The Chicago Syndicate: Michael Franzese
Showing posts with label Michael Franzese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Michael Franzese. Show all posts

Friday, February 23, 2018

Former Mob Boss of Colombo Crime Family, @MichaelFranzese, to speak at @Penn_State Berks Arts and Lecture Series

Former mob boss Michael Franzese will speak about his life in organized crime at 7 p.m. March 21, in Perkins Student Center Auditorium at Penn State Berks. This event is free and open to the public.

Franzese grew up as the son of the notorious Underboss of New York’s violent and feared Colombo crime family. He made his own mark, generating an estimated $5 to $8 million per week from legal and illegal businesses. In 1986, Vanity Fair named Franzese one of the biggest money earners the mob had seen since Al Capone. At the age of 35, Fortune Magazine listed him as No. 18 on its list of the “Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses.”

Despite his success, he wanted to make a change and today he is the only high ranking official of a major crime family to ever walk away, without protective custodies, and survive. Determined to use the compelling experiences of his former life for the benefit of anyone seeking the inspiration to beat the odds and make positive changes in their lives, he has become a highly regarded motivational speaker and a source of invaluable information.

He speaks about how he engaged bankers, corporate executives, union officials and professional and student athletes in a wide variety of financial scams. His open and honest true stories of his personal experiences in organized crime captivate audiences.

Penn State Berks reserves the right to limit the photography and/or recording of any program. The permitted or prohibited activities during a particular program will be announced at the beginning of the event and/or included in the printed program. All media requesting interviews and/or access to photograph and/or tape any program must contact the Office of Strategic Communications at 610-396-6053.

This event is sponsored by the Penn State Berks Arts and Lecture series. For more information, contact the Office of Campus Life at 610-396-6076.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

History of Mob Rumors Around Mario Cuomo

Thanks to Nicholas Pileggi from the November 2, 1987 issue of New York Magazine:

Last month, when Mario Cuomo was in Anaheim, California, to address the National Association of Broadcasters, he was approached in a hotel lobby by a smiling, enthusiastic woman. As the governor listened in shock, the woman urged him to run for president — even though, she explained, she’d heard that a member of his family was “involved” with the mob. “That’s them, not you,” Cuomo recalled the woman saying.

“I asked her where she heard such things," Cuomo said in a recent interview, "and she said it was the scuttlebutt around her husband's office.”

And who was her husband? Douglas Edwards, the veteran CBS radio and TV anchor.

“I know it’s all around the place,” Cuomo said, “but what do you do about it?”

One of the things Cuomo did was complain to the New York Times. Twenty-two days after Anaheim and the day after CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl asked him about rumors of “skeletons in his family closet,” Cuomo called E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Times to say he suspected that an organized campaign was at work spreading malicious stories, particularly about his in-laws. The Times printed an article about the phone call (Cuomo belatedly claimed he'd been speaking off the record), but even that public exposure has done little to quiet the storm.

The governor is right on one count: The rumors about him and his family are everywhere. In fact, so many are in the air that several major news organizations have hired private detectives and former city cops to help investigative reporters sort out the stories.

No one, however, has yet turned up anything of substance against Cuomo, even though journalists have been looking, off and on, for several years. “We scrubbed him pretty good [a year and a half ago] and didn’t come up with anything,” said a reporter for one major out-of-town newspaper.

Of course, no one can be scrubbed completely clean. The best that can be said so far is that the most prevalent rumors about the “mob” skeletons in Cuomo’s family closet turn out to be misleading or false.

For example, Edward McDonald, head of the Organized Crime Strike Force of the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn, said he’s received dozens of calls from reporters about a rumor that Cuomo met with a mob capo a decade or so ago after his appointment as secretary of state under Governor Hugh Carey. The rumor, McDonald said, can probably be traced to a report by agents who had been tail­ing John “Sonny” Franzese, a capo in the Colombo crime family. At a big wedding in the mid-'70s, Franzese was one of a score of people who shook Cuomo’s hand. McDonald added that there’s no evidence that Cuomo even knew who Franzese was. "Aside from that," said McDonald, "I have never heard of Cuomo connected with any wise guys in any way whatever. It shouldn't be worth denying, but still, the calls keep coming in.”

The governor's suspicion that there’s an organized campaign of slander against him doesn't seem to be borne out, however. Many of the rumors are traceable to idle gossip, some of it coming from a Brooklyn bar that’s a hangout for cops and ex-cops. Some of the stories are linked to specific incidents in Cuomo’s past — the mysterious mugging of his father-in-law three years ago in Brooklyn, for example, and the bitter lawsuit that has developed between Cuomo and his former partners over the distribution of legal fees. But reporters in search of Cuomo’s skeletons also come across political gadflies and adversaries of the governor who breezily pass out misinformation. One of these sources is a man who worked in public relations for the Right to Life candidate in the last gubernatorial campaign; another is a veteran, politically conservative legislative aide who has long been a source for the press on organized-crime matters. Neither man seemed aware that the information he offered was largely inaccurate, though neither sounded particularly upset when told of the inaccuracies.

