True Stories from a Former Undercover ATF Agent

Sal Nunziato was a tough guy. A mob-connected New York hustler dealing in guns and drugs. Sometimes a hitman, tattoo artist, or smuggler… Always a tough guy. 

There’s just one thing: Sal Nunziato never existed.

That was the alias Lou Valoze used when working undercover over a long and distinguished career in the justice department. The role wasn’t much of a departure for Valoze, a burly, tattoo-covered New Yorker who looks as though he could have walked right off the set of a Martin Scorsese flick. 

Valoze plans to share some stories of how he helped the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms take more than 1,000 guns, mountains of drugs, and hundreds of dangerous criminals off the street through a series of “storefront” sting operations in southern Georgia from 2007-13.

The Storefront

The storefront concept is not new to law enforcement but Valoze said the breadth and success of his team’s operations sparked a resurgence in the practice across the country. 

It began with a call from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, which asked the ATF for help cracking down on a rash of violent crime.

Enter Sal Nunziato.

Valoze and his team set up a tattoo shop in August in 2007 and began infiltrating the criminal community. It started with a free chicken cookout, and over the course of about a year federal agents were able to buy more than 400 guns that were either illegal, illegally obtained, or owned by people who were prohibited from possessing a firearm. 

"You have to build a believable story,or after a while these guys would start wondering why we were buying so much guns and drugs."

The Sting

With the type of storefronts the agents set up, it was only a matter of time before criminals came around, starting a spiderweb of connections that would eventually lead to a big payoff. 

Sal Nunziato’s story sometimes varied from one operation to the next, but the core of the cover remained the same—he was an Italian hustler from New York, where everybody knows you can get five times as much money for guns and drugs than their street value in the South. He had moving trucks parked out back, purportedly for hauling guns and drugs to New York to flip for a profit, and would tell criminals his foolproof plan—if they got pulled over and found out, they were just movers and it wasn’t their stuff.

“You have to build a believable story,” Valoze says, “or after a while these guys would start wondering why we were buying so much guns and drugs.”

Want more? You're in luck. Subscribe now to get instant access to the digital edition, or pick up the latest copy of South.