The American Witness Protection Program promises to guard witnesses before, during, and after trial. Often, witnesses receive protection from criminal groups that they testify against in court. Many receive a new name and occupation before being sent to a random U.S. town.
Some of the most notorious criminals, mobsters, and Mafia members have gone into the Witness Protection Program. even more surprising– several continued committing crimes after their name change. Others lived peacefully and helped the FBI bust dozens of fellow criminals. Here are the most famous (and infamous) members of the Witness Protection Program.
Henry Hill Busted His Fellow Criminals
Henry Hill was an American mobster in the mid-20th century. As a member of the Lucchese family, he focused on drug crimes in the Bronx and Manhattan in New York. In 1980, Hill was arrested, and life changed for him after that.
Hill became an FBI informant, and to remain anonymous, he entered the Witness Protection Program. Hill, his wife Gina, and their two kids changed their names and moved to several undisclosed locations. He left the Witness Protection Program in the ’90s after his testimonies led to 50 arrests. His life story was the basis for the critically acclaimed film Goodfellas.
After Protection, Sammy Gravano Continued Doing Crimes
Salvatore Gravano, often called “Sammy the Bull,” became an underboss of the American Gambino crime family. He helped the government in the persecution of Gambino’s crime boss, John Gotti. After his testimony, he left prison early in 1994 and went into the Witness Protection Program.
Gravano was in the program for one year, where he assumed the name Jimmy Moran and began a pool installation company. According to a Federal prosecutor, Gravano ditched the plan because he felt restrained. In the late ’90s, he started another drug ring in Arizona, after which he served 17 years.
The Best Government Witness In History
Max Mermelstein was once a drug smuggler who snuck $12.5 billion worth of cocaine into the U.S. In 1985, Mermelstein was arrested and placed under the Witness Protection Program. He and 30 family members were relocated, making it the most massive witness protection relocation in history.
Mermelstein became Wes Barclay and worked as an engineer in Florida. Meanwhile, he “was probably the single most valuable government witness in drug matters that this country has ever known,” according to attorney James P. Walsh. He helped the government catch drug criminals from 1987 to 2008.
One Of The Highest-Ranking Mobsters To Become An Informant
Angelo Lonardo was one of the highest-ranking mobsters ever to become an FBI informant. In the early 1980s, he became the acting boss of the Cleveland crime family. In 1983, he was arrested and testified against his fellow high-ranking mobsters, including Jimmy Fratianno and Sammy “the Bull” Gravano.
Lonardo entered the Witness Protection Program after his trials ended in the early 1990s. But for some reason, he left the program and returned to Cleveland. He engaged in no other crimes after court and died in 2006 at the age of 65.
The Chilean Secret Police Officer, Michael Townley
Michael Townley was a member of the Chilean secret police under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. In 1978, Townley pled guilty to the murder of Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier. In return, he received immunity from further prosecution and enrollment in the Witness Protection Program.
In 1983, he was released from prison after seven years (three years shorter than his sentence). He remained in the United States as a protected witness until 1993. Then, the Italian court charged him for other alleged murders that are still under investigation.
Clarence Crouch Did Crimes For Hell’s Angels
In 1968, Clarence “Butch” Crouch entered the Hell’s Angels motorcycle group. At the time, the gang required people to kill to become a member. In 1981, Crouch confessed to an unsolved murder to enter the Witness Protection Program.
Crouch’s testimonies under the program only led to acquittals. Even so, he and his family had to live their lives with the new name, Dome. After Crouch passed away in 2013, his daughter, Jackee Taylor, told her story about the trials of living in the Witness Protection Program for 40 years.
Joseph Barboza, Hitman And Professional Boxer
Joseph Barboza earned the nickname “the Animal” for his violent crime streaks while working as a hitman for the Patriarca family. While he was employed in Massachusetts, he worked as a professional boxer. He won eight out of 11 matches, with many being knockouts.
In the late 1960s, Barboza agreed to work as an FBI informant and enter the Witness Protection Program to protect his family. He was relocated to California with the new name Joseph Bentley. There, he enrolled in a culinary arts school and wrote poems about the American Mafia.
How “Tokyo Joe” Got Famous
Ken Eto, better known as “Tokyo Joe,” was one of the most famous Japanese-American mobsters. He ran an illegal gambling racket in Chicago from the 1950s through the early ’80s. After a failed hitman attempt on him in 1983, Eto agreed to work with the FBI.
In court, Eto exposed 15 mobsters, including corrupt police officers. After the trial, he moved to Georgia under the name Joe Tanaka. He passed away in 2004 and left behind six children. In 2008, a documentary called Tokyo Joe released and detailed the accounts of his life.
Marion Pruett Gave Witness Protection A Bad Reputation
“Spree killer” Marion Pruett gave the Witness Protection Program a bad name. In 1979, an inmate in the program was murdered in prison in Atlanta, Georgia. Pruett accepted $800 and admittance to the Witness Protection Program for information on the case. Under his new alias, Charles “Sonny” Pearson, he committed more crimes than before.
In 1981 alone, Pruett kidnapped, killed, robbed, and bribed newspapers for information. He hopped between New Mexico, Colorado, Mississippi, and Arkansas to commit crimes. On April 12, 1999, Pruett was executed.
Anthony Casso Was Kicked Out Of Witness Protection
Anthony Casso was such a vicious mobster that even the Italian-American Mafia labeled him a “homicidal maniac.” He confessed to 36 murders and likely committed more. He entered the Witness Protection Program in 1993, but the government kicked him out of it in 1997.