Besides the story of the supposed meeting with Sonny Franzese, the other major rumors about Cuomo making the rounds these days are:


  • That the mugging of Cuomo’s father-in-law, Charles Raffa, was a mob beating that grew out of a dispute over arson.
  • That Cuomo interfered with the police investigation of the beating.
  • That the record of a Raffa arrest for arson has been erased from the state computer.
  • That early in his career, Cuomo represented organized-crime hoods in Queens.
  • That mob capo Michael Franzese (Sonny Franzese’s stepson) gave Cuomo $30,000 during his 1983 gubernatorial campaign.
  • That Cuomo’s former law firm paid money through an escrow account to a mobster who was later acquitted of murdering an undercover detective in Queens.

Several of these rumors can be dispelled with one or two phone calls. Others — particularly those involving Raffa — are more complex, though it should be emphasized that nothing substantial has come out to link Raffa with organized crime or, for that matter, with any wrongdoing more serious than a 1973 misdemeanor arrest for offering an improper gratuity. Except for an NBC report two years ago on campaign contributions, none of the rumors (or anything close to them) has yet been printed or broadcast. But the stories continue to be passed around by cops, media people, and others in a kind of shadow network of gossip and loose talk.

Here, for example, is what the legislative aide (who was speaking on a not-for-­attribution basis) said when asked whether Cuomo was linked to the mob: “No question Cuomo [is] linked. He represented organized-crime guys when he was with his law firm. He also accepted campaign money from mob guys who ripped the Feds and state out of millions of dollars in a gasoline-tax scam. And his ex-law partners have the story that will show how the firm was used to pay off Carmine Gualtieri, the guy who got arrested for killing the undercover cop in Queens about a year ago. The law-firm payroll was used like a wash.”

None of that stands up to close scrutiny.

Though the rumors about Cuomo have been circulating for some time, the talk picked up dramatically last February, after he announced that he wouldn’t seek the presidency. To some people, his withdrawal was support for the notion that he had something to hide: Why else would an ambitious and popular politician refuse to go after the top prize? Paradoxically, Cuomo said that one reason he hasn’t made an absolute statement ruling out a candidacy is that such an announcement would “invite enemies who like to take shots at Italian-Americans in particular to say, ‘Oh, see, the reason he did that is because he has a skeleton in the closet.’

“Let me deal with [purported] skeletons in the full view of the American people,” the governor said. “Let me show them my father-in-law, let me show them my mother. Let me talk about my family, tell the story of my family, put an end to these rumors and the bums who are spreading them. My family would not only not be an impediment to my run­ning, it would probably be my biggest asset.”

Certainly, Cuomo has made his humble roots a major part of his political appeal. His father, Andrea Cuomo, emigrated from Salerno as a young man and supported his family working long hours at his small grocery store in Queens. His mother, Immaculata, also emigrated from Salerno. Mario was the youngest of three children. Today his brother Frank is in the food-retail business, and his sister Marie is a librarian.

Cuomo got his undergraduate and law degrees from St. John's. After finishing first in his law-school class, Cuomo has said, he sent letters to 60 Wall Street firms asking for job interviews but got no responses. He then clerked for Judge Adrian Burke of the New York State Court of Appeals and went into private practice in Brooklyn. He came to public attention in 1970, when he saved the homes of 69 Italian-Americans in Corona, Queens, from demolition by the city. In fact, he got such good press for his conciliatory talents that in 1972, Mayor John Lindsay asked him to resolve a housing controversy in Forest Hills that pitted middle-income sites against a low-income housing project. In 1975, Governor Hugh Carey appointed him secretary of state. Two years later, he lost to Ed Koch in the Democratic mayoral primary, but in 1978, he was elected lieutenant governor, and in 198, he beat Koch in the gubernatorial primary and went on to be elected governor. He won reelection last year by the biggest margin ever for a governor in New York.

In 1954, Cuomo married Matilda Raffa, one of five children of Charles and Mary Raffa, who are both of Sicilian descent. The Cuomos have five children: Margaret, 32, is a doctor and is married to Robert Perpignano, an architect-engineer. Andrew, 29, is a lawyer. Maria, 25, is in public relations and recently married shoe designer Kenneth Cole; Madeline, 23, is a law student; and Christopher, 17, is a high-school student living at home.

The most persistent and serious rumors involve Cuomo’s father-in-law, Charles Raffa, now 83. The stories grow out of a real crime. On the morning of May 22, 1984, Raffa, who owns several buildings and vacant lots in Brooklyn, drove to an empty super­market he owned at 804 Stanley Avenue, in the East New York section. Earlier, he had placed an ad in the Times to rent the building, and at 10 he showed the space to a man named Severano Estedes, who later told police he toured the building but decided against taking it.

At about noon, the owners of a dry cleaner’s and a food store across the street told police they saw Raffa emerge from his building onto the sidewalk in front. When they got there, they found Raffa so severely beaten that they recognized him only from his clothes. They told police that his head had been sliced open and his scalp was covering his eyes. The store owners, who had known Raffa for years, said he was mumbling incoherently but indicated that he wanted to drive home. Instead, he was taken to Bap­tist Medical Center and later by helicopter to NYU Medical Center.

Raffa underwent plastic surgery and has made repeated trips to the hospital for treatment. Andrew Cuomo, the governor’s son, said recently that his grandfather has never completely recovered from the beating and has had difficulty speaking and focusing his mind ever since.

