Sins of the Father: The True Story of a Family Running from the Mob
Author: Nick Taylor
Publisher: Pocket Star Books
Price: $9.99 (Paper)
Much of the narrative “Sins of the Father” will be familiar to viewers of the TV show “In Plain Sight.” The U.S. Marshall’s Service takes those who are to testify in high profile cases, whose lives would definitely be in danger because of that testimony, and puts them into the Witness Protection Program.
After testifying, the individuals and their immediate families are given new identities and begin new lives in a location where no one, especially mobsters, from their old life will run into them. They are forbidden to make any contact whatsoever with old friends, neighbors, even parents.
The story of Sal Polisi and his family is long, complex and aggravating.
When the action opens in the mid-80’s Sal and his family live in upstate Port Jervis, New York, having moved from Ozone Park, in Queens, where Sal was a well-established criminal. Polisi is now the owner of a Go-Kart track, and his older boy is a teenage nationally ranked Go-Kart driving champion and a high school football player. Sal is trying, weakly, to go straight.
And there is a lot of crookedness to go straight from.
Sal has been convicted of bank robbery and has done time. Over the years he had been involved with almost every criminal enterprise one could think of, short of murder; Sal is “connected” but not a “made man.” He has owned bogus jewelry stores where, ostensibly, he gave cash for your unwanted, out-of-date or broken jewelry. Actually, he mainly bought stolen gold and silver, melted it down and had any gems reset.
He owned auto sales and repair shops which were actually “chop shops.” Here his crew would dismantle stolen cars for parts and sometimes sell stolen cars with false vehicle identification numbers. This could be risky, except that Sal’s gang stole the cars back within 24 hours, before the new registrations could be issued.
Sal was also an enforcer, hurting people. He was involved in running numbers and hijacking trucks and owned a bar called the Sinatra Club—because the only music played was Frank—where the real draw was gambling and prostitution.
Facing the failure of his legitimate business, Sal returns to selling cocaine but gets ratted out and caught. A repeat offender, Sal is in big trouble; a long prison sentence looms. After some soul-searching, he decides to wear a wire and give evidence. He claims he can help get the goods on John Gotti and members of his crime family and a crooked judge. Sal sees the Witness Protection Program as his new, fine adventure.
But the program is a wrenching sacrifice for his family. Over time, his wife, Rose Marie, had accommodated herself to Sal’s “work.” She seems to have thoroughly repressed any moral issues.
“Sins of the Father” is Sal’s story, true, but it is just as much the story of his sons. The boys love their dad. His older boy, Sal Jr., says “It was purely business, the cocaine. He didn’t use it, and we never really thought about it. It was just what we did.”
But moving, changing schools, taking on new identities, losing all friends and family absolutely, forever, is hard for them. Rose Marie is close to her aging, ill parents. Sal Jr. wants to get a football scholarship. How will college scouts check out last year’s record?
Polisi is an egomaniac but in a moment of clarity tells his family: “I made so many mistakes it takes more than one person to pay for all of them.”
In fact, Sal takes pride in his criminal career. It is, after all is said and done, who he is. Even in court at his bail hearing, as his criminal history is being read into the record, the judge notices “his stocky, powerful body seem to swell at the recitation of his crimes.” He cannot stop bragging about his exploits, and breaks the regulations concerning Witness Protection more than once, causing his family real pain.
Nick Taylor is a smooth, professional storyteller and “Sins of the Father” keeps the reader involved, but with mixed emotions.
Even straight, law-abiding Americans have often had an odd response to professional criminals. In the 30’s Bonnie and Clyde were folk heroes and in the 60’s we were fascinated, even entranced, by the “Godfather” books and movies. These gangsters seemed larger-than-life, romantic Robin Hood figures. But, as one learns more about Sal, colorful as he is, reader sympathy wanes and he becomes simply abhorrent.