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

Monday, January 24, 2011

A former Mafioso’s mob story

“I was bringing 8 to 9 million dollars a week into my operation. I had my own Learjet. I had a helicopter. I had a house in Florida, California and New York. I had 300 crazy guys under me that were willing to do anything I told them to do.
“I was 31 years old.”
An excited crowd piled into the Donald P. Corbett Business Building on Jan. 22 to listen to former Colombo Crime Family Captain Michael Franzese describe his rise to prominence in organized crime, and how his wife and faith led him away from the streets and the mobster lifestyle to become an inspirational speaker and mentor to troubled youth and adults.
“I’m going to tell you a story, my life story, and it’s a mob story,” said Franzese. “Hopefully at the end you will understand what the message is.”
A New York native, Franzese was the son of Colombo Crime Family Underboss John “Sonny” Franzese. The underboss is the second highest position in an organized Italian crime family.
He followed in his father’s footsteps at the age of 21 and entered the organized crime world after he decided that college was not the right choice for him. Franzese spent roughly 20 years in organized crime and according to federal reports he is the highest earning individual mobster since Al Capone.
“I wanted to make money,” Franzese said. “My dad told me that in this life you make money and that translates to power, not unlike real life. I was fortunate. I knew how to use that life to benefit me in business and I made a lot of money.”
In 1987, Fortune Magazine released an article titled the “50 biggest mob bosses in the country.” Franzese was listed at number 18, just five spots behind childhood friend John Gotti.
Franzese’s involvement in a gas bootlegging scheme that earned the Colombo crime family hundreds of millions of dollars during the mid-1980s is well documented.
With the help of the Russian mafia, the Colombo crime family managed to smuggle cheap gasoline into the country and sell it. They charged federal and state taxes on the gasoline, keeping the tax money as profit. Franzese used his money to start businesses in the music and movie industry as well as sports management. Franzese was also involved in gambling rackets and admits the crime family paid off athletes to throw games.
Franzese was indicted by then New York Federal Attorney Rudy Giuliani on four occasions, but he was found not guilty in all instances. This led to Tom Brokaw dubbing him as the “Prince of the Mob.”
Franzese said his life changed when he met his wife in 1984. A religious woman from a devout family made him question the lifestyle he was living.
“There is no doubt she was the catalyst God used to lead me out of that life and to the Lord,” Franzese said. “I started to say to myself that the lifestyle I was living was a direct contradiction to everything their family stood for. How are we going to come together?”
Franzese decided that his wife was more important than the lifestyle and everything that came with it. Franzese was indicted another time, this time taking a different approach to the court case.
“My plan: I’ll take a plea bargain; I’ll do some jail time; I’ll pay some restitution; I’ll move out to the west coast and I will be on parole,” Franzese said. “The guys [in the Colombo crime family] will know I’m on parole and cannot associate with me. Maybe in 10 years they’ll forget about me and I will live happily ever after. That was my plan.”
Franzese was given a 10-year sentence and forced to pay $15 million in restitution. He married his wife in 1985 and renounced his lifestyle. Franzese was released on parole after five years. After 13 months out of prison on parole and refusing to be a witness for the FBI, he was arrested again on a parole violation.
Franzese said that he found God and his own faith in prison after a guard handed him a Bible. He studied the Bible and developed a relationship with God, which in his opinion is the only reason he is still alive today.
Franzese said that “things started happening” after being released. Churches began asking him to tell his story. Franzese wrote three books describing his life in the mob, how he transformed himself and the role his faith has played in his life. He has become an inspirational and motivational speaker for the NCAA, NFL, NBA and MLB.
“I deliver a very strong message throughout this country to all our young people,” Franzese said. “You cannot get away with criminal conduct in this country anymore. You go down that route then you’re going to go down.”
Franzese is the founder of the Breaking Out Foundation, an organization that aims to identify and assist talented youths who are unable to realize their dreams due to circumstances beyond their control.
“Through sports and entertainment, which are obviously industries that young people are turned on to, we lead people into career opportunities that exist in both of those industries,” Franzese said.
The event was sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“When I started to read his story it just sounded incredible to me,” said program coordinator Bruce Johnson. “Tonight was much more than what I expected because it is one thing to read Michael’s story but it is another thing to hear him tell it.”
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes holds one of these events every semester. In the past they have brought in former professional athletes but Johnson felt that Franzese appealed to a broad audience.
“I think what I am amazed at is his humility,” Johnson said. “If you think of the position he had in life, and that position often comes with violence and your intimidating people to respect you … , he is just an incredibly humble and kind person.”
Johnson admitted he was intimidated at first but his fears were alleviated the first time he talked with Franzese.
Franzese said a movie titled “Blood Covenant” that will portray his life is in the making. He is also involved with an A&E series that will focus on the mob.



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