A drug kingpin who controlled a multimillion-dollar cocaine empire in Queens that was so lucrative his lifestyle became the stuff of rap lyrics and street legend, is now in the midst of a senior moment.
After a 20-year stint in federal prisons, Thomas Mickens, once known as “Tony Montana” — after Al Pacino’s notorious “Scarface” character — is teaching fitness classes to senior citizens.
“People who used to work for me look at what I’m doing now and say, ‘What are you doing?’” he told The Post in his first-ever interview. “I left the past in the past — and I was able to walk away.”
Inside the Rain Senior Center in The Bronx last week, no one knew anything about Montana — only Tommy. “Both arms up! Here we go!” Mickens yelled over a thumping bass. A room full of seniors sat enthralled by every squeal and sound effect out of his mouth.
“Three, Four, Five, Six. Talk to me! “Are you weak? No! We’re not weak! Owwwwwwww!” Mickens, 49, started out life in Corona, the son of Mary Mickens and Thomas “Weasel” Harris — a big-time numbers runner.
Mary remarried, and moved the family to working-class Laurelton, where Mickens began showing his entrepreneurial spirit. When he was 10 he carried groceries at area markets, but realized he could make more cash with a cartel of his own.
“I’d pay my friends five dollars a day to help me work, and I’d collect all their money.” But it wasn’t enough. His friends who dealt drugs dressed better than him, and had new sneakers instead of his hand-me-down Pro Keds.
So he dropped out of school by the time he was about 15 to sell marijuana in Mentone Park off the Belt Parkway. “I started with three dollars. I bought a trey bag, rolled up eight joints, and sold each one for a dollar.”
By 17, he was dealing cocaine and living on the 30th floor of a doorman building on Queens Boulevard. “I was selling a kilo every two days,” he recalled. And he now had a crew of at least 50 to help him move the product.
The money — $100,000 on good weeks — really started to pour in. And so did the toys. He eventually amassed a fleet of 21 luxury cars, including a Rolls Royce equipped with a TV, a Ferrari and a Lamborghini; a $800,000 mansion in Dix Hills; a 38-foot-yacht paid for in cash; a helicopter, and a million-dollar smile showing off the diamonds and emeralds bonded to his teeth.
His lifestyle was immortalized by the rapper 50 Cent in the song, “Ghetto Qu’ran” : “Lord knows, Tommy had Laurelton sold/ Helicopters, Rolls Royces with Louis Vuitton interior/ Might sound like I’m fantasizing, but son I’m dead serious.”
Mickens soon owned a string of businesses along Merrick and Rockaway boulevards and Hollis Avenue, all with the “Montana” brand — Montana Dry Cleaners, Montana Sporting Goods, Montana Grocery. He said he stopped hustling in 1986, but the feds nabbed him in 1988, and in 1989 he was convicted of drug dealing, money laundering and tax evasion. He was fined $1 million, had $2.5 million in assets seized, and was handed a 35-year sentence.
After getting out of prison in 2008, he created his first non-Montana business — the “Tommy Experience” dubbed as “a premier health, exercise, and wellness” program. Each session, he said, “is like me giving back to my mother,” who died in 1993 after a stroke.
Seniors who experience Tommy second that emotion. “He’s our pride and joy,” said Daphne Avery, 73, who was untroubled by the news that Tommy was once a coke kingpin. “We love him regardless of what he’s done — his past is his past. This is the present.”
One senior was not only unsurprised — he was empathetic. “I did time myself — 30 years, ” said James Alexander, 81, a volunteer at the center who said he too was locked up for drug dealing. “This shows he got something out of jail. He learned something from it — how to help people.” A Department for the Aging spokesperson had no comment about Mickens’ past, only saying that city-contracted centers make their own hiring decisions according to their own policies.
Sitting comfortably on his couch in his warmly decorated Far Rockaway condo, Mickens — now a father of a 4-year-old girl — insisted he’s humbled. “I’m not proud of what I did to my neighborhoods. I’m not proud of the pain I put my mother through,” he said. Mickens said he was left penniless after he got out of jail, because people he trusted mismanaged his money.
Today, he earns about $40-$150 per class, but still manages to live large, cruising from center to center in a black 2012 Jaguar XJL — a lease. Some days, he’ll drive through Laurelton, where he was once “the man.”
“I don’t stop,” he said.
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