John Franzese

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John Franzese
John Franzese mug shot.jpg
Born (1917-02-06) February 6, 1917 (age 102)
Naples, Italy
Other names"Sonny"
OccupationCrime boss
Criminal statusReleased
Spouse(s)Cristina Capobianco-Franzese
Children7, including John Franzese Jr. and Michael Franzese
Parent(s)Carmine Franzese and Maria Corvola
AllegianceColombo Crime Family
Conviction(s)Bank robbery (1967)
extortion (2011)
Criminal penalty50 years imprisonment (1967)
Eight years imprisonment (2011)

John "Sonny" Franzese Sr. (Italian: [ˈfrantseːze; -eːse]; born February 6, 1917) is a powerful Italian-American mobster who is a longtime member of the Colombo crime family. Franzese's career in organized crime spans over eight decades and he served as 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. Franzese is currently the oldest living gangster in the world.[1][2][3][4]

Rise in the Colombo crime family[edit]

Franzese was born in Naples, Italy, to Carmine Franzese and Maria Corvola on February 6, 1917, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.[5][6][7] However, his son, Michael Franzese, says that his father was actually born in 1919.[5] He grew up with three brothers. He moved with his family to New York City when he was a young boy.

In the late 1930s, Franzese worked under Joseph Profaci, underboss of the Profaci crime family (later named the Colombo crime family). Franzese bore a close physical resemblance to boxer Rocky Graziano, one of his friends. His first arrest came in 1938, for assault.[8] In 1942, in the midst of World War II, he was discharged from the United States Army because he displayed "homicidal tendencies".[8][9] Court papers accused him of committing rape in 1947, although he was never arrested for it.[8] According to a 1965 FBI report, the bureau described Franzese as "the fastest growing and most prominent loan shark 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 when Ianniello was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Franzese (left) with boxer Rocky Graziano (center) in the 1940s

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.[10] He was initiated in 1949 and served in the crew of Sebastian "Buster" Aloi, 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 Joseph Profaci. By 1964, he had been promoted to underboss by Joseph Colombo. In 1966, Franzese was able to avoid a conviction for murdering a rival and dumping the body into a bay.[8]

In 1967, Franzese gained a financial interest in a new recording company, Buddah Records. The company became quite successful, recording hits for acts such as Melanie Safka, Bill Withers, 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.[11][12]

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.[13] During the trial, the prosecution produced records claiming that Franzese had killed between 30 and 50 people.[14]

In March 1967, Franzese was convicted of masterminding several bank robberies.[15] In 1970, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison by federal judge Jacob Mishler.[5] His son, Michael, alleged that when Mishler sentenced his father, Franzese declared, "You watch. I'm gonna do the whole 50".[13] In 1978, Franzese was released[8] on parole but returned to prison in 1982 for a parole violation. In 1984, Franzese was released on parole again.[16] Until 2008, he was never charged with another crime,[8] although he would frequently return to jail on parole violations.

Frequent parole violations[edit]

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 1992, 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.[17]

Workshop on murder[edit]

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:

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.[18]

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:

Indictments and last sentence[edit]

Franzese and his son in 2005.

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.[19] 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.[20]

On June 4, 2008, Franzese was indicted along with other Colombo mobsters on charges of racketeering conspiracy, robbery, extortion, narcotics trafficking, and loansharking.[21] On December 24, 2008, Franzese was released from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. According to law enforcement, Franzese remained the official underboss of the Colombo family.[20]

With the help of Franzese Jr.'s testimony, the 93-year-old Franzese Sr., on January 14, 2011, was sentenced to eight years in prison for extorting two Manhattan strip clubs, running a loanshark operation and extorting a pizzeria on Long Island.[22] Franzese was released from the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Massachusetts, on June 23, 2017, at the age of 100.[2] That year also marked the end of Franzese's original 50 year sentence for bank robbery that was the cause of his many parole violations over the years.

