Mob Book "Undercover Cop" Not Entirely Accurate...

Mike Russell claims credit for bringing down the Chin.

By Dan Goldberg | The Star-Ledger

As an undercover New Jersey state trooper, Mike Russell says he infiltrated the mob and brought down dozens of wiseguys, all after taking a .32-caliber bullet to the head. It is quite the tale told in “Undercover Cop: How I Brought Down the Real-Life Sopranos,” which was released Aug. 6.

Publisher’s Weekly gave it a glowing review, writing, “This tell-all page-turner is all the better for being true.”

Except it’s not entirely true. Some important facts are at best stretched, at worst fabricated.

Mike Russell was never employed as a New Jersey state trooper, according to State Police Sgt. Brian Polite.

That isn’t to say he didn’t work with, or for, the State Police, but he was never a trooper as he claims on Page 3.

Nor was he ever a Newark cop, according to Newark Sgt. Ron Glover, as Russell claims to have been on Page 86.

Russell, in a phone interview from his home in Florida, acknowledged the error.

“The titles were bouncing all over the place,” he said, but he maintained the crux of the story is about him and the mob, not the agency he worked for.

Speaking of titles, the book refers to Russell’s State Police contact James “Big Jim” Sweeney as a Master Sergeant — a rank that does not exist in the New Jersey State Police.

The crux of the story, if not the details, appears to be accurate. Russell, who says he was known as “Mikey Ga-Ga,” was indeed influential in helping take down major figures in organized crime, said retired State Police Capt. Nick Oriolo, whose name is misspelled in the book.

Oriolo was his handler and described Russell’s role as more akin to a confidential informant than a trooper. That doesn’t diminish his importance in the case, the retired trooper said.

Russell did infiltrate the mob and did pass on valuable information, Oriolo said. But Oriolo estimates that only about 20 percent of the book is true. He does not recall Russell being shot in the head, which the book describes as a very emotional moment for the State Police sergeant, who was “blubbering” at Russell’s bedside.

Oriolo remembers the scene differently. He remembers Russell being beat up almost beyond recognition, but not shot in the head.

“I never talked to (Russell’s) wife about being shot,” Oriolo said. “Real-life Sopranos? This reads more like his real-life fantasy.”

Russell writes that the bullet, fired at point-blank range, did relatively little damage, entering his skull, bouncing off bone and exiting an inch above the entrance wound.

“Note to would be hitmen,” he writes. “If you’re going to whack someone, use a round that can kill.”

The book is published by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan, and the publisher is standing by the story.

Mike Russell was shot in the head, said Joe Rinaldi, associate director of publicity at St. Martin’s Press.

“Mike Russell’s publisher has every reason to believe ‘Undercover Cop’ is substantially accurate,” Rinaldi said in an e-mail. “According to Mike Russell’s account, which is consistent with the 1988 HBO documentary, Mike was a New Jersey cop who worked undercover for the New Jersey State Police. The main focus of his book is an undercover operation that resulted in numerous mobsters pleading guilty and doing jail time.”


Except — in many places — the book is not consistent with the HBO documentary in which Russell said he was a truck driver before his undercover work began, not a Newark cop. The movie, which can be found on YouTube, finds Russell saying he received 60 stitches because of the bullet wound he suffered in 1980. In the book, it’s down to 28 stitches and though the year isn’t mentioned, it is implied that it is the mid '80s.

In the documentary, Russell says he was an East Orange cop before trying something else with his life. That part checks out. He was, in fact, an East Orange cop, though his stint with that local department is never mentioned in the book.

There are other inconsistencies between the documentary and the book as well. Talking to HBO cameras, Russell says he made contact with Andy Gerardo, a top man in the Genovese crime family, after coming upon him at the scene of an auto accident where he was being attacked by “two black guys.”

In the book, the two black men are mugging Gerardo when Russell intervenes. In the documentary, this is the genesis of the undercover work. In the book, Russell has been on the job for months, looking for a way to infiltrate the mob.