Insiders of the American Mob: Joe Pistone, Undercover FBI Agent

Video highlights from The American Mob

Photograph by National Geographic Channels / David Smoler

Joseph D. Pistone is a former FBI agent who, in 1975, famously infiltrated New York’s Bonanno crime family in Operation Donnie Brasco. Posing as jewel thief named Donnie Brasco, Pistone befriended old-school wiseguy and Bonnano soldier, Benjamin “Lefty Guns” Ruggierio, who “schooled” him on the life. Pistone was later proposed for membership by Bonanno capo Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano, but due to increased inner-family turmoil, including the violent murder of three Bonanno capos, the FBI ended the operation before Pistone was "made."

Operation Donnie Brasco led to over 200 indictments and 200 convictions. The Mafia put out a contract of half a million dollars on Pistone’s life. Mafia families took note, instituting new measures for preventing future infiltrations by the FBI and government informants.

Pistone went on to author a number of books, including the acclaimed Donnie Brasco, which was made into a movie starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp. He has appeared on a number of television programs and documentaries series, and lectures globally. Pistone currently lives under a secret identity.

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