Defamation Case Settled by "Undercover Cop" Publisher


We recently posted a story by Dan Goldberg that ran in the The Star-Ledger about the book "Undercover Cop" by Mike Russell. In the book Russell writes that he was an undercover New Jersey state trooper who infiltrated the mob and brought down dozens of wiseguys -- but only after taking a .32-caliber bullet to the head.

As noted in Goldberg's story:
Russell did infiltrate the mob and did pass on valuable information... But [retired State Police Capt. Nick Oriolo, whose name is misspelled in the book] 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.”

Cosa Nostra News is now reporting that Russell and his publisher were sued over some of the "facts" asserted in his book by an attorney representing Joe Ricciardi, the man who Russell alleged had shot him in the head. The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount.

Among the items noted in copies of legal documents obtained by Cosa Nostra News: Russell was clearly not shot in the head and that he was reportedly fired from the East Orange, N.J. police for shaking down gay bars. Furthermore, as noted in the documents, Russell stole a car and briefcase that belonged to a legitimate businessman -- and then tried to extort the businessman.

The information contained in the documents -- copies of letters sent by the attorney to the publisher's attorney -- raises serious questions about the premise of the entire book.

Ricciardi's attorney, Beverly Hills-based Laurence Ring, formerly an attorney in Philadelphia, noted that he started sending letters to Macmillan for his client following the article that appeared in the Star-Ledger that raised questions about some allegations made in Mike Russell's book "Undercover Cop" and also exposed some misstatements of fact.

"It's just ridiculous that he'd even say my client shot him in the head in that book," Ring told us. "That is libel, to accuse somebody of a crime.

"I looked into it and read the book – it mentions Joe’s name in a few different places. Russell reiterates [that Ricciardi shot him in the head] a few times.

"Inaccuracies were published. I can prove he wasn’t shot in the head."

For instance, if Russell were shot in the head, where are the hospital records? Wouldn't Ricciardi have been arrested if he had shot someone in the head, especially a so-called undercover cop?

"This guy calls his book Undercover Cop. He wasn’t an undercover cop. He worked as a paid informant. He did go undercover -- but as their informant," said Ring.

"The premise of the book is false."

Mike Russell did not respond to a request to discuss allegations regarding his book.

The Star-Ledger further detailed:
Mike Russell was never employed as a New Jersey state trooper, according to State Police Sgt. Brian Polite.... 
Nor was he ever a Newark cop, according to Newark Sgt. Ron Glover, as Russell claims to have been on Page 86. 
Also noted in the article, the book in many instances is not consistent with the HBO documentary in which Russell said he was driving a truck when he launched his operation; he never identified himself on camera as 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.
Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan, and the publisher of "Undercover Cop" is standing by the story. "Mike Russell was shot in the head, said Joe Rinaldi, associate director of publicity at St. Martin’s Press," the Star-Ledger reported.

In the Star-Ledger story it notes:

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.

A letter sent to the publisher's attorney, dated Jan. 15, 2014, says: "It has become clear that your client, MacMillan Co. failed to adequately research many of the statements of Mr. Russell and especially failed to use due diligence in checking on Mr. Russell's background..."

"It turns out that Mr. Russell was fired from the East Orange Police Force for shaking down gay bars...."

Further, the letter notes that many witnesses could have easily confirmed the truth about Russell's background.

A letter dated Sept. 10, 2013 notes that Russell, after being fired from the force, was employed at King's Court, where he met Bobby Alveggi, who introduced Russell to Ricciardi.

"Mr. Russell asked my client to get involved in stealing cars and re-titling them for sale but my client declined. My client never committed a single crime with Mr. Russell as he describes in his book."

Russell did burglarize a vehicle, the letter adds, a Mercedes Benz with a briefcase in it that belonged to a legitimate businessman. "The briefcase contained a single checkbook and franchise information for a hamburger chain, not mob payoff money or any cash whatsoever, again like he stated in his book."

Then, according to the letter, Russell tried to shake down the businessman, identified in the book as Jimmy C. Russell wanted $25,000 to return the briefcase. The attempted racket eventually culminated on a busy street corner in Newark, New Jersey. A friend of Jimmy C had reached out to Ricciardi for help in getting the briefcase back from Russell. A confrontation ensued in which Ricciardi punched Russell, who fell to the ground "most likely striking his head."

A few days later, Russell was telling someone "he was in a fight with my client, who got the best of him."

"Mr. Russell never stated he was shot in the head by anyone. Therefore, there are at least three witnesses... who can all confirm my client's version of the incident."