Donnie Brasco, aka Joe Pistone, reveals the ‘art of investigation’
- 10 May, 2017 12:49
Johnny Depp (left) and Al Pacino star in 'Donnie Brasco'
Image: TriStar Pictures
Ask expert investigator ‘Donnie Brasco’, otherwise known as FBI agent Joe Pistone, how to crack the mafia and get involved in deep cover investigations, he’ll tell you, “you need to know your source.”
“You have to know the organisation that you’re trying to infiltrate. You have to know your enemy. Because if you don’t know your enemy, you aren’t going to defeat them. By knowing your enemy, it will help you infiltrate and help you stay alive,” Pistone told a crowd of more than 100 senior case management and investigation professionals during his keynote address at the inaugural Polonious World 2017.
“The Italian mafia is not unlike the police department or the military. You have a boss and a structure of command. The only difference here is if you screw up in the mafia, they kill you.”
Pistone, who went ‘deep undercover’ and infiltrated the ‘Bonanno’ crime family in New York City in the 1970s, spearheaded what is considered to be one of the biggest FBI investigations in its history, an operation that clinched 243 indictments and brought down countless crime bosses and associates.
His 'fearless' undercover work to bring down the New York mafia earned him a contract on his life and also inspired a hit movie in 1997, starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino.
During his talk, he dished out comprehensive and ‘intimate’ details about his undercover agent life - how he cultivated strong relationships with the likes of gangster Benjamin “‘Lefty” Ruggiero and uncharacteristically earned his way into the inner circle of a mafia family.
“Up until that time we never had anybody that had got close to the mafia. We had never really penetrated the upper echelon because it is such a closed society. It’s cousins, uncles, fathers, brothers. Everybody knew somebody that was in the mafia,” he said, explaining the significance of his infiltration.
“I was an FBI agent for 27 years, working undercover 22 of the 27 years. Most of my undercover work was long-term, deep cover. What that means is you leave your residence, you leave your family behind. Once you walk out of the office, you never go back while that case is going on,” he said.
“Once you infiltrate the organisation that you've targeted, that is who you become. That is your family. That’s it. You don’t go back to your residence on a daily basis. And that’s long-term. Deep undercover. You leave your badge and gun in the office. The only thing you go out there with is your legend, whatever name you choose to use and whatever profession you choose to use.”
One of his keys to success was cultivating a rock solid ‘legend’ - in his case he decided to be a professional jewel thief.
“You need to know your legend. Most undercovers that get blown are because they pick a legend and they don’t take the time to learn that legend. They don’t take the time to learn about their profession. If I’m a jewel thief, I need to know diamonds and I need to know precious gems. I have to be pretty good at looking at a diamond and know if it has a flaw. So I went to a diamond school and learned about diamonds and precious gems,” he said, explaining he also educated himself on picking locks, tinkering with alarm systems and safes.
“Once you infiltrate and they know what your profession is, they are going to test you on it.”
And while he has also investigated the Triads (a branch of Chinese transnational organised crime syndicate), motorcycle gangs and the Russians, his field of expertise was the Italian mafia and he used his unconventional methods and expert investigative skills to infiltrate the organisation.
“It wasn’t a normal career. Not many people can work undercover especially deep cover and long-term. It is a task that not many want to undertake. It takes a certain individual. It takes a certain mindset. It takes a certain mental toughness. Being a copper, it takes a lot to go out there without your gun and badge.”
Tech tools arming investigators
And like Pistone, who mastered the ‘art of investigation’ during his time, today’s investigative teams are increasingly finding success in the case management arena by relying on the use of technology and adopting the latest advancements - particularly automation - in investigation management systems.
Today’s case management and investigation professionals work alongside IT to get as much information as they can about when their customers (or clients, students) have a claim or dispute.
Polonious co-CEO, Stuart Guthrie, said the goal of today’s investigation management systems is to improve investigation methodology, reporting and compliance. His main focus areas over the next year include improving capabilities in the security, user experience (UX), and productivity.
Along with co-founder and CEO, Alastair Steel, Guthrie has helped guide the rollout of the Polonious Investigation Management System to over 50 organisations across the globe with varied business processes and requirements from large insurance carriers to small forensic teams.
Polonious' case management system processes over 20,000 cases per month in more than 80 organisations in the insurance, private investigations, government and education sectors.
No doubt, from police and fire investigation teams to insurance and claims officers, investigation management systems are finding a home in some more unfamiliar and less likely arenas - the education sector.
At Perth’s Curtin University, manager of student discipline and compliance, Office of the Academic Registrar, Tara Felton, said the university is using Polonious technology (for enhanced governance, auditability and workflow) in a bid to help the university be vigilant about its online management and student misconduct.
“We have 60,000 students at Curtin University. My remit covers everything from Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and we’re about to open a campus in Dubai, that brings with it cultural challenges, different supports, different legislation, different rules, different investigative processes and different understandings of what is acceptable. But the requirement to adhere to our rules, standards, and acceptable modes of behaviour is exactly the same regardless of where you go.”
And while not on the scale of bringing down mafia crime bosses, Felton said she’s tasked with spotting student fraud and misconduct in various forms, tested by students within the university’s demographic age of 17-24, and which poses a real threat to professional integrity and societal safeguards.
“We have within our boundaries a whole pile of interesting activities with creative individuals who are there to push every boundary known to man - and bless them they really do. We have the creative ones and that brings with it particular challenges.”
Felton said it’s interesting times for the higher education space, which is marked with rapid technological change (the advent of social media and spate of available cheating tools online) and shifting perspectives.
“Rarely, perhaps never have we seen more turbulence in higher education. It is an environment that is marked with rapid change,” she said.
“The pace may have doubled or tripled but the requisite qualities in terms of facing the challenges now have been the same as they were when universities started over 2,000 years ago,” she said, explaining the university is tasked with ensuring academic integrity, independence and courage.
Upholding ‘integrity’ is the most challenging pursuit of any university environment, locally and globally. “Academic integrity is the bedrock of what our qualifications are for. As a member of the public, you want to be sure that the doctor or nurse that is treating you actually knows what they are doing,” she said.
“What happens if the bedrock of public perception about what you are doing is undermined because everybody knows that to get that is really easy. You pay somebody $200 and you get the qualification. What will it do to your profession if the thing under-rides getting your job is no longer true? And within our sphere that is what we’re facing.”
She said she’s investigating bad behaviour in three main parts: academic misconduct, research misconduct and general misconduct and record fraud.
In today’s technologically sophisticated world, she has to contend with things like glasses hidden with cameras (whereby a tiny receiver is attached to a coin); cloned Apple phones and Apple watches that run pre-prepared answers to exams; as well as special earpieces for cheating on tests. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, she said, explaining there are countless cheating tools online and outsourced degrees.
“The challenge in terms of integrity for us is huge,” she said, explaining the university tracked 788 issues of academic misconduct in one faculty alone during a four-month period.
“We’ve only had Polonious for a year. We had six months of setup and did a trial internally, and last semester we had one faculty go live with it. In the space of four-and-a-half months, they had 788 cases of academic misconduct. It was dealt with quickly, effectively and efficiently in accordance with the rules of the university - and for the first time ever, there were no cases that were carried forward.”
She said the people that were caught have not reoffended. “That is a really big outcome and decreased cases means our life is easier.”
She plans to rollout Polonious to the rest of the university this year. “We will take it offshore next year in Singapore, Malaysia and Dubai, and then we will start turning on all of the upgrades that we currently have within the system.”