Retired agent Joe Pistone served in the FBI for nearly 27 years. However, he is primarily known world-wide for the six years he spent infiltrating one of the New York mafia families as Donnie Brasco, his undercover alter ego. This was a mission so secret only a handful of agents knew what he was doing and where he was as he secretly gathered vital intelligence on the mafia and its criminal ways. The work Joe Pistone did was so incredibly dangerous that it has been documented in numerous books, documentaries, television shows, and the 1997 feature film Donnie Brasco, starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino. Once the undercover assignment was closed down, Joe spent the remainder of his Bureau career testifying in federal court all around the country for mob related trials and at the FBI Academy helping to establish the FBI’s undercover program and training courses. Joe continues to travel overseas lecturing and training law enforcement officers how to “go undercover.”
Retired agent Dana Ridenour served 20 years in the FBI. She is interviewed about working drug investigations on the island of St. Croix, Resident Agency out of the FBI’s San Juan Office in Puerto Rico and going deep undercover in California to infiltrate and build relationships with individuals associated with the animal rights extremists groups to gather intelligence about criminal activities and the location of activist fugitives. Dana explains how, in order to be successful, undercover agents accept that their job is to “build relationships to betray relationships.” Dana recently wrote and released a crime novel inspired by her years working undercover. The title of the book is Behind the Mask.
This is the second half of a two-part episode with former FBI agent Terry Hake. Terry continues his account of working undercover as a crooked defense attorney in the largest public corruption investigation in America. When the investigation—code named Operation Greylord—was initiated, Terry was a young Assistant State’s Attorney fed up with corruption in the Cook County, Illinois court system. During the investigation, he was hired by the FBI, first as a project development specialist and then as a special agent. In this episode, he also explains why, after being an employee for only seven years, he resigned from the FBI and instead continued his 23-year career in federal law enforcement at several other non-Bureau agencies.
Former FBI agent Terry Hake officially served seven years with the FBI. However, his service to the Bureau, the Department of Justice, and other federal law enforcement agencies actually spanned more than 23 years. Terry is interviewed about working undercover as a crooked defense attorney in the largest public corruption investigation in America. When the investigation—code named Operation Greylord—was initiated, Terry was a young Assistant State’s Attorney fed up with corruption in the Cook County, Illinois court system. He wore a wire for three-and-a-half years fully aware that he could have been jeopardizing his reputation and law career in doing so. At the conclusion of the undercover operation, Terry testified in 23 trials over the next 10 years and eighty-three judges, lawyers, court personnel and policeman were convicted for accepting bribes to fix court cases. Terry has written a book—Operation Greylord: The True Story of an Untrained Undercover Agent and America’s Biggest Corruption Bust— about his experiences and provides an insider’s look into the case.
Retired agent Cary Thornton served in the FBI for 21 years. He spent his career working undercover on Bureau cases throughout the country and as a technically trained agent. Cary is interviewed about an undercover sting and insurance fraud investigation he worked in Detroit for nearly three years where he and two other undercover FBI agents played the roles of owners and operators of an auto wrecking company willing to dispose of cars for cash so their owners could file fraudulent insurance claims. The case was given the Bureau code name Operation Steamclean, which incorporated the term, steaming, slang used to describe dumping a vehicle for the insurance payoff. The case resulted in more than 50 indictments charging individuals with fraudulent claims exceeding $100 million.
Retired special agent John Ligato served in the FBI for 20 years. He spent most of his career working organized crime and narcotics investigations. He was also a Bureau pilot for four years. John is interviewed about his eight-year role as a deep undercover agent, wherein he operated strip clubs in Memphis to gather evidence against bikers selling drugs and stolen property and in Cleveland in order to infiltrate the mob. His efforts in Cleveland resulted in one of the Bureau’s largest and most significant public corruption cases involving members of law enforcement.
John recently released a crime novel—Dirty Boys—about a group of former Marines with roles in law enforcement who uncover a terror plot that cannot be defeated by traditional methods.
Retired Special Agent Jesse Coleman served in the FBI for nearly 28 years. He spent most of his career working drug investigations targeting organized crime figures and pursuing high-profile, violent drug gang members. Jesse is interviewed about the two-year period he went undercover as a drug dealer buying cocaine and heroin from made members of the Sicilian mob. During the undercover investigation, he secretly recorded more than 200 conversations between him and the subjects. Jesse’s efforts resulted in the arrest and conviction of 20 members of the mob family operating in the U.S., in addition to the head of the family who lived in Sicily, Italy. Jesse was awarded the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Agent of the Year in 1991 for his undercover role in this investigation.