Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Joseph P. O’Donnell and E. Steven Sachs, authors of Living on the Fringe of the Mob.
FQ: Thank you for writing such an engaging read. What was the motivation in Steven Sachs deciding to tell his story now?
O'DONNELL: Steve approached me in 2019 and asked if I would be interested in writing his life story. I was quite hesitant at first since my writing had been confined to mystery fiction and I had never considered writing a memoir. I agreed to meet him for breakfast to discuss his life. After he told me the stories about his childhood friends who became major figures in the Mob, then his arrest and eventual time in “The Tombs,” I was hooked. I went home and wrote Chapter One.
SACHS: I’ve had an interesting life, most of which is unknown to my grandchildren. I want them to stand up against the evils of antisemitism and learn the importance of loyalty to one’s friends as well as staying within the boundaries of the law.
FQ: In line with my previous question, what (if any) ‘blowback’ has there been because of some of the stories you’ve shared?
SACHS: This may surprise you, but there has been no blowback whatsoever. Most of the Mob figures with whom I was associated are long since gone. Their children, for the most part, are successful in legitimate businesses and professions and have no involvement in underworld activities.
FQ: I admire Mr. Sachs’ commitment to staying true to who he is and honoring his commitment to secrecy. Was there ever a time when he wavered and second guessed his silence? How did he get past such a crossroads and continue forward?
SACHS: I never wavered. These people were my friends and knew that my friendship, loyalty and, yes, secrecy were dependent upon my insistence on staying within the boundaries of the law. They trusted me and, in turn, I trusted them.
FQ: To avoid too much of a spoiler, it was bittersweet for me to read the closing chapter in what became of Topps Meat Company. Did you have suspicions this would be the ultimate end game? Do you think there would have been anything you could have done to mitigate the result?
SACHS: In retrospect, I wish I had a clause in the buyout that would have kept Anthony in charge of overseeing production. He never would have allowed the new owners to cut corners on safety standards. I also recommended that the new owners acquire business liability insurance, but they rejected my suggestion. In the end, those poor decisions killed the company.
FQ: It’s difficult to pick one story out of the many and ask what would you have done differently? One of those stories was the one you relayed in Chapter 20 ‘The Ham Caper Foiled.’ Again, without creating a spoiler, how frustrated were you with the adage: ‘Where is a cop when you need one’ and how differently do you think the caper would have ended had the Port Authority been present at the onset?
SACHS: I am a firm believer in funding the police adequately in order to protect every citizen and every business. The incident of the “Ham Caper” would have been easily handled with a greater police presence in the business area as well as within the Port Authority where the perpetrator was finally apprehended.
FQ: You devoted a few chapters to ‘38th Street’ and the illegal drug practices that occurred in the area. I enjoyed your reminiscent tone of your relationship with ‘Big Mike.’ Do you suppose if more communities aligned and collaborated with a widespread practice of working together, a lot of these problems would diminish? If you had a lead role on a task force to do just that today, how would you get your message across and implement to make a positive difference?
SACHS: I have always been a supporter of volunteer groups such as the Guardian Angels who serve as a community “watch dog” to keep neighborhoods safe and free from drug traffickers. If such groups are not available in a particular community, the citizens must take action through their home owners’ association (HOA) or similar group and report suspicious activities to the local police. As far as my brief encounter with “Big Mike,” the positive outcome of that meeting was a result of mutual respect. I showed respect for him, as the leader of the Hell’s Angels; in return, he showed respect for me as a local business owner trying to provide safe sidewalks for the people living in my neighborhood.
FQ: When you were living in The Whitehall in Riverdale, you mentioned there were quite a few celebrities living in the area. What is your most memorable celebrity encounter?
SACHS: My most memorable celebrity encounter had to be with Willie Mays (Hall of Fame baseball player) who joined us several times to play poker. Others included Bo Dietl (NY police detective who went on to fame in television and guest appearances on the Don Imus radio show), Yvonne De Carlo (internationally famous Hollywood film star), and Bob Uecker (former baseball player, sports commentator, comedian and actor).
FQ: There is a wealth of focus and stigma placed on our men and women in blue these days. I certainly don’t want to shine a political spotlight on you, but I would be interested to hear your view on what ‘to serve and protect’ means to you in today’s world.
SACHS: Today’s police are literally “handcuffed” and unable to perform their duties in a manner that would safeguard the public from criminals. The policies of “No Bail” in many of our large cities, coupled with allowing shoplifters to steal up to $900 in merchandise without being arrested have resulted in more criminals on the street, putting businesses and the public at greater risk. Our lawmakers need to pass laws that make policing safer and more effective while simultaneously protecting citizens and businesses alike.
FQ: In another story, I could sense your reluctance to acquiescing and Topps doing business directly with Fancy Foods. Did you ever reflect on that time in the months beyond making that decision and regret the choice you made? What difference do you think it would have made had you decided not to make the deal?
SACHS: I agreed to make the deal with Fancy Foods because it was recommended by Uncle John, a man for whom I had the utmost respect. However, Uncle John knew that the deal had to work for me or else I would walk away. When I broke the arrangement with Fancy Foods, there were no repercussions from the Mob. Nor did I expect any.
FQ: In line with my previous question, was there ever a time in your convictions to not do business with the ‘Mob’ that it could have resulted in harm to you or your loved ones?
SACHS: As I have often stated, my relationship with the Mob was based on mutual respect. I trusted them; they trusted me. I knew they would never put me or my family in harm’s way. In fact, there were times when leaders such as Uncle John or Charlie Anselmo went out of their way to “quietly” make sure I was safe and protected. (e.g. Chapters 25 and 28)
FQ: You pay a common thread of respect and integrity toward knowing there was ‘Mob’ all around you and you portray a sentiment that you would stay true to your discipline of honoring secrecy no matter what. Was there ever a time when you thought you would waver and how did you reset to your ‘straight and narrow’?
SACHS: No there was never a time when I considered turning on my friends in the Mob. In fact, there was very little factual information I could offer to federal authorities. As I mentioned in the Epilogue, my friends in the Mob “protected” me by never allowing me to witness or hear details of a crime about which I could provide incriminating testimony.
FQ: Thank you both for an extremely engaging read that hit the laughter meter, the shock and awe of it all and many points in between. I must know if you plan to team up with ‘the next chapter.’ Are you working on another collaboration and if so, are you able to share?
O'DONNELL: At this time, I’ve been busy working with a screenwriter to format the book into a nine-episode miniseries. We feel that Steve’s story is perfect for that venue for the very reasons you cited: “extremely engaging,” with shock, awe and even hitting the “laugh meter.” We’ll see where it goes...
Many thanks for your review—it certainly hit the “Wow!” meter with us.
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