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Dispute Led to Violent End of Legal Duo's Friendship

The attorney and his ex-con paralegal were a study in contrasts but inseparable, friends say.

April 15, 2003|Monte Morin and Akilah Johnson | Times Staff Writers

In court, they earned reputations as fierce defenders, representing accused Hollywood madams, mobsters and drug dealers. After work, they cut loose -- attending the Super Bowl and rock concerts and matching bets with high rollers in Las Vegas.

Beverly Hills defense attorney Gerald Scotti, 52, and his paralegal, Barry Feldman, 45, formed such a close friendship that some colleagues described them as inseparable. So it was no surprise when workers in the law office saw them joking in the office before walking out together March 26.

But later that evening, during a meeting at the Redondo Beach law office of a mutual friend, police said, Scotti pulled out a revolver and fatally shot Feldman before turning the gun on himself.

In a suicide note, the attorney cursed his old friend with a vehemence that shocked close acquaintances. Police said the pair had a falling out over money. Weeks before the shooting, Scotti had learned that his trusted paralegal had embezzled $75,000 from him, police said.

Their violent deaths have opened a window into the lives of an unorthodox legal team -- one, a disgraced former federal drug agent, the other an ex-con -- and reveals a friendship that encompassed almost 20 years and ended in a moment of betrayed trust.

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Feldman didn't hold a law degree, but many lawyers considered him a legal genius and the backbone of Scotti's law practice. He earned the nickname "Loophole," for his ability to manipulate the law.

"Barry would always catch lawyers making a mistake," said Michael Bass, a businessman who had worked with them. "I think he made Scotti look good."

Feldman had always dreamed of becoming a lawyer, friends and family members said, but a criminal record barred him from a law license. At 18, Feldman tried to extort $25,000 from a Lafayette, Calif., bank executive by holding the man's wife and two sons hostage. His aim, police said, was to pay off gambling debts. The crime led to a federal prison sentence that ended in 1984.

Scotti also took an unusual path to his job, working in the 1970s and early 1980s as an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration. He left, however, after he was accused of helping defendants in two cases.

The first case involved millionaire car designer John DeLorean, who was accused of cocaine trafficking and tried in 1984. As a drug agent, Scotti helped arrange the government's sting of DeLorean but later came to believe that government agents had entrapped him. He testified on DeLorean's behalf at the trial, saying that his concerns about the sting operation were ignored by supervisors. The testimony helped persuade jurors that DeLorean was entrapped, and they ultimately acquitted him.

The second case involved criminal defense lawyer Carl Anthony Capozzola. It was known as the "Grandma Mafia" case, and it involved a ring of women, some grandmothers, who were indicted for allegedly dealing cocaine and laundering $25 million in drug proceeds through Los Angeles-area banks for Colombian drug dealers.

Scotti provided the women's defense attorney, Capozzola, with details of the investigation and tipped the lawyer off to an upcoming indictment -- information that Capozzola passed on to his client, according to State Bar of California disciplinary records.

After an 18-month investigation into Capozzola's conduct, the lawyer pleaded guilty to one count of unlawfully conveying government information and to one count of obstructing justice. He was sentenced to two months in prison and barred from practicing law for three years. Scotti was not charged,but soon left the DEA.

Despite the fallout, Capozzola and Scotti remained friends. Scotti and Feldman were at Capozzola's Redondo Beach law office when Scotti opened fire, and Capozzola is the only witness to their deaths, police and Capozzola said.

After leaving the DEA, Scotti earned a law degree and soon came into contact with Feldman.

Some described Scotti and Feldman as an odd couple. Scotti was the aggressive barrister skilled at tearing apart prosecution witnesses.

"He was a pit bull," said former client Jody "Babydol" Gibson, an accused Hollywood madam who served 22 months in prison for operating a high-priced prostitution ring.

Feldman was quieter and more reserved, and enjoyed reading books on legal theory. "This guy was brilliant," Capozzola said. "This was the most brilliant legal mind that I had come across ... [more so] than any attorney or judge I ever met, and I include myself."

Scotti accumulated the trappings of a Beverly Hills lawyer: a Mercedes, a Porsche and a waterfront home in Marina del Rey. Feldman, on the other hand, shared a modest South Bay home with his ill father, whom Feldman cared for until his death a year ago.

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