Joseph Dominick Pistone was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1939, and he grew up in Paterson, New Jersey. He attended William Paterson University, obtaining a degree in anthropology, and he served in the US Navy's intelligence wing before joining the FBI in 1969. In 1974, he transferred to New York City to work in the truck hijacking unit, and he was sent to infiltrate a vehicle theft ring as an undercover agent. He gained a greater profile within New York law enforcement after securing 30 arrests, and his fluency in Italian and his knowledge of Mafia idiosyncracies led to Pistone volunteering to infiltrate the Mafia in 1976. When he stepped out of the FBI office in September 1976, he would leave the FBI for six years, as he was now a jewel thief named "Donnie Brasco".
Operation Donnie Brasco
Brasco frequented bars that were known to be Mafia hangouts, and he convinced a bartender that he was a Mafia member by saying that he was "going on the record" when telling the bartender that a beautiful woman had initiated a conversation with him, not the other way around ("going on the record" is a Mafia term, and he was pretending to be concerned that the woman might be a made man's wife). The bartender believed that he was a mobster, so he invited him to join a card game at an after-hours club after the bar closed, and Brasco agreed. He became a member of Jilly Greca's crew in the Colombo crime family at first, and he later moved to the Bonanno crime family, where he developed close relationships with Anthony Mirra and Dominick Napolitano. Benjamin Ruggiero tutored him in the Mafia ways, and the two became close friends, with Ruggiero telling Brasco that he would die with him. Brasco opened the King's Court Bottle Club in Holiday, Florida, and he became a good earner in the family. The murder of Carmine Galante in 1979 led to Ruggiero returning to New York with Brasco at his side. Brasco was later contracted to whack Philip Giaccone, but the hit was called off; he was then promised to become a "made man" if he whacked Al Indelicato's son Anthony Indelicato. However, the FBI ordered him to end his operation by 26 July 1981, as it was becoming too dangerous for Pistone. The FBI later arrested Brasco and Ruggiero as Pistone attempted to convince Ruggiero to leave a life of crime, and as Ruggiero told Brasco that he could either kill Indelicato or be killed by Ruggiero himself. Pistone's true identity was revealed to the Mafia, upsetting Napolitano, who said that he had really loved Pistone. Pistone's uncovered evidence led to over 200 indictments and over 100 convictions of Mafia members.
The consequences of Pistone's infiltration into the Mafia were fatal for many: Napolitano was shot dead and his hands were cut off for allowing an FBI agent into the family; Anthony Mirra was also whacked; Ruggiero was arrested by the FBI before he could be whacked by the Mob; the Bonanno family was kicked off The Commission; and the Mafia placed a $500,000 bounty on Pistone's head. Pistone still travels disguised, using assumed names and being allowed to carry fierarms.