20 Stories From The Witness Protection Program That Went Terribly Wrong

We’ve all seen movies where some Average Joe testifies in a high-profile case and has to enter the Witness Protection Program. Agents in sunglasses hand him a box containing his new identity. A limo whisks him away to an unknown location. He starts a new life, with none of his neighbors aware of his dark past.

In the real world, ‘The Program’ doesn’t always work as smoothly. Between failing to protect innocent citizens and enabling dangerous criminals, the US Marshals have bungled its fair share of cases. Here are 20 flops where the G-men deserved an F minus.

1. Henry Hill: While posing as ‘Martin Lewis,’ Hill couldn’t bear anonymity. He partnered with writer Nicholas Pileggi to write the best-selling book Wiseguy, which Martin Scorsese adapted into Goodfellas. Joe Pesci didn’t think Hill’s story was very funny, and neither did the law!

New York Times

2. Thomas Leonhard: Back in the 1970s, Thomas Leonhard, a divorced dad with visitation rights, lost the ability to see his daughter after she and her mother obtained new identities. His story was later made into a movie James Caan called Hide In Plain Sight.

3. Joseph ‘Joe Dogs’ Iannuzzi: You’re obviously not supposed to be a public figure in the Witness Protection Program. However, that didn’t stop this Gambino family associate from publishing a cookbook full of his and his criminal pals’ favorite recipes.

Regina Mogilevskaya

4. Natisha Gallegos: Sometimes the Program doesn’t get to witnesses in time. Natisha required protection after taking legal action against her violent ex-husband, but she didn’t get any. Authorities later found her dead in her home with 67 stab wounds. 

5. Aladena ‘Jimmy the Weasel’ Fratianno: One of the highest paid witnesses ever, this mobster essentially got the Marshals to pay him a salary. They covered huge expenses, including breast implants for his wife, that totaled nearly one million dollars.

CBS News

6. John Patrick Tully: This Mafia hitman opened a hot dog stand after going straight — presumably he still wanted to kill people, only more slowly. However, he revealed his real identity without permission when he tried to run for mayor of Austin, Texas.

Flickr / David van Mill

7. Joseph Barboza: Nicknamed ‘The Animal,’ this mobster turned on his crime family and cooperated. Nevertheless, he proved to be a worthless and unreliable witness. He also failed to turn over a new leaf, as he later went back to prison for committing more murders.

8. Daniel LaPolla: Unfortunately for LaPolla, he attended a funeral for an old friend. When he returned home shortly after, he set off a bomb that someone had rigged inside his front door.

Baltimore Sun

9. Jackee Taylor: Seven-year-old Jackee Taylor lost her childhood when her family entered the Program. Rather than settling in a new place, the law shuttled them from motel to motel. For years, Taylor did not make any friends or even go to school.

Wikimedia Commons / Thatotherperson

10. James Cardinali: The feds shipped Cardinali out to New Mexico after he testified against the Teflon Don, John Gotti. But Cardinali blew his cover by marching around with signs reading, ‘Mob Star Witness’ and ‘Marked to Die by the Justice Department.’ He then appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live before being arrested.

The Mob Museum

11. David Mooney: Witness protection outside the U.S. isn’t perfect either. Strip club owner David Mooney helped Ireland sting an I.R.A. soldier, and his country promised to provide for him in hiding. But he now lives impoverished, unable to even apply for welfare. 

Photocall Ireland

12. Jonathan Barclay: Criminals cooperating can get away with quite a bit. Take Barclay, who used his alias when he was arrested. Police treated him as a first-time offender and let him off lightly. That allowed him to keep up his habit of drinking and driving until he hit and killed an innocent woman.

13. Michael Anthony Drew: The FBI ‘dumped’ Drew, a convicted killer and gang member in Maine after cooperating in a racketeering probe. He stirred trouble back up almost immediately, and police arrested him in a Dunkin Donuts after he threatened a drug informant.

CT Post

14.  Marion Pruett: After providing information about a prison killing, the Marshals released the psychopathic Pruett under the identity Charles ‘Sonny’ Pearson. A couple years later, however, Pruett went on a killing spree that ended five lives, including that of his wife. He received a death sentence.

15. Nancy Burdell: This unlucky woman was a key witness against a neighbor who shot her and killed her son and boyfriend. She expected heavy security, but all the law did was move her to a new location. Worst of all, this ‘protection’ ran out three months later, leaving Burdell on her own.

16. Jimmy Roberts: After Roberts helped nab a drug kingpin, authorities neglected to place him under their protection. Even after he survived an attempt on his life, they still refused. Unsurprisingly, unknown assailants shot him to death a short time later.

17. Anthony Casso: Even his fellow mafiosos regarded Casso as a ‘homicidal maniac,’ so it was probably a bad idea for the FBI to use him as an informant. Between bribing guards and fighting with other witnesses, Casso caused more trouble than he was worth. As a result, he was expelled from witness protection.

18. Javad Marshall-Fields and Vivian Wolfe: A gang marked Marshall-Fields as a dead man after he stepped forward with information regarding a recent murder. Unfortunately, he wasn’t offered protection. He and Wolfe, his girlfriend, were shot to death in their car. 

The Denver Post

19. Robert Bishun: Authorities did a poor job of guarding Robert Bishun. After agreeing to testify against a corrupt NYPD officer Merlin Alston, assailants kidnapped Bishun and strangled him to death.

20. Career informants: Apparently the Program is still filled with informants who make a fortune continually spilling the beans on organized crime. According to one witness known only as ‘Tony,’ some former cartel bigwigs make over $280,000 in cash each year in exchange for their cooperation.


We can only hope that the government takes greater care with their witnesses in the future.

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