Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Former Mafia Boss attracts crowd at Downriver Prayer Breakfast

Michael Franzese, dubbed “The Born Again Don,” said some of those who attended the 22nd annual Downriver Prayer Breakfast might have come to see him because “‘The Sopranos’ (TV program) is no longer on the air,” but he hopes that it is his message of faith and hope that they will carry with them.

Franzese, keynote speaker at the event Friday at Crystal Gardens, noted that he was featured in a 1987 article in Fortune Magazine titled, “The 50 Biggest Mafia Bosses.” He was listed in 18th place, just five places behind the infamous John Gotti.

He said that today, 43 on the list are dead and three are serving life sentences in prison.

His father was an under boss in the Colombo crime family, and, despite his crime affiliation, “was a great husband and a great father” to his seven children, Franzese said.

During his youth, Franzese could always count on his father to be at all of his baseball and football games.

When his dad arrived at games with a large entourage, Franzese said, the umpires never called a third strike on him and his football opponents were reluctant to tackle him.

Franzese gave the audience a lesson in “Mob 101,” during which he described his introduction into La Cosa Nostra by taking a blood oath at the age of 22. For the previous one year, he had followed orders to do whatever tasks were assigned to him.

He knew that once he became a member, it was a lifetime commitment with no retirement, and if he left, it would be in a coffin or a witness protection program.

By 1980, he was promoted to captain, and through his illegal activities he brought millions of dollars into the mob’s coffers and a lavish lifestyle for himself.

Franzese owed a jet, a helicopter and houses in various cities. However, his life of crime did not escape the watchful eye of law enforcement agencies.

He survived dozens of grand jury appearances, three major racketeering indictments and five criminal trials before spending seven years in prison and surviving a crime syndicate death sentence.

Franzese’s life began to turn around when he met Camille, the woman he eventually married and who led him to accept Christ.

“God knows how to get your attention, and he did it through Camille,” Franzese said.

He was impressed by her faith and the faith of her family.

One day Franzese told his wife he was going to a bank and would be back soon. Instead, he was arrested and his car and bank accounts were seized.

“I had a feeling of hopelessness,” he said. “It is the worst feeling.”

While in prison, he received a Bible from a guard, and began to read it. He was especially moved by the words from Proverbs 16:7, stating, “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, even his enemies are at peace with him.”

After his release from prison, he was asked to give a testimony at a church.

“I didn’t even know what a testimony was,” he said. “I thought it was something you gave to a grand jury.”

He relates to others that he “hit bottom in a big way, and if God can turn my life around, he can do so for you,” he said. “I can use my experience to reach others.”

Franzese continued to give testimonies, and has appeared on many television programs and been featured in numerous magazine articles. He is the author of several books and is looking forward to a proposed TV program.

He said he is trying to reach the heart of his father, who at age 93 still is incarcerated.

“Pray for Sonny,” he asked the audience.

The Downriver Prayer Breakfast was coordinated by Harry Lester, former director of District 2, United Steelworkers, and Leon Judd, former vice president of National Steel Corp.

The Rev. Everett Thomas of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Ecorse read from the Old Testament and the Rev. Bob McCabe of St. Pius X Catholic Church in Southgate read from the New Testament.

Chaplain Beverly Beltramo from Oakwood Southshore Medical Center in Trenton presented the thanksgiving message and the Rev. John Bush of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Trenton gave the invocation. The Rev. Billy Walker of the Billy Walker Evangelistic Association introduced the speaker.

Isabella Garner and Christopher Chavez II of Gabriel Richard High School in Riverview sang the national anthem and “God Bless America,” Billy H. Walker led the group in singing, “How Great Thou Art” and Debbie Allen sang two songs with a Christmas theme.

Special guests at the event were high school students from Baptist Park in Taylor, Gabriel Richard, Cabrini in Allen Park and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Wyandotte.


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