Ex-Mobster’s Tour of Museum Steeped in Memories

Before we’d even begun our tour of the Mob Museum, a picture of Sam Giancana in the museum’s lobby, inspired former mobster Sal Polisi (Sally Ubatz, in his New York mob days) to tell the story about the time in 1987 he was on The Geraldo Rivera Show, plugging Nick Taylor’s book, Sins of the Father— based on Polisi’s family’s escape from the Mafia, via the federal witness protection program.  

“In comes this woman with a pointy nose, and it’s Antoinette (Giancana’s daughter),” he says. “I go, ‘Can I take you to dinner, I’ve got one question for you?’  So I’m in New York City, Gotti’s hot as a firecracker, you know, he was the king of town, and they take us to Elmer’s uptown, and I say, ‘Did your dad and the union stuff the ballots?’

“She said, ‘Absolutely. They stuffed the ballots all over town.’

“ ‘So, you’re telling me that your dad allowed Kennedy to win Cook County?’

“ ‘Yes.’

“Then Kennedy won what? Illinois. And without Illinois he wouldn’t have been the president. I didn’t even put that in this book.”

This book is the newest that the Los Angeles-based Polisi was in Vegas to promote July 21-22. It’s a  memoir he co-wrote with author, Steve Dougherty: The Sinatra Club: My Life Inside the New York Mafia.  After a free event at the Clark County Library on July 22, At The Sinatra Club, billed as a one-man play, Polisi sold and signed copies.

Polisi got out in 1984 and raised a second family. He writes screenplays, produces movies and visits middle schools to ward students off crime. But mostly, he’s a passionate storyteller. His performance at the library on Sunday wasn’t so much a one-man play as a one-man show.  There was a beginning, a loose, meandering middle and an entertaining anecdote to top it all off, but, at least a few times, Polisi had to backtrack, apologizing because he’d forgotten to mention an important piece.

 “Oh my God,” he says, when we entered the museum’s grand courtroom where the original Kefauver hearings on organized crime were held in 1950. “You could fit 200 people in here.” Polisi’s hoping to find a home for another play in this courtroom, and I suspect that’s why he agreed to the museum tour. 

But it didn’t take long for the courtroom to inspire more stories. Perched atop a wooden table, before the judge’s bench, Polisi remembered the trial in which he testified against John Gotti in 1992, and that Mickey Rourke sat in the front row on Gotti’s side. He told prosecutor, Diane Giacalone, that Gotti would stop at nothing to get to a juror and buy his acquittal.  “She said, ‘Sal, that’s ridiculous,’” but that’s what happened.

For half an hour Polisi told story after story to a small group around him.

“Henry Hill. Here’s a story nobody knows: I was a straight guy in 1992, just got married. Imagine a building with 80 units, and we have an earthquake.  He comes over. I open the door, and there’s all the keys to the apartments.  He goes, ‘Oh, Ubatz, we could get rich!’

“‘I would never touch a thing, Henry. That was another life. What are you doing?’

“‘Yeah, well, you know, every once in a while I got to try to get some money.’”

As he passed by exhibits, he launched into tales like the Jewish drug lord whom the FBI couldn’t bring down until an agent noticed the crook’s habit of resting on the corner of a mailbox to do his deals. So the FBI wired the mailbox. The mob-in-Hollywood display prompted him to talk about John Gotti’s gravelly impression of Rico Bandello in Little Caesar – “Could this be the end of Rico?” – and of testifying at the trial of Joey Massino after he passed by the latter’s photo.

As if he has some sort of sixth sense for these things, he turned the tables to ask me a question.

“What’s your husband do?”

“He’s in finance, actually.” Polisi laughed. He had one more story about his friend and partner in crime, Foxy, whose murder inspired Polisi to give up guns, and eventually the life.

Ubatz and Foxy, wearing their finest suits, used to visit the nice bars in Forest Hill, where the stewardesses hung out. When they girls asked, “What are you into?” Foxy would say, “We’re into, uh, romance and finance.”

When Polis spoke of Foxy and his reaction to his death, during his performance at the library, it was the first time he did so publicly. He was crying.