The case was investigated by detectives from the 75th Precinct and the Crimes Against Senior Citizens Unit. From the start, they were hampered because no witnesses to the assault turned up and because Raffa couldn’t speak coherently for the first ten days he was in the hospital. Even after that, his accounts were confused.

“Raffa was questioned by detectives on at least seven occasions, including July 11, when he returned to the crime scene with Patrol Lieutenant Michael Murray and other officers,” said Deputy Inspector Charles Prestia, who has been handling press inquiries on the case. “But his responses were confused, and he gave contradictory statements about what happened to him.” During various interviews, Prestia explained, “Raffa described his assailants as a white, Hispanic, and black. Sometimes he said there was one man and sometimes he said there were two. He said he was hit. Detectives did find Raffa’s blood at the top and bottom of the basement steps. But aside from that, he was confused about how he was beaten.”

Working the streets, the police came up with the names of several local toughs who were suspected of assaulting the elderly. “Several suspects were brought in for questioning,” Prestia said, “but there were no other witnesses to the beating, and Raffa’s description of his attacker was so inconsistent that the investigation eventually died.”

Stories about the incident soon began making the rounds of the city’s police stations and courthouses. There was talk that Raffa was an arsonist and his beating a mob hit; that five gallons of kerosene had been found in his car and had somehow disappeared from the station house; that “every cop in Brooklyn” knows the name of Raffa’s assailant but higher-ups refuse to arrest him; that the car containing the combustible evidence was driven away from the scene by Cuomo’s detective-bodyguard, who’s a relative of the Cuomo family; that the police reports (DD5s) on the case were missing from headquarters; and that the governor was at the scene shortly after the incident and had used state troopers to erase any evidence of his father-in-law’s possible criminality.

Prestia said that none of this is true. “I suspect the rumor about combustible materials being found in either his car of the building probably comes from the fact that detectives found a white plastic antifreeze can, three quarters full, in the building, and that the police lab report identified the fluid as a petroleum distillate, a solvent, like paint thinner.” This inspector said it’s not clear how the antifreeze got there or what it was for, but considering the size of the building, it’s unlikely that the liquid would have been used to start a fire.

Prestia also said that there were no flammable liquids found in Raffa's car and that the car was "safeguarded" by police during the day until it was removed by the governor's detective-bodyguard, Benjamin Pepitone — who is not related to the Cuomo family. Prestia also said that, far from there being no po­lice reports at headquarters, the file on the case contains over 300 DD5s covering the lengthy investigation.

Cuomo couldn’t have been at the scene because he was in Albany all day on May 22 and didn’t come to the city until the next day. Andrew Cuomo, however, did go to the hospital and then the precinct on the day of the attack.

“There was a very thorough police investigation, and they found nothing to substantiate the rumors,” he said. “Still, they persist.” The suggestion that his grandfather planned to burn the building is ridiculous, he claimed, since Raffa had scheduled meetings to show the building to prospective tenants. What’s more, Cuomo said, the supermarket contained valuable refrigeration equipment and the building was not insured for fire.

State police officials said that Raffa’s name has not been erased from the computer; indeed, officials said, the computer shows that Raffa was arrested in 1973 on a misdemeanor charge of offering an illegal gratuity. Details of the alleged crime aren’t clear, but police said charges of that sort typically involve giving small gifts or tips to city or state employees. In this case, the charge against Raffa was dismissed in 1974. Andrew Cuomo said he did not know of the arrest until told by reporters tracking Raffa rumors.

The state police officials added that there’s no evidence of any effort to tamper with the computer about Raffa. What’s more, all arson arrests are also placed in the FBI computer, and as of last week, the FBI had no record of Raffa be­ing arrested for anything.

Prestia said that inquiries about the case died down not long after the mugging, but they were revived in late winter and have continued through the summer and fall. “The questions always seem to coincide with stories about Cuomo’s candidacy,” he said, “and the questions are always the same. They seem to be coming from the same source.”

One of the people passing on stories about Raffa is Harry Daley, a 51-year-old part-time writer and public-relations man. Last year, he worked in the campaign of Nassau County district attorney Denis Dillon, who ran for governor on the Right to Life ticket. Daley, who lives in Lynbrook, on Long Island, said he heard the rumors about Raffa at a bar near the 75th Pre­cinct, which is frequented by off-duty cops who are friends of his. One sergeant (now retired) from the 75th Precinct told Daley that Cuomo's father-in-law was an arsonist and that Cuomo had personally interfered with the investigation by iso­lating the father-in-law from detectives and by erasing his arson record from the state computer. Daley said his “source” — whom he refused to identify — worked in the precinct at the time of the incident and “swears that Cuomo was at the scene, personally squashing the investigation.”

The story so outraged Daley that he took the sergeant to Dillon, who at the time was running for governor against Cuomo and Andrew O'Rourke, the Republican Party candidate.

“Daley walked into the office with this sergeant who had information about Raffa,” Dillon said. “They had the information that Raffa’s mugging was related to an argument over an arson, that Cuomo was at the scene himself, and that he participated in a cover-up. Because of the awkwardness of the campaign, I didn't want to use my investigators at such a time. However, I did turn the information over to Peter King, who was the Republican Party candidate for state comptroller at the time. Peter checked it out and there was nothing to it. And that, for a while, was that.”

