Just like Donald Trump Jr., my curiosity often got me into some squirrely meetings with strange bedfellows. Unlike the high-profile Mr. Trump Jr., however, I was able to walk away and thank goodness, keep them quiet or they would have flushed my firm down the toilet.
One day I received a call from a man who said he represented someone looking for a PR guy. He wouldn’t give me the prospect’s name, but he gave me a street address in an exclusive neighborhood in Queens that had been in the news. It was where the disgraced New York City comptroller had just stabbed himself to death with a kitchen knife in his home.
Now before we go any further, you must know that it’s not uncommon for prospects to conceal their identity while shopping for PR. Often companies wish to remain anonymous so not to tip off anyone that there’s going to be an acquisition or merger. People in trouble also hire PR firms and crisis often breeds legitimate work for PR pro’s like myself. So the caller gives me a time when this cloaked party would like to see me. My wife Angela thought it sounded ominous and I shouldn’t go, but like Trump Jr., I was curious. I wanted to find out who it was. And the next night I drove out to Queens.
The address I had been given turned out to be a large corner home. When I rang the front door bell, a stocky, round-faced man wearing a dark blue sport shirt opened the door a quarter of the way. When I gave my name, he opened it the rest of the way and motioned for me to enter the vestibule where he told me to wait. He returned with two other broad shouldered men wearing sport jackets.
You the PR guy? One of them asked. That’s me, I’m guilty, I quipped, but they didn’t find me amusing. Then they said to follow them and I was led into a living room where an older gentlemen was sitting on a sofa. He invited me to sit down and watch a videotape. When it started to play, I saw TV news clips of John Gotti, nicknamed the Teflon Don as none of the Federal charges against him would ever stick. The video showed him climbing the stairs of the courthouse.
For years Gotti had cut a dashing figure as a chic mob godfather, sporting around town in limousines, seen leaving trendy restaurants and night clubs, seen at racetracks and in walk-and-talk meetings in Little Italy. Then the news coverage switched to scenes of a New York City Council meeting. Now the reporter was talking about a contract the city had with a plumbing firm that employed Gotti that had the contract at Shea Stadium. When the tape ended, the old gentlemen erupted into a tirade. That’s the bullshit I want stopped. They’re killing my business.
John and I grew up together. So I gave my boyhood friend a job. So what? What’s so wrong with that? Now the city won’t do no more business with me. It’s costing me millions of dollars. I need PR. I don’t care what it costs. You name a figure. Only few times in my life have I been speechless. This was one of them.
So I retreated behind a question to gain time to recover my wits. What does Mr. Gotti do for you? He’s in sales. And he’s damn good at it. That I could believe. He was probably the salesman who made you an offer you couldn’t refuse. I told the older gentleman that I wanted to think about it. Could I get back to him? He said okay.
I got out of there fast as I could. My wife decreed that no way would she allow me to represent that firm or it would be arrivederci. Next day, I phoned him and said I didn’t feel I was the right PR person for him as I specialized in different area of PR. Whatever that meant. He said okay and I never heard back.
Since then, this boyhood friend went from the Teflon Don to Velcro Don. The Federal charges all finally stuck and the Feds put Gotti away for life. For a while he continued to reign over the Gambino crime family from his tiny cell in a maximum security prison until his death in 2002. TM