When a DEA agent was gunned down in a hail of mob bullets on a desolate Staten Island street in 1989, the trail of clues soon turned ice cold and left his bosses desperate for answers.
That set the stage for an extraordinary encounter.
The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York office, hat in hand, knocked on the front door of Gambino Crime Family boss John Gotti, and asked for help.
“I felt like I had to do something,” Robert Stutman told The Post Thursday — exactly 30 years after Everett Hatcher was killed by Bonanno-family associate Constabile “Gus” Farace.
Stutman implored the Dapper Don to “do the right thing” and deliver the killer.
“I asked him ‘John, do you know who I am?’” Stutman said in 1992.
“He said, ‘Yeah.’
“‘I said, ‘We’re putting a lot of pressure on your people. If you do the right thing, the pressure will fall back. Do you understand?’
“He said, ‘Yeah I understand.’”
The offer of entente came after months of pressure from the feds and NYPD on the mob.
“Wherever there was a mobster there was a cop in uniform in plain sight,” Stutman recalled.
A month later, Farace was gunned down in a hail of bullets on a Bensonhurst street by his former Cosa Nostra handlers.
It was a bizarre twist in the murder case, which had already touched off a nationwide manhunt and attracted the attention of then-President George H.W. Bush.
Stutman publicly decried Farace’s murder, but privately, he felt vindication.
“When I said, ‘I’m really sorry he was killed, I would much rather see him stand trial,’ that was scripted for me,” he revealed to The Post in 1992. “I was very glad he was killed. I don’t think he deserved a trial.”
James Galione and Mario Gallo pleaded guilty to Farace’s murder in 1997. Prosecutors said the men worked at the time for the Bonanno family, which had put out a hit on Farace over Hatcher’s killing.
“I didn’t ask anybody to kill anybody,” Stutman said in 1992. “We were hoping they would turn him over to us.”
It’s unclear whether Gotti pulled any strings to get Farace knocked off.
“Not a clue. I never talked to John Gotti again, and he never told us,” Stutman admitted Thursday.
Either way, the mafia must have wanted Farace dead as much as much as Stutman did, according to journalist and mob historian Selwyn Raab.
“There’s an unwritten rule you’re not supposed to kill law enforcement agents unless they’re dishonest,” Raab, author of “Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires,” told The Post.
“They didn’t want the feds or anybody in their environment.”
The case closed, and the public moved on, but the killing reverberates interminably with those close to Hatcher — the wife he left behind, his two young children who grew up without a father, and his former colleagues, for whom Hatcher is a lifelong reminder of their daily sacrifice.
“My father left an imprint on me. He was a role model, and he’s definitely one of the reasons why I became an agent,” Hatcher’s son Zach — who was 9 at the time and is now a father of two and an agent at the Department of Defense — said this week.
“Still to this day I feel guilty, because I was his boss,” Stutman told The Post on Tuesday.
“So many times I’ve asked myself, ‘What if?’”
Questions remain to this day as to what exactly happened the evening of Feb. 28, 1989.
Hatcher, 46, met with Farace, 28, for an “informal” discussion of a future cocaine deal near the Bloomingdale Road exit of the West Shore Expressway on Staten Island at 9 p.m. — the fourth time the undercover had huddled with Farace amid a bid to ingratiate himself to the Bonannos and get a line in to family capo and cocaine kingpin Gerard Chilli.
Hatcher volunteered for the investigation — a joint effort between the DEA and FBI — because he “hated working in the office, he would do everything he could to be out in the field,” according to Stutman.
Hatcher had bought coke from Farace before, but this time was supposed to be “informal” — no money or drugs were to be exchanged — and so he did not carry a gun.
“It was just a meet. Nobody expected any problems,” Stutman recalled. “No buy, no problem.”
Still, 17-year DEA veteran Hatcher had a safety net. He wore a wire — with a detail of five agents listening in nearby and ready to pounce at any sign of danger.
Then everything went sideways.
Hatcher and Farace had barely exchanged pleasantries when a garbled message from Hatcher came over investigators’ radios.
“We’re gonna go meet in at a diner about 2 miles from here,” Hatcher is believed to have said.
It was his last known utterance.
Moments later, the backup team saw Farace’s brown van and Hatcher’s Buick, driven by the agent, putter off toward Hylan Boulevard.
The support team lost radio contact but tailed the vehicles — only to lose them in the traffic on the boulevard.
After about an hour of frantic searching, the distressed team returned to the initial meeting place — and that’s where they found Hatcher’s body, slumped over the steering wheel with his foot planted on the brake of his still-running car, according to The Post’s March 1, 1989, cover story on the grisly murder.
