• Monique Nethington

Deep Cover: The Real Donnie Brasco

The Story So Far...

Early in his career as an FBI Agent Joe Pistone went deep undercover in some of the most dangerous mob families in America. You may be familiar with the story, as it played out in the feature film Donnie Brasco starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino, but there’s so much more to the story than what you have seen on the silver screen.

Hosted by actor Leo Rossi, the first season of Deep Cover: The Real Donnie Brasco let us into what undercover life was really for Joe Pistone. But before we get into the mission, we have to learn what life was like for Joe prior to his time undercover.

In the premiere episode, we learn that before the FBI and all the accolades Joe was just a regular guy from Patterson, New Jersey. The son of a bar owner, he was exposed to both sides of the law at an early age with the patrons being both wise-guys and cops. It was a diverse group of men to grow up around to say the least, but at the end of the day Joe was a kid from the streets and that is what really helped him succeed in his work as Donnie Brasco.

You may be wondering exactly how this kid from Patterson, goes from FBI man Joe to Donnie “The Jeweler” Brasco. Well, he went to school of course. Yes, there’s actually a school to learn everything you need to know about diamonds and jewels. They even taught him how to spot a fugazi on the spot. He learned everything from picking locks, cracking safes, to disabling alarms, all to become a jewel thief fitting enough to fool the mafia.

So, FBI man Joe became small time jewel thief Donnie Brasco. It was finally time to go deep undercover on the mean streets of New York City to take down the mafia.

To get in with some of the most notorious mafia crime families, Joe had to start small and infiltrate some of the fences, and really learn the rules when dealing with wise guys.

After making his presence known at some of the local mob hangouts, Joe made good with a bartender named Charlie who worked at this local pub frequented by members of the Lucchese family.

Charlie started inviting Joe, aka Donnie, to an after-hours gambling night that was run by the five families of New York City. It was there that he first connection with a member of the Columbo family, a capo named Jilly.

Joe was hanging out with Jilly and the Columbos for a few months, but after a few questionable interactions within the family Joe’s credibility had come into question. With “Donnie’s” street reputation on the line, and in episode three he was forced to prove that he was legit.

Joe was able to walk away from the Columbo family with Donnie Brasco’s street reputation intact.

With some time passing, we finally get to the point in the season where Joe has successfully infiltrated the Bonanno Family. We are introduced to some of the most gruesome crimes that the mob can be involved in, and to the man who would be known as Donnie’s mentor-- Lefty Ruggiero.

Joe spent most of his undercover time with the Bonanno family, which is portrayed in the movie Donnie Brasco. Through the years, he and Lefty dealt in a number of illicit activities including moving stolen goods for the underboss of the Bonannos.

Day after day the relationships he made with these wise guys grew stronger, and so did the cases against them. Not only was Donnie able to work the Bonanno family, but he was able to get other agents into other families. Families like the Balisteris in Milwaukee and Trafficantes in Florida.

When we are introduced to the Trafficante's boss in episode six, we are also introduced to a big name capo in the Bonanno family, Sonny Black.

At the instruction of the FBI, Joe had to assist on another agent's case. This involved Sonny Black, the Trafficante's boss, and the crazy gambling scene down in Florida. It is quite a play that Joe had to make, and once again he was putting it all on the line.

But this is Joe, aka Donnie Brasco, he can do it all. The operation goes off without a hitch, or so they think. A few hiccups there, a couple of gang-busting sheriffs here, and things start to unravel. Not just in Florida, but for the Bonanno family, as well.

Like in any family things can get tense, but this is a mob family and when things get tense blood tends to spill.

There was a power struggle amongst the capo regime, and Joe was right in the middle of it. The two factions in the Bonanno family were fighting over which side he belonged to, and a familiar face from his early days with the family was adamant that he was either. This led to the sit down of all sit downs, which played out in episode seven.

Lucky for Joe, and the FBI, he came out on the right side of the sit down. He laid his claim to the side of Lefty, Sonny, and the others running things for the boss. Trust was once again instilled in Joe, and his credibility has Donnie remained intact… again.

This solidified his reputation inside the family, and he was set to become a made man. However, the FBI had other ideas and wanted to shut down the operation. Things were getting too hot for Joe, and his life had been put in danger far too many times for their liking.

Just like that it was the end of Donnie Brasco. The evidence was collected, indictments were being written, the only thing left was to come out as a rat to Sonny and Lefty.

They didn’t believe it at first, but like Leo says every episode, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

So, that’s it right? We now know the full story. Joe Pistone infiltrated the mob, and helped hand out over 200 indictments. There can’t possibly be more to the story.

Well, there is. In the late half of the season, Joe and Leo answered all the audience questions about the events that took place.

Questions like: What happened after the operation? How did Joe’s family handle all of this? All the things that wouldn’t be written down in some FBI report.

Plus, we get a look at the day-to-day operations, and some of the untold stories that would even have you shaking in your boots.

Could you imagine having to wear a wire everyday for five years? Or even sharing an apartment with a mobster?

Leo and Joe really get into the nitty gritty of it all, and get into the story of Donnie Brasco as told by Hollywood.

How much did they get right and how much was just movie magic?

Like we said, we’ve learned a lot about Leo and his time undercover with the mob, but we still have one more episode to go. The season one finale will be available this Wednesday to wrap the incredible story that is Deep Cover: The Real Donnie Brasco.

Until then, catch up on the entire season so far anywhere you listen to podcasts.

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