At February’s Meeting, Sandra Peddie,
Mafia Chronicler Extraordinaire, Divulged How She Got the Story of ‘Sonny: The Last of the Old Time Mafia Bosses, John “Sonny” Franzese’
By David A. Andelman
Newsday calls their ace investigative reporter Sandra Peddie. Her publisher used S.J. Peddie on the cover of her landmark book, Sonny: The Last of the Old Time Mafia Bosses, John “Sonny” Franzese, because as she tells the story on herself, the book’s editor thought “readers generally don’t buy a book about the mob written by a woman.” Indeed, having edited any number of mob books, this was the first he’d shepherded by a woman. “The core audience for this book turns out to be mob buffs and mobsters,” Peddie observed.
However you spell it, and whatever you call her, Sandra’s work on Sonny Franzese is a page-turner. And why shouldn’t it be? Franzese, the centenarian made-man of the New York Mafia, took down 40 to 50 people in the course of his career—but who’s countin’. Along the way, he transformed the entertainment and music industries while he was building an admittedly toxic empire in his own right.
All of this and so much more unspooled as Sandra Peddie held a Silurian lunch crowd enthralled at the National Arts Club in February.
Clearly Sonny, the underboss of the Colombo crime family, defined the epigram, “only the good die young.” He was 103 when he finally gave up the ghost in a Long Island nursing home, only shortly after he’d won his release from prison. Oh, and parenthetically, after at least once trying to hit on Sandra. A decade before, when he was 93, his youngest son testified against him and helped send him back to jail.
Sandra interviewed him “multiple times as well as 130 of his friends, family members, and enemies. He, I would argue, was bigger than Gotti, certainly smarter than Gotti, and deeply admired by Gotti.” In addition, Sandra continued, beyond being “smart and tough, he never ratted anyone out.”
Above all, Sandra believes, Sonny was an important subject to write about because “he embodied the rise of the American Mafia in the 50s and the 60s. You probably have heard the story about Meyer Lansky—the mob’s accountant, who was recuperating from a heart attack. He was in a hotel room, and he was watching the news and a story came on about U.S. Steel and he turned to his wife, and he said, ‘We’re bigger than U.S. Steel.’ That’s not apocryphal. The FBI had bugged his hotel room and they were in the next room listening. Meyer Lansky was right. In the 60s and 70s, the mob was everywhere. They had insinuated themselves into all sorts of legitimate businesses, even phone companies.” Sonny’s mentors were also a who’s who of the American Mafia—like Albert Anastasia, head of Murder Incorporated.
Sonny was destined from birth to be a very big constellation in the firmament of American organized crime. “Al Capone carved his initials into the countertop of the social club run by Sonny’s father Carmine who was, like Sonny, a ruthless killer,” Sandra told the Silurians. “Frank Costello was a silent partner in the Copacabana which was a favorite hangout of Sonny’s. His father was a mobster. Sonny murdered his first person when he was 14 and that’s how he got made.”
Of course, when Sandra first met Sonny, he was already getting on in years, so his attitude about being interviewed could be softened. “He talked to me half a dozen times,” she said. “He even invited me to his last birthday when he was 103. He was very proud of the fact that he had outlived everybody, but I think there are two reasons he spoke to me. Number one, when I first met him, he was 101. And he knew he wasn’t long for this world, so that kind of changes the calculation. But the other thing is he knew I was going to do something regardless.”
She pointed out that many Silurians in her audience probably operated similarly. “When I do an investigative piece, I do my research, I go to the target and I say, look, I want your perspective, but if you don’t want to talk to me, that’s fine. I don’t really care. I’m going to do a story with or without you, and more often than not, people do want to give me their perspective.” By then, too, she’d accumulated some material that positively delighted Sonny. “When I showed him his rap sheet, it was literally like looking at a high school yearbook. He loved it, but he also saw the depth of my research.”
The fact was that “Sonny was a celebrity in his own right,” Sandra observed. “He also was a great businessman. He was very entrepreneurial, so obviously they were in everything. You know, liquor distributors, nightclubs, unions, entertainment and pornography.” He was even a producer of “Deep Throat” starring Linda Lovelace, the largest grossing porn film of all time. “He had a big influence on popular culture.”
For Sandra, none of this was an easy ride, though. “I’ve been threatened twice since word got out that I was doing a book,” she confessed. “And fortunately for me, my TV agent is a really tough guy, and he’s very good at backing up bad guys.” Not to mention how utterly persuasive and fearless it’s quite clear Sandra Peddie can be.