Joe Pistone, the real Donnie Brasco, talks about the risks of infiltrating the mob

Mystery Wire
FBI surveillance photograph of Joe Pistone undercover as Donnie Brasco. (Photo: fbi.gov)

MYSTERY WIRE — Former FBI agent Joe Pistone had one of the most harrowing assignments ever handed to an agent – infiltrate New York’s feared Bonanno crime family.

Pistone spent six years posing as a mobster named Donnie Brasco inside the Bonanno crime family.

After growing up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Pistone joined the FBI in 1969 and in 1974 was transferred to the office in New York City, home of the five main Mafia families — Bonanno, Gambino, Colombo, Genovese, and Lucchese.

Pistone was initially assigned to a truck hijacking squad. At that time, it was believed the mob was stealing several large trucks a day.

This undercover work led to the arrest of over 30 people in February 1976.

His deep cover assignment on the hijack squad led directly to his undercover work as Donnie Brasco. This assignment would eventually inspire the Johnny Depp movie called “Donnie Brasco.”

When undercover as Brasco, Pistone knew that if he were ever identified as FBI, he’d likely be murdered. That’s exactly what happened to some of his mafia colleagues once his true identity was revealed.

“17 days later, they killed Sonny black,” Pistone said during a 2007 interview. “They killed the other Bonano guy by the name of Tony Mirra, and (Lefty) Ruggerio was on his way to a meet where they were going to kill him. And luckily, the FBI overheard the conversation. So they grabbed them off the street before he got to the meeting.”

The FBI has written the operation gave them a window into the inner workings of the Mafia generally and the Bonanno family specifically (and to a lesser degree, some of the other families), not only in New York, but in Florida, Michigan, and elsewhere.

Pistone’s undercover work ultimately led to more than 100 federal convictions.

In 2008 Pistone was scheduled to testify on behalf of his long time friend John Connolly.

Connolly is also a former FBI agent but was convicted of racketeering, obstruction of justice, and murder charges stemming from his relationship with James “Whitey” BulgerSteve Flemmi, and the Winter Hill Gang.

After days of negotiating between Pistone and lawyers over having Pistone testify in disguise, Connolly’s lawyer decided to not call Pistone as a witness after all.

Joe Pistone is now 81-years-old and is staying out of the spotlight due to a $500,000 contract on his life.

In 2019, Pistone told the Queens Gazette he now works as a consultant and travels to different cities around the world to assist in the training of local police forces on how to perform modern-day police work. As for his safety, Pistone doesn’t worry as much as he used to, as “all those mafia guys and their associates are a long time dead or in prison for life,” Pistone said, but he added, “The only thing I worry about is that some cowboy trying to make a name for himself will take a shot at me just to say to the world ‘I killed the famous Donnie Brasco.’ I’m not worried, but hey I still keep a low profile. I take no chances.”

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