Monday, October 8, 2018

The Sad Story Of Sonny D, The Mob, And Some Missing $Millions

By Ralph Cipriano and George Anastasia
for BigTrial.net

As president and CEO of the gigantic Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, Sonny DiCrecchio, AKA "Sonny D," was always doing good deeds for those in need. Like sending a boy stricken with cancer to the Super Bowl. Or taking 135 homeless kids from a shelter out on a shopping spree to buy Christmas presents.

"A Person Never Stands So Tall As When They Kneel To Help A Child -- Sonny D." That's the quote that volunteers wore on the backs of their matching purple jerseys when they chaperoned the annual "Sonny D's Holliday Shopping Party," sponsored by Sonny and his wife, Michelle.

"It's beautiful what Sonny and Michelle do for the children,"said Karen Patton-Faucett, assistant director of Stenton Family Manor, a shelter for families, during a 2016 tribute video to Sonny D posted on youtube.com. Over the years, the scores of volunteers who flocked to Sonny D's annual shopping party to help homeless kids pick out presents and wrap them included then-Eagles Quarterback Donovan McNabb.

But they may have to cancel the party this year. A woman who answered the phone at the produce market said that Sonny D "resigned" suddenly on Aug. 15th, and left without leaving much forwarding information. Meanwhile, a forensic accountant is digging through the market's financial records, searching for missing money that's said to be between $3 million and $5 million. The FBI is on the case; agents interviewed Sonny D voluntarily for three days, without benefit of a lawyer. As a result, multiple sources say, Sonny's in big trouble. Instead of a do-gooder, the feds see DiCrecchio as a con artist who was doing business with shady characters and financing his good deeds with stolen money.

When he talked to the feds in August, several sources say, DiCrecchio basically confessed to taking the money. The feds, according to those same sources, told DiCrecchio he was going to jail, and if he wanted to make things easier on himself, the only option left was to become a cooperator.

The feds grilled DiCrecchio about his relationships with a couple of convicted felons, former mobster George Borgesi, and former state senator Vincent J. Fumo, both of whom had contracts down at the produce center. The feds wanted DiCrecchio to wear a wire on Borgesi and Fumo, as well DiCrecchio's bosses on the produce market's board of directors.

The FBI also wanted DiCrecchio to front a sting operation where he would dispense money advanced by the feds to targets of the investigation, so the feds could trace what the targets did with the money. The feds, underworld sources say, told DiCrecchio they wanted him to be their "5K1 boy," but Sonny D had no idea what they were talking about. The feds were referring to Section 5K1.1 of the federal sentencing guidelines that allow for a reduction in a mandatory minimum sentence for a cooperator who renders "substantial assistance" during a federal investigation.

Sonny D could not be reached for comment, and he claims he doesn't have the money to hire a lawyer. But in a lengthy, 1,500-word email to his former bosses, DiCrecchio admitted that he made "mistakes . . . over money." And that as a result of the scandal, he's a "broken soul" seeking forgiveness.

But one thing he wasn't willing to do to "save his ass," he wrote, was wear a wire. He also, according to sources, refused to participate in any sting operation. As Sonny D bitterly wrote to his former bosses, he may be getting treated like he's "some thief" who's the "scum of the earth," but Sonny D's no rat.

THE MARKET

The wholesale produce market, which does about $1.5 billion worth of business annually, is an enormous facility built on 20 acres of formerly abandoned land in the old Philadelphia Auto Mall on Essington Avenue in Southwest Philly.

When the $218 million facility opened in 2011, it was billed as the "world's largest fully-enclosed, fully-refrigerated wholesale produce terminal." The Philadelphia Inquirer described the new facility in a headline as the "world's largest freezer." The main building where DiCrecchio used to work, is a quarter-mile long, bigger than 14 football fields, and employs 1,500 workers.

Fruit peddlers and grocery store owners flock to the wholesale produce market to buy fruits and vegetables grown locally as well as around the globe. The produce is sold in the Italian Market, at the Reading Terminal, and in stores all over the city.

But the word is out about the scandal. For more than a month, fruit peddlers, merchants and mobsters have been buzzing about Sonny D and the missing millions.

"It's all hush-hush down there," one fruit peddler said. "They're not saying anything."

The produce market's board of directors are a frequent target of criticism.

"They look stupid," a merchant said. "How could they not have known what was going on," said another.

THE FEDS MOVE IN

The current federal probe, sources say, began when the FBI began investigating a $750,000 contract for LED lighting systems at the produce center arranged through DiCrecchio. The lighting company is linked to George Borgesi, the nephew of former Philadelphia mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi.

