Today, Joe Occhipinti seeks a new trial that will clear his name, release his federal pension, and restore his rights as an American citizen, which continue to be denied him because his sentence was merely commuted: he was not pardoned by President Bush. Judge Motley, however, has blocked his efforts. In his motion for a new trial, Occhipinti requested a change of venue, away from New York’s Southern District, where he had uncovered corruption in the U.S. Attorney’s office. He also requested that Judge Motley recuse herself for conflict of interest. Motley—the first black female federal judge and longtime “civil rights activist” who, according to Kaye and the Occhipinti defense team’s December 1995 press release, was exposed by Senator James Eastland of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee as a former Young Communist League organizer—first delayed her decision on the motion for over a year and then denied it without explanation. Though this politically powerful judge holds the dubious distinction of being the most “overturned on appeal” jurist in New York’s Southern District, a Court of Appeals refused late last year to overturn her decision on this particular case.
New evidence concerning the conspiracy to frame Occhipinti has also surfaced since our first coverage of this story. A fellow who has held numerous diplomatic positions for the Dominican Republic, including Ambassador to Jamaica and Consul General to the United States, has come forward and signed two sworn affidavits. While he was stationed in America, Dominican drug lords in New York tried to recruit him in their efforts to “eliminate” Occhipinti. Joe “was a threat to their illegal businesses, which included loan sharking, gambling, drug distribution, and the employment of illegal aliens,” he stated. According to Kaye, this affidavit is “replete with explosive revelations including naming the actual intermediary who delivered cash political contributions from the [Dominican drug] cartel to Mayor David Dinkins [and showing that] the Mayor was ‘head cheerleader’ of the cabal that demanded the prosecution of Occhipinti on civil rights charges.”
Most interesting is the sworn testimony of another witness, who was too afraid to come forward while Mayor Dinkins was still in office. His revelations are so shocking, says Kaye, that Occhipinti’s defense team took him to a private detective agency for a three-hour polygraph test, which he passed “with flying colors.”
Apparently this witness had spoken about Occhipinti with John Kennedy, Jr., who was one of the prosecutors assigned to handle many of the drug busts that derived from the information gathered by Occhipinti and his INS task force. According to this source, on the night of June 12, 1991, while conversing over drinks, Kennedy grew despondent and lamented the fact that he would be testifying the next day against an innocent man, meaning Occhipinti. “Occhipinti was an innocent victim,” Kennedy reportedly said. “He’d been set up by the government, drug dealers, and Mayor Dinkins, who the drug dealers had in their pocket. The case stinks to high heaven, it’s all about race, politics and power.”
Upon hearing this, the affiant claims to have chided “John-John,” calling him “a profile in courage.” Kennedy “did not say or do anything in response—he just sat there, his head hung down in shame. Then, after a long, awful silence, he said, ‘You just don’t understand the pressure I’m under.'” According to Kaye, if Occhipinti receives a new trial and “John-John” refuses to testify voluntarily, Kennedy will be subpoenaed.
The witnesses who have hesitated to come forward and to testify on Occhipinti’s behalf have had legitimate reasons to fear reprisals. Just ask former U.S. Congressman Guy Molinari, Staten Island Borough President and the person primarily responsible for convincing President Bush to commute Occhipinti’s sentence. When Janet Reno’s Justice Department pressured Molinari to drop Joe’s cause, and he refused, the FBI tried to frame him. The New York Post reported on the plot against Molinari in a story last April 26, and a former law clerk named Alma Camarena has confirmed the scheme. The FBI reportedly came to her office in Queens and pressured her to “set up Mr. Molinari by wearing a wire against him. I said ‘yes’ only because I was afraid.” According to Kaye, this woman is not an “uninformed” witness: her father was once secretary of state of Puerto Rico.
Waco and Ruby Ridge have had their day in court, and it’s time for congressional hearings on this latest abuse of federal power. Congressman James Traficant (Democrat-Ohio), a former sheriff sympathetic to law enforcement officers, has entered hundreds of pages of evidence documenting Occhipinti’s innocence into the Congressional Record, and he has rallied some 40 fellow congressmen to support Joe’s cause, but thus far their efforts have been to no avail. “For the past two years,” said Traficant in a letter to Representative Jack Brooks (Democrat-Texas) in 1993, “we have been frustrated and stonewalled by the Democrat-controlled Judiciary Committee and the Clinton Justice Department. You have an opportunity to take a strong stand on the side of a brave and courageous law enforcement officer who fell victim to the insidious drug lords who continue to undermine American society.” Keeping up the pressure, Traficant wrote last year to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (Republican-Illinois): “Since Mr. Occhipinti’s conviction, an array of evidence has been uncovered which indicates that he may have been the victim of a conspiracy by Dominican drug dealers, and key facts in his case were withheld or mishandled by the U.S. Justice Department.”
Congressman Traficant deserves praise for leading this crusade on Capitol Hill, but in one respect he obscures the real issue at hand. Yes, Occhipinti was the victim of “insidious drug lords” and of “mishandled” evidence, but the rot highlighted by this case runs deeper than this. Mark Twain said it best, that America has “legislatures that bring higher prices than any in the world.” Drug lords, in other words, don’t operate in a vacuum, without political protection, and according to Kaye and Occhipinti, the public would be “shocked” by the number of U.S. congressmen accepting contributions from drug cartels.