Last March, however, Daley showed up at Dillon’s office again. This time, Dillon said, Daley had got a copy of a tape recording made by a private detective who had been working on a civil case being investigated by Dillon’s office. On the tape, a confessed arsonist claimed that in the '50s and '60s, he and Charles Raffa had turned back utility meters, presumably to help people and businesses cheat on gas and electric bills. “It is totally uncorroborated,” Dillon said. “It’s just a guy boasting about knowing someone.”

Dillon said he had his office check the tape and talk to various parties in the case. When he realized he didn’t have jurisdiction, he turned the information and tape over to Andrew Maloney, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which covers Brooklyn, and to Brooklyn district attorney Elizabeth Holtzman. “And that’s all I know about it,” Dillon said.

Neither Maloney nor Holtzman would officially confirm or deny that Dillon had turned over information involving Raffa. But sources indicated that the material had indeed come in. What's more, the sources said they thought the material had come from Dillon in secrecy, but within a day, each office got several calls from reporters asking whether Raffa was under investigation.

Meanwhile, Daley had passed the material on Raffa to the Cable News Network. “I had the tape, and I took the tape to CNN,” said Daley. “Off the record, I’d been feeding the story piecemeal to keep them interested. They checked out the tape and found that there were no flaws in it at all. It’s an explosive tape.” He added, “CNN was inches away from using the story.” But a TV reporter who worked on the story said, “So far, I’ve got nothing airable. The tape is basically hearsay. The standard of proof has to be exceptionally high. You need evidence that would stand up in court.”

Other journalists working on the story question the relevance to Cuomo — even if Raffa had been involved in illegalities 20 or 30 years ago.

Daley, who was interviewed three times for this story, said he was disappointed when Dillon turned the investigation over to Maloney and Holtzman, and he added that he was also disappointed that nothing came of the information he brought to Dillon’s office a year and a half ago. “It was great information,” Daley said. “It was worth checking out.”

In a final interview on October 12, he was asked if the sergeant, who was his source for the original Raffa story, was certain that Mario Cuomo had been at the scene. “Absolutely,” said Daley. When told that Cuomo had been in Albany that day, Daley paused momentarily and said that he would have to “check it out,” but that the sergeant was living out of state and was difficult to reach. Daley also admitted that the source had no firsthand knowledge of the Raffa beating.

“I’m not looking to smear anybody,” Daley said. “If there’s nothing there, fine. All I feel is that nobody’s really taking a look at this stuff. That’s why I’ve not only helped CNN but other reporters as well.”

Some of the rumors that link Mario Cuomo with the mob seem to come from the veteran legislative aide, who had been a background source for reporters working on investigations of organized crime. Traditionally, under the ground rules for his briefings, the aide can be quoted but not identified by name, and those were the terms under which he was interviewed for this story. To back his claims that Cuomo had once represented mob figures, accepted campaign contributions from mobsters, and used his law firm to pay a wise guy, the aide produced several documents to corroborate his leads. But interviews with Cuomo, law-enforcement officials, FBI agents, Cuomo’s campaign committee, Cuomo’s former law partners, and the lawyers who were present at the congressional hearing suggest that none of these leads turns into anything substantial.

For example, the legislative aide claimed that as a young lawyer, Cuomo represented Joseph “Joey Narrows” Laratro, a capo in the Luchese crime family. Cuomo said that in the early 1960s, not long after he started to practice law, he took over the representation of an association of about 15 junkyard dealers after the group’s previous lawyer, Michael Castaldi, became a judge. The case involved fighting a condemnation order for the junkyard dealers in connection with the Shea Stadium development. At the time, Laratro, who was running the Luchese crime family’s numbers operation in Queens, was a part owner of one of the junkyard, police said. Today, the police said, he’s 71 and living in Florida, having sold his interest in the junkyard in 1967.

Cuomo acknowledged having met Laratro during the litigation. But, Cuomo said, he never represented him as an in­dividual. “I remember I won the case for [the association], and I got stiffed on the fee,” he said. “They never paid.

“I never represented wise guys,” Cuomo added. “I was asked thousands of times to do appeals for this guy and that guy, but I never did one. I had friends who were prosecutors, detectives, and FBI men, and if I wasn't sure, I could go to them and they'd warn me about who anyone was.”

The aide’s lead on the campaign contribution was a copy of a transcript of a hearing on July 15, 1985, before the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. The hearing involved an investigation of gasoline-tax fraud, and one of the main government witnesses was a man named Lawrence Iorizzo, a former associate of Michael Franzese. Franzese, a member of the Colombo crime family, was convicted in 1986 in a major gas-tax-fraud case.

In the course of the questioning at the hearing, Representative Richard T. Schulze, a Pennsylvania Republican, told Iorizzo that he had heard that there were “several contributions made to Governor Cuomo’s campaign” from tax-scam funds. Iorizzo responded that contributions were made at the direction of “people above me.”

Andrew Cuomo, who has run his fa­ther's two gubernatorial campaigns, said he first heard of the alleged Franzese contribution when he was called by NBC News in late 1985. “I checked our computerized contribution list,” Andrew Cuomo said. “We had 16,000 names. I couldn’t find any Franzese name. Then [NBC] said we took the money from Franzese's ex-partner, Larry Iorizzo, who was then a government witness. We checked that and couldn't find Iorizzo either. Then NBC came back with some corporate names, and we found that we had received five $1,000 checks from five corporations: the Northbrook Assets, Inc.; Lesez Petroleum Corporation; Houston Holdings, Inc.; Future Positions Corporation; and CMC Corporation; all of Long Island.”

