Undercover FBI agent Giovanni Rocco grew up playing with the children of New Jersey's mafia bosses, the goodfellas that inspired HBO's hit series The Sopranos. As an adult, Giovanni vowed to take them down but would his descent into their violent world endangered his life and his family?
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True Spies - Episode 77: The Real Sopranos

Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their secret skills? And what would you do in their position?

GIOVANNI ROCCO: You know, I would've made a damn good criminal. I would have made a real good stand-up guy. I just chose to be on a good guy's side. This is True Spies, Episode 77: The Real Sopranos.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: To be an effective, undercover operative, you have to have a certain level of addiction toward adrenaline. My thing was, I loved the challenge. Because I wanted the adrenaline, I was attracted to it for the adrenaline.

NARRATOR: Meet Giovanni Rocco, or if you were moving in mafia circles in the 2010s, you might have known him as Giovanni Gatto. As an FBI agent, he spent years deep undercover attempting to penetrate one of the oldest Cosa Nostra crime families in America. It was a journey that pushed his skills as an agent to the limit - and sometimes past it - and put him and his family in the mafia's crosshairs.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: If your true identity was ever revealed, it could jeopardize the investigation, or it could place you in danger of being harmed or killed yourself.

NARRATOR: And in some mafia circles, it doesn’t take much to provoke deadly violence.
GIOVANNI ROCCO: I'll give you an instance. I heard one guy, a Philly guy, whacked out a guy in his crew because the guy kept sneezing at dinner. The guy had allergies. And this sociopath, his psychotic boss - that was the crew chief - he said: "I can't have that. I can't have it. The guy keeps sneezing like this. No, I can't have this. This guy's gotta go.” And that night the guy went.

NARRATOR: So what does it take to survive in deep cover? And what toll does it take on those left behind? 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: My name is Giovanni Rocco. For me, I'm a third-generation police [officer]. So I started training right out of the gate, right out of birth. I guess I started training for the world ahead in law enforcement. So I grew up in a city called Bayonne, New Jersey, just outside of Manhattan. And both my grandfather and my father were law enforcement, so I was familiar with it. 

NARRATOR: Back then, Bayonne was the kind of place where people knew each other and each other's business.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: The way I describe it to people, and to give them the overview, it's very Brooklynesque. What the neighborhoods in Brooklyn used to be in the old ages is how I grew up in Bayonne. As they say: it takes a village - and Bayonne was that village to raise people.

NARRATOR: In the neighborhood, both sides of the law were all around. Giovanni's father, as a police officer, emphasized the importance of doing things by the book. But on the street, the Cosa Nostra wasn’t shy about showing off their power and influence.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: Obviously they were much stronger back then. I grew up there in the’70s, so they were much stronger, much [more] organized than they are today. The years have taken their toll on organized crime in general, but back then, they were probably at the peak of their strength. They controlled what came in and out. They took a piece of everything.

NARRATOR: Even down to your local Italian restaurant.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: I worked in Italian restaurants growing up where I learned how the bookmaking operations worked. And a lot of the other rackets, like everything that fell off the back of the trucks, they would then flip it into the neighborhoods and folks in the neighborhood would get it. 

NARRATOR: Call it a 'service to the community' but always with a catch.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: Maybe you didn't have enough money to buy a brand new TV. Maybe you bought one, it fell off the back of a truck. Maybe you didn't have enough money to go to the bank and take a loan. So some people were forced to go to the mafia, and go to those bosses and take 'shy' loans, which are loan shark loans. A lot of people did that. 

NARRATOR: You see where this is going.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: They would put so much interest on it you could never pay it back. You're so desperate for that loan. They controlled you. 

NARRATOR: And Giovanni could see the lure of the other side.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: I saw a lot of different things growing up.

I was hanging out with the wrong people. I was exposing myself to dangerous people. I did that because I wanted to get a rise out of my father. I wanted to go against the grain, pretty much just cause it pissed my father off.

NARRATOR: For example...