In 2011, Borgesi was acquitted of 14 counts in a federal racketeering case. But federal authorities are now raising questions about how the lighting contract was awarded. Borgesi, through associates, has insisted it was a legitimate business deal and that the highly efficient lighting systems will prove to be an economic benefit and save money over the long haul.

But Borgesi is an ex-con that the feds are stilling keeping tabs on. In 2001, Borgesi was convicted along with mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino and five others in another high-profile racketeering case, and served a 14-year prison sentence. Since he got out of jail, Borgesi has been associated with various companies such as mortgage lending, electrical lighting and glass installation.

Both Borgesi and his lawyer declined comment for this story. Through associates, however, Borgesi has claimed that all of his business ventures are legitimate. And that all the unwarranted attention from law enforcement makes it more difficult for Borgesi and those who work for him to make an honest living.

An FBI spokesperson declined comment; a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office did not respond to a request for comment.

According to underworld sources, when the feds came to see him, Sonny D argued that Borgesi had done his time and deserved a second chance. The feds, according to those same sources, replied that Borgesi, who beat murder charges when he was convicted of racketeering in 2011, should have done more time.

GARBAGE MOBSTERS

DiCrecchio and the produce center have a history of dealing with at least one company tied to organized crime. From 2000 to 2010, the produce center had a contract with TopJob, a trash hauler that formerly employed Uncle Joe Ligambi as a salesman. The former mob boss's involvement in the market was detailed in a 2011 racketeering indictment.

According to the feds, TopJob was paid about $17,000 a week to remove trash from the old produce center. Federal authorities alleged that Ligambi's position as a salesman with TopJob was a no-show job for which the mob boss received a weekly salary of $500 to $1,000, plus medical benefits.

Authorities alleged that Ligambi and his family accrued more than $220,000 in medical costs which were paid by insurance companies while Ligambi was a TopJob employee. The government also charged Ligambi with insurance fraud.

But over the course of two trials the government failed to prove its case. DiCreccho testified as a witness for the defense, and claimed the trash hauling contract was legitimate. The jury must have believed him; Ligambi was found not guilty of most of the charges he faced. And, after the second trial, the government opted not to pursue two remaining charges that two juries had deadlocked on.

But as far as authorities were concerned, Ligambi was up to no good.

In a 2011, the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation [SCI] cited Ligambi's involvement in TopJob in a report that focused on the mob's alleged incursion into the trash-hauling business. "Uncle Joe" was one of nearly a dozen reputed mob figures linked to various trash companies in the Garden State. The SCI report focused on what authorities described as "garbage mobsters" who had a "hidden hand" in the trash industry.

TopJob is long gone from the wholesale produce market, but FBI agents questioned DiCrecchio about a current trash-hauling contract with another company that the feds thought was suspicious. After DiCreccho departed from the produce market in August, the entire board of directors resigned. A new nine-member board of directors that took office promptly replaced the trash hauler, as well as a firm that was handling recycling down at the produce market.

The new chairman of the board, George Binck of Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., did not respond to a request for comment.

THE FUMO CONNECTION

Sonny D and the former state senator had a working relationship dating back to when Fumo lined up $150 million in state aid to build the new produce center. Prior to Fumo's intervention, DiCrecchio told a federal judge at Fumo's sentencing in 2009, the produce market had negotiated a deal with then Gov. Jim McGreevey to move their operation across the river to New Jersey.

"Our facility was about 43 years old at the time," DiCrecchio told Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter at Fumo's sentencing. The old market was too costly to modernize, DiCreccho testified. What was needed was a brand new facility. According to DiCrecchio, that's when Fumo came to the rescue.

Over a seven-year period, DiCrecchio told the judge, "He [Fumo] was relentless" in getting the deal done to keep the produce market in Philadelphia,  "At every meeting, every meeting, he was pushing."

Fumo, who declined comment, was convicted in 2009 on 137 counts of corruption. After serving a four-year sentence, he started a consulting business advising companies on how to deal with government.

THE LAST WORD

Sonny D had presided over the market for 20 years when he suddenly departed in August. His old bosses may have locked him out, but Sonny D insisted on having the last word. That same month, DiCrecchio sent out his long email to members of the market's board of directors, the subject of which was listed as "My apology to all."

In the email, DiCrecchio expressed regrets over "mistakes" he admitted to making "over money," but  put some of that blame on his bosses, for chronically underpaying him.

"The very first thing and most important thing I would like to say to everyone is that I AM DEEPLY SORRY FOR MY ACTIONS," DiCrecchio wrote. "The regrets I have run so deep that I cannot put it into words. I am so sorry to disappoint so many."

The problem, DiCrecchio said, was that because he wasn't compensated adequately, he was always short on money.

