THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist

  • Stay tuned for THIEF! book signings, media interviews and other THIEF! events
  • Media Reviews posted periodically
  • Mobwriter comments on true crime events and books

THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sonny Girard Interview

Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, ex-mobster Sonny Girard spent most of his early years in the Red Hook and Navy Yard sections of South Brooklyn. He chose a path that offered a way out of his dirt poor existence—the lucrative life of the “wiseguys.” Serving the maximum time in Sing Sing and other NY state prisons for his role with one of New York’s five mob families was only a beginning for Sonny’s life of crime. Photo: Sonny is second from the right.

In 1985, Sonny was convicted of racketeering under the RICO statute by Rudolph Giuliani’s office, which led to another stint doing maximum time (7 years) in federal prison. It was during this incarceration that Sonny took up writing and penned his first novel, Blood of Our Fathers, 1991, Simon & Schuster followed by Sins of Our Sons. Girard is also author of Snake Eyes about a hedonistic bookmaker. A fourth book is in the works.

Girard, a savvy and knowledgeable ex-mobster, has the knack of communicating intelligently about his life in organized crime. These qualities make him a sought-after guest on TV shows such as ABC’s Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, Fox News Channel’s The Edge with Paula Zahn and as a consultant on the movie Mickey Blue Eyes with Hugh Grant and Jeanne Tripplehorn. More recently Girard appeared on Fox’s National Enquirer TV, analyzing the authenticity of HBO’s hit The Sopranos.

The above was taken from an interview which appeared on and has been edited for space by Mobwriter.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg with regard to Sonny’s multifaceted life of crime and beyond. In order to get a better idea of what makes Sonny tick, I studied his Web site, Sonny’s Mob CafĂ©,, and listened to several online archived radio interviews.

Intrigued, I contacted Sonny and asked him if he’d do a Q & A on Mob Speak. Much of what I learned about Sonny will become evident by reading the interview that follows. I purposely avoided the more mundane topics and picked others that give a better insight into this complex and principled man. My questions are few. I hope the answers will be long.

MOBWRITER: What’s obvious from my research about you is that you’re an intelligent guy with a broad perspective of life—a Renaissance Man—to be sure. So I’m gonna jump right to something that’s been nagging me. You claim to be an “unmade” made guy and dismiss the notion that a guy’s made for life as a myth. Can that really happen? Did you actually quit the mob?

SONNY: Occasionally, one friend or another will call to complain that some documentary or book got something wrong. My answer is always, “Aren’t they supposed to?” One of those things they get wrong is that you can’t get out. Yes, it’s rare and not the rule, but it does happen. One old man I knew was shot when his bosses, the Mangano Brothers disappeared. When he left the hospital, he made a deal to save his life: his “badge” would be “put on the shelf,” as long as he participated in no mob activities. He became a successful restaurateur for the rest of his days, without ever getting involved in an outside deal. I went through a discussion that sort of landed me on the “injured list.” I gave my word to stay on the legal side of the line and, if I decided to return to the street life, would go back on the active roster. While my old pals are still my best pals, I’ve stayed out of action.

MOBWRITER: It’s evident to anyone who seriously studies your comments that you hate snitches. Sounds like a lot of guys want to protect snitches on the premise that they’re making money together and they believe the guy won’t rat them out. Eventually, many of these guys get stung by the snitch.

William Slick Hanner (whose story I wrote) told me how little he thought of Frank Cullotta for ratting out Frank’s boyhood friend, Tony Spilotro, to the Feds. Slick said snitches are the lowest of the low. In your opinion, is there ever any justification for snitching?

SONNY: I could have saved a number of years in prison if I’d believed there was justification to rat others out. All those who do snitch make excuses, but I know better. Henry Hill, for example, told Nick Pileggi about how everyone turned on him and threatened his life, leaving him no choice. Hill was always a scumbag. When he had a bar on Queens Boulevard, no one liked Hill, but they respected Paulie Vario, who loved Hill like a son. They used to say, “You respect a dog for his master,” when referring to Hill. I didn’t see that in “Goodfellas.” Did You? Finally, he ratted Paulie out for getting him a no show job to get out of a halfway house. Paulie died in prison because of it. All the rats are pretty much the same. They’ve decided to transfer the punishment for things they did from them and their families to others and their loved ones.

On the other hand, I have seen two instances where I could understand the guys who became rats. One was the guy who sent “Crazy Joe” Gallo to prison for extortion. He was not a tough guy, but a millionaire businessman, Teddy Moss, who stepped over the line into illegal deals. One of Joey’s guys told Joey about Teddy, and that if Joey pressured him, the businessman would come to him, they’d have a meeting, and Teddy would come up with money that he’d share with his boss. Everything went as planned until Joey, not satisfied with the gentle extortion, smacked Teddy and read him the riot act. Scared, the businessman had nowhere to go except to the cops.

The second was Tomasso Buscetta, the Sicilian Mafioso who ratted out everyone in the Pizza Connection case. In a way that is uniquely Sicilian, his enemies slowly tightened a noose around him, executing those friends and relatives of his, and saving him for last. Finally, alone in South America and captured by Italian authorities, Buscetta broke. Do I think he was justified? Of course not, but, with an American mobster’s sensibility, think that his enemies played with fire too long, and left themselves open to his turning bad. To me, he fell apart like a prizefighter who’s had his body broken down with shots and just about gives up without a final blow. They should have rid themselves of him early on. Who knows, maybe they enjoyed the game?

