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Joseph D. Pistone Bio, Life and Career:
Joseph Dominick Pistone was born to working-class parents on September 17, 1939, in Erie, Pennsylvania. He went to Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, where he grew up. He eventually enrolled at Paterson State University and graduated with a degree in anthropology. He had a longtime friendship with Lou DiGiaimo, now a casting agent in Hollywood, which began when they played basketball together as kids.
Joseph D. Pistone began his career as a teacher before joining the Navy’s intelligence division. Beginning in 1969, he worked with the FBI. After spending some time in Jacksonville, Florida, he was sent to the New York City truck and hijack unit in 1974. Major hijackings occurred on a daily basis in the New York area, and intelligence suggested that multiple Mafia families were involved.
The FBI established Sun-Apple, a covert operation, to infiltrate high-level fencing in order to reach the Mafia. As part of the plan, Pistone was to blend in with the five crime families who controlled New York’s underworld. His familiarity with the mafia mindset, combined with his Sicilian ancestry and accent, made him an ideal candidate for the covert mission. The FBI gave him an entirely new identity and scrubbed all of his previous records. To the world, he was now known as Donald Donnie Brasco, a low-level yet successful gem thief. Pistone also attended a two-week training course on precious jewels as part of his preparation for the post.
Pistone, posing as Donnie Brasco, first collaborated with a Colombo family crew before being welcomed into the Bonanno family by Anthony Mirra (who worked with the family). Eventually, Benjamin Lefty Ruggiero became his guide to the Mafia lifestyle.
The project, which was supposed to last for six months, ended up taking years to complete. From 1976 through 1981, Pistone gave the FBI a wealth of information on the mafia and the Bonanno family in particular, including the inner workings of the organization, the identities of key players, and the nature of the rackets being operated.
Pistone’s efforts brought him so close to being a made man that he could have been fully initiated into the mafia. The FBI, however, chose to remove him from the mission owing to the inherent risks. Three people were killed as a result of a power struggle inside the Bonanno family after the death of Carmine Galante, the family’s patriarch. Families were literally shooting at each other. Pistone was instructed to kill Anthony Bruno Indelicato by Dominick Sonny Black Napolitano. Therefore, the FBI yanked Pistone out of the operation despite his determination to see it through to the end in order to become a wealthy man.
Napolitano was murdered shortly thereafter for allowing an FBI agent to enter the family, and Ruggiero was jailed as a result. After ten years inside bars, Ruggiero succumbed to cancer two years after his release. More than 200 Mafia members were indicted using testimony from Joseph D. Pistone, and more than 100 were convicted. Pistone left the FBI in 1986, but he continued to appear in court as a witness whenever he was needed.
After he finished testifying, he wrote a book and consulted for police departments around the world, including Scotland Yard. Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia, his account of his time as a mob informant, was published in 1988. Pistone acted as a consultant on the 1997 film Donnie Brasco, starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino. The film’s producer was his buddy Lou DiGiaimo. The TV show Falcone was also based on this book. For the 2006 gangster film 10th & Wolf, he took on the role as executive producer.
In addition to the aforementioned, you may also catch him in Mafia’s Greatest Hits, A Secrets of the Dead, and the National Geographic miniseries Inside the American Mob. Former FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone spent six years infiltrating the Bonanno and, to a lesser extent, the Colombo crime families while posing as jewel thief Donnie Brasco. As an undercover agent, he gave the FBI invaluable insight into the mafia’s illicit operations.
He was on the verge of being formally recruited into the Bonnano crime family due to his achievements when the FBI intervened. In the end, his evidence helped put away more than a hundred mobsters. His extensive covert activity ultimately led to the FBI employing informants more widely. After seventeen years with the FBI, Pistone retired in 1986. Next, he started working as a security consultant and writer. The film Donnie Brasco, released in 1997, is based on his book Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia, in which he detailed his time as an undercover agent.
Joseph D. Pistone Profile-
The Literary Group International
New York, NY 10018
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