Reading

A Rat’s Tale

Ex-mobster Sal Polisi turns his story of sin and redemption into a book and play

The Sinatra Club was an after-hours gambling joint in Queens, where members of all five New York Families would gather to drink, play cards and plan heists in the 1970s—glorious times for the mob. It is also the setting in which the gangster who ran the club, Sal Polisi, a.k.a. Sally Ubatz, would befriend a young Gambino soldier, Johnny Boy Gotti. Fifteen years later, he would “flip” to testify against Gotti in court.

On July 24, Polisi’s memoir, The Sinatra Club: My Life Inside the New York Mafia (Gallery Books, $26), will debut. The book, which the 67-year-old co-wrote with Steve Dougherty, recounts how Polisi’s uncle, a Profaci-Colombo Family gangster, groomed his nephew for a life of crime. In the telling, it also tracks the rise and fall of the New York Mob—including the Mafia’s supposed hit on President John F. Kennedy. It’s ripe with the exciting escapades of notorious characters, crime and punishment, love and betrayal, murder and salvation.

When Polisi left the witness-protection program in 1989, like Henry Hill (of Goodfellas fame) before him, he made his way to California and the legitimate life. Today, he is screenwriter, a playwright and a public speaker—and the subject of his work is his riveting past.

In anticipation of his one-man play, At the Sinatra Club, which Polisi will perform at the Clark County Library on July 22, the former mobster spoke with Vegas Seven about the thrill of bank robbing, meeting Al Pacino and living with a death sentence.

What inspired you to write your memoir?

A picture of my friend, Foxy, that I hadn’t seen in 30-some years. I broke down and cried like a little boy. At that moment, I knew that I had to deal with, not just the death of him, but my sister and my brother. So, that was 2009. I went into therapy, and my life changed dramatically. I met this great writer, Steve Dougherty, and I said, “I want to do this book.” Once we started the interviews, he said, “My God, you’re the beginning, the middle and the end of the mob, and through your eyes, we’re going to tell this story.”

You got some serious thrills robbing banks and hijacking trucks. How do you find excitement in your new legitimate life?

When I flipped in ’84 and went undercover with the FBI, and put those recording devices down my pants, it was exciting. I go, “Do you mean to tell me doing something legal could be exciting?”

Now, I love public speaking. Because you get in front of a crowd and you have them in your hand. It’s not much different than taking a gun and going inside the bank, because you have the entire bank in your hand. I get up in front of the audience, and I’m excited.

Your book details how excited you were to see The Godfather. Have you met Pacino?

I met Al, and I said to him, “You know what? We have something in common: I was the writer, the actor, the producer and the director, and the only difference between you and I, I did it all in one take, Al.” He laughed.

Can we expect a movie?

Oh, yeah. We’re meeting with a huge company, and they’re going to give it a lot of attention, and put it in the hands of some heavyweight directors. I mean, look at those characters!

Have you visited the Mob Museum yet?

I haven’t been. But I know they have a courtroom there, and because I testified in the Gotti trial, I’d like to take the play that I’m going to do at the Clark County Library, and I would love to do it at the Mob Museum.

Tell us about your play.

I did the play in San Francisco in 2008, but [then] I could never talk about my friend, Foxy. I couldn’t bring myself to include him in the play. After I went through that epiphany, the play evolved to mirror the book: how I got in, what happened in there and how I was cognizant of what was going on in America in the ’70s—Gloria Steinem, Roe v. Wade, the drugs, the Vietnam veterans. All of this was having an impact on the mob, because the mob would find a need and go meet that need for the public. Like the drugs.

The Sinatra Club concludes with you throwing away your dirty money.

Yeah, I did that. I wanted to get rid of all the old assets. About a year or so later when I met the woman who became my wife, I didn’t have money for a car. I shoveled cement. I built houses and fences. I worked and got blisters, legitimately, to raise my second family. That’s the antithesis that I want to deal with in the next book.

Sal Polisi in At the Sinatra Club, free, 2 p.m. July 22, Clark County Library, 1401 E. Flamingo Road, 507-3459.

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topics: Books, Reading
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