GIOVANNI ROCCO: I hung out with kids in my neighborhood. Their dads were, or their uncles might've been, a connected guy. You know, it was nothing for me to be playing in a Capo, in an organized crime capo's backyard...

NARRATOR: Capo: a mafia captain. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And then when he came home, he kicked us all out of the yard. I knew John Digilio who was the boss running everything at that time. And I was exposed to him on a regular basis. So I had all that knowledge of this and I identified with it very quickly.

NARRATOR: For a future undercover agent, it would turn out to be invaluable training. The cultural knowledge to blend in convincingly, to understand the rules instinctively.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: If I was playing stickball in the middle of the street, and I had somebody being a soldier that I knew lived right around the corner from us…

NARRATOR: A soldier in the mafia, that is.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And he came over and parked his Cadillac. The minute he pulled that car on the street, it was game over for us. We had to go find somewhere else to play. it wasn't said, but you did it out of respect. God forbid you hit that car. So you knew how to navigate. You knew when something was going to pop off.

NARRATOR: Giovanni made a key decision after he left school: to follow the family tradition and join the police force. And he made a good street cop. But then his supervisor suggests that he might want to try helping out with some undercover investigations as well. He doesn't get any formal training. In his department, undercover is done the old-fashioned way - on instinct. Natural ability plus some tips handed down between officers. But he does well, attracting the notice of the department chiefs. And someone suggests that this could be a specialism for him, a calling, and that maybe he should apply for a very particular course that the FBI runs. People call it ‘the school', the Bureau's elite training center for every aspect of undercover work. The place you go if you're heading undercover for months, or years, among the most dangerous people in the world. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And in my realm, in my wheelhouse, this was it. This was the major league. I didn't want to be on a small team. I wanted to be in the majors and this is what I needed to do. I just knew with this training, I could do so much more.

NARRATOR: But you need more than ambition to get in. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: You go through a battery of psychological tests. They do a background check on you. They do personal interviews with you to see if you have what it takes and then they'll send you for it. And if you pass, then you make it into the class and off you go.

NARRATOR: Once in, people warn him to be ready for a grueling experience.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: I'm telling you right now, it's not going to be easy. It's not going to be easy at all. And it was not easy. You know, we had other agencies and other establishments come in and tell us: “You guys are crazy for doing this kind of stuff.”

NARRATOR: The training starts by recreating the psychological and physical exhaustion of maintaining a false identity even when your life depends on it. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: It took my previous training before I had the FBI ‘school’ and injected steroids. The first thing they're going to do is strip you down. Some of the candidates don't even make it past the first few days. They'll deprive you of sleep, and then they'll just strip you physically of everything you have in you. And then they'll begin to train you. Because it almost mimics the extreme stress of having to negotiate under extreme pressure. Your body's pumping adrenaline. You're not negotiating corporate trades on Wall Street. You're in some crack den or sent in with some sicarios or some heavy hitters. So you have to learn how to do these things under extreme pressure. So they give you the proper training to prepare you for conducting any kind of operation whether it's white-collar, whether it is criminal, whether it is a murder for hire. They teach you all the things that you need to know. 

NARRATOR: Skills such as identifying 'ticks and tells', the subconscious signals we all transmit through our body language. Signals about our true feelings, of fear or weakness. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: Maybe I would have a pen and I would tap that pen on my hand or something. In my world, if I read you and I sit there and I'm watching the tap, it's just: “Why are you tapping?” You know? So now I could tell. If I was to start talking numbers - and I start talking about prices - for whatever I'm moving with you and the business we're doing - and that price is not the number? I could tell by your tick and tell.

NARRATOR: Which could blow your cover. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: Heart rate variability is everything. Breathing is everything. You know, everybody's been in a situation where you have that Jackrabbit heart, it's racing a million miles a minute and you can't control it. And next thing you know? Your voice gets elevated. Your voice starts to crackle. You start to stutter. Well, if you just take a deep breath and you slow your speech, you can think clearer. You kind of regulate yourself. And then you can actually have a full conversation without saying something stupid that you should not say.