Law-enforcement authorities have said these firms were paper companies set up to avoid paying gasoline taxes. The checks were for tickets to a fund-raising dinner for Governor Cuomo held November 26, 1984, at the Sheraton Centre.

“We had raised $1.2 million for the dinner alone,” Andrew Cuomo continued. “There was no way of checking out every corporate check we got. In fact, as soon as we found out what happened, we tried to send the money back, but it turned out the companies were already out of business. We sent the money to charity.”

On December 4, 1985, NBC Nightly News ran a story that said, “NBC News has found that at least five companies now identified by authorities as mob fronts have made contributions to a campaign fund for New York governor Mario Cuomo.” A transcript provided by NBC shows that the broadcast went on to say, “Federal witness Iarizzo [sic] told authorities he was ordered by his mob boss, Michael Francesi [sic] to write a check to the Cuomo campaign.”

“The implication was clear,” Andrew Cuomo said. “It was unfair, it was wrong, but there it was on national television.”

Finally, the legislative aide handed over a copy of the records of Corner, Finn, Nicholson & Charles, the law firm that Cuomo belonged to from 1962 to 1974. The records showed two checks listing the names LoBosco and Gualtieri, dated July 25, 1977. The aide said that the checks had been made out from LoBosco to Gualtieri and that the man listed was Carmine Gualtieri, a reputed associate of the Genovese crime family, who was acquitted in August of murdering an un­dercover detective outside a diner in Queens.

When two of Cuomo’s former law partners, Diane and Michael Nicholson, were asked about this payment, they were surprised. Diane Nicholson explained that the checks had actually been from someone named Gualtieri, not to him, and that the payments had been made three years after Cuomo had left the firm. What’s more, Diane Nicholson said, there’s no way to know whether the Gualtieri on the check is the mob associate Carmine Gualtieri.

When the legislative aide was told that the Nicholsons could not substantiate the rumor about Gualtieri, he said, “Oh, I see.”

When told that Cuomo’s only link to Laratro was in connection with the 15 junkyard, the aide said, “You can’t hold [Cuomo] responsible for that.”

When told that none of the campaign-contribution checks had been made out by Franzese or his partner, but in corporate names, the aide said, “That’s not what I’m saying. I’m asking why Michael Franzese is writing the checks in the first place.”

Finally, when asked what he thought about reporters walking around with erroneous information that he’d supplied, the aide laughed. “I’m not talking to strangers,” he said. “Reporters come in here. That’s all.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Real World Of Mafia Boss, Michael Franzese And His True Life Redemption Shown Through Scenes Of The Crucifixion, Deemed Too Violent By MPAA In Upcoming Film "God The Father"

The upcoming release God the Father, slated for release on October 31, the day Michael Franzese, once dubbed the Prince of the Mafia, became a "made man," vividly depicts both Franzese's life as a Mob kingpin and as a man transformed by faith.  The film does not shy away from illustrating the real world and life that Franzese swore allegiance to.  But it is a scene of Christ's Crucifixion shown as part of his prison epiphany and the Mob stock footage scenes combined, that tipped the scales at the MPAA who gave the film an R rating.

The irony is not lost on Franzese: "I spent over 20 years on the street, every day in violation of both God's laws and the laws of man. And the powers that be have a problem not only with Mob reality being seen, but also with Biblical history? You see worse images and stories on the 6 o'clock news! The entertainment business can't afford to be out of touch with real world problems our youth are experiencing, from gangs to drugs and violence. Anyone over 13 needs the opportunity to see this film."

Franzese made over a billion dollars for his crime "family," earning more than anyone since Al Capone.  It was enough to place him at #18 (3 behind John Gotti) on Fortune Magazine's "Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses."  He was a Hollywood producer, a restaurateur, a night club owner:  He was living the life of a man's man as he saw it.  A revelation that his own father went along with planning a hit on him, the love for his own family, and a realization that his life was heading like every other Mob guy before him straight to St. Johns Cemetery in Queens, New York, that made Franzese decide to leave "The Life."  In an act thought impossible, he publicly walked away from the Colombo family and organized crime.

"Its real world stuff (the Mob scene footage) that is around us all the time," says Franzese.  "It's not the gratuitous violence most movies include for the audience reaction, but real life, real crime and real people.  All ages need to see this, but especially our young people who are confronted every day with opportunities to go down the wrong path… This film was created from my reality, for all to see a life outside of the Mob, a way out… but you have to see the reality of it to understand the impact of the redemption that can occur, as what happened in my own life."

Franzese adds: "In making God The Father, we went to great lengths to show the dark aspect of my real life story in a subtle and intelligent way.  The story of Jesus's suffering and Crucifixion is very well known and in the past, audiences have been willing to endure the intensity of those scenes.   What is important to me is to share the parallel themes that I discovered in the story of the Crucifixion and my own experiences in 'The Life': themes such as perseverance, forgiveness, redemption and faith.   I hope that this film will allow everyone to see beyond the short-term and see that there are choices to lead a positive fulfilling life for themselves and those around them."

