As a society, we’re fascinated with the worst of the worst. Murderers, mobsters, drug dealers, traitors – we may not want to ever meet them, but we’re intrigued by their stories. However, sometimes the most interesting aspects of their lives end up being glossed over. Like eventually ending up in the FBI Witness Protection Program (often known as the Witness Security Program or WITSEC), for example. Much like these 20 infamous bad guys, all of whom also turned informer on their former partners in crime…
20. Joseph “The Animal” Barboza
A man nicknamed “The Animal” is certainly supposed to be feared, and Joseph Barboza absolutely was. He became an FBI informant while in prison for murder (reportedly, he killed at least 26 men) and was promised plastic surgery to change his appearance. He didn’t get it and was shot dead in 1976.
19. Ken “Tokyo Joe” Eto
Ken Eto, known as “Tokyo Joe,” was the highest-ranking Asian-American in his crime outfit. After he miraculously survived being shot in the head three times by hitmen, he decided to enter the Witness Protection Program and ended up putting away several of his old partners. Meanwhile, the hitmen all mysteriously ended up dead.
18. Frank Coppa
Frank Coppa was a “made man” in the American Mafia, a fully initiated member of the Bonanno crime family. But eventually he turned on them. The first in the family to break the famous code of silence, he was subsequently placed in witness protection. After testifying against former friends, Coppa was reportedly allowed to retain both $1.7 million in goods and belongings and a property in Florida.
17. Marion Albert Pruett
Marion Albert Pruett was placed into witness protection and given a new identity plus $800 after testifying about a murder in prison. Subsequently, he repaid all this by going on a killing spree under his new identity and murdering at least four people. Pruett was eventually apprehended and executed by lethal injection in 1999.
16. Eric Schneider
Schneider met infamous mob boss Whitey Bulger as a teenager, but he soon regretted getting mixed up with him. In 1991 he was taken into witness protection where he remains to this day. He told People in 2015 that he now considers Bulger “the essence of pure evil.”
15. Nicky Barnes
At the height of his success as a crime boss, Nicky Barnes appeared on the front of The New York Times Magazine with the headline “Mr Untouchable.” Ultimately, vengeance brought him down. When he caught his mistress sleeping with a fellow mobster, he turned informant and handed over 109 names to authorities.
14. Primo Cassarino
Primo Cassarino wasn’t a nice man – he was a criminal, an enforcer, and according to his own lawyer he had “the foulest mouth in Brooklyn.” He was even involved in an extortion attempt against actor Steven Seagal. But in 2004, facing prison, he gave up crime and became a government witness.
13. Frank Lucas
Apparently, Frank Lucas smuggled his heroin inside the coffins of American soldiers. That alone, whether true or not, was enough to make him notorious. After multiple crimes he and his family went into witness protection in 1977 and, surprisingly, survived after leaving it. The movie American Gangster is based on his life.
12. Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso
Mobster Anthony Casso reportedly murdered at least 40 people. Happily for them, though, he got what was coming to him. After being ostracized by his crime family, he turned informer, but bad behavior got him kicked out of witness protection. Casso’s now stuck in prison for the rest of his life.
11. Max Mermelstein
Mermelstein might have never turned to crime but for falling in with a violent group. It didn’t take much for him to betray them, though. WITSEC agreed to relocate 30 members of his family – the highest number ever – to keep him as a witness. He ended up being invaluable to the FBI.
10. Andrew Thomas DelGiorno
At first, Andrew Thomas DelGiorno – or “Tommy Del” as he was known – was happy living the life of a violent Philadelphia mobster. But gradually he turned on his boss Nicky Scarfo and helped the FBI put him away. He’s now living under an assumed identity… and with a price still on his head.
9. Mickey Featherstone
Baby-faced Mickey Featherstone was known for his love of violence and his ability to carry out hits for his gang, the Westies. But his anger issues proved to be their undoing. After being framed for a murder he actually didn’t commit, he became an informant and dismantled the network from the inside out.
8. Vincent “Fat Vinnie” Teresa
Vincent Teresa was another gangster who only turned on his violent friends once they’d wronged him personally. In Teresa’s case, this happened after fellow mobsters stole millions of dollars that he had hidden away for his family. Consequently, he became an informer and got 50 fellow criminals indicted. The mobster always feared he would be murdered for it, but he actually died of natural causes in 1990.
7. Alphonse D’Arco
In 1991 Alphonse D’Arco became the highest-ranked mobster ever to turn informant for the FBI. It was a record he would keep for more than a decade. D’Arco’s testimony nearly destroyed the Lucchese crime family, and since then he’s been kept very well hidden by the Witness Protection Program.
6. Jimmy Fratianno
Fratianno was also known as “The Weasel,” a name that would prove to suit him very well. He testified against his crime family, entered witness protection but was then thrown out of the program after publishing two biographies. Somehow, though, he still survived. Fratianno died of natural causes in 1993.
5. Sammy Gravano
Sammy Gravano was by all accounts a murderous lowlife, but he did help bring down his boss John Gotti. After leaving WITSEC in 1995 one would have hoped he’d lead a quieter life, but he didn’t. Instead, Gravano took up drug trafficking and was sent to prison for 20 years.
4. Stanislav Lunev
Not everyone in witness protection has ties to the mob. Stanislav Lunev was a Russian military officer who in 1992 defected to the United States – and was the highest-ranked Russian ever to do so. Though he’s published his memoirs and has spoken extensively about being a Soviet spy, he remains in witness protection for his own safety.
3. John Franzese Jr.
John Franzese Jr. made history in 2010 when he became the first child of a mobster underboss to testify against his own father. His dad was 93 by then and apparently not overly concerned about dying in prison, but it was still a big deal. Afterwards, Junior deliberately faded into obscurity.
2. Rayful Edmond
Few drug kingpins ever achieved the level of notoriety that Edmond managed. Among his “achievements” was introducing crack cocaine into Washington D.C. And yet… for some reason, he became an FBI informant, and to this day no one knows why. Precious few know where he’s currently incarcerated, either. The man remains a mystery.
1. Henry Hill
Henry Hill always wanted to be a gangster… but eventually he became an informant. Fearing for his own life, he gave testimony against 50 of his associates, entered witness protection in 1980 and then was expelled in the early 1990s. Hill’s life story was so gripping that it was made into the movie Goodfellas, thus ensuring Hill all the fame he ever wanted. He died in hospital in 2012.