Michael Franzese in 2009
|Other names||"The Yuppie Don"|
|Occupation||Mobster (former), motivational speaker, writer|
|Relatives||John Franzese Jr. (brother)|
|Allegiance||Colombo crime family (former)|
|Conviction(s)||Racketeering conspiracy, tax conspiracy|
|Criminal penalty||10 years imprisonment and ordered to pay over $14 million in restitution (1986)|
Michael Franzese (born May 27, 1951) is a former New York mobster and caporegime of the Colombo crime family who was heavily involved in the gasoline tax rackets within the Colombo crime family in the 1980s. After serving roughly 10 years in prison from the mid 1980s to mid 1990s, he publicly renounced organized crime, became a devoted Christian, created a foundation for helping youth, and became a motivational speaker.
Member of Colombo crime family
Franzese was born on May 27, 1951 in Brooklyn, New York, into the family of Colombo underboss John "Sonny" Franzese. He later moved to Long Island, which would become home to his countless number of operations. After finishing high school, Franzese entered Hofstra University and started a pre-med program. His father originally wanted him to become a doctor and not get involved in organized crime. However, around 1972, Franzese decided to quit college to take care of his father and work for the Colombo family as Sonny was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison in 1967. Franzese became acquainted with his father's friends such as Joseph Colombo and later became inducted as a made man on Halloween night 1975. Franzese took the blood oath alongside best friend Jimmy Angelino, Joseph Peraino Jr., Salvatore Miciotta, Vito Guzzo Sr., and John Minerva. Peraino was murdered by hitmen in 1982 at the doorstep of a home in Gravesend, Brooklyn, his father was seriously wounded and a civilian was accidentally killed. Guzzo was also a union official who vanished in 1987, he was presumed murdered by Colombo associate Vincent "Three Fingers" Ricciardo at an Upstate, New York hunting trip. Angelino was shot to death in 1988 due to a power struggle within the Colombo mafia. Minerva was murdered with friend Michael Imbergamo on March 25, 1992 during the 3rd Colombo mafia war, which resulted in 12 murders in total from 1991 to 1993 and the convictions of over 80 American Mafia mobsters. High-ranking Colombo member Thomas Gioeli was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2014 for ordering the Minerva murder, along with other crimes. Franzese was briefly mentored by Colombo soldier Joseph "Joe-Joe" Vitacco (1927-1980).
In 1980, Franzese had become a caporegime, or captain, of a 300-500 associate crew. Around this time, he bumped into FBI agent Joseph Pistone, better known as Bonanno crime family associate Donnie Brasco, several times on the streets of New York, though the pair never had any criminal dealings. Both went on to star in the 2013 Inside the American Mob, a National Geographic documentary. However Franzese did have criminal dealings with future Gambino crime family boss John Gotti. One such transaction is detailed in his book, which refers to a dispute at a flea market.
During the late 1970s Franzese met with Gotti, who was then a soldier. Angelo Ruggiero was also present. Franzese was contacted by a flea market owner who complained that his partner was using and selling drugs at the market in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Franzese agreed to frighten him and become the new partner. Franzese sent Colombo soldier-turned informant Anthony Sarivola and another member who remains unidentified. Gotti however claimed that the scared-off partner was an associate of his. After several meetings, Franzese proposed to buy Gotti out. Gotti replied, "Buy me out? I buy you out," and handed over $70,000. Franzese later expressed admiration for Gotti, citing his strict gangster lifestyle and his overwhelming ego. Franzese has also admitted to having dealings with Gambino and Genovese crime family bosses, Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno and Paul "Big Paul" Castellano.
After being asked numerous times about regrets and troubles in his past life, Franzese recalled being "sent for" or "called in" with his father to attend a meeting with the presence of the hierarchy of the Colombo family; in Mafia tradition a member is subtly forced to go to a meeting and often does not come out alive. His best friend Vincent "Jimmy" Angelino, another captain who was based in Brooklyn, picked him up and drove him to the Brooklyn basement; Angelino himself would later be called upon to attend a similar meeting however he was fatally shot by Carmine Sessa in 1988 while in attendance. He was thoroughly interrogated for several hours by his assigned capo Andrew "Andy Mush" Russo, underboss Gennaro Langella and Colombo family boss Carmine Persico. Luckily Franzese talked his way out of the very potential setup, even with an assassin present who was waiting for the signal to murder Franzese. He also regrets the murders of many friends whom he could not help, the first being the 1981 murder of Thomas Genovese, distant cousin of Vito Genovese.