Movie business[edit]

Franzese is listed as an associate producer of the 2003 film This Thing of Ours, which stars James Caan.[23] He also helped finance the $22,000 budget of the 1972 pornographic film Deep Throat, which generated $30–50 million dollars, and the 1974 slasher film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which earned over $30 million from a $80,000–140,000 investment.[24]

Family and later life[edit]

Franzese was married to Cristina Capobianco-Franzese.[25] She died in 2012 of cancer while Franzese was in prison. As of June 2016, Franzese has eight children, 18 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.[4] His son, Michael, became a Colombo capo who ran his father's rackets during the 1980s when his father was in prison. Michael later became a born-again Christian and left the Mafia. His son, John Franzese Jr., was a Colombo family associate before becoming an FBI informant. On June 23, 2017, Franzese was released and returned home.[26] In 2019, he and his son John Jr., would reconcile their differences after John Jr. was recognized in public and voluntarily left the Witness Protection Program.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daniel Maurer (February 23, 2017). "The Levee Pokes Fun at Putin and Trump; Kosciuszko Bridge Goes Boom". Bedford and Bowery. Retrieved March 5, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "". June 23, 2017. Retrieved June 27, 2017.
  3. ^ Marzulli, John (December 13, 2015). "98-year-old inmate's prison funds targeted by feds". NY Daily News. Retrieved June 27, 2017.
  4. ^ a b Marzulli, John (July 2, 2016). "Colombo mobster John Franzese, 99, denied compassionate release". NY Daily News. Retrieved June 27, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Jerry Capeci, "A Godfather Betrayed by His Namesake, Part II" New York Sun, May 17, 2007
  6. ^ McShane, Catherina Gioino, Larry. "Hundred-year-old mobster's daughter gushes over dad's freedom".
  7. ^ Bureau of Narcotics, Sam Giancana Mafia: The Governments Secret File on Organized Crime.(pg. 454)[1]
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Geriatric NY gangster, 93, gets 8 years in prison". January 14, 2011.
  9. ^ "'Extreme Couponing' gone too far? Expert offers tips on how to save big without obsessing". Daily News. New York.[dead link]
  10. ^ "Italian mob boss freed from prison at 100-years-old". Fox News. June 23, 2017. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  11. ^ "Al Sharpton's Secret Work As FBI Informant". The Smoking Gun. April 2, 2014. Retrieved September 29, 2017.
  12. ^ "John - Sonny - Franzese" La Cosa Nostra Database
  13. ^ a b "At 100, mob underboss Sonny Franzese gets out of federal prison". Newsday. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  14. ^ "Franzese Is Said to Have Killed '30 or 40 or 50' Persons", The New York Times, March 4, 1967
  15. ^ "Franzese and 4 are found guilty; Albany jury convicts them in bank robberies", The New York Times, May 3, 1967
  16. ^ "Board Would Send Franzese to Prison", The New York Times, August 21, 1986
  17. ^ "John Franzese Jr. testified against his dad, Sonny — and then quit Witness Protection". March 27, 2019.
  18. ^ Feds want jury to hear Sonny talk about mob murders" by Jerry Capeci The Huffington Post February 22, 2010
  19. ^ "Crime Figure Seized on L.I.; Parole Violations Are Cited", The New York Times, April 29, 1986
  20. ^ a b "Nine Are Arrested in Sweeping Organized Crime Crackdown", The New York Times, June 5, 2008
  21. ^ Colombo organized crime family acting boss, underboss, and ten other members and associates indicted" Department of Justice Press Release June 4, 2008 Archived May 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ "93-Year-Old Crime Boss Gets 12-Year Sentence". January 14, 2011.
  23. ^ "Law and Order; In the Can", The New York Times, November 3, 2002
  24. ^ "Mafia boss, 93, faces prison after son breaks code of silence". Tom Leonard. The Telegraph. July 8, 2010. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  25. ^ Nodfather Sonny Franzese's estranged wife begs judge for mercy, but kin says he's happier in jail
  26. ^ Gioino, Catherina and McShane, Larry (June 24, 2017). "Hundred-year-old mobster's daughter gushes over dad's freedom". New York Daily News. Retrieved October 20, 2017.
  27. ^ Keefer, Zac. "The mobster in our midst". Indianpolis Star. Retrieved April 1, 2019.

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