Episode 046: Joe Pistone – Infiltrating the Mafia, Being Donnie Brasco


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.  In this episode of FBI Retired Case File Review, he reviews his assignment, 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.”













Special Agent (Retired)

Joseph Pistone

7/7/1969 – 2/28/1996

Numerous documentaries, movies and books have been made about Joe Pistone’s undercover adventures being Donnie Brasco. In addition, Pistone has penned several non-fiction books about infiltrating the New York mob and four crime novels. Here a short list of additional information, along with his all of the books he has authored:

FBI Overview: Joe Pistone, Undercover Agent

Inside the American – Operation Donnie Brasco (VIDEO)


Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia

Way Of The Wiseguy

Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business: Shocking Declassified Details from the FBI’s Greatest Undercover Operation and a Bloody Timeline of the Fall of the Mafia

Crime Fiction

Donnie Brasco: Deep Cover

Mobbed Up: A Donnie Brasco

Snake Eyes: A Donnie Brasco

The Good Guys by Bill Bonanno, Joe Pistone, David Fisher


Joe Pistone, undercover as Donnie Brasco (sitting), on the Abscam boat off the coast of Miami with another undercover agent, John Ligato (episode 21), and two Cleveland wise guys.












Joe Pistone wrote about his undercover experience in his book—Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia. The book was the basis for the 1997 film Donnie Brasco, starring Johnny Depp as Pistone and Al Pacino as “Lefty” Ruggiero.

















Joe Pistone’s crime novels feature a fictionalized character named “Donnie Brasco.” The first book in the series is set in the steamy underworld of Florida.
















Jerri Williams

View posts by Jerri Williams
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent, author and podcaster, jokes that she writes about the FBI to relive her glory days. After 26 years with the Bureau specializing in major economic fraud and corruption investigations, she calls on her professional encounters with scams and schemers to write police procedurals inspired by true crime FBI cases in her Philadelphia FBI Corruption Squad crime fiction series featuring flawed female FBI agent Kari Wheeler. Jerri’s FBI for Armchair Detectives nonfiction series enables readers to discover who the FBI is and what the FBI does by debunking misconceptions about the FBI in books, TV, and movies. Her books are available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks wherever books are sold. She’s also the host of FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast with more than 300 episodes available on all popular podcast apps and YouTube.


  1. Steve LloydSeptember 12, 2023

    That picture of Joe and the other guys is not on the ABSCAM boat. That photo was taken in the 90s. I can tell by the Cleveland Indians logo on the gentleman’s baseball cap.

    1. Jerri WilliamsSeptember 12, 2023

      I think Joe was just saying it was a boat used or confiscated during the ABSCAM investigation. I don’t recall him saying he worked on the case.

  2. Dave ReamsNovember 19, 2017

    What was the name of Mr. Pistone’s TVV program and on what channel?

    1. Jerri WilliamsNovember 19, 2017

      What a coincidence. I highlighted Joe’s show in my November reader team email about the FBI in books, TV and movies. Please consider joining. Here’s what I wrote: Writer and producer Joe Pistone, the real “Donnie Brasco,” has a true crimes series –Deep Undercover– on the Escape TV Network. Each episode features a different undercover operation from the perspective of the undercover officers involved.

      Unfortunately, my cable provider package doesn’t include the Escape TV Network.

      1. Jerri WilliamsOctober 12, 2018

        Update: Deep Undercover is now streaming on Netflix.

  3. John SmallmanDecember 23, 2016

    I’m trusting that my good friend Cary L Thornton had a few kind words for me! John Smallman FBI SA 1982-1989.

  4. james harveyDecember 19, 2016

    my fav episode by jerri and joe, love mob and fbi chasing them stories

    1. Jerri WilliamsDecember 19, 2016

      I know I shouldn’t admit that I have favorites, but my interview with Joe was one of my favorites too. Don’t tell the others.


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