Mug shot of John Franzese taken after his arrest.
February 6, 1917 |
Naples, Italy or on ship to New York
|Criminal penalty||Imprisonment of twelve years (1967), imprisonment of eight years (2010)|
|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) is an Italian-born American longtime member and current underboss of the Colombo crime family. At the time of his release on June 23, 2017, he was the oldest federal prisoner in the United States and the only centenarian in federal custody. 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. He also helped finance the $22,000 pornographic film Deep Throat which generated $30-50 million dollars.
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 Graziano, 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". Court papers accused him of committing rape in 1947, although he was never arrested for it.
According to a 1965 FBI report, the bureau described Franzese as "the fastest growing and most prominent shylock in the Greater New York area," and "has been engaged in taking over New York night clubs through his shylocking enterprise". It is alleged that Franzese had a long standing partnership with former Genovese crime family acting boss Matthew Ianniello, both venturing in the adult entertainment business until the late 1980s which Ianniello had been sentenced to 13 years in 1988.
Franzese operated out of New York City and New Jersey and was involved in racketeering, fraud, and loansharking. He was also a regular at the Copacabana and met with such stars as Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr on a frequent basis. He was initiated in 1949 and served in the crew of Sebastian “Buster” Aloi while as a soldier for the Colombo crime family, father of former Colombo family acting boss Vincenzo Aloi. He is believed to have been elevated to caporegime or captain in the Colombo family in the mid-1950s. 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. He also infiltrated and began to make money through the owner of Calla Records, Nate McCalla, until the recording label ceased operations in 1977 and McCalla was murdered execution style in 1980.
In March 1967, Franzese was convicted of masterminding several bank robberies. He was accused of murdering Genovese crime family hitman-turned informant Ernest Rupolo in 1964 as a favor to Vito Genovese, Rupolo was shot and stabbed several times before his feet were attached to two concrete blocks and his hands tied then dumped into the water. During the trial, the prosecution produced records claiming that Franzese had killed between 30 and 50 people. In 1970, Franzese was sentenced to 50 years in prison by federal judge Jacob Mishler. His son Michael alleged that when Mishler sentenced his father, Franzese declared, “You watch. I’m gonna do the whole 50”. 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 City 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 2 Manhattan strip clubs, running a loanshark operation and extorting a pizzeria on New York's Long Island. Other charges included his henchmen threatening the owners to let him drink for free whilst he would be receiving money from his extortion operation. Franzese was released from the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Massachusetts on June 23, 2017, at the age of 100.
Franzese is married to Cristina Capobianco-Franzese, although the two have separated. As of June 2016, Franzese has eight children, 18 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. His son Michael became a Colombo capo who ran his father's rackets during the 1980s when his father was in prison. He later became a born-again Christian and left the Mafia. His son John, Jr was a Colombo family associate before becoming an FBI informant. According to his other son Michael in his book "Blood Covenant: The Michael Franzese Story", it is claimed Franzese Sr was planning to have John Jr murdered after testifying against him however he subsequently ditched the idea. On June 23, 2017, 100-year-old Franzese returned home after eight years in jail.
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- 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
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