November 3, 2021

God, the Mafia, My Dad, and Me: Lori Peters

In 1974, Lori Peters was an impressionable 13-year-old growing up in the suburban town of Lodi, California. The wider world from which her parents sheltered her and her sisters fascinated Lori. She was curious about everything, informed about little and dependent on friends to fill gaps with the knowledge she craved. Religion was a topic rarely discussed in her house, so when friends shared their beliefs about God as fact, Lori thought her days on earth were numbered. She carried this news with her for decades as this deadly secret she couldn’t share with her family.

Little did she know, her father, her hero, actually had a secret of his own. In God, The Mafia, My Dad and Me, Lori shares a tale of enduring love, unwavering courage and the unbreakable bond between a father and a daughter. These are the true stories of Lori and her father, Lou Peters, a former combat marine who attracted the attention of a crime family and who was thrust into the spotlight he never imagined for himself.

You’ll learn about the strength required to protect those you love in battles no one else sees, not even the family you’re protecting. Equal parts, beautiful and tragic, this gripping memoir reveals the inexplicable ties that bind, the hope that’s always possible, and the overwhelming power of love.

Welcome to The Author Hour Podcast, I’m your host Benji Block and today, I am honored to be joined by Lori Peters, who has just come out with a new book. The book is titled, God, The Mafia, My Dad and Me: A True Story of Secrets and Survival. Lori, we’re so glad to have you here on Author Hour today.

Lori Peters: Well, Benji, thank you for having me.

Benji Block: Absolutely. Lori, we’re going to dive into the book here, and the story, but maybe just for some context, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’re up to these days?

Lori Peters: Sure. Right now, I own and operate a barber shop in the State of Washington. I’ve had my shop for 18 years and it’s the longest that I have had or worked at a business or for an employer, it’s the longest amount of time. Where I live, it feels like home and it just means a lot to me that I was able to build up my business and I live in a place that I feel safe and secure.

Benji Block: Yeah, that’s amazing. We’re going to dive into your story and some of your roots and your childhood here. What made this the right time to take on writing a book as you’re saying you feel like you found home and you’re doing this job that you love, but why take on the project of writing and releasing a book?

Lori Peters: Yes, well, just to clarify, I wouldn’t say I love my job but the only thing that was really important to me, that I was focused on, was completing the book that my father started. That was the most important thing to me, that’s what kept me going through life. I feel safe to do it now because I feel like I live in a home, I love this area, I love my place, my home and it gave me the freedom to be able to really delve into putting this book together finally.

I’ve just had my own issues that I’ve been dealing with for many, many years and it just felt like it was time. I felt confident enough to take it on.

Benji Block: That’s great. When you’re writing this, you said your dad kind of started it. Talk to me a little bit about that and when was that the project kind of had its very earliest beginnings?

Lori Peters: Well, yes. When my father was diagnosed with cancer, he did a voice tape. He wanted to write about his experiences of working with the FBI. He started a voice tape and he did all of the background. He talked about where he was born and growing up and going into the military, college and he got right up to that point where the mafia got involved in our lives and on the tape he says, “In the spring of 1977 is when things really changed and I will start that on the next tape.” Well, there was never a next tape.

Benji Block: Wow.

Lori Peters: I had that background and after everything that came out about his story, I collected everything, and I’ve kept it with me for years. I decided around 2002, well actually about 2003, after I had moved to Washington and the actual city where I live, I decided to just pull out all the material and start writing my dad’s story.

I was never going to tell my story [as] I started to write his story and I realized, even though I had a lot of information, I just didn’t feel confident enough to give it the justice that it deserved. So, I kind of put it aside and then I tried a different way of writing and then no, that wasn’t working. I put it aside and then I would say, about in 2014, 2015, I started writing some more and then it still wasn’t working, so about three years ago, I thought, You know, maybe I should start writing about my story.

Benji Block: Yup.

Lori Peters: Then, I realized after I started doing that, that my dad’s story was intertwined and I thought, Oh, I can just tell both stories at the same time. That changed everything for me.

Benji Block: Yeah, that’s kind of how the book— you end up formatting it in a way where you tell part of your dad’s story and part of yours in each chapter. Was that what led to the breakthrough starting to format the book a bit that way?

Lori Peters: Yes, most definitely, because, what happened to me was three years before the mafia came around, but I’ve realized, as I was writing my story, what got me through what I went through was my dad. It was our relationship and we were really close. I was really so focused on projects that he was involved in, activities… like his car dealership there would be parties and events, they’d go on trips. 

