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Essay: A swindler forever tainted the Ponzi family’s good name

Giuseppe (Joseph) Ponzi, the father of reader Robert

Giuseppe (Joseph) Ponzi, the father of reader Robert K. Ponzi of East Patchogue, emigrated from Italy and served on a destroyer in the U.S. Navy in World War II. Credit: Ponzi family

In the immortal words of Richard Nixon, I am not a crook. Nor am I related to one — although my family name is unfortunately synonymous with dishonesty. However, I refuse to give up in disgrace.

I suspect many readers of this essay have heard my name used to describe the actions of a con man. The news media, including Newsday, routinely use the terms “Ponzi scheme” and “pyramid scheme” interchangeably.

I have a simple response for anyone (and there are many) who asks whether I am related to the “inventor” of the “Ponzi scheme.”

“No, I am not!” I say, “but I am proud to be Italian.”

Writing this piece is cathartic. I need to vent.

Charles Ponzi emigrated from Italy in 1903. he was married but had no children; although, like all good Italians, he later brought his mother to live with him in Boston.

His devotion to family may have been his only redeeming quality, because by 1920, he had perfected a scam using the exchange rates of international postal-reply coupons. He reimbursed early investors with money from later ones — in this case, robbing Paul to pay Peter. He spent considerable time in prison and died penniless in Brazil in 1949.

William F. Miller, a Brooklyn bookkeeper, used a similar scheme in 1899, as did Leo Koretz, a Chicago lawyer, in 1923. Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in a North Carolina prison for perpetrating the greatest such fraud, said to be worth $65 billion.

History shows that there will never be a shortage of con men (or women). I sympathize with those who have been scammed, and I believe that crooks guilty of cheating their clients, especially elderly ones, should feel remorse. I suspect many do not. Greed can be more powerful than repentance.

I ask you to consider my family’s legacy.

My father, Giuseppe (Joseph) Ponzi, was born in Parma in 1920 but escaped fascist Italy to join the U.S. Navy. He served on a destroyer and saw combat in the Pacific both at the Marshall Islands and Iwo Jima. My father was humble and instilled patriotism in our family; my elder brother and I served in the military, as did my son, who has a career in law enforcement.

My father was part of the greatest generation, not just because of his service to our country, but because of how he served our family. He was a caring husband and father who commuted from Lindenhurst to his job as a boiler engineer at Domino Sugar in Brooklyn for 30 years without ever complaining. He was a proud citizen who helped raise three successful sons. It pains me to hear his name associated with a criminal act.

My father died in 1998, so he did not see his eight grandchildren become outstanding men and women. I believe he would be proud of them.

Our children have been raised not only to be good citizens, but also to respect their Italian heritage and its traditions. Some of us have visited our father’s birthplace in Parma. We are determined to preserve Joseph Ponzi’s legacy. It should not be tarnished because of the illegal and immoral actions committed 100 years ago by one man with the same surname.

I hope people who read this can resist the temptation of associating our family name with dishonesty or greed. We’re better than that. I know you are, too, so please do not ask whether I am related to the “Ponzi scheme.” I am not! However, my family and I are part of the “Ponzi American dream,” and we are all very proud of this.

Reader Robert K. Ponzi lives in East Patchogue.

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