Undercover FBI agent ‘Donnie Brasco’ expected to testify at Quebec’s corruption inquiry

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Quebec's Charbonneau Commission on corruption in the construction industry — which has been on the back burner since June — is about to get a little taste of Hollywood.

The FBI undercover agent who inspired the movie Donnie Brasco is scheduled to testify when the inquiry resumes next week.

The hearings, which began last spring under Quebec Superior Court Justice France Charbonneau aims to lift the lid on how allegedly mobbed-up construction companies won lucrative public contracts and potentially infiltrated Quebec politics.

The inquiry was ordered by Jean Charest's Liberal government last fall after sustained public pressure, and the taint of possible corruption was likely a factor in the party's narrow defeat at the hands of the Parti Quebecois in the provincial election earlier this month.

The highlight up to now has been testimony by Quebec's former anti-collusion chief Jacques Charbonneau, who according to the Montreal Gazette's report suggested huge amounts of "dirty money" was being funneled into the coffers of Quebec's political parties.

Both Charest and PQ leader Pauline Marois vehemently denied their parties were getting improper donations.

"Donnie Brasco" was the cover name for FBI agent Joseph Pistone, who infiltrated the New York Mafia's Bonanno and Columbo crime families in the 1970s, leading to more than 100 federal convictions.

Don't expect someone resembling Johnny Depp, who played Pistone in the 1997 movie, to show up at the inquiry. Pistone, who retired from the FBI in 1986 to work as a private consultant, turns 73 years old next week.

Nor is anyone expecting Pistone to point fingers and name names from the witness chair.

Pistone apparently is being called to help the commission understand organized crime links between New York and Montreal, The Canadian Press reported. The Bonannos allegedly have ties to Montreal's Rizzuto crime family.

Antonio Nicaso, an author and expert on the Mafia in Canada, told CP Pistone may not have specific information to provide the inquiry.

"He's very knowledgeable, he's very intelligent," said Nicaso. "But I don't know what he can add about the Canadian side (of the Mafia)."

Vito Rizzuto has been jailed in the United States since being extradited in 2006 for his role in three mob hits that took place in 1981 — shown the movie — but is slated for release in October. His clan has been rocked by a bloody power struggle since his arrest.

Nicasco said he doubts Pistone has much current information about Mafia activities in Quebec but can provide valuable insight into how it functions.

"(Pistone) told me that he didn't meet the Montreal folks directly, so he doesn't have direct information on Montreal as a criminal entity," National Post reporter Adrian Humphreys, who co-authored a book on the Rizzutos, told the Gazette.

"Unless he's been privy to second-hand reports or has had a change of heart or memory, he's not going to be able to point the finger at any individuals."

The commission wouldn't confirm Pistone's presence on the witness list, which it normally posts on its web site one to two days in advance of a witness's appearance.