About a month after serving almost ten years in prison, Genovese was found shot in the head in the trunk of his car, for his role in kidnapping Lucchese crime family soldier Francesco "Frankie the Wop" Manzo and the nephew of Carlo Gambino, Emanuel "Manny" Gambino, for ransom money. Afterwards Franzese met with four new Colombo family recruits and captain John "Johnny Irish" Matera which implied that the murder of Genovese was approved by Carmine Persico and that the recruits had successfully murdered Genovese as part of their initiation; Matera would be gunned down two years later. The murder of Lawrence "Champagne Larry" Carrozza in May 1983 affected him deeply. Carrozza, who Franzese has previously described as a brother, was having an affair with his sister and also had a drug problem. Carrozza was incredibly loyal to Franzese, even insisting of getting rid of Joseph Anthony Laezza, who he suspected was informing on Franzese; Laezza was found dead with eleven stab wounds and six shots to the head and face in January 1979. Carrozza was shot in the back of the head in a parked car in Brooklyn by captain-turned informant Salvatore "Big Sal" Miciotta, who also took the blood oath with Franzese in 1975.
In 1980, Franzese was contacted by Lawrence Salvatore Iorizzo, who initially thought of a scheme to defraud the Federal Government out of gasoline taxes. Iorizzo was being hassled by associates of another crime family and promised Franzese a percentage if he would defend and solve the issue. The pair set up 18 stock-bearer companies based in Panama, which was later called a daisy chain. Once authorities suspected one company of fraudulent activity, Franzese would move onto the next company. Under law at the time in Panama, gasoline could be sold tax-free from one wholesale company to the next. Iorizzo, who later testified against Franzese, craved power. As a result of Iorizzo slapping around Shelly Levine over $270,000 debt, Franzese had to cut in Genovese family soldier Joseph "Joe Glitz" Galizia into his operation. He had organized the Russian Mafia in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn and both organizations became partners, Franzese sold millions of gallons of gasoline. The family would collect the state and federal taxes, but keep the money instead. At the same time, they were often selling the gas at lower prices than at legitimate gas stations. In 1986, Fortune Magazine listed Franzese as number 18 on its list of the "Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses." Franzese himself has admitted that at the height of his career he was earning between $5–10 million per week, almost $30 million per month.
Entertainment, sports management and other businesses
During the 1970s, he began to enter the world of legitimate business and by the mid 1980s Franzese had a stronghold on various businesses such as car dealerships, leasing companies, auto repair shops, restaurants, nightclubs, a contractor company, movie production and distribution companies, travel agencies and video stores.
By 1980, Franzese was a partner with booking agent Norby Walters in his firm. Franzese's role was to intimidate existing and prospective clients. In 1981, Franzese successfully extorted a role for Walters in the US tour by singer Michael Jackson and his brothers. In 1982, the manager for singer Dionne Warwick wanted to drop Walters as an agent; Franzese met with the manager and persuaded him to keep Walters.
In 1983, the FBI launched an investigation into boxing promoter Don King's organized crime connections and targeted Franzese to introduce an FBI undercover agent, using the alias Victor Quintana, to King. Franzese, who had never met King, was introduced to him by civil rights leader Al Sharpton. Franzese first met Sharpton through Genovese crime family mobster, Daniel Pagano. Sharpton later helped Franzese with muscle as he targeted the security guard unions in Atlantic City. Quintana was to give the impression that he was buying his way into the boxing world in order for King to reveal his criminal associations, however the investigation subsequently collapsed after Quintana failed to follow through with several hundred thousand dollars.
In 1985, Walters set up a sports management agency with Franzese as a silent partner. At a meeting he agreed to hand over $50,000 in return for a 25 percent interest from the sports agency.
Indictment and prison
In December 1985, Franzese was one of nine people indicted on 14 counts of racketeering, counterfeiting and extortion from the gasoline bootlegging racket, and on March 21, 1986, pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy and one count of tax conspiracy. He was sentenced to ten years in federal prison and ordered to pay over $14 million in restitution, agreeing to sell his mansion in Old Brookville, New York and use proceeds from the 1986 film he directed, Knights of the City.