God The Father takes audiences on the untold personal journey into the life and spiritual transformation of Michael Franzese, a young and charismatic Capo in the Colombo crime family during the 1980's-90's, who's notorious father Sonny Franzese was also a renowned Underboss. It's a true story about mafia, money, love, loyalty and God.

GOD THE FATHER opens on Friday, October 31 across the country in select theatres.  It is rated "R" for violent images by the MPAA and has a running time of 101 minutes.

Monday, November 07, 2011

“Figuring Out How to Do What’s Right…" Keynote Address by Michael Franzese

Ever wonder what it’s like to be in the mafia? What about being at a corporation when an ethical scandal is discovered? What do you do when you’re at work and a baseball player is shooting up behind you?
Ethical dilemmas are a part of everyone’s life, both personal and professional. You will be faced with a range of ethical questions here at Bryant, at home, and in the workplace. So how do you know what decision to make? When are you crossing the line?

On Tuesday, November 8th, the Interfaith Center is sponsoring “Figuring Out How to Do What’s Right…” featuring a panel discussion and keynote speaker Michael Franzese. The panel will consist of Gina Spencer, an ombudsman at Covidien who worked at Tyco when a scandal was uncovered in 2002, Professor Tom Roach, who teaches the ethics-based classes here at Bryant, and Kevin McNamara, a writer for the sports section of the Providence Journal. The panel will discuss where values come from, how to find the courage to make the right decision, and examples of ethical dilemmas that come up with their work.

Following the panel, keynote speaker Michael Franzese will take the stage. Franzese, a former member of the Colombo family, will discuss life in organized crime and working with the Russian Mafia. He will talk about leaving a life of crime, deciding between right and wrong, and how his life has improved since leaving the Mafia.

The event will be hosted by Professor Mike Roberto, and takes place on November 8th in the MAC. The panel discussion will begin at 2PM, with Franzese to follow at 3PM. For more information, please contact John Nesbitt, Program Coordinator of the Ronald K. & Kati C. Machtley Interfaith Center at jnesbitt@bryant.edu.

Thanks to Katie Colton

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Michael "The Prince of the Mafia" Franzese Busted on Bad Check Charge

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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Will 4th Junior Gotti Trial End in Another Stalemate?

John Gotti Jr. sat at the defense table, the weight of his family history and whatever we have learned from countless movies and TV dramas about the Mafia, swirling around him.

This was the fourth time in the last four years that prosecutors have brought a case against him, this time for murder and racketeering, and just like the previous three trials in the ornate federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, a jury of 12 ordinary citizens have not been able to decide if he is guilty of the crimes charged.

"They have exhibited strength, intelligence, compassion and truthfulness and should be doubly commended for standing tall and firm for their beliefs and disbeliefs," Victoria Gotti, John's sister, told Fox News, acknowledging the proceedings have been a "difficult and exhausting trial." That slow journey will continue after the Thanksgiving holiday, with the jurors returning for more deliberations next week.

The jury announced it was deadlocked, just as the last three juries have since 2005, potentially handing federal prosecutions a stalemate. The U.S. government has so far been unable to convince 48 people that Gotti continued to follow his father's line of work. He has said he quit, in 1999, when he plead guilty to racketeering charges and went away for six years. At the time he said he thought that plea, and the sentence, would wipe the slate clean, but he was slapped with new charges when he left prison four years ago.

Prosecutors have ridiculed the claim that he quit.

"This defendant has lived the Mafia life," declared Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Trezevant, "and he never, never quit that life." They say the claim was concocted as a legal strategy and tried to show you just can't give the mob walking papers.

They presented the testimony of Bonanno Family Capo Dominick Cicale, who said you can only leave the Mafia by cooperating with the federal government or by dying. But others have walked away and lived to tell about it.

The most noted examples were the founder of the Bonanno crime family, the late Joseph Bonanno, and his son, Salvatore "Bill" Bonanno. Bill told Fox News in 2006 that he thought John Gotti Jr. had indeed left what they call "the life," in 1999, seeing what the world glamorized by "The Godfather" had really become.

In his book, "A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno," Bonanno wrote: "The world I grew up in is gone and what is left is in ruins. The Mafia stories continue, however, regardless of the emptiness behind them."

Bonanno wrote those words in 1999, not only the same year Gotti, Jr. claims he dropped out, but the year that the "The Sopranos" debuted on HBO, giving America a new, fictional mob fascination.

"The Sopranos" ended with the famous, and controversial, black-out scene. No Tony in handcuffs, no Tony walking away. Just Tony eating with his family. We think he's still out hustling in New Jersey and then dining at the Vesuvio with Carm. But in real life, organized crime careers have voluntarily ended with the finality viewers were denied by "The Sopranos" nebulous ending.

"You can quit the mob, I've done it," former Columbo crime family Capo Michael Franzese told Fox News.

The 58-year-old Franzese is the son of John "Sonny" Franzese, "a kingpin of the Columbo crime family," as Michael's Web site, MichaelFranzese.com, puts it. But after being released from prison, he became a born-again Christian, motivational speaker, producer and author. His latest book, "I'll Make You An Offer You Can't Refuse," applies what he learned in the mob to the business world - legally.

"You've got to be crazy to stay in the life," says Franzese. "Like me, John wasn't destined for this life and neither was I. I was going to school to become a doctor. I question my own self at times. I did this for my dad. At one point I wanted him to be proud of me, and I think John shares a similar feeling like that. So we got into it for one reason and realized what it was all about, and maybe had second thoughts."

