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Jimmy Breslin talks mob, politics in Jax Heights

Of all of the mobsters, politicians and other public figures Jimmy Breslin met over his decades as a journalist, he said no one impressed him more than a Mafia turncoat.

The 77-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner spoke candidly at the Jackson Heights Library Saturday about how much fun he had writing about former incarcerated mob middleman Burton Kaplan. Breslin said he was really impressed by how Kaplan testified against Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, two retired police detectives, who were convicted in 2006 on racketeering charges.

"The prosecutor asked, 'Are you in the Mafia?' and he said, 'No, I'm Jewish,' " Breslin recalled. "That's when I started to pay attention."

Kaplan's fresh demeanor and numerous anecdotes about mob icons like Sammy "the Bull" Gravano led the author, a Richmond Hill native, to write the book "The Good Rat: A True Story." As Breslin read the opening chapter, the packed audience laughed and let out gasps of surprise as Kaplan's testimony was recounted.

Kaplan spewed out a laundry list of crimes he was convicted of during his decades-long work as a "murder intermediate" for the detectives, including drug dealing and murder.

"He did everything except stealing babies," Breslin said.

Kaplan's demeanor was even more extraordinary the second he left the witness stand, according to Breslin. Although the author thought he saw the former drug smuggler bend his head down and cry, he later found out that Kaplan was looking at a prisoner's release form that he had to complete once he finished ratting out his former comrades.

Breslin, who was originally supposed to write a book on the detectives, immediately told his publisher that he had a new subject to profile.

"In the end, this guy was terrific," he said.

The audience of about 100 seniors cheered when Breslin ended his excerpt and thanked him for his years of service to the city. In his decades of writing for many newspapers, including the Daily News and Newsday, Breslin developed a strong New York tone in his articles and columns on politics, sports and crime.

"I've been reading you since you've been covering the Mets and you look healthier and livelier than anyone I know," said Conrad Stogel of South Ozone Park.

Breslin, who unsuccessfully ran for City Council president in Norman Mailer's mayoral campaign in 1969, blasted numerous politicians, including presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain for ignoring the public.

"They should come out, call each other names and say what they really feel about each other. It'd be more fun that way," he said on the presidential candidates.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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