While in prison, Casso lost his title of underboss. He became an FBI informer in return for protection. However, guards and government FBI agents accused him of bribery and lying. He was kicked out of the Witness Protection Program and sentenced to life in prison.
Frank Salemme Exposed Criminal FBI Agents
Frank Salemme, nicknamed “Cadillac Frank,” was a hitman who became the Patricia crime family’s boss. Some of his crimes were portrayed in the 2004 film, The Last Shot. In 1995, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison. But he quickly discovered that two gang members–Whitney Bulger and Stephen Flemmi–also worked for the FBI.
Salemme exchanged this information for a shorter sentence. He worked with the government until his release in 2003 when he entered the Witness Protection Program. He later went to jail for murder in 2018.
How “The Unstoppable” Was Stopped
Leroy Nicholas Barnes, better known as Nicky Barnes or “The Unstoppable,” was one of the most notorious crime bosses of the 1970s. He formed a crime syndicate called The Council that worked with the Italian-American Mafia. He was arrested and sentenced for drug-related crimes in 1978.
While in prison, Barnes worked with the government as an informant. After his release, he was placed in the Witness Protection Program. The protection allowed him to publish his memoir, Mr. Untouchable: My Crimes and Punishments, in 2007. Barnes passed away in 2012, but because of the Witness Protection Program, his death was not revealed until 2019.
This Ex-Mobster Destroyed Celebrity Restaurant Chains
Like Henry Hill, Frank Gioia Jr. was involved with the Lucchese crime family. In 1999, he entered the Witness Protection Program and aided in the conviction of 70 criminals. He was given a new name, Frank Capri, and was sent to work in Arizona as a real estate developer. That is when his new crimes began.
Gioia built restaurant chains under the country stars Toby Keith and Rascal Flatts. He often stole money to start the restaurants, and after they opened, most closed from broken and unpaid leases. Gioia was arrested for wire fraud and conspiracy in 2020.
Ray Ferritto Turned Against His Fellow Mobsters
From a young age, Ray Ferritto worked for the Italian-American Mafia in Pennsylvania. He is best known for murdering Irish mob boss Danny Greene in 1977. However, he didn’t enter the Witness Protection Program until 2000.
In 1969, Ferritto went to prison for criminal conspiracy and bookmarking. While in prison, his mafia family turned on him. Ferritto decided to help the government, and in exchange, he was placed in the Witness Protection Program. He moved to Sarasota, Florida, with a new name and passed away from heart failure in 2004.
Jimmy Fratianno Wrote Books About His Story
While many people in the Witness Protection Program go into hiding, Jimmy Fratianno stayed in the spotlight. In the 1970s, he acted as the boss of the Los Angeles Mafia family. He eventually pled guilty to five murders and became a government witness.
After a short sentence, Fratianno entered the Witness Protection Program in 1980. He published two biographies, The Last Mafioso (1980) and Vengeance is Mine (1987), and he even appeared in interviews. The Witness Protection Program spent over $1 million hiding “Jimmy the Weasel” for ten years.
The First Informant From The Italian Mafia, Tommaso Buscetta
Tommaso Buscetta was the first Italian Mafia member to break the oath of silence. He became disillusioned with the Mafia when members murdered some of his family. In 1986, he testified during the Maxi Trial, the biggest Mafia court case in history.
Buscetta revealed the Sicilian Mafia’s inner workings, including initiation rituals and politicians who worked with the group. In exchange for the information, he lived under the Witness Protection Program in the United States. He lived with his third wife in Florida until he passed away in 2000.
After Surviving An Assassination, Vincent Teresa Testified
Vincent Teresa, also called “Fat Vinnie,” worked under the Boston branch of the Patriarca crime family in the 1960s. He ran gambling businesses and sold stolen bonds. In 1971, Teresa discovered that other Patriarca members stole $4 million from him. He then agreed to become an informant of the FBI.
Under the Witness Protection Program, Teresa helped to indict 50 mobsters. With the new name Charles Cantino, he wrote three books about his life. His 1975 book, Vinnie Teresa’s Mafia, documents his life in the Witness Protection Program.
John Kelley Testified Against His Mob Boss
John Kelley gained many nicknames while being a robber and hitman for the Patriarca family–“Red Kelley,” “Swiss Watch,” and “Saint John,” to name a few. But he is best-known for testifying against the family boss, Raymond Patriarca, in a 1968 murder trial. Kelley exchanged his testimony for entrance to the Witness Protection Program.
Patriarca and his associates were sentenced to ten years in prison. Kelley remained safe in the Witness Protection Program, although not much is known about his life afterward. In 2000, he passed away from natural causes.
Peter Chiodo Had To Protect His Family
Peter Chiodo was a capo for the Lucchese crime family in the late ’80s and ’90s. Weighing around 500 pounds, he was nicknamed “Fat Pete.” The weight would help him when he was shot 12 times in 1991. Lucchese mobsters threatened to harm Chiodo’s wife if he testified, breaking the Mafia rule against harming women.
To protect his family, Chiodo became a government witness. Unfortunately, the Lucchese still harmed some of his family members and killed his uncle. Because of his help in the trial, Chiodo lived under the Witness Protection Program and lived peacefully until 2016.
Fraudster John McNamara Robbed General Motors
John McNamara began his career as a businessman and then turned into a fraudster. While working for General Motors, he received $400 million to buy cars and “customize” them for reselling. Instead, he used the money to purchase operations in 70 other companies.
In 1992, McNamara was sentenced to 20 years in prison on multiple charges of fraud. He agreed to expose people who bribed him if he could get into the Witness Protection Program. When he was freed, he kept $2 million and lived in a Long Island mansion. He later opened an auto supply parts company.