MOBWRITER: On your blog you devote quite a bit of space to addressing misconceptions about the mob. For instance, you say cosa nostra (our thing with no name) was made into the more popular concept of La Cosa Nostra by Joseph Valachi. And thereafter it is always used in its capitalized form as the official name of the mob. You seem to feel this new usage is a negative or false usage from the original?

Like everything else in this world, the way in which words are used is constantly evolving. Like it or not, that’s life. If we go back even further in the Sicilian history books and elsewhere for that matter, we see many more examples of words which have been “bastardized” and evolved into new meanings. Therefore, can’t one say that there is no such thing as a “pure” language? Please comment.

SONNY: Yes, you’re right. The difference is that in this age of mass communication we don’t have the daisy chain that words and terms used to follow and change. It was like whispering something to someone at the beginning of the line and having it change as it’s repeated to those behind him. This was said publicly, on television. No daisy chain. I understand that no one wanted to step forward to correct it, and I don’t care that the world believed the idiot, Valachi. What gets me is that guys in the street, who did not know any better, especially younger mobsters, accepted it. I couldn’t believe it when I heard John Gotti say it was going to remain a Cosa Nostra after he died. It reminded me of a Jersey guy who had his crew play the Godfather theme endlessly on a diner jukebox while he was there. The old days were more gritty; more down to earth.

MOBWRITER: Also on your blog, you talk about a book proposal you’re working on with Meyer Lansky’s nephew, Mark Lansky, about his uncle the so-called “brain of modern organized crime.” Having recently collaborated on a Lansky book with Sandra Lansky Lombardo, Meyer’s only daughter, I learned that Lansky took only a few people into his confidence. Sandra (as well as her husband Vince), was the only family member Meyer trusted. Sandra claims that during the last 10 years of her father’s life, he spent most of his time with Sandra and Vince, dinning at their home many times a week and talking about Meyer’s past. So, with all due respect, where does Mark claim to have received his information? In asking this question, I have no particular allegiance to individuals, only to the truth.

SONNY: Mark says he drove Meyer around during those days, and has introduced me to people who knew him from that time. I will forward your question to Mark and get his response. Mark’s response will appear in a future Mob Speak posting.

MOBWRITER: If there’s one thing you could change about your past, Sonny. What would that be? Or maybe there’s nothing you’d change.

SONNY: After my first book was published, an old friend once asked if I wished I had become an author earlier in my life. I told him no, that I was happy for the life I lived and happy I was out of it. Why the latter? Because I couldn’t stand the unraveling of that life. Yes, we committed crimes, but there was an honorable component early on; an ability to put an umbrella over people and protect or help them with their lives. One friend, Funzi Mosca, told me that when he was young someone in his family had to become a mobster so that their influence would allow the other brothers to have legitimate productive lives and pull themselves out of poverty. It was those ghettos that produced really tough guys who had LOYALTY to each other. Today, when wannabe mobsters grow up in suburban areas, where they do not ever need anyone to get them through life, they have no loyalty to anyone. That’s why it’s so easy for them to rat out others. One of my old pals used to say that everyone could be a toughguy as long as the shoe fit; that it was when the laces got tight that you’d see who screamed. Yes, I would like to change things; I would like to have the world exactly as it was in our “good old days,” but then, I wouldn’t be interviewing for you now, would I?

MOBWRITER: Your interview on Heal Yourself Talk Radio reveals you as a guy who seems to accept your past—the good and bad—with no axes to grind. You say that the world doesn’t necessarily revolve around each of us. And you give examples of how people have pent up anger in them. Now that you’ve gotten the “poison out of your system,” you can laugh many things off. (Please correct me if I have any of this wrong.) You seem to appreciate what you have, especially your grandkids, having seen the raw underbelly of life.

Sensing your humility in that interview, Sonny—and the fact that you have experienced so much—I ask what would you like to accomplish with the remainder of your time on this earth?

SONNY: My humility is built of necessity…and advancing years. I had a drink with a friend, Bobby Pellegrino, who owns Pellegrino’s restaurant, in Deerfield Beach. Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife” came on the jukebox. Bobby Pellegrino started complaining about how bad things are today. I told him that instead of complaining, he should realize how lucky we were to have wonderful memories, like Bobby Darin and all things in our lives at that time. I asked what our kids and grandkids would have to look back at with fond memories in thirty or forty or fifty years? Realizing that, I spend my remaining years building memories for my grandchildren. When I have a special or great day with one or more of them, I actually smile inside, knowing I’ve put another memory in the bank for them.

MOBWRITER: Mob Speak would like to get your take on this provocative interview with Sonny Girard. Be sure to check back to see Mark Lansky’s response.

Thanks for your time, Sonny. Best of luck to you and your family.



Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Dear Sandi and Vinny,I am sorry there is not a day that goes by that I don't think of how much I love you and how much I lost.forgive me love forever.

Anonymous said...

It me Luca Luciano- you remember me? We were kid long time. Lem me talk to you. Mi sorry por my bad englis...I check back to you.