Joseph Dominick Pistone was born in Pennsylvania on September 17, 1939, and grew up in Paterson, New Jersey. He graduated from Paterson State Collage with a bachelor degree.
Before joining the FBI in 1969, he was a teacher for one year and then took a position at the office of Naval Intelligence.
In 1974 he was transferred to New York, the place where his journey all began. He was chosen to lead an important, but dangerous undercover mission. He had to infiltrate the Italian mafia that had occupied New York City at the time.
Pistone, alias Donnie Brasco, was chosen to be an undercover agent because he was fluent in Italian, and learned, a thing or two, about the mob by growing up in New Jersey. Yet, what was supposed to be a 6 month mission turned out to last 6 years.
The FBI erased Joe Pistone’s history, by making him seem like he never existed. No one had any idea what happened to him, not his coworkers nor his friends. Even his family was limited to the confidential information about him, his wife only new that he was on a secret mission and that was it. This mission was so secret that only a handful of people in the FBI knew about it.
For six years Pistone did a masterful acting job, he perfectionated the mafia’s system, he knew their secret codes, rules and their secret language. He went undercover as an expert jewel thief, but had to infiltrate them slowly and carefully. It took more than 7 months and an extensive preparation, only to be noticed by the mob members. He targeted bars and restaurants he knew were frequently visited by certain mob members, until one day he got into a conversation with Benjamin ‘Lefty’ Ruggiero. Soon enough, Ruggiero and Donnie Brasco became very close friends. Lefty had worked as a loyal foot soldier for the Mafia for 30 years, it was him who gave Brasco the most confidential insights of the mafia and told him that he would “die with him”, without any doubt that Donnie was infiltrated.
This mission was incredibly dangerous work, while playing his part, Pistone at any moment could have been seen with the wrong person or been recognized by someone he knew. Every day his life was in danger, only if one little thing went wrong, it could have cost him his life. But the insight and aptitude that this mission brought to the FBI, led to more than 100 federal convictions.
Pistone is the author of his 1988 book Donnie Brasco: “My Undercover Life in the Mafia” where he revealed his undercover life and experience. The book was the basis for the critically acclaimed 1997 film Donnie Brasco, starring Johnny Depp as Pistone and Al Pacino as “Lefty” Ruggiero.
He is also the author of the book “The way of the Wiseguy “(2004) and “Donnie Brasco Unfinished Business”(2007).
Today, Pistone writes, lectures and teaches Undercover and Organized Crime in many countries.