Little shocked Douglas Schofield when he sat down to record and then write the true story of a former FBI undercover agent who infiltrated New Jersey’s DeCavalcante crime family – said to be the inspiration for The Sopranos.
Schofield had already spent decades as a trial lawyer prosecuting and defending hundreds of cases of murder, sexual assault and other serious crimes when he heard Giovanni Rocco’s account of his years in the dangerous Mafia world. What surprised Schofield was the emotional toll the work had on Rocco (a pseudonym used to protect his identity).
“It is his story as he told it to me,” Schofield, who is now retired from law, said in an interview from his home in Nova Scotia. “What he (Rocco) really wanted was to show there is a huge psychological cost to this undercover work.”
Giovanni’s Ring: My Life Inside the Real Sopranos (Chicago Review Press) is a combination of memoir and true crime which follows Rocco’s childhood in Bayonne, New Jersey, where he developed his tough street smarts, how he eventually followed in his father’s footsteps and became a police officer, his transition to inhabiting the role of a mobster in his undercover work and the tremendous emotional cost his work had not only on himself but on his wife and children.
“So whenever I returned home, I went through a little ritual. I parked in the driveway, removed my “Giovanni ring,” as I called it, and dropped it in a cup holder. It was a jewelled pinkie ring that I wore as a prop during my undercover life. By removing it before entering the house, I was trying to take a necessary mental step toward reinhabiting my real life, trying to become my real self again,” Rocco says in the book. “After the removal, for a few minutes, I talked myself out of being Giovanni Gatto ([his undercover name) and back into being Anna’s husband and the father of our children. The point of the exercise was to train myself to leave my undercover personality out in there in the driveway. Out there in the car. But as time passed, the more I tried to leave that Gatto bastard out in the car, the more I failed.”
Rocco spent close to three years working his way up the ranks of the DeCavalcante family, earning the trust of Charlie “The Hat” Stango who assigned him the job of killing Luigi “The Dog” Oliveri. The assignment brought the undercover operation to an end in 2015; multiple members and associates were arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit murder and distribution of drugs.
After the undercover operation ended, Rocco retired and moved his family to an undisclosed location to keep them safe. Schofield, who is the author of five novels, has happily returned to writing fiction. He has delved back into his imagination for his next book, this time to explore a new realm: fantasy writing.