Crime That PaysrnThe War Against Joe Occhipintirnby Greg KayernAs a front-line soldier in America’s war on drugs, Joe Occhipintirnis an American hero. He became one of the mostrnhighly decorated federal agents in American history, with 78rncommendations and awards in his 22 years of public service.rnHis reward? He was set up by Dominican drug lords onrnspecious civil rights violations; made to stand trial before JudgernConstance Baker Motley, who denied him a new defense attorneyrnwhen his own had a nervous breakdown and becamernsuicidal; given a one-hour appeals hearing wherein the judgesrndid not review the briefs and were intimidated bv hundreds ofrnDominican protesters chanting “No justice, No peace!” andrnthreatening to riot if the conviction was overturned; .sentencedrnto 57 months in a federal prison and sent, contrary to a courtrnagreement, to an Oklahoma penitentiary where he was placedrnin the “general population” with convicted alien drug dealers.rnOcchipinti is a native of Brooklyn, New York, who becamerna New Jersey resident 20 years ago. At age 42, he resides inrnManalapan with his wife Angela and his three daughters. Occhipinti’srninterest in community service steered him toward arncareer in law enforcement. Because he is too short for policernservice, he joined the U.S. Customs Service in 1972, where herninvestigated drug trafficking and organized crime. In less thanrnfive years, Occhipinti compiled the highest arrest record in CustomsrnService history. In 1976, feeling he had attained hisrnhighest potential at Customs, he applied to the Immigrationrnand Naturalization Service.rnFluent in three languages, Occhipinti was assigned to a unitrnin ITpper Manhattan, where over the years he developed arnspecial expertise in the workings of Dominican organizedrncrime. Compiling an impressive arrest record, he received hisrnGreg Kayc is director of the Occhipinti Legal Defense Fund,rnInc., and chairman of the New Jersey Conservative PAC.rnfirst of three Attorney General Awards in 1979, I lis work as anrnundercover agent with the INS led to the prosecution andrnconviction of over 40 organized crime figures. In 1982, authoritiesrnused information he had gathered to carry out whatrnwas at that time the largest drug seizure in our nation’s history,rnnetting 62 pounds of cocaine from the Dulce Llaveriasrndrug cartel.rnIn Occhipinti’s territory in Manhattan the small corner groceryrnstores—the bodegas—were often little more than fronts forrnillegal activity. Though there were routine grocery items forrnsale here, regular customers could also shop for counterfeitrngreen cards and other government documents, obtain telephonern”blue boxes” enabling them to make international callsrnwithout being charged, exchange food stamps for drugs, getrncash for stolen li’easury checks, and purchase weapons andrndrugs. Many of these establishments also served as moneylaunderingrnoutlets for drug lords.rnOn October 18, 1988, police officer Michael Buczek gotrncaught in the crossfire of rival drug gangs and was murdered.rnWhen police authorities were unable to name the killers, thernNYPD chief of detectives asked the INS district director to assignrnOcchipinti to the case. Occhipinti set up “Project Bodega,”rnwhich conducted consensual searches (ones agreed to byrnthe owner) of bodegas throughout Washington Heights. As arnresult of the investigation. Project Bodega identihed those responsiblernfor the homicide, including the actual trigger man,rnyvhom they learned had fled the country. It took Occhipinti arnyear to get the Justice Department to arrange for a formal extraditionrnof the suspect. But when NYPD detectives went tornthe Dominican capital of Santo Domingo to get him, they wererntold by authorities that the fugitive had committed suicide.rnOcchipinti contends that the trigger man was silenced by arnDominican drug lord named Freddie Then. Project BodegarnOCTOBER 1993/25rnrnrn