The many fans of “The Sopranos” TV series might be interested in reading about a cop who infiltrated the real deal. Giovanni Rocco, a New Jersey police officer, detailed as an FBI undercover operative, infiltrated the notorious DeCavalcante Cosa Nostra crime family in New Jersey.
Mr. Rocco offers a story of his time undercover in “Giovanni’s Ring: My Life Inside the Real Sopranos.” The book, co-authored by Douglas Schofield, details how a 26-year-veteran New Jersey cop nearing retirement joined an FBI task force targeting the DeCavalcante family, the organized crime group that was reportedly the model for the fictional Soprano family in the popular HBO series.
Raised on the streets of New Jersey, Mr. Rocco knew the wiseguys and how they spoke, acted, and conducted their criminal enterprises. He spent two and a half undercover with the treacherous and violent mobsters while pretending to be a thief named “Giovanni Gatto.” The FBI case, codenamed Operation Charlie Horse, had Mr. Rocco align himself with several mobsters until he came directly under Charlie Stango, a capo, or captain, in the DeCavalcante crime family.
The undercover operation ended in 2015 with the arrest and imprisonment of Stango and nine other DeCavalcante family members. Mr. Rocco and his family then moved to a secret location.
I reached out to Giovanni Rocco, and I asked him why he wrote the book.
“After having to retire and relocate with my family, I continued training for military and law enforcement and intelligence agencies and speaking at events,” Mr. Rocco replied. “People would always approach me and tell me that I needed to write a book. I was fortunate that a friend introduced me to Doug Schofield, who at the time was writing his third novel, ‘Time of Departure.’
“There is no other person that I could have told and relived this story with other than Doug Schofield. While my book tells my story, I wanted readers to understand the sacrifices that undercover agents make as well as the price they and their families are willing to pay for the public. These men and women are true patriots who live in the shadows, sometimes never to be acknowledged within their own organization for the work they have accomplished because of the risk to their identities or safety being compromised.”
Mr. Rocco said his law enforcement career in 1990 as a patrolman. He was later assigned as a detective to a Vice/Gambling Unit investigating organized crime in the NY/NJ area. He went on to work for many years in a narcotics and major case unit. He was then deputized as a special US federal marshal and assigned to a DEA task force to investigate narcotics trafficking. He eventually joined an FBI task force and trained to be a certified FBI undercover employee.
Mr. Rocco said the “The Sopranos” depicted a genuine look into the life of the Italian American Cosa Nostra and had several similarities to the DeCavalcante crime family.
“The DeCavalcante Crime family is one of the oldest Italian American Crime families in the United States based out of the NY/NJ areas,” Mr. Rocco explained. “They are a very close-knit organization with old school Cosa Nostra beliefs with a strong propensity for violence. Their reputation is the reason that other crime families respect them and have contracted out murder, extortion, and other crimes to them.”
Were you concerned for your life while undercover?
“I was concerned for my life every single day I lived the life inside the Mafia,” Mr. Rocco said.
He said he was especially concerned on the day that Stango introduced him to the DeCavalcante’s underboss and consigliere at a butcher shop/deli in Elizabeth, NJ.
“That entire day felt like it could have been an episode from “The Sopranos,’” Mr. Rocco recalled.
Would you do it all over again?
“I have witnessed horrific things that have humbled me and made me appreciate life. I have fought for my own life or the lives of others. I have celebrated my accomplishments and experienced great moments during my career which has all brought me to where I am and made me the person I am today. For these reasons, yes, I would do it all over again.”
I asked him if he remained concerned for his safety and the safety of his family.
“During my career, I have put many people behind bars for exceedingly long sentences. I always remain vigilant,” Mr. Rocco said.
“Giovanni’s Ring” is an interesting and illuminating look at organized crime and the sacrifices law enforcement officers like Giovanni Rocco make to bring them down.
• Paul Davis’ On Crime column covers true crime, crime fiction, and thrillers.
• • •
Giovanni’s Ring: My Life Inside the Real Sopranos
Giovanni Rocco with Douglas Schofield
Chicago Review Press, $27.99, 320 pages