NARRATOR: At one point at the school, students are required to complete a role play. Enter a recreation of hostile terrain wearing recording equipment and avoid being discovered. Giovanni - as an under-trained officer - feels he has something to prove. So he starts the exercise.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: I knocked on the door. And the first thing is: “What do you want? Nobody's here?” And I said: “Well it's me, I'm Giovanni.” 

And these two guys who were five feet wide and probably six feet tall, they pulled me into the room. They started searching me. And I saw them grabbing at me and poking and prodding at me, trying to find, searching this and searching that. 

NARRATOR: Two guys searching you looking for a wire - a wire that you are wearing. You have a matter of seconds before they find what they are looking for. Think fast. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: My street training kicked in and I kind of pushed back a little bit. And I said: “Okay, you guys want to get into it? What are you looking for?” “Well, we're making sure you're not wearing it, that you don't have anything. No weapons, no recorder.” “What are you talking about! Like, you want to, you want to search me? What do you think? You know, I'm here for business! You want to get into it? Let's get into it! I don't care. I'll pull my pants down in front of you!” So here I am, I'm trying to take my pants and these two guys panicked and they were like: "No, no, no, no! Just pick your pants up. What are you doing?” “No, you guys want this? And I've been in the county [jail] before! I've been locked up before! Let's take my pants off!” So thank God, because I did that, they pushed back a little bit and I was able to survive it. And I got out of that situation. And then afterward, I guess they figured that I didn't have the device on me because they didn't find it.

NARRATOR: After the exercise, there's a debrief. And his instructor is skeptical.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: She accused me of taking it off of my body and hiding it somewhere before I went in. She goes: "Can you produce it right now? Well, on your body, where is it right now?” I said: "Well, I could produce it right now. Just let me reach into my pants.” And it was hidden in a very, a peculiar spot on my body and where these guys didn't want to go. And of course, I pulled it out of my pants later on and I produced it. She was very mad. 

NARRATOR: That ability to brazen things out would be useful later but only with the control of body language and psychological awareness that training provided. A few years later, Giovanni is putting all these skills together in the biggest case of his career. But this isn't a role play. He's back in New Jersey and about to go undercover to target one of the pillars of the Italian American underworld. The DeCavalcantes.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: The DeCavalcante crime family is the longest-standing American mafia family. Believe it or not, the DeCavs have been around the longest, 

NARRATOR: They can trace their origins back to the 1920s, in fact, the era of Al Capone and Prohibition. Generations of violence, greed, and murder since then - continuing as rival families rose and fell. And other mafia dynasties have come to respect and rely on them.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: When the Gambinos especially needed some work done, if they needed some murders done or some robberies, they would farm out their work to the DeCavalcantes.

NARRATOR: Name not ringing a bell? You might be more familiar with the DeCavs than you think.

GIOVANNI ROCCO:: They're the family that inspired The Sopranos series. So the New Jersey crime family in The Sopranos mimicked the DeCavalcante crime family from New Jersey, absolutely mimicking them. So what you saw in The Sopranos series, if you saw the pork store where Tony Soprano hung out with his guys, where you saw the strip club? That all really happened in real life. It's just they're not called those things. That neighborhood is the same, what you see on The Sopranos. 

NARRATOR: Giovanni's case so far has been devoted to chasing some small-time drug dealers on the edges of the DeCavalcante world. He's posing as a drug dealer and stolen goods merchant himself, going by the name Giovanni Gatto. But on this day, he is about to meet a man who will change his life. A newly minted capo in the DeCavs, Charlie Stango, a man with the power of life and death in the family. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: He was just getting released from a murder bid that he had done. He did a homicide years ago. He was known across the country. He was known overseas in Italy. He was known. He had a following in the New England area. He had strong ties to the Chicago outfit, so he was a well-respected guy. 

NARRATOR: So the invite to meet Mr. Charlie is a big deal, a step up to the big time for Giovanni Gatto. A lot will hinge on how he carries himself. It's all due to take place on neutral ground - a diner. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: You wanted to be hearing an old-school movie song playing when you walked in because I met him in a diner. And I was introduced to him, I could see that dark in his eyes. Time slowed down. Your heart's racing so fast, and your adrenaline is pumping through your body. Time feels like it slows down to slow motion.