In 1989, Franzese was released from prison on parole after serving 43 months. On December 27, 1991, Franzese was sentenced in New York to four years in federal prison for violating the probation requirements from his 1989 release. Franzese had been arrested in Los Angeles on a tax fraud accusation and was sent back to New York for the probation hearing. In court, prosecutors complained that Franzese had only started paying the balance of his court ordered restitution payments earlier that year. Franzese was also later subpoenaed to testify at Walters' trial in 1989, as Walters had invoked his name to frighten college athletes into signing management contracts, including Maurice Douglass, allowing him to get a reduced sentence. Prosecutors also said Franzese was not considered by the government to be a federal cooperating witness. He was ultimately released on November 7, 1994, retiring from the mob in 1995 by moving to California with his wife and children; the relocation was also a result of receiving multiple death threats and contracts on his life.
In 1992, Franzese co-authored an autobiography, Quitting the Mob. In this book, Franzese discussed his criminal activities, life with his father, and interactions with many gangsters from across the United States and Europe.
Franzese has spoken on more than 400 college campuses, speaking to student athletes as an NCAA life skills speaker. Franzese has addressed professional athletes with Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Football League. Franzese serves as a keynote speaker at corporate events and leads seminars for business and law students. He frequently speaks at Christian conferences, special events, and church services, including helping the Willow Creek Community Church in November 2016 to give each of the 70,000 inmates in the state of Illinois a Christmas package. Franzese also speaks at prisons throughout the world, such as Pentonville Prison in England. In 2016, he vowed to help Christian refugees fleeing the Middle East.
Franzese has been interviewed on the Renegade Talk Radio, Jim Rome Show, ESPN, HBO, Fox Sports, CNN, CNBC, TBN, MSNBC, Nat Geo, Fox News, The Savage Nation and USA Today. On July 23, 2002, while appearing on the HBO television program "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," Franzese claimed that during the 1970s and 1980s, he persuaded New York Yankees players who owed money to Colombo loansharks to fix baseball games for betting purposes. The Yankees organization immediately denied Franzese's accusations.
In 2003, Franzese published Blood Covenant, an updated and expanded life story.
His biopic, God the father, was released in theaters and cinemas across the United States on October 31, 2014. As of 2017, Franzese lives in Anaheim, California and is the father of seven children. As of 2019, he is the author of six books.
In popular culture
In April 2013, a documentary called The Definitive Guide To The Mob was released by Lionsgate, with Franzese as commentator.
In June 2013, the National Geographic Channel released a six-part series called Inside the American Mob, in which, as among other story lines, Franzese's climb up the ranks in the Colombo family is chronicled.
In March 2015, he appeared in a two-part documentary on the American Mafia with television presenter and reporter Trevor McDonald. He spoke about his wealth, but also the impact of being a member of the Colombo crime family had on his family, and that was why he turned away from organized crime.
In June 2018, it was announced that Franzese will host a stage musical, A Mob Story, at the Plaza Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. The show was originally supposed to open on July 11, 2018, but has been postponed to August 8, 2018. The show "tells the tale of how the mob made Las Vegas, and how Vegas took down the mob." The show is created and directed by Jeff Kutash.
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- "In Chicago, former mob boss Michael Franzese vows to help clean up Chicago, organize churches to fight Christian genocide in Syria". PR News Channel. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
- Franzese, Michael (2003). Blood Covenant. Whitaker House. ISBN 978-0-88368-867-0.
- "God the Father". IMDB. Retrieved 15 September 2019.
Release Dates USA 31 October 2014
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Originally broadcast on television in 2013.
- "INSIDE THE AMERICAN MOB". natgeotv.com.
- The Mafia with Trevor McDonald
- The Mafia with Trevor McDonald Episode 1
- The Mafia with Trevor McDonald, ITV, review: 'surreal' - Telegraph
- Trevor McDonald Meets the Mafia and exposes shocking tales - Daily Post
- The Mafia with Trevor McDonald, review: Nice guy Trevor just isn't cut out for the mean streets | The Independent