Sherry Miller Sabatino Lost a Furniture Store (She Wants it Back)
“I’m broke. I can barely pay my bills. How would you feel?” I am sitting in a well-kept home off of Airport Road in the resort town of Destin, Florida. At the end of a long evening’s interview with Sherry Miller Sabatino, I think she is asking me a rhetorical question. But actually, Sherry is sincere, and she really wants to know how a 16 year old girl would feel about being 70ish years old and broke. How would anyone feel if they had heard her story?
Amazed, wowed, sad, enchanted, scared and sometimes unsure if it could be true is what I am thinking. I know I am learning some major life lessons here, and Sherry is patiently drilling them home, but I’m feeling a bit guilty because they were learned at someone else’s expense, hers.
This little, plucky, personable dynamo has lost a small furniture empire, and she really does want it back. Sadly, she is confused as to how it happened, and somewhat angry that the person who has it now, and who won’t give it back, is her own son. The same son she raised, introduced to the furniture business, and taught him everything he knows about it.
But that is really towards the end of her story. What came before is amazing.
Such as Phil Rizzuto, Joe Namath, Bobby Kennedy, Abscam (see American Hustle), the Mafia, and Mar- a-Lago. Before our talk I was not familiar with the legends behind all of these names. I am now. Their common denominator is Sherry.
The arc of her life began like a shooting star in 1946, in New Jersey, as one born into privilege. “I went to an exclusive girl’s school near Plainfield, New Jersey, Mt. St. Mary Academy, the top in the country,” she says proudly.
Sherry’s mother was Ruby, and her father was Arthur Sabatino. “He taught pilots to fly in WWII. He always made it to the top. He owned his own mortgage company, and when I was in college he was in law school,” she tells me. As Sherry is speaking fondly of her father, flashes of her childhood spark memories and stories for the telling.
This is where Phil Rizzuto comes in. “We lived in the same neighborhood, and his daughter Cynthia and I were good friends. This is how they all met – through me,” she says, contently, thinking back to her joyful youth. As it turns out Phil Rizzuto is a New York Yankee legend, “Scooter” they called him in his playing days. He played shortstop in a career that spanned two great Yankee eras, that of the 1940’s with Joe DiMaggio, and the 1950’s with Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra (“It ain’t over till it’s over”). He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and was a Yankee announcer until 1996.
Sherry is showing me 1970’s newspaper clippings now, of her father and Phil Rizzuto at various charity golf and tennis fundraisers. “My father and Phil looked just alike. Everyone thought they were brothers. Phil was a cool guy,” she remembers. “Isn’t that amazing? They were best of friends. He was “connected” too, you know.” I didn’t.
But Sherry is speaking of the fact that her father and Phil were somehow connected with the Mafia. As in The Godfather and The Sopranos type of connected. I hope the Rizzuto’s are aware of this, because I don’t want to be the one tarnishing the image of a Yankee legend.
As it turns out the clippings show that Rizzuto and Sherry’s father absolutely do look like they could have been brothers.
Sherry continues speaking warmly about her father, and of the time New York Jets quarterback, and Alabama alum Joe Namath showed up on their doorstep in the middle of the night. “He was looking for my dad for help,” she says, shrugging her shoulders as if to say she was too young to have been aware what Namath’s problem actually was. In addition to guiding Alabama to a national championship, Namath is another New York legend, who famously and outrageously guaranteed the Jets would defeat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in one of the early Super Bowls. He made good on the guarantee, cementing his status forever in the fabled lore among New York sports greats.
“My father never lost a case,” Sherry continues, proudly. She tells a story about Bobby Kennedy looking for help from her father also. The reasons Kennedy needs help and the details Sherry gives are shocking, as in history-making shocking. The allegations make the tawdry romps between Bobby, his brother President John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe seem pale in comparison. To put it in perspective, if this information is true, and had come out during or after his 1968 run for President, it is safe to say Bobby Kennedy would not have been elected. But she is adamant she does not want the story repeated here. She is asked if she would allow it if I find mention of the episode online. “You won’t find anything about it,” she states with conviction. She is right, I don’t.
Then, another bombshell. Casually, almost in passing Sherry says, “But then, my father was disbarred. For bribing an official.” I did not see that one coming, after the glowing accounts of famous people looking for his help. But it makes sense, especially if, as Sherry states, he was “connected” to the Mafia. Unlike the Kennedy situation, this one is online, as in:
65 N.J. 548 (1974)
324 A.2d 20
IN THE MATTER OF ARTHUR SABATINO, AN ATTORNEY AT LAW.