NARRATOR: Again, the training takes over. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: So, at this point when I met him, he told me to sit down right next to him. He wanted to be close to me and he kept repeating my first and last name. over. And just watched me. I was, I played intimidated, and then I relaxed. I implemented my breathing techniques and just slowed myself down and said: “Okay, this is gonna happen.” See when you're a covert operative you know how to control people. You can guide things. You can control the situation by doing certain things. 

NARRATOR: He finds out later that Stango has had him under surveillance through his crew for some time. Assessing whether he was who he seemed to be. And so far, his cover has held. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And he says: "Okay, all right, Mr. Giovanni, you do what you do. I'll allow it to happen. And, keep doing what you're doing and maybe I'll call you. Maybe I won't. Have a nice life. 

NARRATOR: Stango leaves the diner. It worked. From that day, Giovanni begins to be let in. Not as a capo or even a soldier of the DeCavs - that was an honor not given lightly. But part of their orbit, Charlie's orbit. An 'associate'. Pay attention if you think the office politics where you work is complicated.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: So traditionally in Cosa Nostra world, you could be a ‘hang around’ and an associate, part of a soldier's crew. 

NARRATOR: The lowest level. But if the associate does well he might progress.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And then eventually he gets proposed for membership of the family. He becomes a soldier. The next level. Now, as a soldier, you start to put a crew together. You can have five, seven, 10 guys on the crew and they all earn money. So, now as a soldier, you work under a capo, a captain.

NARRATOR: The third level.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: Captain is the next level. Now he's got to pressure the soldier to pressure his crew to make money. They just squeeze people, squeeze businesses for money, However they get the money, It's ultimately to make money for the administration and kick up.

NARRATOR: And next you reach the senior management level. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: The underboss, the street boss who makes sure everything is running right. He's the buffer between the captains and the boss of bosses. The boss is the head of the family. 

NARRATOR: A long way from the street corner. If someone steps out of line too far, there are consequences within the hierarchy.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: So let's say a captain wants to whack out a soldier. Now, you want to whack out one of your guys? you have to go to the administration for that. And then what happens is another captain turns around and says: "No, I don't want to whack that guy out. Listen, he's making a lot of money on this thing for me.” So that the consigliere will set up… He'll be the mediator to the boss and the underboss. And then they might call a meeting and then you go to a meeting and they'll sit down and they'll hash it out and figure it out. And they'll say: "Okay, listen, we're not going to kill him. He's making money for all of us. So let's just leave the guy alive. And if he does it again, we'll whack them out. But for right now, you'll get taxed in order to save a guy's life.” You might have to give up a piece of trucking or a piece of a pizzeria that's making some money. And that's how it works.

NARRATOR: It's not exactly a system of checks and balances but that's a lot more protection than the lowly associate can expect.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: An associate? You can be clipped at any time. You can be taken out of the picture. It can cause some heartache for some other guys, and you don't want somebody to lose their money and the moneymakers, but you don't have to get approval to take somebody out. You want to take an associate out, you just go and whack them out and that's it.

NARRATOR: Giovanni is now an associate. He's in. And his FBI handlers have him focus all his energy on building trust with Charlie, generating hours and hours of secret recordings each week. If he can survive and his cover holds, he'll be able to build a unique picture of the inner workings of the modern Cosa Nostra. But mafia capos are understandably reluctant to speak openly about their activities, even to members of their own crew. So Giovanni develops a new strategy with Charlie: play dumb about crime. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: I played stupid. I don't know how the mafia works. I don't know anything about you guys, you know? And he says: "Oh, that's why I need you to come out here. I need to talk to you. And I need to explain to you how we operate. I want to break it down for you.” 

NARRATOR: And of course when he does, Giovanni is wearing a wire. Don’t ask where. The intelligence improves even further when Giovanni gets a promotion. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: He gave me more slack and said: “Okay, that's it. From now on, from this point on, you’re with me. And you're going to fly our flag. And you're going to represent this family for me.”