"All the guts and determination I had to stand up to politicians, bureaucrats, attorneys and outright bullies in the system to represent you for 20 years was endless," DiCrecchio wrote his bosses. "But I never had the guts and determination to ask you all for the compensation I deserved for the job I was doing."

In his email, DiCrecchio asked board members to "please look deep into your hearts and conscience and ask, 'Did we treat and compensate Sonny fairly?'"

"I am not asking anyone to say I had the right or to feel in anyway I deserved to do what I did," he wrote.

"I just ask you to put the good I did on the other side of the scale and not to just judge me on the wrongs," he wrote. "GOD help everyone if they had to be judged on only the wrongs or mistakes they made in life, and [were] never given an ounce of credit for ANYTHING they did that was good."

A STAND-UP GUY

It was a sentiment that DiCrecchio previously expressed on the witness stand back in 2009 when he testified on Fumo's behalf at the former senator's sentencing. It was a ballsy decision by DiCrecchio. At the time, most people that Fumo thought were his friends, such as current Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, were running away from from the former senator as fast as they could.

But Sonny D was headed the opposite way.

"I never actually knew the senator as a social friend, but I will say that after the trial was over, I befriended him," DiCrecchio told the judge. "And I honestly did it because I looked at the whole process and I just thought that was unfair," DiCrecchio said about the five-month long trial of Fumo.

"And I just wanted to say that I, you know, I felt, from a man, if you open any of us and just tell it bad, that it's, you know, God knows where we're going to go," DiCrecchio said. "So I just thought that it was my duty to come and say what I needed to say."

The day he showed up to testify, DiCrecchio told the judge how, at the request of Fumo, he had launched a salvage operation down at the market manned by volunteers who sorted through discarded produce to make donations to Philabundance, the Philadelphia food bank that feeds the homeless.

The salvage program that DiCrecchio set up, at Fumo's request, resulted in the wholesale produce market donating to Philabundance three million pounds of produce a year to feed the homeless, DiCrecchio told the startled judge, who gasped, "Three million?"

"Three million pounds a year, yes," DiCrecchio repeated.

Eight years later, writing to his bosses at the food distribution center, DiCrecchio once again argued that the good that men do often gets overlooked, especially when they screw up, only this time he was talking about himself.

"I did not molest kids, sell drugs, scheme with people to deceive you, kill anyone," DiCrecchio wrote his former bosses. "I was asked by the government to set up board members so they could investigate them for taking cash from their own businesses, so I could save my ass. I told them I would not do that if my life depended on it."

WHERE THE MONEY WENT

In the email to his bosses, DiCrecchio talked about all the charitable events he had sponsored over the years.

"I used my own money and the market's money to help hundreds of people in need, kids with cancer, people losing their houses (some of them your own employees)," he wrote He said he also helped to get "some of the stockholders' kids into colleges, charter schools . . ."

Meanwhile, when it came to his personal life, DiCrecchio wrote, he was always short on cash. He had to pay for a summer rental home "after I lost my family's money on a bad house deal and did not have the heart or guts to tell them we could not afford it."

But he was always a hardworking employee, DiCrecchio wrote. So hardworking that during his 20 years at the market, he only took three vacations, twice to Disney World, once to St. John's Island.

"My job was 24/7 and I loved my job!!!," DiCrecchio wrote. He talked about his accomplishments that saved the market money, such as a trash contract that cost $1 million a year, until "I brought in another company for $600,000."

"I was never given a raise or rewarded in any way except for ridicule because now stockholders had to pay for offices they got for free, had to pay for their trash instead of dumping it on the ground," DiCrecchio wrote. As part of his duties, DiCrecchio wrote, he did the market's refrigeration, welding and power washing from 2002 to 2011 "for nothing."

"You never received a bill or paid me or specialty refrigeration for millions of dollars of services rendered," he wrote. "I gave you my refrigeration & welding businesses to start the new market. Every tool, lift truck, and trained my people to basically run your market instead of hiring a company for $600K a year," he wrote, adding, "Did I receive a raise for 15 years?"

The answer, he wrote, was no. How about a Christmas bonus?

"No," he wrote, "I didn't even get a thank you card or a cheap plaque from you when we opened the market, just complaints."

"However, I did not do anything out of malice," he wrote. "I just worked 24/7 all along with deep depression I suffered from. I just ask that you tell the real story in it's entirety, not like I am just some thief."

Instead of a Robin Hood. In his long email to his bosses, Sonny sounded bitter about how they had treated him.

"Now I am erased and kicked to the curb like I never existed, barred from a market that your kids and grandkids will enjoy for many years and make good livings," he wrote. "My life is destroyed because of my mistakes, over money that does not breathe. You could easily total what you feel I owe and let me work it off instead of kicking me out like I am the scum of the earth that never existed."