The headline screamed: “DEA AGENT SLAIN IN S.I. STING.”
His driver’s-side window was down, and Farace had pumped four bullets into Hatcher’s head and shoulders. The wire he wore was not tampered with, leading investigators to believe he had not been made.
It was the city’s first murder of a law enforcement officer that year and the first killing of a New York DEA agent in 17 years.
“It was a very emotional night,” Stutman said. “Everybody who went to the scene was crying. Anybody who knew and worked with Everett Hatcher loved him.”
The response was swift — and massive.
By March 3, Stutman had redirected all 400 New York region agents under him to focus all their efforts on tracking down Farace.
“I am ceasing all other investigations in our office. Every agent will be working on nothing else until we apprehend this suspect,” he said at the time.
Stutman was gearing up to retire when Hatcher was gunned down — and he delayed his agency exit indefinitely to deliver Farace to justice.
“I wasn’t retiring. However long it was gonna take,” Stutman told The Post on Tuesday.
A contingent of investigators combed Brooklyn and Staten Island — scouring Farace’s old haunts and tracking down friends and family for leads on his whereabouts.
Investigators took more than 1,000 tips in just over a month.
Meanwhile, they tightened the screws on the city’s crime families — effectively grinding their operations to a halt to pressure them into handing over Farace, Stutman said.
But as family laid Hatcher to rest in New Jersey on March 5, 1989, investigators were no closer to nabbing his killer.
Some 3,000 mourners — many of them cops or federal agents — turned out to the ceremony, held at St. Christopher Catholic Church in Parsippany, NJ, where his children attended grammar school, according to Post reports at the time.
“Because you are precious in my eyes, because you are honored, I love you. Do not be afraid,” Hatcher’s wife, Mary Jane, said during the burial, clutching a single red rose to her chest.
Hatcher’s oldest son, Zach, then 9 years old, famously saluted his father’s flag-draped casket as it was carried past him.
The tragedy drew the attention of President Bush on his first-ever visit to New York on March 9.
“The echoes of those four shots were heard in Washington and, I’d say even more important, across this country, where decent men and woman share your sense of loss and outrage,” Bush told a meeting of DEA agents in Manhattan after meeting privately with Mary Jane.
Then-mayor Ed Koch offered $10,000 in city money for tips leading to Farace, while private group COPSHOT also put up its own 10-large reward.
On March 17, Farace landed on the FBI’s 10 Most-wanted List — along with the promise of an almost-unheard-of $250,000 bounty.
But by early April, Farace’s trail had gone cold.
“If we did not know better, we’d think he vanished off the face of the earth,” a law enforcement source told The Post at the time.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned up dead,” another source told this paper.
Then, investigators finally caught a break in May, when Farace’s cousin Dominick admitted he was the second person in the van on the night of the murder.
The cousin led cops to the murder weapon — a .357 magnum recovered from nearby Fresh Kills Creek — and revealed that Farace actually thought Hatcher was a legit drug dealer who had gone “stoolie.”
But Dominick could not lead investigators to his cousin, and it would be six more months before Farace was found dead.
Now, three decades after Hatcher’s murder, his story looms large over the lives he touched — however briefly.
“I always wanted to emulate him. Everybody talked about him as being a hero and there’s no denying that he is a hero, but when you take a step back you say, ‘He was also my dad,’” Zach, now 39, said.
In 1996, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani renamed the portion of West 17th Street fronting the New York DEA offices “Special Agent Everett E. Hatcher Place” and proclaimed Nov. 20 in the agent’s honor.
Hatcher’s younger son, Josh, once lived nearby his father’s block and told The Post on Tuesday that it was an honor “to go to work and come home and see a sign with your father’s name on it.”
“It’s amazing how many lives my father touched,” said Josh, 33, who now works for Goldman Sachs’ financial crimes compliance department.
Both men credited their super-mom for raising them alone in their father’s absence.
“Everybody talks about my father, but my mother was just so strong. Her strength was and is remarkable. She became both mother and father. She became another incredible role model,” Zach said. “She was a rock. She kept it all together.”
The DEA’s New York office held a moment of silence Thursday in Hatcher’s honor.
“It is important for us to remember Everett Hatcher to remind people of the ultimate sacrifice that he made,” Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan told The Post Wednesday.
Donovan said he first learned about Hatcher in the DEA academy, where his story is told to new students.
“It is our duty to never forget and also to recognize the family,” he said.
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