Mug shot of John Franzese taken after his arrest.
February 6, 1917 |
|Criminal penalty||Imprisonment of twelve years (1967), imprisonment of eight years (2010)|
|Criminal status||Incarcerated at Federal Medical Center in Devens, Massachusetts|
|Parent(s)||Carmine "The Lion" Franzese and Maria Corvola|
|Conviction(s)||Bank robbery (1967), extortion (2010), parole violations|
John "Sonny" Franzese, Sr. (born February 6, 1917 Naples), is an Italian-born American longtime member and current underboss of the Colombo crime family. He is currently the oldest federal prisoner in the United States. Arguably, Franzese has been famous as the current oldest active member of the American Mafia. Franzese is listed as an associate producer of the 2002 film This Thing of Ours, which stars James Caan.
Rise in the Colombo crime family
He was born to Carmine "The Lion" Franzese and Maria Corvola, although his birth year is a source of confusion. Federal prison records say that he was born February 6, 1917. However, his son Michael Franzese says that his father was actually born in 1919. According to some sources, Franzese was born at sea on the ship that brought his parents to New York.[better source needed]
Raised in New York City, in the late 1930s Franzese joined the Profaci crime family (later named the Colombo crime family) under boss Joseph Profaci. Franzese bore a close physical resemblance to boxer Rocky Marciano, one of his friends. His first arrest came in 1938, for assault. In 1942, in the midst of World War II, he was discharged from the United States Army because he displayed '"homicidal tendencies" Although never being arrested for it, court papers accused him of committing rape in 1947.
Franzese operated out of New York City and New Jersey and was involved in racketeering, fraud, and loansharking. He is believed to have been elevated to caporegime or captain in the Colombo family in the mid-1950s and by 1964 he had been promoted to underboss. In 1966, Franzese was able to avoid a conviction for murdering a rival and dumping the body into a bay.
In 1967, Franzese gained a financial interest in a new recording company, Buddah Records. The company became quite successful, recordings hits for acts such as Melanie Safka, the Isley Brothers, and Curtis Mayfield. Franzese used Buddah to launder illegal mob earnings and to bribe disc jockeys with payola.
In March 1967, Franzese was convicted of masterminding several bank robberies. During the trial, the prosecution produced records claiming that Franzese had killed between 30 to 50 people. In 1970, Franzese was sentenced to 50 years in prison. In 1978, Franzese was released on parole but returned to prison in 1982 for a parole violation. In 1984, Franzese was released on parole again. Until 2008, he was never charged with another crime, although he would frequently return to jail on parole violations.
Workshop on murder
In later years, Franzese discussed techniques for mob murders with Gaetano "Guy" Fatato, a new Colombo associate. What Franzese did not realize was that Fatato was a government informant and was taping the conversation. Franzese told Fatato:
"I killed a lot of guys - you’re not talking about four, five, six, ten."
Franzese also told Fatato that he put nail polish on his fingertips before a murder to avoid leaving fingerprints at the crime scene. Franzese also suggested wearing a hairnet during the murder so as to avoid leaving any hair strands at the crime scene that could be DNA analyzed. Finally, Franzese stressed the importance of properly dealing with the corpse. His procedure was to dismember the corpse in a kiddie pool, dry the severed body parts in a microwave oven, and then run the parts through a commercial-grade garbage disposal. Franzese observed:
"Today, you can’t have a body no more...It’s better to take that half-an-hour, an hour, to get rid of the body than it is to leave the body on the street."
In 1986, after Carmine Persico was sentenced to 139 years in prison, he created a three-man Ruling Panel to oversee the Colombo family. Persico had planned to place Franzese on this panel, but in August 1986, Franzese was sent back to prison again for another parole violation. In January 1991, after returning to the weakened Colombo crime family, Franzese again violated parole and went to prison for meeting with other organized crime figures. In November 2000, after resuming a top authority in the family, Franzese violated parole again and was sent back to prison in January 2001. Law enforcement had learned about the meeting from Franzese's son, John Franzese, Jr., who had become a government informant.
After the 2005 incarceration of John "Jackie" DeRoss, Franzese became the new underboss. However, in May 2007, Franzese was again returned to prison for a parole violation. In June 2008, Franzese, still incarcerated, was indicted on charges of participating in murders during the Colombo Wars of the early 1990s, stealing fur coats in New York in the mid-1990s, and participating in home invasions by police impersonators in Los Angeles in 2006.
On June 4, 2008, Franzese was indicted along with other Colombo mobsters on charges of racketeering conspiracy, robbery, extortion, narcotics trafficking, and loansharking. On December 24, 2008, Franzese was released from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. According to law enforcement, Franzese remains the official underboss of the Colombo family.
On January 14, 2011, the 93-year-old Franzese was sentenced to eight years in prison for extorting Manhattan strip clubs and a pizzeria on New York's Long Island. Franzese is currently incarcerated at Federal Medical Center in Devens, Massachusetts. His scheduled release date is June 25, 2017.
Franzese is married to Cristina Capobianco-Franzese, although the two have separated. He has at least seven children: Michael, John, Jr. Carmine, Maryanne and Lorraine, Julia and unnamed son living in Florida. In addition to the grandchildren in the New York area he has 5 in South Carolina. Vincent, Jacob, John Lee, and Laura who are twins. They also have an older sister who prefers to remain unnamed. They go to visit Grandpa whenever he allows it. Michael Franzese became a Colombo capo (now out of the family) who ran his father's rackets during the 1980s when his father was in prison.
- Bureau of Narcotics, Sam Giancana Mafia: The Governments Secret File on Organized Crime.(pg. 454)
- "LAW AND ORDER; In the Can" New York Times November 3, 2002
- "A Godfather Betrayed by His Namesake, Part II" by Jerry Capeci New York Sun May 17, 2007
- "John - Sonny - Franzese" La Cosa Nostra Database
- Hays, Tom (January 14, 2011). "Geriatric NY gangster, 93, gets 8 years in prison". My Way News (IAC). Associated Press. Retrieved January 15, 2011.
- "'Extreme Couponing' gone too far? Expert offers tips on how to save big without obsessing". Daily News (New York).[dead link]
- "FRANZESE AND 4 ARE FOUND GUILTY; Albany Jury Convicts Them in Bank Robberies" New York Times May 3, 1967
- "Franzese Is Said to Have Killed '30 or 40 or 50' Persons" New York Times March 4, 1967
- "Board Would Send Franzese to Prison" New York Times August 21, 1986
- Feds want jury to hear Sonny talk about mob murders" by Jerry Capeci The Huffington Post February 22, 2010
- "Crime Figure Seized on L.I.; Parole Violations Are Cited" New York Times April 29, 1986
- "Nine Are Arrested in Sweeping Organized Crime Crackdown" New York Times June 5, 2008
- COLOMBO ORGANIZED CRIME FAMILY ACTING BOSS, UNDERBOSS, AND TEN OTHER MEMBERS AND ASSOCIATES INDICTED" Department of Justice Press Release June 4, 2008
- Geriatric NY gangster, 93, gets 8 years in prison Asked by a journalist at court whether 8 years was a life sentence for a man of his years, Franzese said "Die outside, die in the pen, everybody got to die some place".
- "Inmate Locator". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
- Nodfather Sonny Franzese's estranged wife begs judge for mercy, but kin says he's happier in jail
- La Cosa Nostra – State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation 1989 Report- The Colombo/Persico/Orena Family
- Mafia: The Government's Secret File On Organized Crime