Some habits die hard.
An ex-Colombo family mobster who left the Mafia to become a born-again Christian motivational speaker was busted in Tennessee for writing bad checks, officials said Monday.
Michael Franzese, the Brooklyn-born mobster once nicknamed "The Prince of the Mafia," was led from a plane on the runway in Knoxville in handcuffs Friday night, police said.
The ex-wiseguy - who has bragged that he made more money than Al Capone - downplayed the arrest in an interview with the Daily News, saying it was an "unfortunate misunderstanding" with a business associate.
"I didn't pass bad checks, I didn't take any merchandise. I didn't do anything wrong," said Franzese, 59. "It's a dispute with my former manager over a small amount of money - nothing more," said Franzese, the son of famed 92-year-old Colombo enforcer John (Sonny) Franzese.
The younger Franzese, who became a "made" Colombo soldier in 1975, made millions bootlegging gasoline until he was indicted in 1987. Deciding to leave the Mafia behind, he accepted a prison sentence and testified against his former family.
He served three years and upon his release wrote a series of mob-themed inspirational books with titles like, "The Good, the Bad and the Forgiven" and "I'll Make You an Offer You Can't Refuse: Insider Business Tips from a Former Mob Boss".
He tours the country speaking to church groups, students and professional athletes on the dangers of gambling and fraud.
He said he is worried how the arrest would affect his booming speaking business.
"I'm in a ministry right now and this story has already hurt," Franzese said. "I know I carry baggage from my previous life, but I worked hard to shed my past."
Franzese was in Knoxville to speak to a men's organization at a Baptist church but instead spent the night in jail after being picked up an outstanding warrant for bad checks.
His former manager "thought I owed him money and chose to get the police involved," said Franzese, who declined to elaborate on the specifics of the dispute. "It'll blow over."
A Knoxville police spokesman would not identify the complainant in the case.
Franzese, the founder of a youth counseling group called the Breaking Out Foundation, was released from jail Saturday morning on $7,500 bond and returned home to Southern California.
He vowed not to let the arrest deter him from his new mission.
"I am going to stay out there preaching my message," he said. "I have overcome a lot and I'm going to keep doing the best I can."
Thanks to Jonathan Lemire
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