Hear the One About the Cop Who Infiltrated Two Crime Families?

There once was a New York mobster named Vincent Spinelli.

He was considered a dangerous man. A truck hijacker and gun-runner, he was tied to two crime families (the Bonannos and Lucheses) and he operated a swag-filled warehouse.

Luchese soldier John Donnadio, left, Vincent Spinelli on the right.

He was known for his nice gold watches and good suits. He also preferred driving around in a Mercedes.

In reality, his name was not Vincent Spinelli, and he was far from being a criminal; in fact, he was an NYPD officer working undercover. The operation lasted three years and led to 42 arrests (21 were reputed Bonanno mobsters, the rest presumably were Luchese members, plus assorted associates -- plus there was at least one grandmother who lived in a social club in The Bronx).

“I’ve had an interesting life,” Spinelli, 47, told the Daily News in an exclusive report published Saturday, September 16. “I had opportunities that a lot of people don’t have. Now, I love to play golf.”

He also is working on a book -- probably has been for some time, all things considered. “It’s a unique story,” he said. “Not a lot of people have had the experiences we had. I want to get the story out.”

The News used his former mob name, withholding his real one at his request (and apparently for his protection).

The New York Post published an exclusive story back in 2002 about someone who sounds a lot like the same guy. In that story, he was named "Neil." We're certain it's the same guy -- the same two mobsters -- a Luchese soldier and a Bonanno capo -- are identified in both stories, which take place in the same locations at the same time. But since we can't definitively confirm it's the same guy, we'll leave it up to you.....

Spinelli had his first mob sit-down at the real-life Bada Bing strip club from HBO's The Sopranos, aka Satin Dolls in Lodi, N.J. There, in 1999 he met with Luchese soldier John Donnadio to sell him Movado watches.

Spinelli's "street life" commenced after he participated in the 1998 takedown of a major drug trafficking operation in the Bronx.  The traffickers' base of operations was an entire apartment complex "basically annexed" in Morris Heights.

It was that case (and some others) that led to Spinelli (we'll stick with that name) ultimately joining the "coveted" Organized Crime Investigation Division.

Vincent Spinelli posed as a mobster for three years

For the yearslong probe, he worked with Detectives Richie Fagan and Billy Gillespie, both of whom went on to mentor Spinelli. They became close friends also.

“He came highly recommended but we weren’t sure what to do with him,” Fagan recalled. “We were thinking about making him a corrupt government official.”

Then, reality intervened.

"Gillespie got word of a Bonanno gun ring operating out of the Aquarius Social Club on Waterbury Ave. in the Schuylerville neighborhood of the Bronx. It was controlled by capo Patrick (Patty from the Bronx) DeFilippo."

Gillespie brought Spinelli to meet with the informant in January 1999. The informant simply pointed to Spinelli and said, "Yeah, he would work."

That's all it took, "a five-minute conversation.” And as you'll see, according to Spinelli, his Mafia contacts -- other then to ask some basic questions -- didn't really seem to care much about his background. Still, there were some close calls.....

Spinelli was a Jewish kid from Flushing, Queens. Much of the lifestyle he'd be surrounded by for the job was alien to him. He had to learn a lot -- from the lingo to the basic Italian delicacies.

"Big Jack Falcone," aka Joaquin Garcia, the former FBI agent who worked undercover for years against the Gambino crime family while posing as bad guys in multiple, wide-ranging simultaneous criminal operations, also went to a sort of "mob school," you can read about in his excellent book Making Jack Falcone: An Undercover FBI Agent Takes Down a Mafia Family.

Spinelli's training included regular sojourns to the A. Reali Gourmet Deli on Utopia Parkway in Auburndale, Queens. He told them he was a writer doing research for a book.

His NYPD personnel records disappeared and a Richard Spinelli suddenly appeared, complete with a criminal record, driver's license, an apartment -- and a warehouse. (Apparently, the NYPD decided to go one step better than the FBI did for Joe Pistone during the Donnie Brasco thing in the 1970s.)

For preparation, Vincent also had to learn to automatically react to his new name when called. (Not as easy as it sounds -- see any film or television show in which a character uses a false name -- it happened in a recent Monk episode and the film Gone Girl, off the top of my head.)

Also, fake premium branded product was placed inside the warehouse, including counterfeit Movado watches and  Hilfiger jeans. As for Spinelli's own use, they put together a collection of nice suits, diamond rings, gold chains and watches -- all of which was borrowed from evidence. (Any defense attorneys reading this?)

His role was to traffic in the buying and selling of  as many guns as possible with the mob -- and to also "pick up on whatever other crimes the mobsters were involved in."

Of meeting with Luchese soldier John Donnadio, Spinelli said: “At the table, he liked to be the center of attention. If I had a good score, I would take him away from the table and tell him and gave him his cut.”

Bonanno Capo Patrick "Patty from the Bronx" DeFilippo ran the Aquarius Social Club on Waterbury Avenue in the Bronx. The 300-pound DeFilippo was old school.

