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Robert De Niro, Sophia Loren & Tommy Mottola Honored at the NIAF 27th Anniversary


Contact: Elissa Ruffino (NIAF) 202/939-3106202/939-3106 or

** Legendary Singer Tony Bennett Dedicates Song to Sophia Loren **
** President of Italian Senate Marcello Pera Addressed 3,000 at Gala **

(WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 29, 2002) Robert De Niro and Sophia Loren were inducted into the National Italian American Foundation’s (NIAF) Italian American Hall of Fame this past Saturday evening, October 26 at the NIAF’s 27th Anniversary Awards Gala at the Hilton Washington Hotel in Washington, DC. Thomas (Tommy) D. Mottola, chairman and CEO, Sony Music Entertainment Inc., received a NIAF Special Achievement Award in the Music Industry.

Singer Tony Bennett sang to actress Sophia Loren, “Wait till you see her, you won’t believe your eyes.” Jack Valenti, Motion Picture of Association of America chairman and CEO, who presented the award to Sophia Loren emphasized that she is the only woman to ever win the Best Actress Oscar for a foreign-language film. On Saturday evening, she became the first native of Italy inducted into the NIAF’s Italian American Hall of Fame.

The Foundation’s Special Achievement Awards in Business at this year’s gala were awarded to Christina Johnson, president & CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue and Robert Nardelli, chairman, president and CEO of The Home Depot. Paul Chiapparone, vice chairman of Electronic Data Systems (EDS), accepted the NIAF’s Special Achievement Award for Humanitarian Service. The men involved in the rescue mission that freed Paul Chiapparone as a hostage in Iran in 1979 were in attendance along with Ross Perot. They received a standing ovation.

The 2002 NIAF gala honorees were joined by actors Michael Badalucco of “The Practice;” Ruth Buzzi of “Laugh In;” Robert Davi; Robert Loggia and Doris Roberts of “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

During the gala dinner, NIAF Chairman Frank J. Guarini introduced one of Italy’s highest ranking and most respected political officials, the President of the Italian Senate Marcello Pera. Senator Pera commented, “his favorite movie star was Sophia Loren but his wife’s favorite star was Robert De Niro.”

In a video, actor Jerry Lewis announced the newly established Dean Martin Scholarship in Music by the Foundation. Deana Martin, daughter of famed crooner, was at the NIAF podium for the announcement, introduced by NIAF President Joseph Cerrell.

NIAF/Sergio Franchi Music Scholar James Valenti opened the gala by singing the Italian and American anthems. The 3,000 guests then joined him in singing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Tony Bennett presented the NIAF Special Achievement Award to Sony Music’s Thomas (Tommy) D. Mottola, while Mottola gave the honors to Robert De Niro. The Foundation’s 2002 Special Achievement Awards in Business were presented by Gucci President and CEO Domenico De Sole to Christina Johnson and Governor Tom Ridge, White House Homeland Security advisor, to Robert Nardelli.

CNBC Anchor Ron Insana was this year’s master of ceremonies. He shared the dais with his CNBC colleague Maria Bartiromo. Dick Grasso, New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) chairman and NIAF vice chairman, was the Year 2002 gala dinner chairman.

U.S. Representatives John LaFalce (NY) and Connie Morella (MD) were joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, U.S. Supreme Court; Patricia de Stacy Harrison, assistant secretary of State; Louis Freeh, former FBI director; Hon. Melvin F. Sembler, US Ambassador to Italy; Hon. Jim Nicholson, US Ambassador to the Vatican; Hon. Ferdinando Salleo, Italy’s Ambassador to the U.S., Renzo Tondo, president of the Region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Sergio Dressi, the Region’s director of tourism and trade.

Yogi Berra, baseball legend; Brian Boitano, Olympic gold medalist; Joe Gibbs, NASCAR team owner and Bruno Sammartino, former World Champion wrestler, joined the celebrities and NIAF honorees at the dinner.

This year the NIAF awarded an estimated one million dollars in scholarships and grants to hundreds of students. The NIAF funded 50 research projects and 12 university grants to Italian clubs.

Recognizing the younger generation, the NIAF organized its sixth annual youth gala which attracted almost 250 young Americans of Italian descent from 25 states. Alicia Renee Luciano, the New Jersey Miss America contestant, was honored at the NIAF Youth Gala for her positive comments concerning Italian Americans being portrayed negatively in the media during this year’s Miss America Pageant. Afterwards, the young adults, along with many gala attendees, enjoyed a post-gala dessert buffet, coffee and dancing.

The 2002 NIAF Awards Gala capped the NIAF’s two-day annual convention (October 25-26), the largest formal annual gathering of Italian Americans in the country. Conferences were held both days including, “Contributions of Italians to the Founding of America,” with an exhibit of an original copy of the Declaration of Independence; “The New Italian Renaissance: Art, Gastronomy and Beauty” and “Children of the Greats,” discussions with children of famous Italian Americans from the past.

The NIAF gala weekend which featured Italy’s region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia included the traditional celebrity luncheon and auction, and wine and food seminars sponsored by the Italian region. Proceeds from the event benefit the NIAF scholarship and education programs.