NARRATOR: Be under their official protection.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: So the flag of the DeCavalcantes. I'm not a soldier. I'm not a made guy, but no matter who you meet, no matter where you go, no matter what drug deals you're doing, no matter what trucking heist you do, first things first. They’ve got to know that you fly our flag. 

NARRATOR: Soon after this, Giovanni becomes Charlie's right-hand man, leading his crew. The two of them get closer. Almost a father and son relationship. The father is a convicted murderer and the son an undercover FBI agent living a life of lies and deception. Again and again, Charlie emphasizes his complete trust in Giovanni. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: “You just speak for me. You go do this thing, you do what you gotta do, even if you're wrong, Giovanni! Even if you're wrong! I'll make it right.” Which means: “Even if you kill somebody by accident, I'll make you right, don't worry about it. Even if you make the wrong decision, I'll stand up for you.” But in the end, he always showed me something that reminded me of the criminal that he was. And he warned me: “Listen, I'm crazy. Right? I'm gone! Oobatz, I’m crazy! I do dumb shit. I kill people by accident,” he said to me one time.

NARRATOR: Maintaining this level of intimacy with a group like the Decavalcantes involves constant risk. Particularly as Giovanni is also leading a double life. Charlie and the crew believe he's unmarried, living in an apartment in New York with a live-in girlfriend. In fact, each evening Giovanni is returning to his real life with his wife and young kids in the family home in New Jersey close to where the DeCavs are based. Too close, perhaps. One weekend, Giovanni's daughter is competing in a statewide kids soccer tournament. They decided to make a family day out of it.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: One of those weekends where I said: "That's it. I'm not paying attention to my family enough.” I was going to go to this thing and just unplug for the weekend. And just be me, right? Be Giovanni Rocco. 

NARRATOR: The whole family comes along, even Giovanni's parents. It's a beautiful day in the park.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And here I am living my true self, my true life with my wife and my kids. And as I'm sitting there on these little beach chairs, I look up, and here comes one of the guys that's Charlie's associate. And he's walking right toward me. He's with the Gambinos and he's walking. And he's a connected guy and he's got status and he's got respect, Charlie's respect. He thinks the world of them. And here I am sitting with my family, my parents, my kids, my wife. And this guy knows me to have no such life. 

NARRATOR: There’s not long to react. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And I saw him first. Thank God. And I jumped out of my chair and I had come around to his right side. and he turned around quickly and saw me. And I'm here. I am in shorts and flip-flops and he's like: “Whoa, what are you doing?”

NARRATOR: Even his clothes don't fit the look of a Decavalcante associate.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And I went to give him a kiss out of respect. And he pushed me back with his fingers in my chest. And he got really standoffish with me. And he says: "What are you doing here? Are you following me?” 

NARRATOR: It’s not just Giovanni’s own safety that’s under threat. Whatever happens, the associate must not get a chance to know what his wife and kids look like. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And I said: "What are you talking about? Come here!” And he really pushed me again. “Don't, don't, don't! What are you doing here? You don't have kids. You don't live here. You don't live in New Jersey! What are you doing?” And, my wife and I, thank God we always made plans in case a perp ever saw her or saw me. And, we always had an escape plan. And when she saw the kiss, she knew something was up, so she grabbed the kids and pulled them off to the side. 

NARRATOR: He manages to keep the associate talking long enough for the rest of the family to make a getaway. But the man never completely buys his explanation for why a childless, middle-aged man would be attending a school sports day in the wrong city. The seed of suspicion has been planted. And family life can never return to normal. Giovanni's wife is understandably concerned. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And then she started asking a lot of questions because before that she didn't know too much. So I had to come clean with her. Yeah, from that point on, it was no more public appearances for us. No, we couldn't take that chance.

