Organized crime families and other syndicates have a long history of running drugs, gambling, and partaking in other illegal activities. Many of these organizations are also known for their violent history, as they have been the responsible parties in many high-profile violent crimes. In order to keep violent organized criminals and terrorists off the streets, the FBI and other government officials often make deals with captured criminals in return for information that can bring down top criminal organizations. In return, those who turn over evidence or testify in court are allowed to enter the Federal Witness Protection Program (or WITSEC) for the remainder of their lives and are relieved from serving jail time. Their new life can include witness protection program jobs, moving far away from family and friends, and starting over.
Deciding to offer evidence and enter the witness protection program is not an easy one. For criminals, it means turning against the people they've worked with, labeling themselves as traitors, moving their entire lives, and giving up their identities. Many of those who've entered the witness protection program were in the mafia, where loyalty is praised above all, so the decision is tougher than you may imagine. The choice is also difficult for the FBI, which must decide whether it’s worth overlooking an informant's crimes in order to gain evidence to put away bigger fish.
Who are the most famous people in witness protection? The well-known names on this list, all of whom are in FBI witness protection, made the tough choice to give up their criminal comrades in return for a new and protected life.
In 1980, Henry Hill, a NYC mobster with 25 years of history with the Lucchese crime family, assisted the FBI in making 50 convictions, putting away mobsters like James Burke and Paul Vario.
His story was turned into the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas and the book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family.
- Age: Dec. at 69 (1943-2012)
- Birthplace: Brownsville, New York City, New York, USA
Leroy "Nicky" Barnes, AKA Mr. Untouchable, was known as one of the biggest drug lords in American history in the 1970s. When he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison, he discovered that the Council, the drug ring he was a part of, had turned against him.
As a result, he turned over 109 names, including his wife, which ultimately helped convict 16 criminals.
- Age: Dec. at 89 (1933-2012)
- Birthplace: New York City, USA, New York, Harlem
Mobster and hitman Frank Salemme became the head of the Patriarca crime family in the 1980s. He was convicted of racketeering charges in 1995 and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
However, when he found out his fellow mobsters were FBI informants, Salemme decided to testify against FBI Agent Connolly in return for admittance into the witness protection program.
- Age: 86
- Birthplace: Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts
Anthony Casso had a reputation for being a truly psychotic mafia member, especially since he attempted to kill crime boss John Gotti multiple times. When he was arrested in 1993, he offered to turn in evidence against his fellow mobsters.
However, Casso was thrown out of the witness protection program when he was accused of bribery, lying, and violence. He was sentenced to life in prison.
- Age: 81
- Birthplace: New York City, New York