Airlift, meanwhile, was shut down after an administrative investigation showed it was in "shambles." The disastrous operation may have remained a secret had it not been for a Drug Enforcement Administration plan in Pittsburgh called Operation Screamer, which led DEA agents from western Pennsylvania to Hangar No. 24. There the DEA learned that bigtime smugglers named Sandini and "Danny" were flooding Pittsburgh with cocaine.
It would take the DEA several months before they realized that Danny was Dan Mitrione, FBI agent. And soon thereafter, tension would be running high between Mitrione and Sandini as Pittsburgh prosecutors began interviewing Sandini.
The treacherous relationship between Sandini and Mitrione ended with a bomb, but fortunately for Ciraolo, not with a bang.
It was just another night at the Pompano harness track's clubhouse, where Ciraolo all but lived during the '80s, at least when he wasn't in prison. He noticed Sandini, Mitrione, and their wives sitting at a table, eating, and drinking, but he didn't immediately go to the table, mainly because he still suspected Mitrione was an agent. Sandini, who was drinking heavily that night, came over to Ciraolo and dragged him over to the table.
"This is my best friend, Vinnie," Sandini told Mitrione's wife, Janet, who remembered Ciraolo as "good-looking."
Ciraolo declined an invitation to join them. And he's glad he did. The air at the table was thick with paranoia and distrust. Operation Screamer was closing in on Mitrione, who'd already resigned from the FBI. Mitrione knew that Sandini had made a trip to Pittsburgh to talk with prosecutors and agents, and he was afraid Sandini -- a renowned double-crosser -- was going to sell him out.
Sandini acted especially strange that night. Usually discreet about their business dealings, he counted out 35 hundred-dollar bills at the table and pushed them over to Mitrione in sight of everyone. An embarrassed Mitrione quickly stuffed the money into his breast pocket. Then Sandini made it worse. He drunkenly exclaimed: "You have nothing to worry about." Then his voice changed from protector to cold-hearted con: "That and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee."
Janet Mitrione later told the FBI that she interpreted it as two "contrasting statements meaning, 'Trust me, do not trust me.'" The night ended with the Mitriones not showing up at an after-hours club where they were supposed to meet the Sandinis. Mitrione and Sandini never spoke to each other again.
Two days later at midnight, Ciraolo was following Sandini from the racetrack to their regular drinking hangout, Allen J's on Powerline Road, when Ciraolo noticed something dangling from the rear of Sandini's car.
"I thought it was some electrical shit, but the car's lights were all working," Ciraolo says. "I picked up that damn sausage and held it out. I had no fuckin' idea what it was."
Dennis Regan, who headed the BSO bomb squad, says the "sausage" was one of the more dangerous bombs he's ever dealt with. It could have been detonated by a cell phone, a CB radio, or even a garage-door opener. A spark or undue friction could have caused the plastic explosive -- called Flex-X -- to blow up on its own. He says anyone within 100 yards of it would have been in danger of injury or death had it blown.
Regan, now a commander at the Coconut Creek Police Department, also says Mitrione was the only true suspect from the beginning of the bomb investigation. Regan says he found a lot of circumstantial evidence indicating Mitrione was the culprit, including a witness who said she saw Mitrione in his red Volvo near Allen J's lounge at about the time Ciraolo picked up the bomb, a statement that contradicts Mitrione's alibi that he was out of town at the time.
But Mitrione wasn't cooperating with Regan in the attempted bombing case, and neither was the FBI. "It was more than tense," says Regan of his dealings with FBI agents. "The FBI seemed to be involved only to protect Mitrione. They wanted all my information but wouldn't tell me anything. I believe if they had really investigated it the right way, there would have been an indictment."
While Regan's investigation stalled, the FBI finally got Mitrione to speak in detail about it, and his story proved full of holes, discrepancies, and bizarre actions. The night the bomb was found, Sandini called Janet Mitrione, screaming that her husband had planted a bomb on his car and demanding to know where he was.
After first refusing to go into detail about the bomb, Mitrione finally told the whole story.