Donnie Brasco — real name Joseph Pistone — was an FBI agent responsible for taking down the Bonanno crime family, one of the infamous Five Families of the mafia that is featured in Netflix’s new docuseries Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia. Here’s what you need to know about Brasco, including where he is today.
Joseph Pistone Is Still Alive and Living Under an Alias
Pistone was an FBI agent who went undercover in the New York mafia’s Five Families starting in 1974 until he was pulled out of the operation in 1981. According to Biography, during his time undercover he was allowed to see his wife, Maggie, and three daughters once every three or four months.
Following his retirement in 1986, he and his family began living in an undisclosed location in New Jersey under secret identities because the Mafia eventually put a $450,000. But he has continued to work as an FBI consultant and has also consulted for Scotland Yard, according to the Sunday Mirror.
In 2005, Pistone did work on an episode of Secrets of the Dead called “Gangland Graveyard” for PBS which focused on his infiltration of the mob and his long-running investigation into the murder of three Mafia leaders by Joseph Massino — those murders were Philip “Philly Lucky” Giaccone, Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato, and Dominick “Big Trin” Trinchera.
Pistone’s Investigation Led to Hundreds of Arrests
Pistone went undercover and managed to become quite high-ranking in the Bonanno crime family under the alias Donnie Brasco, a tough-talking jewel thief. In fact, Pistone became so trusted within the family that he was almost asked to be one of the hitmen who ambushed Giaccone, Indelicato, and Trinchera.
According to Biography, in order to go undercover, Pistone went to school to learn about precious gems and the FBI set him up with luxurious homes in New York City and Florida. Pistone staked out known Mafia haunts until he managed to strike up a conversation with Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero, who became his mentor within the Bonanno family.
During his undercover operation, Pistone was ordered to commit four murders. He managed to get out of most of them, though the FBI did have to stage a fake killing once. In 1981, Pistone ordered to kill Anthony “Bruno” Indelicato and the FBI decided to pull him from his undercover operation because the situation was becoming so dangerous.
But while he was undercover, Pistone nearly became a “made man,” i.e. a full-fledged member of the Bonanno family. After his operation was over, the Five Families of the New York Mafia instituted new rules to thwart new undercover operations. Pistone’s operation led to over 200 indictments and over 100 convictions.
The Film Donnie Brasco Details Pistone’s Undercover Operation
Pistone’s book Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia was the basis for the 1997 Mike Newell film Donnie Brasco, starring Johnny Depp as Brasco and Al Pacino as Lefty Ruggiero. Pistone was a consultant on the film to help Depp and Pacino develop their characters.
Critics praised the film, with the San Francisco Chronicle calling it a “first-class Mafia thriller that is also, in its way, a love story,” and Newsweek wrote, “The story, based on true events, is so good, and the characters so rich, that the familiarity of the turf becomes irrelevant.”
Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia is out now on Netflix.
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