I always felt safe because I knew that my dad had something coming up and that’s part of what saved me.

Benji Block: Wow, yeah, you think of your dad, his personality, the way he interacted with the world around him, is there – I mean, tell me a couple of things that come to mind, something that sums him up?

Lori Peters: Wow, there are so many ways to describe him but he always gave someone a chance. He didn’t care what your age was, your race, your background, nothing. He always gave someone a chance because he found it difficult for him to get a chance and so he always wanted to provide that for someone. He was fair as an employer, but he wanted people to give it all because he always gave a hundred percent.

He wanted people to strive and become better, whether it was with work or life in general. Just one example, when we were young, my dad, he always had a Cadillac to drive. It was always a new Cadillac because he was a car dealer and he worked for General Motors. One day, we were going to this fancy luncheon, and my sisters and I were standing at the dealership—my mom dropped us off— we’re standing by his new Cadillac and waiting for him to come out of the dealership, and then all of a sudden, we see this old 1964 door Datsun, this really dull looking car pull up and dad’s all dressed up to the nines and we’re all dressed— our hair is curled and then we look at him and we say, “Dad, why are you taking this car? You can’t take this car, what are people going to say?” You know?

He says, “No girls, I like this car, this is the car we’re going to take today. Let’s get in.” And we were harassing him all the way. We said, “You’re going to be laughed at. People can’t believe you’re pulling up in this car” and on the way there, he said, “You know, I don’t care what people think about me driving this car. You shouldn’t either, it doesn’t matter what people think or where you want to go in life or who you want to be.”

I just soaked that in. Every time he gave us, taught me something, I just soaked it in. I stopped teasing him, right? My sisters kept teasing him and I said, “You guys stop teasing Dad”, I said, “You don’t get it”. They kept teasing him and I said, “That’s okay” because I got it. I knew what he was trying to teach us. That’s our closeness, we were just always really close and that also shows how he was with people and his personality. He loved practical jokes too. See, I could go on and on about him, he’s my favorite, absolute favorite person.

Benji Block: One thing that’s mentioned in the book is kind of going right off what you were saying is your similarities and you guys were told that there is definitely— you are more like your dad is what it says in the book. What are some of those similarities that come to mind? 

Lori Peters: I would say, our personality, our laughter, we love to laugh and joke around. We also give people a chance in life. We treat people, no matter who they are, with respect and that’s what I do with my customers at the shop. No matter who they are, what they look like, it doesn’t matter. It just matters that you treat them with respect, and you take care of them, and you smile, and you be considerate and respectful. I would say, that’s my dad and I.

Telling My Story

Benji Block: Yeah. That’s so good. There’s really two main aspects to the book that we touched on kind of already, at a high level. There’s your dad’s story and there’s your story and there’s obviously all these sorts of crossovers but I’ll let you choose. I want to go down both paths, which one would you want to walk down first?

Lori Peters: Well, we could start about my story because it happened before the mafia. So that would probably be a good place to start.

Benji Block: I’m sure for listeners, they’re very intrigued because we keep hinting at the mafia and we will get there and it’s very interesting and the book is definitely worth picking up. Stick with us for just a couple of minutes but this is a good place to start. I think you’re right as far as the timeline goes, to start with you, Lori, as a kid, kind of growing up and some of your experience there. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your personality as a kid and then this sort of instrumental moment that the book kind of talks about a bit?

Lori Peters: Yeah, I was always very interested in everything, curious about everything. Life, the way the sun looked, just always very curious. I loved to be outside and look at all kinds of creatures and my family liked to read a lot and I just was never much for reading. I was just too fascinated about what was outside and what was around me.

I remember, just as an example, I would look at the sun and I would look away and I started seeing, when I open and close my eyes, it just seemed like red. I would see red and I’d say, “Mom, how come I’m seeing red after I look at the sun?” and she said, “Well, stop doing that.” She didn’t know how to explain it.

I was always coming up with these different things about life and I just always wanted to know more and that was very hard for my parents. Well, my dad, not so much, but you could, as a young girl, you could only talk to your father about certain subjects, you know. Sex, religion, those kinds of things just weren’t talked about, growing up— I was born in 1960. Parents, it didn’t seem— I don’t know if most parents were like this, but we didn’t really talk about anything in our house, it was just more surface stuff. Surface subjects.