NARRATOR: The threat level is growing in other ways. No one in the DeCavs can figure out why Giovanni isn't known to any other organized crime groups, why he doesn't have a recorded history. On another afternoon, Giovanni is hanging out with one of the most volatile members of the group, a guy known as Louis or Luigi. A second undercover officer is with them and that officer makes a near-fatal mistake. He tries to send a text about the case to their FBI case handler. Instead, he accidentally sends the text directly to Louis. They manage to grab Louis' phone before he can read the text and delete the incoming message. Louis can't understand why they are trying to use his phone. An explanation is offered, but again, Louis never fully buys the excuse. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: He kind of suspected a little bit. He had quite a lot of questions about us, but then once those questions went away, he was okay with it.

NARRATOR: Soon after Giovanni is invited to make a visit to his capo in Charlie Stango’s old neighborhood. They're driving around, looking at the places Charlie went to school, fell in love, committed his first violent crimes - gangster nostalgia. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And then Charlie turned around and said: “I'm going to show you who's who, and I'm going to point out some things to you.” And we drove around the neighborhood and he pointed me down a dead-end street and told me to turn around and park my Cadillac, park it here. And he got out and he said: “I'll be right back.” Next thing you know, here comes Louis looking down the block and he calls me out. I got out of the car. Charlie was nowhere to be found. 

NARRATOR: Louis suggests they discuss some things. Just the two of them. No one else around. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And basically the gist of that was: he threatened to chop me up into pieces because unbeknownst to me, he followed the FBI surveillance team back to the FBI building. 

NARRATOR: The same days as the cell phone incident, there had been FBI handlers in a car waiting nearby - an even worse mistake. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: He said, basically, in a nutshell: "We followed the car.” “Okay. So you followed a car. What are you telling me?” He goes: "Guess where we followed the car to?” “I don't know? Where'd you follow the car to? I don't know where!” “The FBI building! What do you say to that?” That's when I said: "I got to step it up.” And then he accused me of being a rat. He didn't accuse me of being a cop. He accused me of being a rat, which is even worse in our world. You know, you're accused of being a cop. They might let you live and say: "Listen, I want a lawyer.” But if they accuse you of being a rat, they're not going to bring it up to you. They're just going to put two in your head.

NARRATOR: Bullets that is...

GIOVANNI ROCCO: So I knew that he was capable of doing the deed, and I knew that he had a background of some pretty strong associates. 

NARRATOR: It's the most testing situation he's ever been through as an undercover operative. What would you do? Reveal that you are FBI? Double down on the cover story even with the evidence against you? Try something else? 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: See, here's the thing about being an undercover operative. Your intelligence team feeds you intelligence as you go along. And I knew the intelligence on this guy. I knew that he had never been convicted of a crime and he had never been arrested because he was always protected by the neighborhood. I also knew he always carried a 38-revolver in his pocket. So when he had his coat on - his overcoat - and he kept reaching in, I knew he was debating, you know? And at this point, he had lost me.

NARRATOR: But Giovanni also knew Louis had an insecurity, a psychological weak point about his lack of a serious criminal record. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: So he's sitting there and rattling keys in one pocket and I know he was hanging onto something in the other pocket so I turned up the heat on him and I just put it all on the associate. 

NARRATOR: The associate, the FBI agent who messed up the text message. Codename: Tommy. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And I said: "Listen to me. This guy Tommy is not like me. And he's not like you, understand? He's a 'hang-around guy' for me. He's my money guy. He's not like me and you. Lou, he's never been to prison. He's never done anything bad. He's never 'put work in'. And when I say these things, I'm speaking a language. He's never ‘put work in’ means you never shot or killed anybody. He's ‘not like me and you’. I'm delivering a message to him that I'm capable of doing the deed. Okay? And in his mind, he knows he's never done the deed, but I know he's never done the deed either because I just said: “I'm a capable guy.” I just conveyed to you that I'm a shooter. And when he dropped his shoulders, I knew I had him on the ropes.

NARRATOR: A tick. A tell… 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And I turned it into money. And I said: "Listen, I don't know what your problem is. Well, you just got to get back to making money. You and me, we're good together. Let's just make money together.” And when you just start talking about money, people are going to let you live.

