In the mob drama The Sopranos, FBI informants were a major source of conflict, but one managed to go unnoticed the entire show. Throughout the series, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), a New Jersey mob boss, uncovered multiple trusted friends and family members ratting out mafia business to the Feds. Only one fate awaited a snitch who got caught: death
The discovery of informants led to some of The Sopranos’ best episodes, like in season 2, episode 13, “Funhouse.” A wire was found in the room of Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero, one of Tony’s closest friends. He was lured onto a boat by Tony and executed. Then another episode, season 5, episode 12, “Long Term Parking,” had Christopher Montisanti’s fiance Adriana La Cerva confess to having been an informant. Chris reported her to Tony, and Adriana, too, wound up dead. These impactful betrayals and deaths showed that anyone could potentially be turned, and no character was safe from being killed.
While almost every FBI informant got caught, there was one mobster who got away with it for at least half the show’s run without even being suspected. Raymond “Buffalo Ray” Curto was a high-ranking member of the DiMeo crime family and led his own crew. In The Sopranos season 3, episode 2, “Proshai, Livushka,” he was revealed to be an informant wearing a wire, but it was never confirmed when he became an informant. One possible starting point was his arrest at a brothel in season 1, episode 11, “Nobody Knows Anything.” He was the show’s most successful informant, dying undiscovered with his reputation intact at the beginning of The Sopranos season 6. For between three and four seasons, he was ratting out his friends and colleagues without consequence.
Ray Curto’s reasons for being an informant were also never confirmed on the show. At one point, he mentioned having a son with multiple sclerosis. He may have been turned following his arrest for prostitution. It’s also possible that he sought out the FBI on his own, knowing he’d be a target due to his rank. A deal that would keep him out of jail and make sure he was still able to pay for his son’s medical care would be hard to turn down. This would fit in well with The Sopranos‘ theme of people doing the unthinkable to protect and provide for their families. He wasn’t one of the characters who returned in The Many Saints of Newark, so no further justification for his answers has emerged since the show’s end.
The effect of Ray’s betrayal was never fully laid out in the show but, given his high position, he had access to a lot of damaging information. He was present for conversations on sensitive subjects such as the murder of Sal Bonpensiero. On tapes he gave to the FBI, Tony was heard threatening to crack some heads. Events like this gave the Bureau evidence directly tying Tony to both violence and threats thereof, justifying them continuing their investigation. His evidence gave the FBI context to understand the mob’s operations and possibly told them who else might be easy targets to turn. Key events in season 6, like Tony killing Christopher, would have been very different if not for Ray’s sudden death. Just prior to his death from a stroke, he gave his FBI handler a tape of Tony discussing a murder. While the tape had poor sound quality, Ray said he would back it up in court. Since he didn’t live long enough to go through with it, The Sopranos never confirmed if his intel would have made a significant difference.
At Ray’s funeral, another mobster told Tony, “stand-up guys like that, they’re a dying breed.” The irony of this exchange was apparent only to the audience. Ray Curto was the one informant on The Sopranos that never got caught and was never at risk of being exposed. He was careful, matter-of-fact, and didn’t let himself get stressed into making a mistake. Only the viewers knew that every time he appeared on-screen, there was a chance he was recording the mob’s business.