The most intriguing, and surprising evidence of precedent for departing the ranks of wise-guys and not being stuffed in a barrel and dumped in the ocean, was a 1985 F.B.I. wiretap of Aniello Dellacroce. The then 71-year-old mob patriarch suffered from terminal cancer, and as the reputed underboss of the Gambino Crime Family at the time, he actually explained how the Gambinos had kicked someone out.

Dellacroce, who was the mentor of John Gotti Jr.'s father, was secretly recorded talking about a dismissed crime family member on June 9, 1985, in his home on Staten Island, New York, six months before he died.

"We threw him out of the Family," Dellacroce explained.

"So, youse knocked him down," responded a listener, meaning the man in question was demoted.

"No,"responded Delleacroce. "He's out of the family."

"He's out?" asked his friend, incredulously.

"Yeah," said Dellacroce. "We threw him out. Out."

"You threw him out?"

"Out. He don't belong in the Family no more. Any friend of yours, any, any friend of ours in the street...that you see...you tell them. This guy, he ain't in the family no more. You don't have nothin' to do with him. That's it."

Four days later, another FBI wiretap heard the group discussing their lawyers, and their visit to one lawyer's office.

"My God, what a layout he's got. They got more customers... Michael Franzese was there," noted one speaker, impressively.

During that tape, they resumed discussing the banished former Gambino.

"This guy is out, We threw him out," the group was reminded and then they start arguing about that possibility.

"I heard (this guy) was just taken down, he wasn't thrown out." said one.

"This guy was thrown out. Ya understand?" Dellacroce snapped. "Nobody's gonna bother with him...I wouldn't bother with him and nobody else would...I'll explain to him a little better this time…Maybe he didn't get the message right... Threw him out, that's, that's right. We threw him out...They don't understand English," said Dellacroce, trying to finally get his message through.

Even Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, who later served as the Gambino Underboss, quit by agreeing to testify against the senior Gotti in 1992. Gravano wrote in his book, "Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia," that he when he walked in to meet Gotti's prosecutor, he declared: "I want to switch governments," meaning from the Gambinos to Uncle Sam. He later was caught running a drug ring in Phoenix after he served five years for 19 murders, and is now back in prison.

The current, active members of Cosa Nostra may not agree, but history shows that even their leaders, at the highest levels -- including the bosses of two crime families- have walked away. And now a jury, once again, is trying to determine if John Gotti, Jr. did just that.

"I can tell you, unmistakably, that he has left that life," John's sister, Victoria, told Fox News. "We're not talking about a guy that is being paraded out there and there are videotapes or audio tapes of John with present day mob members," she notes, indirectly alluding to the avalanche of wiretaps and surveillance videos the Feds used as evidence against her father.

"John is no part of that life anymore," she adds. "I believe they know that deep in their hearts and in their brains."

Meanwhile, John Gotti, Jr. waits for a verdict -- if there is one.

Thanks to Eric Shawn

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Congress Follows Playbook that Would Make a Mafia Godfather Proud

The House of Representatives passed a bill last week taxing the bonuses that were paid out to a number of AIG executives at 90 percent. I heard a congresswoman from New York say that congress was "acting in record time" to protect the major shareholders of the company, the American people, against the unbridled greed of the AIG executives.

After all, the government should be calling the shots now. It's what I would have done when I was on the streets.

Twenty years ago, I would have applauded the government's move to control the AIG bigwigs. When I was doing business for the Colombo Crime Family, I would often "bail out" a failing company. When the boss had nowhere to go, when no legit lender would lend him a dime, or when his suppliers were threatening to throw him into bankruptcy, he came to me. Mob guys looked for business opportunities like this every day. Great way for us to own a business.

Once the owner took my money, or used my name, I owned him. He wasn't about to get a pay hike when he owed me money. He wasn't buying a new car or taking any paid vacations either. I didn't care how hard he worked. And if he didn't toe the line, I would throw him out and take the company over.

From what I'm hearing, the government knew about the bonuses some time ago. Some of them even approved of the payouts. Some of them even got campaign contributions from the AIG exec's. So the tax thing was a good cover up. Good work, guys! It's a move right out of Machiavelli's play book.

You know Machiavelli? He's the Mafia's champion. As a former capo regime of La Cosa Nostra's Colombo Crime family, I am very familiar with Machiavelli. For almost 20 years, I lived and conducted business under his philosophy.

A Prince must have a mind disposed to turn itself about as the winds, able to do good when he can and evil when he must, Machiavelli wrote. StillMachiavelli's The Price, even though on the inside he is able to scheme, he should appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright and religious.

Sound familiar?

In his sixteenth century treatise entitled, "The Prince," Niccolo Machiavelli wrote those words advising his prince of the "virtues" he must exercise in ruling his kingdom. Seems like convicted money manager Bernard Madoff and some of the CEOs of AIG, Lehman Brothers, Countrywide Mortgage, Enron and a few dozen more of America's corporate honchos and now, the government itself has taken Machiavelli's advice to heart in the operation of their respective enterprises.

I would not be surprised to find a copy of "The Prince" on the desks of more than a few of Washington's elite. Would you? Their misguided and in some cases illicit leadership contributed significantly to the financial meltdown of the United States economy, the magnitude of which has not been seen for decades. If you think they will get off scot free, FUGGEDABOUTIT!

