Feature Articles

April 2004
Porrello - Pistone
The Donnie Brasco Interview

With Rick Porrello and Joe Pistone

The Way of the Wiseguy - a new book by Joe Pistone
The romanticized view of the mob gets a reality check in this fascinating guide to the real Cosa Nostra from Pistone, who successfully infiltrated one of New York City's five families as an FBI undercover agent in the late 1970s and early 1980s. During his six years posing as Donnie Brasco, Pistone managed to gain the trust of countless mobsters and was almost formally made a member of the Mafia.
We wish to thank Mr. Pistone for spending some time with host Rick Porrello, on the release of his new book. We are proud to present the Porrello - Pistone interview.

Rick Porrello: Mr. Pistone, I would like to thank you for spending some time with us at Before we get started I'd like to update our records. May I have your current address, phone number, description of your car and a current close-up photo. Seriously, it is a privilege to have you with us. And as police officer it is indeed a honor to interview a law enforcer whose courage, skill and success in the war against organized crime are legendary and whose movie about his life, Donnie Brasco, has a permanent place as one of the legendary mob films and of course stars Al Pacino and Johnny Depp..

Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Way of the Wiseguy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Though it certainly doesn't read like one, it's like a textbook, or better yet, a field manual about the mobster mentality. And written from the inside! With a lot of tense moments, shock and humor. Definitely a lot of funny moments in your experiences. I got a real kick out of the wiseguy who visited you on the Donnie Brasco set to ask a favor for his kid, a budding actor. And it's facscinating how, as The Way of the Wiseguy details, your law enforcement career continued with dangerous undercover roles in the Mafia despite that fact that you were in hiding from a $500,000 contract on your life as a result of Donnie Brasco. Why don�t you start by telling us a little about your life before the FBI. Where did your interest in a law enforcement career come from?

Joe Pistone: I grew up around wiseguys on the streets of Paterson, New Jersey, but I never got involved with them. I always worked all kinds of blue-collar jobs: in construction, in bars, driving tractor trailers. But for some reason, I had this idea that I could be an FBI agent. There were no cops in my family, and no role models who suggested I get into law enforcement. It was just this thing of mine. My first government job was with the Office of Naval Intelligence, investigating drug, theft, and espionage cases. Then I passed the FBI�s entrance exams and became a special agent in 1969. Very quickly, my specialty became clear: undercover.

RP: How did the assignment to infiltrate the mob happen? Was it something you were working on more yourself, as opposed to an assignment? And how was the specific Bonanno crew chosen as a target?

JP: The job to infiltrate the Bonanno crime family started out as a six-month operation and ended up lasting about six years. I talk all about the beginnings of this operation in my new book The Way of the Wiseguy.

RP: Where did the name Donnie Brasco come from? It�s got a nice ring to it but isn't exactly dripping with algio olio. You were penetrating a La Cosa Nostra crew, mostly Italian-Americans. Why not Vinny Tagliatelle, Geno Badalamenti or Nunzio Giacolona?

JP: I heard the name in a book or movie somewhere and remembered it at the start of the operation. It sounded like a good enough name, and it worked out for me in a previous undercover operation busting up a truck hijacking ring. But most of the Bonanno wiseguys called me Donnie the Jeweler anyway.

RP: You have highly praised Johnny Depp for his portrayal of you. In the movie, Donnie Brasco�s FBI role blurs and he becomes dangerously close with Lefty Ruggiero, played of course by Al Pacino. Did the movie embellish this friendship?

JP: I was very close to Lefty and his family. If he wasn�t a killer and a complete criminal, he would have been a good guy. I spent many hours with Lefty just shooting the shit about all kinds of things. Ate dinner at his house. But in the end I was not sorry about helping put him or any of the others in jail. After all, if any of them, including Lefty, knew I was with the FBI, they would have put two in my head without thinking twice.

RP: Set straight what happened to Lefty. The movie makes it look like his murder was inevitable.

JP: We picked up Lefty on other charges the day after my identity was revealed. If we didn�t do it, he would have surely been whacked. He spent a few years in prison and after he got out he died of a heart attack.

RP: What happened when you were pulled out of the Donnie Brasco role? And talk about edge-of-the-seat suspense? Were you actually that close to having to whack someone? If so, did you have a plan B?

JP: By the time the Bureau decided to pull me out, I had been proposed to become a member of the Mafia � the only federal agent ever to infiltrate the family to that level. The Bonannos did want me to make a hit, and I was probably a day or two away from doing so, though I never would have carried it out, no matter what the circumstances.

RP: Who were the men killed as a result of having been duped by Donnie Brasco? How did you feel knowing that your role contributed to their murders? And how did the mob further deal with this unprecendened penetration of their secret society?

JP: A few wiseguys were hit very soon after Donnie Brasco was uncovered, and there�s no doubt that it was their connection with Donnie that got them whacked. The way they were murdered shows this, and I give the details in the book.

RP: Tell us about the CD that's included with The Way of the Wiseguy.

JP: The CD includes the content of several surveillance tapes that were recorded during the Donnie Brasco operation. They are conversations between myself and Lefty Two Guns Ruggiero discussing a sit-down that took place with the Bonanno crime family regarding me, my identity, and my life. If the wiseguys ever knew that I was recording these conversations, I would have been whacked. These tapes provided damaging evidence in court that helped put these guys away.

RP: In Way of the Wiseguy you mention how mobsters love Mafia movies. Tell us about this.

JP: There�s a whole section in the book called "Why Wiseguys Love Donnie Brasco" that says it all�. But these guys don�t go around talking like they do in "The Godfather" moives. You won�t hear them quoting Shakespeare or even speaking in complete sentences half the time. When you hear the audio tape between Lefty and me, you�ll hear how disjointed the conversations can be.

RP: Many people ask if the Mafia is dead. Do you still keep tabs on La Cosa Nostra? What is your take on their current status?

JP: Sure I keep involved and remain interested and aware of what�s going on. And I can tell you that the Mafia has clearly changed for the worse. The "organized" part of organized crime became a shadow of what it once was. But it�s not dead and probably never will be. There�s a chapter in the book called "Old Wiseguys, New Wiseguys" that talks all about the current state of the mob.

RP: Joe, you're success is multi-faceted. I thank you for being with us at This interview will be no doubt be a hit. No pun intended. And we will feature it for months to come. I encourage readers to check out The Way of the Wiseguy which is available through the bookstore and of course Donnie Brasco, the book and movie are also available. Joe, I wish you success with The Way of the Wiseguy and all your future endeavors.

JP: Thank you. I�ll be touring through the US and Canada at the end of April and hope to see a lot of fans and interested readers while I�m on the road.


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