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Courtesy of New York Post

One of two cops accused of helping carry out hits for the mob, also coerced an ex-Marine to falsely testify in a murder trial nearly 20 years ago - sending a possibly innocent man to prison, law-enforcement sources said yesterday.

The case came to light when federal authorities working on the Mafia case executed a search warrant in the Las Vegas home of Louis Eppolito last March. They found the official NYPD homicide investigative file on the case, wondered what it was doing there, and decided to look into it.

In 1988, Eppolito was working in the detective unit of Brooklyn's 62nd Precinct and was assigned to a case involving the strangulation of a prostitute.

Suspect Barry Gibbs had admitted to having sex with her and using crack - but not to strangling her and dumping the body near the Mill Basin Bridge.

Gibbs, who has always maintained his innocence and claims he was framed, was convicted of second-degree murder and is currently serving 20 years to life.

He was sent to prison based on the testimony of one witness, who told cops he saw Gibbs near the bridge on the night of the murder.

The witness, described as an ex-Marine who had "drug issues," recently told the feds and Brooklyn District Attorney's Office that he lied and that Eppolito had coerced him into telling the tale.

The DA is looking into the allegations and plans to release Gibbs, now 57, as early as today, sources said.

The DA's office declined to comment.

Eppolito kept the file in his possession all these years so it "could never be looked at again," said a federal source.

Investigators said Eppolito may have coerced the witness into fingering Gibbs to bolster his own conviction rate.

Another theory speculates that Eppolito was covering up for the real killer and that he needed to railroad someone else, according to the sources.

Eppolito - along with Stephen Caracappa - was released on $5 million bail in July on the Mafia hit allegations.

The two have been charged with using their positions in the NYPD to leak sensitive information to the Luchese crime family that was used to commit 10 gangland murders.

The feds claim that one of those murders includes that of international gem dealer Israel Greenwald in 1986.

Eppolito and Caracappa also allegedly peddled drugs for nearly six months before their arrest.
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