I could always sense that things were being kept from me. That was hard because there would be incidents that would happen, like your body changing for a girl, and I didn’t know what was happening and my mom never talked to me. I never saw her get dressed or put on her makeup or anything. Everything was very secretive, I felt. I even thought I was adopted because I didn’t see my parents kiss or anything.

Benji Block: Wow, yeah.

Lori Peters: I thought, “Well, how can they have me if they’re not even – showing any emotion to each other?” you know? I always kind of processed things so much, almost to a fault. What happened was, since I wasn’t given much information and there were no computers, there was no way to research anything. The only thing that you saw for news and information was actually the newspaper.

That’s where you got your information or on the television news. It was on, if you can imagine this, only on once in the evening and once in the morning and that was it.

Benji Block: Almost sounds better.

Lori Peters: Doesn’t it though? Exactly. One day, I had met my friends on a schoolyard— they are my best friends— and they told me some things about religion and about the second coming that I never heard of— didn’t know anything about that, we didn’t go to church. I was so excited to meet my friends because we would meet at the school, which was across the street, it was an elementary school.

We used to meet there and have girl time and girl chats, and these are my two best friends, but they were complete opposite. We were talking and I was excited because I knew that I wanted to marry my boyfriend. He was a year younger, and we were going to be going into high school and he was going to be going into the 8th grade.

I was nervous that we would lose touch with each other, we might not see each other much anymore. I was so excited to tell my friends that, “I want to marry him one day, I do” I said, “Don’t you guys want to get married?” And my friend said, “Well Lori, we’re not going to have time” and I’m like, “What are you talking about?”

Benji Block: We’re so young, what do you mean?

Lori Peters: “What do you mean we’re not going to have time?” Yeah. She said, “Well no, God is going to be coming soon to take everyone to heaven” and I’m like, “Excuse me? What are you talking about? You don’t know — What is this?” I said, “You’re kidding”. She goes, “No, I’m not kidding.” I was just absolutely stunned, I had never heard anything like this and so I looked at my other friend and I said, “What is she talking about?” 

I said, “Do you believe in this second coming?” and she said, “Yeah” and I said, “Really?”. I realized at that moment of all the things up until then that I went through; finding things out from my friends or from teachers or from everyone but my parents, I realized, this right now is going to be huge. I knew it was going to be huge and being my curious self, I had to get more and more and more information. 

As I did, it became so overwhelming and my mind was completely overcome with fear and dread and I went into another dimension. It’s hard to explain but I try to detail in the book as close as I can, I had no idea what was wrong with me. I felt like if I reached out to them that they would just vanish in a cloud of dust or break apart. It was like it wasn’t real. I was in some other realm I don’t know, and all I could think of was just to go home. 

“You just have to run home.” That’s the only thing I had in my head because I felt safe being inside, and my home is the only thing where nothing real happened, you know, everything was surface. There were no real issues so I didn’t have to worry about anything. It was like a fortress to me, my home.

Benji Block: Yeah. 

Lori Peters: I went there and I went in my bedroom and I stayed in there and cried and cried for hours and I realized that I was going to die and I didn’t know how much time I had. I didn’t know if I had a day, a week, a month and then I became angry. I became so angry, and it got to the point where my mom called us for dinner and I had been in my bedroom for hours, I didn’t even realize it. 

I remember before I left my bedroom, I said to myself, “Okay, game on killer” and I was saying that to God because I thought, “You’re going to kill me. How dare you?” I was so upset because I didn’t want to die. I’m only 13 years old, I don’t want to die. 

Benji Block: Yeah, you’re 13 and recognizing your mortality and then now God is playing this part and your parents aren’t the ones talking to you about it. There is so many interesting elements to that. 

Lori Peters: Yeah. 

Benji Block: How do you see that end up playing out over the course of years as they go on and sort of your approach to God? 

Lori Peters: Well, trying to stay away from it. I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t tell anyone because I felt if I were to mention it to anyone, that what happened to me on the school grounds that day, the same thing would happen to me if the person I was telling confirmed that this was going to happen, I knew I would not survive. I would be dead. So, the thing was, I was going to be dead when God was coming but I try not to believe that, or I was going to be dead because, as my friends put it, people who don’t go with God will be here on earth and it’ll be unrecognizable. Everything you see is not going to be like it is now and there’s going to be – 

Benji Block: There’s hell on earth. 

Lori Peters: Exactly. And people will be killing each other, you’ll have this tattoo or this 666 on your forehead you can never take off and the earth would be destroyed by the humans, by God. So, you cannot – if you wanted to say, “Okay God, I changed my mind. I want to go with you”, my friends said, “No, you can’t do that.” That you can’t – once you said “no”, that’s it. I had a hard time, I couldn’t tell anyone until I was 38 years old and I finally was able to tell someone. 

