Though the “character” Donnie Brasco didn’t live in the 90’s, but I’ve always found it quiet a fascinating tale.
Joe Pistone was an FBI agent who infiltrated the Bonanno crime family under the name “Donnie Brasco”. He was a pioneer for deep long-term undercover work. J. Edgar Hoover originally did not want FBI agents to work undercover because it could be a dirty job and might end up tainting the agents, but Pistone’s work helped convince the FBI that using undercover agents instead of just using informants was a crucial tool in law enforcement.
Pistone was selected to be an undercover agent because he was of Sicilian heritage, was fluent in Italian and was acquainted with the mob from growing up in New Jersey.
The operation was given the code name “Sun-Apple” after the locations of its two simultaneous operations: Miami (“Sunny Miami”) and New York (“The Big Apple”). After extensive preparation including FBI gemology classes and again using the alias Donnie Brasco, he went undercover as an expert jewel thief.
He developed a close relationship with Anthony Mirra, Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano and was tutored in the ways of the wise guy by Bonanno soldier Benjamin “Lefty Guns” Ruggiero. It was by doing this that Ruggiero inadvertently provided much evidence to Pistone, as Mafia members will not normally talk to non-members about the inner workings of the Mafia. Ruggiero became very close friends with Pistone and told him that he would “die with him”.
The undercover mission ended on July 26th 1981. Shortly thereafter, Napolitano was murdered for having allowed an FBI agent to infiltrate the family; he was shot dead and his hands were cut off. Anthony Mirra, who initially brought Donnie Brasco to the family, was killed. Ruggiero was to be killed as well, but was arrested by the FBI while on his way to a meeting, in order to prevent his death.
The Mafia put out a $500,000 open contract on Pistone and kicked the Bonanno family off the Commission. FBI agents visited Mafia bosses in New York and told them not to even bother with the contract. The evidence collected by Pistone led to over 200 indictments and over 100 convictions of Mafia members.
Pistone still travels disguised, under assumed names and with a license to carry a firearm. He will not set foot in any location with high Mafia presence.