July 26, 1981 | FBI Agent Joe Pistone aka Donnie Brasco

 New York State Driver License used by Joe Pistone. Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, gift of Joseph D. Pistone, 2007.119.1.

“My pride was that whatever my personality was, whatever my strengths and weaknesses, I was Joe Pistone when I went under, and I was the same Joe Pistone when I came out.”

-FBI Agent Joseph D. Pistone*

Listen to Joe Pistone talk about undercover work and it sounds as if he’s talking about going under anesthesia. Whatever surgery happened while he was under the ether, when he came out, Joe Pistone still knew himself. Those of us with a weaker constitution might not have felt the same. After all, he had been “Donnie Brasco,” a jewel thief and petty mafioso, working and playing with mobsters for six years.

By July 26, 1981, the day Pistone finally ended his undercover mission, he had penetrated the New York mob more deeply than any other agent. Over the next five years, he testified in over a dozen trials in half a dozen cities. The knowledge he uncovered as Donnie Brasco contributed to more than 100 federal convictions. While mourning the loss of time with his wife and children, Pistone is deeply proud of his work as an FBI Agent. His attitude towards life and his job probably helped him survive those six years of deep cover. As Pistone said, “I wasn’t a psychologist or a social worker. I was an FBI agent.”


*From Pistone’s Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia written with Richard Woodley, 1987.