Undercover agent offers his insights on mob in book

Monday, May 10, 2004

NEW YORK -- After his six-year stint as an FBI undercover inside the Bonanno crime family, agent Joe Pistone -- you know him better as "Donnie Brasco" -- had enough stories to fill a best-selling book.

One problem: A single book couldn't hold all his tales.

In "The Way of the Wiseguy," Pistone takes a whack at rectifying things. The law enforcement veteran recounts anecdotes about life among the mob's made men, ranging from the etiquette of murder (a pair of .22-caliber bullets behind the ear) to the etiquette of dinner (wiseguys never pick up the check).

"I do a lot of lecturing, at colleges and police schools, and I always get the same questions: 'Do they really kill you? What do they do with the money? How do you become a wiseguy?'" Pistone said.

"I thought this might be a good how-to book, informative about wiseguys," Pistone continued, his clipped inflections echoing those of a mobster. "So I put together each heading, and wrote what I knew about it."

Pistone knows better than most. He became an FBI undercover agent in 1969, quickly working his way up the law enforcement ladder.

His greatest performance, re-created on screen in 1997 by Johnny Depp, came as Donnie Brasco -- a putative jewel thief who threw in with the Bonanno family in 1976. Pistone was so convincing that he was almost inducted into the family.

Pistone spent six years with the Bonannos, eventually putting more than 120 mobsters in jail. Two of Pistone's Mafia pals were executed by the mob once his true affiliation became public.

So when Pistone provides a list of things that will provoke a mob hit, it's worth noting: Do not testify before a grand jury. Do not lay hands on another wiseguy. Do not mess with a wiseguy's wife, girlfriend, daughter or any other female relative.

An example: There was a card game where one "degenerate gambler" bet his wife's sexual favors -- and lost. Although the wife paid off, her brother was mob-connected -- and she was soon single again.

Although Pistone's beat these days is the lecture circuit and movie production, he still keeps a low public profile. Back in the early 1980s, the mob put a reported $500,000 bounty on his head.

He's also turned down offers from publishers seeking a Brasco sequel, picking up the story from when Pistone walked away from the Bonannos in 1981.

"A lot of it then gets into personal stuff," Pistone said. "That's why I'm a little hesitant. I left a lot of personal stuff out of 'Donnie Brasco.'"

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