Anthony Fiato, the subject of my 1998 book “The Animal in Hollywood,” (at left) was the double-tough underboss of the Los Angeles mob in the early 1980s before he became ensnared in an FBI undercover investigation.
Fiato was a made guy with criminal credentials in Boston and Los Angeles — and connections in Las Vegas and New York. When he decided to cooperate with the FBI, mobsters from Hollywood to the North End of Boston took a beating.
I spoke with Fiato recently about the conviction in Florida of former Boston FBI Agent John Connolly(at right), who was in connection with the mishandling of Irish mobster James “Whitey” Bulger.
Far from simplistically condemning “Zip” Connolly, Fiato said he understood how a dedicated FBI agent could get lost along the way while trying to put the mob out of business. The fact is, he says, the good guys have to be able to relate to the bad guys in order to gain their trust. Favors are common. Friendships form on both sides of the fence.
Here is an excerpt from that conversation.
“When you’re working undercover as an FBI agent, some of the mob guys rub off on you, and some of you rubs off on them,” Fiato says. “When Mike Wacks (a veteran FBI undercover agent who was a key player in the Bribery and Labor investigation known as BRILAB that nailed New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello) worked that BRILAB case, he told me they almost had to deprogram him for a year after he surfaced. Wacks told me it took him a year to get back to being himself. He was committing crimes along with them, getting to know them as people, getting to know their families.
These FBI guys will tell you anything to get you to do your job, but they also do things undercover that they wouldn’t normally do. People are people. The bad rubs off on the good and visa versa. That’s what I think happened in Connolly’s case.
“He was told to work those guys, make cases, get them to flip, nail the mobsters — and follow every rule or face the consequences. Well, life on the street is never that simple. Never. And I think it’s unfair to throw the book at a guy who was trying to do his job.”
More from Fiato soon.