Undercover FBI Agent Donnie Brasco Infiltrates the Mafia

U.S. v. Ruggiero, 726 F.2d 913 (2d Cir. 1984)

Joseph Pistone became an FBI agent in 1969. He showed a knack for undercover work when he penetrated a ring of heavy vehicle thieves, resulting in more than 30 arrests, and was subsequently chosen for Operation Sun-Apple, in which he impersonated a jewel thief. His alias was Donnie Brasco.

Beginning in September 1976, Joseph Pistone effectively no longer existed. As Donnie Brasco, he infiltrated two of the five primary Mafia families in New York City, and was educated in the ways of mob life by Lefty “Two Guns” Ruggiero. Brasco was within four months of being “made”—becoming a full-fledged Mafia member, a status achieved by carrying out a contract killing—when the Bureau determined Operation Sun-Apple was becoming too dangerous. It ended on July 26, 1981. Brasco’s deep cover in New York’s underbelly became legend at the FBI.

Pistone’s evidence resulted in the indictments of over 200 Mafia members and over 100 convictions. He testified in the Pizza Connection and Mafia Commission trials, proceedings that decimated the leadership of organized crime.

Dengrove sketched Pistone in 1982. “Frankly, I wouldn’t have done business with the likes of Brasco,” she wrote.