Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Joe Pistone - Legendary Lawman

Past issues of Legendary Lawmen have been key figures from our past. This month features a bit more recent individual. Many of you may already know him by his alias but may not know the story behind the man. Here is an individual that put his life on the line and his family on hold in an effort to bring down key figures within the mafia.

In 1969 Joe Pistone became an undercover FBI agent. In September 1976 he volunteered to infiltrate the Bonnano family and shortly there after, Donnie Brasco was born. Pistone would spend six years as a low-level jewel thief informing on the goings on inside the mob during some of the most volatile power struggles in organized crime. His story has been told in books, articles and in a major motion picture.

Joseph Dominick Pistone was born 1939 in Erie, Pennsylvania. Growing up in Paterson, New Jersey he graduated from Paterson State in 1965, receiving a degree in anthropology. Following a year as a teacher at Paterson School No. 10, Pistone secured a job at the Office of Naval Intelligence. From 1969 thru 1974 Pistone worked various jobs within the Bureau. In 1974 he was transferred to New York to work in the truck hijacking unit.

It was his ability to drive 18-wheeler and bulldozers that led him to work undercover infiltrating a vehicle theft ring. This assignment resulted in over 30 arrests and cemented Pistone's legend within law enforcement. Pistone was not only handy behind the wheel, he was also of Sicilian heritage and spoke Italian fluently. Of course growing up in Paterson, New Jersey didn't hurt matters either; he was already accustomed to the Mafia's idiosyncrasies.

During the 1970s there was a major influx of Sicilian mobsters coming to the United States which caused a great deal of tension with their U.S. counterparts. Pistone entered into the family while this rift was occurring. Many accusations and much finger-pointing went on during this time and Pistone soon found himself in the middle of being called out for stealing a quarter million dollars from the family. The penalty for such an infraction was death. After three sit-downs with the accuser (Tony Mirra) and his representatives, Pistone (Brasco) was found innocent of the theft.

Pistone was taken into the fold by Bonanno family capo Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano. He would eventually be tutored by Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero, a Bonanno soldier. Ruggiero would eventually provide the FBI agent with details on the activities of other crews outside of the Bonanno family. Pistone was eventually invited into the family as a "made man". To accomplish this Pistone would have to kill someone at the order of Napolitano. Once again the agent got lucky; his target, Anthony Indelicato, would vanish before Pistone/Brasco would be able to carry out the killing. The year was 1981.

Following the order to kill Indelicato, Anthony's father Alphonse Indelicato, together with Phillip "Philly Lucky" Giaccone and Dominick "Big Trin" Trinchera were found murdered. Two days later, Napolitano and Ruggiero were informed that their longtime associate was in fact an undercover FBI agent. Ruggiero was arrested by the FBI and served 20 years in prison. Napolitano was subsequently murdered for allowing an undercover agent to infiltrate the family. On august 12, 1982, his body was found with several gunshot wounds and his hands were cut off. Pistone's testimony would help uncover an extensive drug distribution network that was being run out of New York City pizzerias. His relationship with Napolitano and Ruggiero would eventually lead to more than 200 indictments and over 100 convictions of mafia members.

In 1986 Pistone retired from the FBI and currently does lectures and training. Pistone would go on to write Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia (1987). This would eventually develop into the major motion picture staring Johnny Depp (as Brasco) and Al Pacino (as Ruggiero). Two subsequent books would later detail his experiences; The Way of the Wiseguy (2004) and Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business (2007).

Thanks to Charles Bennett

Charles Bennett was born in our Nation's Capital and grew up in the Maryland suburbs. Mr. Bennett has been working in all aspects of the publishing industry since the late 1980s primarily in the fields of commercial photography and magazine production. Moving to California in 1992 to attend college resulted in B.F.A and Masters degrees. California also supplied Mr. Bennett with his wife. The two of them are avid sports persons and participate in shooting, scuba diving, surfing, running and bicycling. As a long time hobby Mr. Bennett has studied the legends of American law enforcement which led to his writing these columns.

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