"There is so much more of this story you do not know of," he wrote. "Your money and mine has helped so many unfortunate people, kids with cancer get experimental treatments, final trips to Disney when make a wish foundation could not, helped people stay in businesses etc."

"You all must think I have money stashed away, you are so wrong," he wrote. "I give my own money away as I used the market's money as well. I have no attorney because I cannot afford one. I have no pension plan, no savings, nothing. I did not take money to line my pockets I did it to help family, friends, strangers, and yes, no denying my biggest screw up of all was renting the Shore house because I didn’t have the guts to tell my family no."

"Please do not just look at one side of the story," he wrote. "Please remember the good and hard work I did. I dedicated 20 years of my life and mind to you all, I endured death threats to my family during our Teamsters strikes, and the stories go on and on. No one is perfect especially me."

"I am asking for your forgiveness, and for you to not make me spend the rest of my life in jail over MONEY," he wrote. "And I am pleading that you spare the entire staff at the market, they are hard working honest people. They had a bad boss. That is their only fault."

Sonny D even offered to cooperate with the forensic accountant trying to figure out how much money was lost.

"I have every piece of paper you need to back up donations etc.," he wrote. "I agreed to help your forensic accountant find everything to save you $500K in services; instead I have been barred from the market I built."
  
"Please see through the smoke of this fire and find it in your hearts to not kick me further to the ground then I am," he wrote. "I have a family and granddaughters that do not deserve the hatred that is resonating out of the market towards me right now."

"I am so very sorry for what I have done," he wrote, but he added, "please put the good on the scale and not just the bad. You all know in your hearts that I am not all bad!!!!"

The email was signed, "A broken soul, Sonny DiCrecchio."

"The Salt Of The Earth"

Today, Sonny D may be looked upon as "some thief," but in his heyday he was regarded as a big-hearted humanitarian. A Mummer recalled that when a member of his string band died broke, it was Sonny D who stepped up to pay for the Mummer's funeral as well as a funeral luncheon.

"He's the salt of the earth," the Mummer said about DiCrecchio.

In January, when the Eagles were going to the Super Bowl, one of their youngest fans was in big trouble. Ten-year-old cancer survivor Kanen Wear, of Cape May Courthouse, N.J., had been cancer-free for the previous four years. But while the Eagles were having their greatest season, Kanen was stricken with a relapse of Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that effects bones and soft tissue.

Kanen, a fifth-grader who had to drop out of school, was feeling "very isolated and sad," his mother told a reporter. He was a patient at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where he was undergoing more surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

It was Kanen's wish to watch the Eagles in the Super Bowl. That's when Sonny D stepped up with the money to send Karen and his parents to Minneapolis, where Kanen saw the Eagles win the world championship.

Sonny D's Holiday Party started small in 2008 when Sonny and a bunch of volunteers took a select group of 20 kids from Stenton Manor out to buy presents for themselves and their family. Then, Sonny D called Elder Rob Harrison, the executive director of the faith-based shelter, and told him, "We have to take 'em all."

He meant all 135 kids at the shelter.

"He was serious, he was pretty adamant," Harrison said. On the youtube video, Harrison recalled his emotional reaction to what Sonny had to say.

"I kind of broke down," Harrison said. "Nobody has ever thought of those children like that."

Harrison said his wife wondered why he was crying.

"You've got to meet this guy," Harrison recalled telling his wife. "There's something about him."

On the video, Sonny's wife agreed.

"My husband would give you the shirt off his back and then he'll take you to the store and buy the rest of the wardrobe," she said. "That's how he is."

But when the feds announce Sonny's arrest, that's not how they plan to portray him.

7 comments:

  1. What happened to the Procacci Brothrrs? They lost out on the casino license and then retired? That Family has run a monopoly in the vegetable business for a hundred years.#tomato king

    ReplyDelete
  2. This article is a joke. Sonny was a crook and a con artist. He lied to everyone who trusted him down the market, stealing from every hardworking person down there. End of discussion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. NO BALLS WHAT SO EVER TO TELL US WHO YOU ARE !!!!!!
      Anyone can hide behind an anonymous
      Message , coward !!

      Delete
    2. dang a little upset?

      Delete
    3. This is all True and I know him BUT whose money was he giving?? I have seen this with Others who give lots ,then to find out it wasnt their money anyway... Shame. Good guy but this changes everything...

      Delete
    4. he is NOT a good guy and I know this for a fact! He destroyed a good man that I have known for a long time and I will post this anonymous only for my own safety.

      Delete
  3. somebody should investigate AL FINER he will make sonny look like small potatoes

    ReplyDelete

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