“He was the anti-Gotti,” Spinelli said. “He didn’t say much. He took you on walks to talk business. But we had a camera in his club, and we cloned his pager and his cellphone.”

Outside the Aquarius social club in the Bronx.

Spinelli was soon just another patron at social clubs and strip clubs like Lace in Midtown Manhattan. In fact, the mobsters with whom he worked only asked him perfunctory questions, and never showed much interest in whether he was law enforcement or not. He and his mobster friends met for steak and lobster dinners, and he sold them one gun after another.

But on every occasion, wherever Spinelli went, NYPD detectives would be right outside the place sitting in a van with the recorder running.

The Post story noted that he became such a key part of Donnadio's crew, he was invited to a sitdown at a Yonkers restaurant.

Donnadio told him he was his possession.

“You put this family before all others, even if your daughter is sick in a hospital. And I call you, you have to come, no questions asked,” the Luchese soldier said.

“You are with me. You are my dog for life. If I go to jail or die, you are still with me.”

Donnadio then explained that no other family could touch Spinelli, unless they had permission, and that half of whatever he earned he was to kick up to the bosses

Spinelli's work enabled law enforcement to seize 240 guns, a lot of ecstasy pills and even develop new informants who helped them on future cases.

“Every time we were out, we had a good time, cracking jokes, laughing. We got along,” he said.

“I was bringing in money. They were happy with that. And all the things we were doing, they weren't getting arrested. Beyond that, they never really questioned me.”

But there was a close call or two. While standing in line at the funeral for one mobster's mother, he suddenly realized that having been of the Jewish faith, he was missing some vital basic information. "He had no idea how to genuflect the right way. He rushed into a bathroom and called Fagan and said, “They’re all doing the sign of the cross. You gotta tell me how to do it quick.”

He almost got jammed up another night after attending a cop's wake. Spinelli afterward met some fellas at a restaurant. The only problem is there was a woman at the restaurant who'd also been at the cop wake.

She tapped him on the shoulder.

“I said ‘I don't know you,’” he said. “She insisted. I said you got the wrong guy, leave me alone. I felt horrible after that, but the guys were watching.”

On another night, he was out on a double date using his real identity. Donnadio’s brother and another member of the crew showed up with their dates.

“I see them and say to myself ‘Oh f---,” he said. “We paid the check and got out the door.”

FBI agents inadvertently photographed him one night while he was departing a social club. Even they didn't know his real identity.

Patty from the Bronx

And one night he and a trio of wiseguys drove to Yonkers for the express purpose of whacking a rival mob associate who had given Donnadio’s brother a beating.

That night Spinelli slyly parked under a streetlight. When the target drove by, he saw them, four goons waiting in a parked car, and promptly drove off. He apparently had a well-honed situational awareness. The guy, whoever he was, paid his way out. The price was 10 grand. Considering the penalty, however, he probably got his money's worth at least.

Indictments came down in late 2001 and early 2002. Spinelli was arrested with his "cohorts" who apparently were none the wiser.

In the end, all the wiseguys pleaded guilty except for DeFilippo.

“As long as you have gambling, you’ll have the mob,” Spinelli said.

“Only, instead of having the wire room in someone’s house, you send it to Costa Rica.”

And though most of the other NYPD members who worked on the two cases were promoted afterward, the main undercover agent himself, who spent the next 11 years chasing terrorists, never got a single bump. He retired as a detective third grade.

Spinelli went back home (presumably to the wilds of Flushing, Queens) to run a small security business and play golf.  He earns about $80,000 a year from his NYPD pension

Former FBI agent Joaquin Garcia, who ran multiple years-long probes in an undercover capacity, including as Jack Falcone against the Gambino crime family, reached by email for comment, wrote:

"I didn't know him, Ed, but I was very impressed with what I read. It's always great to hear about the amazing work of Undercovers. I thank him for his service and wish him the very best. Looking forward to reading his book. It should be a fascinating read."

We agree, Jack.

Joaquin (Jack Falcone) Garcia, former undercover agent.

Big Jack had been an FBI agent for over 20 years when he infiltrated the Westchester-based crew of Gambino family capo Gregory DePalma. This would've been after Spinelli.

As written, Jack served as an undercover agent in over 100 operations (even during the Gambino op he also worked other cases).

His name "Falcone" was actually his tribute to the famous Italian mob buster Giovanni Falcone who'd been murdered with his wife and bodyguards by "Toto" Riina and his Corleone, Sicily-based Cosa Nostra clan, aka the beasts, which was atop the pyramid at the time and waging an open street war with Italian law enforcement.

"Jack Falcone" was a self-described Sicilian jewel thief and drug dealer from Miami who worked with DePalma for nearly three years. He was about two weeks away from getting his finger pricked and actually becoming a made member of the Gambino family when the FBI decided to pull him out in 2005.


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