Salvatore Polisi
Salvatore Polisi (

A former mafia enforcer has described the violence, money and glamour of life in the mob, coming clean about why he ratted out on former friends and associates.

Salvatore Polisi, known as 'Crazy Sal' was once one of the most feared members of the mafia during its 1960s and 1970s heyday, and would stop at nothing to instil fear in rivals and opponents.

"I was crazy, nuts, and I was proud of that. It was my defence. I ran people over, beat them with bats. I felt like I had authority, a licence for violence. You had to make a name for yourself or they'd take advantage of you," Polisi told the Mirror.

Polisi spent 15 years as an associate of the Columbo and Gambino crime families, and in a new six-part National Geographic series, the American Mob, has laid bare his time on the inside of perhaps the world's most feared crime organisation.

He said that his family had crime associations, and by his twenties he was running a gambling business and mob haunts in New York after his uncles went to jail.

"We were like movie stars. Everyone knew us. I had two girlfriends and a wife back at home raising babies," he said.

"I had 11 sports cars at one time, Rolexes, diamonds. I once spent a million dollars building a race track. I got up in the afternoon and went to all the nightclubs.

"I had a whole cache of weapons- hand grenades, guns - but most people were afraid of me because of my reputation."

He said that his position was only assured by being willing to inflict brutal violence unflinchingly at the request of mob bosses.

On finishing a stint in jail, he was contacted by a member of the Lucchese crime family, who had done him a favour by getting him a phone call. The man asked Polisi too exact revenge on a man suspected of sleeping with the girlfriend of a mob boss.

"I went to the guy's house and a young woman opened the door. I pushed her in," he recalls. "I tied this guy with rope to a pool table and sliced underneath the back of his testicles. She was screaming. The guy was begging. I punched him in the nose and broke it. Then I left him.

"Looking back it was a terrible thing to do but it was like being in the jungle, living with animals. It was survival. If I didn't do it I might have been killed."

Polisi said that before the influx of drugs such as cocaine into the US, a code of honour had existed in the mafia to that point collapsed in the violence that ensued.

"Once the drug business exploded that was the beginning of the end," he explains. "Everyone lost their principles and their minds, killing without a reason.

"Before that you could only be killed for three reasons - you disobeyed your boss, slept with his wife or daughter, or you were an informant.

"If you didn't break those rules you wouldn't get killed. But with drugs the rules went out the window."

When Polisi was arrested on drugs charges, he became an informer, testifying against many of his former associates, including John Gotti, nicknamed the Teflon Don because so many criminal charges had failed to stick to him.

Now, with so many former associates dead, Polisi lives in LA with his family, and feels no guilt for betraying his former colleagues.

"I was more concerned about my kids. They were influenced by the type of things I was doing, I had to teach them it was the wrong way. We broke the chain of mob life."

But he says of life outside the Mafia: "You become a nobody. You don't have the pockets full of money. But crime does not pay - you steal from your soul."

Polisi after his arrest in the 1970s (NYPD)
Polisi after his arrest in the 1970s (NYPD)