When 28-year-old hacker Hector Xavier Monsegur (aka Sabu) agreed to cooperate with the FBI in taking down a number of his fellow hackers, including members of the loose underground collective Anonymous, he joined a less-than-esteemed gallery of criminals turned informants—or, in the more common parlance: rats. Outside of prosecutors, seemingly everybody hates rats. So what convinces people to ditch their loyalties? In Monsegur’s case, it was the threat of being thrown in prison and separated from his two kids. As these other famous rats show, everyone has a reason, but it’s not always what you’d expect.
Rat or Die
Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi
Henry Hill is almost certainly the world’s most famous rat, largely thanks to “Goodfellas,” Martin Scorsese’s classic gangster movie about Hill’s life of crime. (The film was based on Pileggi’s book.) After years of running with the mafia, Hill was arrested on drug-trafficking charges and became convinced that his former crew would have him killed. So when the FBI dangled the witness protection program in return for his testimony, Hill bit. What’s he up to now? Cashing in on his celebrity, of course.
Just Doing His Job
Donnie Brasco by Joseph D. Pistone
Joseph Pistone was an FBI agent who spent six years deep undercover investigating the Mafia. Known to the mob—and the world, thanks to Johnny Depp—as jewel thief Donnie Brasco, Pistone ingratiated himself into the organized crime world and all but became one of the wiseguys. Even though he knew all along he was there to do a job, it wasn’t easy to turn on the men he’d become close with over the years.
I Scratch, You Scratch
Black Mass by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill
Whitey Bulger spent 17 years on the lam until his arrest last summer. Bulger was a notoriously brutal and capable criminal who enjoyed a long run as the godfather of the Irish Boston mob (among the charges against him: 19 murders, various conspiracies, extortion, drug trafficking). According to Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, one of the key reasons for Bulger’s success was his cooperation with the FBI. Bulger gave up information that allowed the feds to take down the Italian mob, and in return he was left alone to run his enterprise. Shockingly, the deal blew up into a massive scandal.
Underboss by Peter Maas
Sammy “The Bull” Gravano spent his life in the mob and did everything from stealing cars to murder. Among his many crimes, the most brazen was the hit he and John Gotti masterminded on mob boss Paul Castellano, who was gunned down outside a New York City steakhouse in 1985. But later, after Gravano and Gotti were both arrested on racketeering charges and Gravano learned Gotti was going to sell him out, Gravano went all in with the government first.