Organized crime, or the mafia, has been a part of the American cultural landscape for centuries. Fortunately, for us, the mob has a worthy opponent – the Federal Bureau of Investigation. With seemingly limitless resources, the FBI will extend its mighty tentacles into the crime world, and will not stop until their criminal target has been brought to justice.
It is well-known that, once the FBI has set its crosshairs on you, it is usually not a happy ending. For the criminal, that is.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, New York mobster John Gotti was in and out of jail for gambling, loan sharking and narcotics trafficking. He became notorious for his violence and the ruthless nature in which he would conduct his business. Gotti’s large-scale criminal enterprise led the FBI to use all their resources to bring him down. From wiretaps, to undercover agents, to informants, the feds were utilizing everything at their disposal.
A seminal moment in the FBI’s case against Gotti came on December 16, 1985, when two high-ranking mobsters were gunned down at Manhattan’s Sparks Steakhouse, a known mafia hangout. Watching from a safe distance in his car, Gotti had one of his soldiers scope out the situation to make sure his lethal orders were carried out. Gotti used this opportunity to take over as boss of the powerful Gambino family.
Known as “The Dapper Don” because of his sharp clothes and lavish lifestyle, Gotti became a media sensation. And because of his endless, highly publicized acquittals, he was given another nickname – “Teflon Don”
The FBI was not giving up though. Working together with the NYPD, and Gotti’s henchman Sammy “the Bull” Gravano, the FBI arrested Gotti in December 1990. For the last time.
Gotti was eventually convicted on 13 counts, including the two murders from Sparks Steakhouse. In June 2002, he died in prison.
In 1976, an outsider named Donnie Brasco arrived in New York’s Little Italy. And within 6 short years, this jewel thief and burglar became a close friend of several well-connected New York gangsters. In fact, he was on the verge of becoming a “made man” by being inducted into the Bonnano crime family.
The only problem was – Donnie Brasco was not a real person. His name was Joe Pistone, and he was an undercover FBI agent. Pistone’s acting job was stellar. He walked, talked and played the part of a mobster to such precision, that no one knew he was fraud. Pistone gained so much trust from his “fellow” gangsters, that he was able to gather significant intelligence on their criminal activities. Just by simply hanging out with the guys, and being one of them.
An incredibly dangerous job, Pistone used various recording devices attached to his body. If he let one wrong word slip, or let his recording devices be exposed, his life would have ended badly. Very badly.
Gaining insight into the inner workings of the mafia, breaking through their code of silence and gaining access to the mob’s most confidential meetings, was the end result of Pistone’s 6-year brush with death.
Joe Pistone (aka Donnie Brasco) led the FBI to over 100 federal convictions. Not only was Pistone instrumental in bringing down New York gangsters, but his work led to convictions in Florida, Michigan and other locations.
The mafia has always been a source of great entertainment in the United States – whether it be film or television. Where do you think that fascination originates?
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