Douglas LeVien, New York Detective Who Infiltrated the Mafia, Dies at 68

Douglas A. LeVien Jr. in 1972. Credit Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

Douglas A. LeVien Jr. in 1972. Credit Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

Douglas A. LeVien Jr., a former undercover police detective who in 1972 infiltrated the meeting ground used by New York’s five Mafia families, a landmark operation that produced scores of convictions, died on July 30 while vacationing in Saratoga, N.Y. He was 68.

The cause was a heart attack, his son Vincent Douglas LeVien said. Except for several months in the late 1970s when, under apparent threat of death from a high-ranking mobster, he was placed in the federal witness protection program, Detective LeVien lived in Brooklyn all his life.

An expert on organized crime who in a four-decade career worked with city, state and federal authorities, Detective LeVien — a French-Canadian name, pronounced luh-VYEN — was a 20-year veteran of the New York Police Department. Eight of those years were spent under cover.

“He’s disarming,” Edward A. McDonald, a former federal prosecutor who worked with Detective LeVien for years, said on Thursday, reflecting on his former colleague’s success as an undercover operative. “He didn’t come off like a tough guy, but he studied the people he was dealing with and knew what would be appealing to them and what they would be persuaded by.”

Mr. McDonald, who during the 1980s was chief of the federal Organized Crime Strike Force in Brooklyn, added: “He had incredible street sense. He grew up as a kid in the streets of Brooklyn and knew his way around.”

Detective LeVien’s most celebrated cases include the 1972 sting, called Operation Gold Bug, which centered on a Brooklyn junkyard trailer in which known Mafiosi planned a spate of crimes. He also played a two-year role as a drug-dealing millionaire in an operation that snared Enzo Napoli, a representative of the Sicilian Mafia who served the Gambino and Lucchese crime families.

In later years, his investigative work aided prosecutions in the Abscam federal corruption trials, the fatal Howard Beach racial attack of 1986 and the “Mafia Cops” case of the 2000s, in which two former New York police detectives, Louis J. Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, were convicted of crimes, including murder, committed while in the pay of the Lucchese family.

During Detective LeVien’s time under cover, his life was a web of identities assumed and identities discarded, with an array of passports and driver’s licenses to match. His work encompassed seedy motel rooms and million-dollar yachts; diamonds, stolen artworks and kilos of heroin and cocaine; and long, painstaking efforts to penetrate a famously clannish brotherhood.

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