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Rival cop pics in a shootout

Warners ramps up vs. Col

NEW YORK — Paula Weinstein’s Spring Creek Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures have become the latest entrants in the war to make a movie out of the biggest scandal to hit the NYPD.

Numerous suitors were trying to get a piece of the Gotham cop corruption story and Warners came away with life rights of onetime detective Tommy Dades, who played a key role in exposing former veteran cops Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa as mob hit men.

In March, federal prosecutors charged Eppolito and Caracappa with carrying out eight murders for the Mafia. These included a 1980s incident in which the NYPD officers allegedly kidnapped a mobster and delivered him to a rival thug, who then tortured and killed him.

Weinstein’s pic — which she’ll produce with Len Amato — is now in a race with “A Cop Between,” a similar project at Columbia. That studio bypassed the bidding war to make its own fictional Mafia pic penned by Nicholas Pileggi and produced by Irwin Winkler.

However, there’s a third entrant with “Catch Me If You Can” executive producers Tony Romano and Michel Shane. They hold rights to an epic angle on the story through George Gundlach, a special investigator for the New York State Organized Crime Task Force.

Gundlach said the allegedly dirty cops were only the tip of an organized crime operation that stretches back 20 years, which is when the then-rookie Gundlach began working on the case. According to Gundlach, the operation’s ringleader referred to the cops as his “crystal ball” – a foolproof way for him to know when his footmen had turned snitch.

“It was part of a never-ending investigation,” said Gundlach, who is now writing a book about his experiences with Robert Sabbag (“Snowblind”). “You had to solve it. It felt like you were in a movie sometimes.”

Weinstein said her company is in talks with writers to pen a screenplay and “pushing (the project) forward very aggressively.”

Dades was part of a task force looking into Eppolito and Caracappa’s alleged crime spree. He was featured in a recent CBS “60 Minutes” profile just as the story of the allegedly dirty cops’ arrest made national headlines.

The cops were arrested in Las Vegas, where they were comfortably retired and allegedly became involved in a drug trafficking racket as well as penning screenplays, among other pursuits.

The race between Warners and Columbia mirrors another back in 1993, when true stories about the deadly Ebola virus caught Hollywood’s eye. Richard Preston’s New Yorker article “Crisis in the Hot Zone” — about a real-life Army biological SWAT team — and his bestselling book on the topic, “The Hot Zone,” became hotly sought after rights.

When 20th Century Fox won “Zone” rights for producer Lynda Obst, rivals Arnold Kopelson and Warner Bros. opted to make their own fictionalized killer virus pic without rights to the source material and kicked into high gear to get their version off the ground.

That project became Wolfgang Petersen’s 1995 effort “Outbreak,” which grossed $190 million worldwide. Obst’s “Hot Zone” pic was then rendered lifeless.

Warners exec Polly Cohen is now shepherding the cop project, which Spring Creek veep Palak Patel brought in. Weinstein said she would have access to police records and other inside info through Dades.

“There’s never been a story like this,” said Weinstein, whose “Monster-in-Law” opens this month for New Line. “There are (cops) accused of eight potential murders. But that would not be as interesting a story if not for the tough men like Dades who were never willing to stop and would not give this up.”

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