'Donnie Brasco' testifies at Quebec construction inquiry
Published Monday, September 24, 2012 10:05AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, September 24, 2012 7:23PM EDT
Joseph Pistone, the man known around the world as “Donnie Brasco,” testified as an expert witness at the inquiry probing corruption in Quebec’s construction industry Monday, offering a peek into the mob’s inner workings that most people only get through movies and television.
Pistone, a former FBI agent who went undercover to infiltrate one of New York’s biggest crime families, testified amid a heavy police presence and with his identity concealed behind a large, black screen.
"What I have to do is give you the mindset of gangsters," Pistone testified, "and how they operate."
Pistone, working under the alias “Donnie Brasco,” worked his way into the Bonanno crime family in the late 1970s, posing as a jewel thief in order to investigate truck robberies and other crimes. His story became famous when it was made into a movie starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino in 1997.
Pistone was pulled from the assignment in May 1981, when he was given the job of killing a capo, or captain, in a planned triple homicide.
Pistone reminded the inquiry that it was Vito Rizzuto who was brought down from Montreal to aid in the murders, a crime for which he was given a 10-year sentence. He is due to be released from a Colorado prison in two weeks.
The Bonanno family has ties to Montreal’s Rizzuto family, and Pistone said he believes those ties still exist.
Pistone described how the Mafia infiltrated the New York construction industry decades ago and offered examples that were similar to the corruption allegations made in Quebec.
He said the Mafia’s control of companies that produced cement and other key materials, as well as union infiltration allowed it to profit from numerous public projects, even when the contracts went to legitimate companies.
The Mafia would pressure those legitimate companies to bid high on municipal contracts or reveal their bid so that Mob-run firms could underbid them, Pistone said.
The Mafia’s companies would also submit claims for expensive unionized labour while actually paying non-union workers much lower wages, he said.
However, CTV Montreal’s Stephane Giroux tweeted early Monday afternoon that some experts doubt whether Pistone is as credible a source on current mob goings-on.
“Mob experts I talk to think Pistone is a bit dated to talk about mafia today,” Giroux tweeted from the inquiry.
Pistone spent Monday morning telling the inquiry about how the FBI set him up with his new identity before offering details about mob life.
“When mob decides they want a part of your income, they give you the rules,” Giroux tweeted. “You accept, or you die (or get a bad beating).”
Giroux reported that Pistone was scared in the early going.
“You can't walk out,” Giroux tweeted. “If his cover isn't air-tight, he's excluded or killed.”
Pistone’s work led to 200 convictions of mobsters in the New York area, Florida and Wisconsin, Giroux reported.
Pistone is testifying at the Charbonneau inquiry, which is probing corruption in Quebec’s construction industry and potential links to politics and organized crime.
He told the inquiry that Hollywood movies have romanticized Mafia members and their crimes, but that there is nothing honourable about the Mob.
"Believe me -- they don't quote Shakespeare," Pistone said. "This is not the movies... They are a dangerous plague on our society."
Pistone’s appearance is a rare public moment for a man who lives under an assumed identity in an unknown location. He has kept his appearance and other details under wraps since the Mafia put a $500,000 bounty on him after his true identity was revealed.
Pistone was born in Pennsylvania but raised in Paterson, New Jersey, and worked as a teacher for a year before he joined the Office of Naval Intelligence.
He began working for the FBI in 1969 and was transferred to New York in 1974. He first worked undercover by infiltrating a gang that stole large vehicles and machinery. That investigation led to 30 arrests. His next assignment was the call to infiltrate the Bonanno family.
Pistone received a $500 bonus when the Bonanno operation ended. The father of three left the FBI in 1986.
With files from The Canadian Press