Benji Block: Were you doing research that whole time or thinking about it only or was there like – 

Lori Peters: Oh God no, you mean just during my life up until 38? 

Benji Block: Yeah, like were you looking into it anymore or was it just something like kind of in the background that you were just like fearful of? 

Lori Peters: No, I just stayed away from it. Anytime somebody would just talk about it, I would start to panic. I just had to avoid that. I was married, I never told my husband what was wrong or what I went through. I could only say that I had panic attacks and anxiety, I just didn’t know why. I thought something was actually physically wrong with my brain because of that, what happened on the school ground. 

I thought something was physically wrong. I didn’t think that being afraid of God and a second coming would actually cause complex PTSD. It just never occurred to me. I just thought something was wrong in my brain. 

Taking On The Mafia

Benji Block: Wow, so that’s happening on one side— and you can read this obviously, read it in detail in the book. I want to highlight what’s happening in your family and with your dad on the other side, and this is fascinating, but what’s the genesis? Because this is what, you said three years after maybe your experience in the school ground, then your dad has this run-in with the Bonanno crime family, right? 

Lori Peters: Yes. 

Benji Block: What is going on there? 

Lori Peters: Yes. Well, my dad was really successful, and he turned the dealership around. It was once going to be bankrupt and he bought it, turned it around, [it] was very successful. Around that same time, an acquaintance of my father’s who was in the construction business, he came to my father and said, “I know some people that want to buy your dealership” and my dad said, “It’s not for sale.” 

He said, “No, name any price. These people have lots of money” and so my dad just threw out a number just to get rid of an unwelcome buyer. He threw out two million dollars and the acquaintance said, “Oh, okay.” So, he came back and tells my dad, “No, two million is fine, they will buy it.” Now, my dad is thinking, “Okay, who are these people?” 

Benji Block: Some sort of red flag, yeah. 

Lori Peters: Yes, “Who would be willing to pay this much money for my dealership?” So, the acquaintance didn’t want to say who it was, and my dad finally talked to him into telling him and my dad, you know, he had a car dealership, he was good at talking with people, which is what helped him. The acquaintance said, “Well, it’s the Bonanno family” and my dad didn’t know who they were, what that meant. 

This acquaintance said, “Well, they’re the head of the mafia of the whole United States.” Well, my dad was thinking, “Oh”. You know, I’m sure part of him was like, “Okay, why are they here? Why do they want to be in Lodi?” and then part of him is, I’m sure, he was thinking, “Is this acquaintance of mine, is he out of his mind? Are these really the mafia or is he just pulling my…” you know, he didn’t know.

Benji Block: Right. 

Lori Peters: I mean, that’s what I’m thinking because I know him so well, so I am thinking that’s what he thought. He went to his good friend, the chief of police in Lodi and they were good friends. They had built a relationship over the years and so he went to Mark and he said, “Mark, do you know of the Bonannos? They seem to want to come here and buy my dealership” and everything. 

Mark is, he’s like, “Oh man”. He just knew what would happen if the mafia came into town. He called the stock and FBI office and then my dad went there and he picked out Bonanno Jr. They asked him, “Well, do you want to go undercover?” Well, my dad was a former combat Marine in the Korean war and also in intelligence and he was very patriotic, and he really wanted to do this, but he didn’t say yes right away. But he said, “Let me think about it overnight” because he wanted to talk to my mom but my dad, knowing him, he’d already made up his mind. 

He was going to do this, so they talked about it and then he got in touch with the FBI the next day and he said, “Okay, I’m going to do this but I want to make it clear that I am not going to be an informant. I don’t want to get paid for this. I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do. It just has to be done”. And so, come to find out, what the Bonannos were wanting to do is purchase dealerships across California and launder money that Bonanno Sr. had in Quebec, Canada that he wanted to unload in the United States. 

He had about $40 million at that time and we’re talking like mid-70s, so they wanted my dad to kind of oversee things and acquire on different dealerships, investigate them and get them signed up and purchased and they were going to give him a salary plus two million for his dealership. So yes, he ended up going undercover and playing a role. 

Benji Block: It ends up not being like a short thing, right? I mean, this is like major commitment from your dad. 

