Move over, Donnie Brasco.
A Jewish NYPD detective managed to infiltrate two of the most notorious mafia crime families in New York to help cops take down a major gun ring.
Passing himself off as a gun-runner named Vincent Spinelli who worked with members of the Bonanno and Luchese crime families, the brave detective’s undercover work from 1999 into 2002 is only now coming to light, courtesy of a front-page story in Sunday’s New York Daily News.
And his story was just beginning after the indictments in that case: the detective, whose name was not released for safety reasons, joined the elite Joint Terrorism Task Force in 2002, and spent 11 years investigating terrorists plotting attacks on New York City. He’s since retired and is writing a book on his exploits.
But the meatiest chapter in that book began in the late ’90s, when “Spinelli” joined an elite organized crime division in the New York Police Department.
“He came highly recommended but we weren’t sure what to do with him,” Detective Richie Fagan, his mentor, told The News. “We were thinking about making him a corrupt government official.”
Spineli was instead given a more dangerous assignment — infiltrate a Bonanno gun ring operating out of the Aquarius Social Club on Waterbury Ave. in the Bronx, led by a notorious mobster named Capo Patrick (Patty from the Bronx) DeFilippo.
To get up to speed on playing an Italian, he visited an Italian deli in Queens to learn the right way to pronounce all the right foods. To boost his cover, he was given a new identity, complete with a criminal record, and his own warehouse stuffed with counterfeit watches and jeans.
It worked: Spinelli soon became regularly involved with gun deals, buying firearms off the mobsters and taping the deals.
There were, however, close calls. Like the time he attended a police wake before traveling to a restaurant in character to meet the mobsters — where he was approached by a woman who had been at the funeral. “I said ‘I don’t know you,’” the former detective told The News. “She insisted. I said you got the wrong guy, leave me alone. I felt horrible after that, but the guys were watching.”
His work helped lead to indictments in the Luchese and Bonanno cases in the fall of 2001 and early 2002, and the seizure of hundreds of guns and ecstasy pills.
That may have paled in comparison to his most important case: helping to foil a plot in Iraq to bomb a subway train in New York in September 2006.
“I’ve had an interesting life,” Spinelli, told the newspaper. “I had opportunities that a lot of people don’t have. Now, I live to play golf.”
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