NEW YORK (AP) – It’s a classic tale lifted from the Coppola canon: Murder and the mob. Family loyalty and betrayal. A made man on the run, and a dead man inside a car trunk.

But this is no “Godfather” sequel, and this Coppola is no Oscar winner – their names are even pronounced differently. Reputed Genovese crime family member Michael Coppola (it’s ca-poh-la, not cope-ah-la) lived a bi-coastal life on the lam that ended in March with the mobster, his wife and his son under arrest.

Coppola, 60, was long wanted for the April 1977 slaying of mobster Johnny “Coca Cola” Lardiere in the parking lot of a New Jersey motel.

He bolted from his Jersey shore home almost 20 years later, when a mob turncoat’s information produced a court order for DNA samples from Coppola.

Over the next 11 years, as he became New Jersey’s most wanted criminal, Coppola abandoned his home state but not his criminal career, new court documents charge. He was aided by fellow mobsters, traveled under an assortment of aliases, took bets in California, the documents said.

There was another, more stunning allegation: Coppola and his son were possibly involved in a more recent mob hit, the 2005 slaying of a racketeering defendant whose decomposing body was discovered behind a New Jersey diner, said the Brooklyn federal filing by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Buretta.

Lawrence Ricci disappeared in the middle of his waterfront corruption trial, and taped conversations showed Coppola and son Louis Rizzo Jr. discussing the death and the weapon used to pump two bullets into the victim, the court papers said.

“Confidential source information (indicated) Rizzo and Coppola participated in Ricci’s murder,” Buretta wrote before a bail hearing last week. Coppola remains behind bars on $1 million bail in New Jersey, while Rizzo is in a Brooklyn lockup without bail.

Coppola’s wife, Linda, who allegedly helped her husband avoid arrest, was free on $1 million bail.

The couple shared apartments on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and in San Francisco, using a variety of fake names as they commuted between the coasts, authorities said.

The California apartment offered evidence of Coppola’s post-disappearance income: authorities found gambling records and large sums of cash. The couple’s Manhattan safe house was a sublet from a Genovese associate, according to Buretta, which was no surprise – two other crime family members admitted to assisting Coppola in 2003.

Coppola was identified in 1995 as the shooter when Lardiere, 68, was gunned down 18 years earlier at the Red Bull Inn in Bridgewater, N.J. When a mob informer gave Coppola up to authorities, the made man bolted – he was last seen in August 1996.

His time as a free man expired March 9, when the balding, gray-haired Coppola was arrested without incident while leaving a Manhattan health food store.

His wife and son were picked up last Wednesday for their roles in helping Coppola dodge authorities.

In the Coppolas’ Manhattan apartment, authorities discovered an assortment of bogus driver’s licenses and other identification. Airline reservation records also showed the couple was planning a San Francisco trip just four days after Coppola’s arrest, authorities said.

The most shocking information that surfaced were court papers alleging Coppola and his son worked as hitmen while the elder mobster was avoiding arrest. Wiretaps captured the pair discussing various crimes – including the Ricci slaying, Buretta said.

During one call, Coppola complained that Rizzo was too quick to contact him about an FBI probe into the Ricci shooting. “I’m not happy about that,” Coppola told his son before they discussed the gun used to shoot Ricci, a well-known presence on the metropolitan area waterfront.

In a particularly cruel twist, the late Genovese family capo was acquitted in absentia of federal charges just weeks after his death. Coppola remained free for another 15 months after Ricci’s body was discovered.

Coppola’s attorney, Thomas Cammarata, complained the bail set for his client was exceedingly high. And he questioned whether Coppola was actually a fugitive, since he was never actually served with the DNA order – an argument that failed to explain the suspect’s long disappearance.

While Coppola shares a surname with “Godfather” director Francis Ford, the murders of Lardiere and Ricci were more out of “Goodfellas” and “The Sopranos.”

Lardiere was targeted after reportedly slapping a made member of the Philadelphia mob – an act of disrespect similar to the one that marked Joe Pesci’s character for death in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.” Pesci’s character, Tommy DeVito, was killed in retaliation for his murder of a made man.

And the body of Ricci turned up inside a car trunk behind the Huck Finn Diner in Union, N.J. – prime territory for HBO’s fictional mob family.

AP-ES-03-31-07 1205EDT


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