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Fact file: Who is Joe Pistone – a.k.a. Donnie Brasco?

The moment many have been waiting for has arrived at Quebec’s inquiry into corruption into its construction industry, as former FBI agent Joseph Pistone (aka Donnie Brasco) took the stand Monday morning.

Global News takes a look at the man – and the story – behind the infamous name.
Pistone is considered a Federal Bureau of Investigation legend because of his undercover work in New York.

For six years, he infiltrated two of the five major Mafia families in the city – the Bonanno and Colombo families.

Given the code name “Sun-Apple,” the operation was only intended to last six months, but in September 1976, after undergoing extensive training to become an expert jewel thief, Pistone walked out of the FBI office as Donnie Brasco and didn’t come back for six years.

His identity was erased – colleagues and friends had no idea what happened to him. FBI and NYPD investigations had Pistone down as an actual Mafia associate called Don Brasco. 

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He was chosen for the operation because of his Sicilian ancestry – he spoke Italian and was familiar with the mob – and its codes of conduct. He also apparently doesn’t sweat under pressure.

In 1988, Pistone published Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia, which described his undercover experience.

The book was the basis for the 1997 film Donnie Brasco – starring Johnny Depp as Joe Pistone and Al Pacino as “Lefty” Ruggiero – and it’s because of the movie that Pistone is better known by his undercover name, Donnie Brasco, than by his real one.

Operation Sun-Apple
The operation allegedly started as an investigation into a fencing ring related to truck hijackings in New York City.

Pistone became an associate with the Colombo family in a crew mainly involved in truck hijacking and selling stolen merchandise.

He later moved to the Bonanno family and became close with Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano and learned the ropes from Benjamin “Lefty Guns” Ruggiero.

It was through these relationships that Pistone was able to infiltrate the Mafia and provide evidence to the FBI.

After six years, the FBI operation ended. Pistone allegedly wanted to carry on until he was “made,” but it was believed the operation was becoming too dangerous.

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The evidence collected during Pistone’s operation led to over 200 indictments and over 100 convictions.

The Mafia put out a $500,000 contract on Pistone’s life and the Bonanno family was removed from the Commission – the mob’s governing body in the U.S.

Even though the operation nearly destroyed the Bonanno family, when the Mafia Commission Trial saw the leaders of the top five families sent to prison, the Bonanno’s were the only major family left, as it had been kicked off the Commission.

What Pistone learned about the Mafia
Be tough
Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano, a homing pigeon enthusiast, advised Pistone to act tough: “The whole thing is how strong you are and how much power you got and how mean you are . . . ”

It’s a great life
Benjamin “Lefty Guns” Ruggiero loved being in the mob and told Pistone: “Donnie, as a wiseguy you can lie, you can cheat, you can steal, you can kill people – legitimately. You can do any goddamn thing you want and nobody can say anything about it. Who wouldn’t want to be a wiseguy?”