The Supreme Court of New Jersey.
Argued May 21, 1974.
Decided July 30, 1974.
The details are certainly Mafiaesque: secret recordings, double dealing, bribery. And ultimately for Sherry’s father, six judges presided over his case. They wrote in their decision, “He has demonstrated his unfitness to practice law.” Their unanimous decision, “The only appropriate discipline is disbarment. Respondent’s name is stricken from the rolls.”
These connections between Sherry’s father and the Mafia are interesting, compelling and certainly shocking. But they are long in the past. One more Mafia connection to Sherry’s father exists to this day, however, in the flesh and in the form of a recent hit movie, American Hustle.
“My father was the godfather of his children,” Sherry says about the relationship between Arthur Sabatino and Joseph Silvestri. “He worked for my dad. This thing with the Abscam kills me.” She is now showing me a 1980’s newspaper article which includes a photo of Silvestri, the last person convicted in Abscam, an FBI sting from the late 70’s and early 80’s that exposed corruption and ensnared a Senator, 6 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, a New Jersey mayor, an INS official and several Philadelphia city councilors. It was one of the biggest public scandals in U.S. history.
The 2013 movie version of Abscam, American Hustle, starred Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. It is a dark comedy loosely based on the facts. Joseph Silvestri’s involvement, according to his indictment, mirrors important scenes in the movie. Silvestri’s role was that of a go-between for U.S Representatives John Murphy, D-N.Y., Frank Thompson, D-N.J. and Philadelphia attorney Howard Criden. They were initially charged for splitting a $50,000 bribe. Silvestri was sentenced to 19 months in prison for promising money to an undercover FBI agent, who was posing as an Arab sheik, in exchange for introducing the fake sheik to members of Congress.
“Him, I could get on the phone right now,” Sherry says of Silvestri. “He worked for my father,” she reiterates. “He worked for my dad as a developer. But my father was too far up to get caught. Silvestri is the one who took the fall for the government. Guess how much the government paid him? Two million dollars to go to jail for everybody. Even Joe Biden was involved.” My head is spinning by now.
This just seems so surreal. So many famous people doing so many crazy things. Sherry has many details that she can recall very easily, and I don’t doubt her belief in the truthfulness of this version of events. Later, as I try to verify the details, it appears she knows what she is talking about, although the Joe Biden connection is not readily apparent.
“He was the guy,” Sherry says of Silvestri’s Abscam credentials. “I mean I just talked to him the other day. When I was younger his brother and I went to a dance at my boarding school.”
As it turns out, Silvestri’s Abscam troubles were not his last. In 2002 he was convicted in a $50 million money laundering case, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The resulting scene in a federal courtroom in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida upon conviction was one of bedlam. It is easily findable online and well worth the read. Released early, in 2008, he now apparently is alive and well in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Silvestri’s daughter, Sharon Materio, is currently a West Palm Beach, Florida District Commissioner. A blog article in 2012 regarding Materio’s candidacy generated numerous comments. Many people voiced their opinions as to whether or not she is fit to be a Commissioner, considering her father’s criminal history.
The last of the comments was made by my interview subject, Sherry Sabatino. In her August, 2015 response to the blog article Sherry states:
“I knew Joe Silvestri as a child growing up for years. Sharon and I were children growing up. She is a good person. I have not talked to her as an adult but I do know her father worked for my father for many years. My father was also connected and I moved away to have a life of my own. I am ashamed of my father and would never do what he did. Sharon I wish you the very best. Sherry Sabatino”
Sherry has to take a break as a guest comes to visit. We continue after the guest leaves. What I will write about in Part 2 includes Sherry’s years in college, her careers, and times spent hanging out at Mar-a Lago (the Trump Winter White House), when it was the home of Merriweather Post.
In Part 3 I will share details of her two marriages, children, and two divorces (both marriages and divorces were to the same man), and the birth and loss of a furniture chain. The loss of her livelihood and her current predicament are full of plot twists. Lessons learned will be shared, based on the events of a life lived through soaring highs and the lowest of lows.
“At an early age I learned to have hope when it’s grim,” she says. Remarkably, for now Sherry perseveres as a caregiver in what may be her last career, an elderly person who now makes a living taking care of other elderly people.