Lori Peters: Yes. He had to move out of our home and he got an apartment in the next town over and he was in the lower apartment. The FBI agent who he worked closely with, Bob Anderson, he was in the upstairs apartment. They lowered a guy upside down in the chimney to wire it with audio, video and the whole apartment was bugged and the reason why they got an apartment was, Jack de Felipe called our home. 

He is part of the Bonanno organization and he called our home and my older sister, Leslie, answered the phone and he said something to my sister about, “You know, we need to get together. I work with your dad. We need to get together sometime for dinner. Our families and all.” Well, when my dad found that out, he was livid and so he told the FBI. He says, “This is what I’m going to do. There is not going to be discussion over this.” 

He was very determined, he says, “This is what we’re going to do. I am going to get a legal separation and that way, I’ll have a reason to move out of the house because I do not want them calling the home. I do not want them near the home. I want to protect my wife and my children.” So, they said, “Okay Lou” but they didn’t want him to — The FBI was always looking out for my dad. They were so good about that. 

My dad would come up with some wild ideas to get the Bonannos and they had to reign in him a little bit because he was just so focused and stubborn, too, at times. So, they said, “No, that’s way too much to ask of you. We would never ask you to separate from your wife. No.” My dad said, “But this is what we’re doing. If you want me to do this, this is what I have to do.” So, they were all in and it took over two years. 

Benji Block: Wow, now looking back at that whole season, that whole time, is there something that just – when you think about your dad and that situation, that just impresses you or just sticks out and is like, “Man, that is so surprising that he was willing to do all of that.” What kind of memories come up now? 

Lori Peters: I always saw my father as a hero because he annoyingly kept me alive. He never knew the impact that he had on my life. When I started reading about this after he came home and he was able to talk about minimal stuff and then we started getting this articles and these different news organizations, magazines coming around and wanting to interview him and I was like in awe. I was like, “Oh my gosh.” It was twofold. 

One, I thought, “I am so proud of him, and I can’t even believe that he did this. It’s incredible. But I know he’s so strong and he can talk to people like nobody’s business.” That I already knew, so it just raised his hero status with me. But the other part was knowing that he had this impact on the community and the country. People knew about it, I thought to myself, “There is no way God’s going to come and get me now” and that’s what I always tried to focus on. 

Every event that my dad had I thought, There is no way God is going to come and take me because that would piss off my dad way too much, you know? My dad’s important. This is what I felt when I was a kid, My dad is important. He’s not going to interrupt things that have to do with my dad. I just still had that mentality, so when all this came out, I was like, Oh my god, I’ll be saved maybe forever. 

I’m thinking, Because this will be talked about forever in my mind, you know. At the time it was just so unusual and extraordinary. I was like, “I’m going to be saved for a long time”. Then I came back to earth, and I realized, “Well, look, he ended up cutting your dad’s life short so —” you know. But yeah, with me I still have this little doubt that the second coming will happen. Just this tiny little – I still don’t – I am not a 100%…

Benji Block: It just lingers. 

Lori Peters: Yes, and I am sure because it’s been with me for so many years untreated, this PTSD, that, you know what, there is still a little bit. But no, I don’t believe in religion. It’s caused me too much pain and I think it’s all just a way of control. I just can’t go there. I don’t see it, there’s got to be something else. Or if there isn’t and there’s just nothing, you know? A lot of people think that your life just ends and it’s over, so enjoy it while you’re here.

Benji Block: I think there is so much to learn from each person’s experience and stories when it comes to anything, whether it’s religious, spiritual and even what you’re saying on the other side where, it’s more of this maybe nothing happens, and there is the beauty and diversity. But I’ll say, it was amazing that you chose to share your story and clearly, your dad’s story as well, getting to get that actually written as something that he had started recording. I think it is beautiful that you took the time to put this all into one book. 

Lori Peters: Thank you so much. 

Benji Block: Absolutely. 

Lori Peters: Well, I made him a promise the day of the funeral and I said, “I don’t know how, and I don’t know when but I kind of finished the book you started.” It’s 40 years, but I did it and I am proud of myself, and I think he would be proud of me too. 

Benji Block: Absolutely, that’s amazing and congratulations on finishing the book. 

Lori Peters: Thank you so much Benji. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate this. 

Benji Block: Well, the book is, God, The Mafia, My Dad and Me: A True Story of Secrets and Survival. It is on Amazon now. We encourage everyone to go pick it up and Lori, thank you so much for taking the time and being on Author Hour today. 

Lori Peters: Thank you so much Benji. 

Benji Block: Awesome. That was great.