Joseph Barone, an FBI informer for 18 years, moans that now 'even regular people don't want to be around me.'
The veteran Mafia informer's farewell gift was an indictment, accusing him in the kind of crime he long helped prevent - a $1 million murder for hire.
Barone beat the rap, but he's hardly celebrating. The second-generation Genovese gangster nervously wanders a no man's land: The FBI no longer wants him, and his double-crossed mob pals want him dead.
"What did I win?" he asks about his July acquittal. "That's what the FBI is saying: We didn't get him in court, but he's f----d for life. They're happy about that."
Barone is fighting to get back $58,000 seized after his January 2009 arrest and $385,000 in legal fees to start a new life somewhere.
For now, nowhere is home for the 49-year-old gangster who led a double life for nearly two decades.
Barone, the son of a made man, was groomed from an early age to follow his dad into "The Life."
"My father was a Genovese soldier," Barone said in his first interview since the trial. "I was supposed to be in that family."
Barone's world went topsy-turvy on Jan. 12, 1992, when the Genoveses - headed by Vincent "Chin" Gigante - whacked his dad, Joseph Barone Sr.
Joseph Jr. was jailed on loansharking and gun charges at the time. Three months later, the FBI flipped Barone by showing him photos of his dad's body.
Revenge was Barone's first thought - but he opted for a subtler approach than murder.
"You want to grab a gun and shoot everybody," Barone said inside a suburban Italian restaurant. "But I'm just not a killer."
Instead, he became an FBI undercover, mingling with mobsters who figured he was following his father's footsteps rather than avenging the old man's death.
Known on the street as "JB," Barone became an exemplary informer - charming or intimidating people with an act he called "The Joe Show."
The federal prosecutor charged with putting Barone behind bars even praised his work: "He was a good informant."
Court documents show Barone tipped the FBI to mob hits plotted by Bonanno boss Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano against Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis and federal prosecutor Greg Andres.
Barone spent 18 years working for the FBI - triple the six-year tour of renowned undercover agent Donnie Brasco.
"He was the best they ever had," insisted lawyer Jose Muniz.
Then, suddenly, he went from mob insider to federal inmate.
The FBI stormed his home on Jan. 9, 2009, charging Barone in a murder plot to collect a $1 million insurance payout for a Westchester County businessman.
No honor among thieves
In an O. Henry twist, Barone was busted for conspiring with career criminal Michael Cooks - an NYPD informer. The ultimate cooperator was undone by another snitch.
In court papers, Muniz argued the feds put Barone behind bars "with the flimsiest of facts" because his value as an informer had dwindled. Barone also balked at wearing a wire.
Prosecutors contend Barone went rogue and linked him to a robbery, an arson fire and an attack on an ex-girlfriend - a cousin of mobster Michael "Mikey Scars" DiLeonardo.
Both informers testified - and the Manhattan jury believed Barone, acquitting him on July 29. After 18 months in federal lockup, Barone was free but hardly clear.
Tall, dark and movie-star handsome, Barone arrives for dinner in a black leather jacket, tinted glasses and a charcoal sweater, his hair slicked straight back.
His hands shake as Barone explains life since he was unmasked.
"To think I could be betrayed by the government - it's not less devastating than being killed by wiseguys," Barone said. "Where is justice?"
The FBI declined to comment.
Barone never discovered the names of his dad's killers - but these days he's more concerned about dodging his old mob pals.
"I can't go to good restaurants," he said. "I can't drive down the street. Even regular people don't want to be around me. Can you blame them?"