NARRATOR: It worked. Louis never mentions his suspicions again. In fact, Louis is right to be watching his back, and not just because of Giovanni. The murderous internal dealings of the Cosa Nostra are beginning to catch up with him. Louis has offended senior figures in the organization by claiming to be a 'made guy' even though he hasn't completed the correct ceremonies. The equivalent of giving yourself a promotion. And the organization decides there can be only one outcome. Giovanni is having dinner with Charlie Stango when the subject comes up.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: The night that he told me to do the murder, we were in this five-star restaurant in Vegas. And I took them out to dinner because I made a lot of money at that time. He and I had a good score. 

NARRATOR: Charlie tells Giovanni everything that is required of him.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: He explained to me the thing would happen in November. And he really pumped me up and he said: “Now be careful. Make sure you got an escape car and make sure you got this.” We went down the list and he gave me a picture of the guy that I was supposed to clip.

NARRATOR: And, as you know by now, the man Charlie has instructed Giovanni to kill is Louis, of course. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: When he talked about the murder, he got excited.

“Oh, I wish I could be there for you. I wish I could be there with you. Just do this, this, and this. If anybody else is there, just shoot them. You know, just shoot anybody.” He would always say those things. “Just walk in, and show them - boom boom! - walk out, walk the f*** out, just walk out.”

NARRATOR: It's a clear instruction to commit murder and it's all on tape. Giovanni's handlers decide they can't afford to let the undercover operation run any further. But first, they try to stall, to play for time.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And then it got to the point where he's like: “Listen, you're going to do this. What's the hold-up? You gotta do this!” And at that point, I realized if I don't move fast enough, he might think I don't have it in me. And you know what? Yeah. He'll clip me just for that.

NARRATOR: Giovanni organizes what will be his final meeting with Charlie at Charlie's home. The father and son relationship is still there - stronger than ever in fact. 

GIOVANNI ROCCO: That was a hard goodbye for me. He wanted me to know he's got my back the whole way. He explained to me it's going to all work out in the end. But at the same time, I felt bad. He said: “Be careful. Call me when you get home.” I knew right there, I felt terrible at the moment when I was leaving his house. Yeah. I had daydreams of going: “Man, I wish I could just tell this guy to run. He's going back to the can forever. There's no way you're getting out of this. Like the evidence that we had…” So I knew he was going back to the can for a long time.

NARRATOR: And then there was the rest of Charlie's family. His actual family.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: I knew that I destroyed Patty's life, his significant other. She waited for him forever to get out of jail, and his kids and his grandkids had just had him back in their lives. And so it wasn't so much Charlie's life. Yeah. I would miss him for being with me, but I just felt like the people I was hurting in his family.

NARRATOR: In 2017, Charles Stango was sentenced to 10 years in prison for plotting the murder, and Giovanni's taped evidence played a major role in the conviction.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: And then eventually, as a good undercover, you have to say to yourself: “I didn't cause this situation. I didn't put these words in his mouth. I didn't convince him to kill somebody. I didn't convince you to commit crimes. You could have taken a different path, just like I did. You did this to your family.” As a mature undercover, that's what you start to process but your emotions start to take their toll on you. It always haunts you, but I figured out a way, and I've been taught how to mitigate it. I don’t know where my life would be if I didn’t become a cop. In jail or dead, like they told me I would be. So I’m extremely blessed. 

NARRATOR: You can find out more about Giovanni Rocco's undercover work in his book Giovanni's Ring: My Life Inside The Real Sopranos. 

I’m Vanessa Kirby. We all have valuable spy skills, and our experts are here to help you discover yours. Get an authentic assessment of your spy skills, created by a former Head of Training at British Intelligence, now at SPYSCAPE.com.

Guest Bio

FBI agent Giovanni Rocco brought down the real-life Sopranos, the DeCavalcantes mafia. He's paid a price, however. After a series of arrests in 2015, Rocco (not his real name) went into hiding, fearful that he would get whacked. He grew a thick beard and taught his children to be as cautious as G-men. His house became a fortress. But that's the choice he made as a third-generation police officer on the mean streets of Bayonne, New Jersey, where the Cosa Nostra aren't shy about showing off their power and influence.

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