John Gotti (Courtesy The Associated Press)

Getting the Godfather: The FBI and Organized Crime

In 1963, mobster-turned-FBI-informant Joseph Valachi testified at a Senate hearing about inside details of a secret criminal group known as La Cosa Nostra. Valachi’s chilling testimony put the FBI in the forefront of a war on "organized crime."

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had played down the importance of organized crime, but the mob’s influence became apparent when police discovered a secret meeting of gang leaders from across the country in New York in 1957. From the 1970s on, the FBI took down hundreds of organized crime figures and put crime kingpins behind bars.

Some of the FBI’s headline-grabbing cases:

  • Joseph Pistone in 1976 became the first FBI agent to infiltrate organized crime. His work helped convict more than 100 criminals, and his story of six years underground became the movie "Donnie Brasco."
  • In 1984, FBI agents broke up the "Pizza Connection," an international heroin ring run through U.S. pizza parlors.
  • Armed with the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which allowed the use of wiretap evidence, the FBI arrested the bosses of New York’s five major crime families in the Mafia Commission case in the late 1980s.
  • Media favorite John Gotti — dubbed "Dapper Don" for his custom-made clothes — was finally convicted of murder and other felonies after the FBI planted "bugs" inside a social club that was Gotti’s headquarters. He died in prison in 2002.
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