At the height of my operation, I was bringing $8 - $10 million a week into the Colombo Family coffers from business interests I had in the gasoline, entertainment, auto and gambling industries. Although I enjoyed success for a time, Machiavelli's business philosophy eventually brought me three racketeering indictments, $15 million in fines and restitutions, untold legal fees and a 10-year federal prison sentence.

Mob guys ought to be worried. First the government took a tip from them and realized there was big money in gambling. Now the government is taking control of businesses the same way. And they don't even have to worry about the racketeering indictments they slammed me and my former associates with for doing the same thing. They called it extortion when the mob did it. Seems like I left the life just in time. Too much competition!

Thanks to Michael Franzese, once one of the biggest mob money earners since Al Capone - and the youngest individual on Fortune Magazine's 50 Biggest Mafia Bosses. Michael's new book, I'll Make You an Offer You Can't Refuse: Insider Business Tips from a Former Mob Boss will be released on March 31.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

ATP Tennis Influenced by Organized Crime Claims Former Mobster

Former mafia crime boss Michael Franzese says top-level tennis matches are being influenced by gamblers and the sport would be his prime focus were he still in the business of impacting outcomes.

Franzese, a former boss in the Colombo crime family, serves as a consultant and speaker regarding his days with the mob and has spoken with ATP players about the methods that are used to spread corruption in sport.

"It's definitely going on," Franzese said. "If I were in this business now, tennis would be my major target because one player can impact the game. That's all you need."

An FBI probe in the 1980s and a decade in prison helped push Franzese to change his ways and help those who safeguard the integrity of sport, but his crime contacts lead him to believe organized crime remains involved in tennis.

"I have to believe they are, certainly from the feedbacks I've gotten since I got involved with the ATP," Franzese said. "Sports has become such an incredibly lucrative racket, so to speak, for guys on the street."

Franseze, 57, has spoken with National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, tennis stars and elite US college athletes about the dangers of match-fixers, often counseling newcomers on how to avoid being ensnared in gambling woes.

His talks included a March 2007 session with ATP players.

"They told me there's a problem in the sport. It is something that has to be addressed," he said. "Mainly, I told them how damaging and dangerous it could be for them to get involved in gambling and get around the wrong people.

"Gambling is a very serious business. If you put yourself in a gambling situation, you're most likely going to attract the wrong people because those same people are watching you. They want to find out who's got a gambling problem."

Less than five months after Franzese spoke came a match in Sopot in which unusual on-line betting patterns were registered about Russian Nikolay Davydenko's loss to Argentina's Martin Vassallo-Arguello.

An ATP investigation into the match concluded last September that there was no wrongdoing by Davydenko or his rival.

"He is a pretty top player. Something else is going on there. Somebody has a hook on him," Franzese said.

Franzese claims first-hand expertise at influencing athletes to drop a match to satisfy gamblers, including threats of bodily harm for failure to comply.

"None of these players want to do it. They do it because they're put in a situation," he said. "It's sad because they're doing it against their will. They have no way out. They all regret it. And that's why it's so damaging to their career. Psychologically, it gets to them.

"I've seen it happen so many times. They just can't perform the same. It does affect them. It affects their careers. Sometimes it's irreversible."

The impact on the sport could be as damaging as on the players. If supporters feel betrayed and have no faith the match results are legitimate, interest is likely to fade.

"All of them have a fear of gambling. All of them are not quite sure how to deal with it because they know it can happen at any time," Franseze said.

"In this country, we've had dog fighting incidents, a massive steroid scandal in baseball. They can overcome those things. They will not be able to overcome a major gambling issue.

"Once people start to believe that sports are fixed, that it becomes staged, forget it, the sport is done. Every pro sport knows that."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ten Commandments of the Mafia

All things being equal, Tony Soprano probably had it right: “There is no Mafia!” the bear-like mob boss snapped to his inquisitive teen daughter, Meadow, in one of the first episodes of The Sopranos.

In the next breath, in a rare show of paternal trust, Tony allowed, “Some of my money comes from illegal gambling and whatnot.” But he insisted that he worked in waste management, which was true, in a way. Tony just had a hazy job description.

Somewhere in that father-daughter moment was the reality of the modern-day wise guy. There is no Mafia, never has been, but someone is still running the rackets in New Jersey and bodies still turn up in the Meadowlands.

Like so many real-life examples, Tony Soprano had a second family that came before his own wife and kids. Tony belonged to a secret social club, of sorts, referred to as “this thing of ours.” The biggest scam ever perpetrated by the Mafia was convincing its members that it never existed.

Mob life appears real in the new documentary Ten Commandments of the Mafia (Sunday, Discovery at 8 p.m.). Every good club has its rules.

A smart pickup from the U.S. Discovery channel, the program follows on a news story that drew headlines last year: In the hills of Palermo, Italian police swarmed the hideout of the allegedly highly ranked Mafia kingpin Salvatore Lo Piccolo, who was arrested with his son, Sandro, and two other reputed godfathers at a secret mob palaver. The film includes footage of the SWAT takedown; the cops wear ski masks to protect their identity.

The big news: In Mr. Lo Piccolo's belongings, police found a document, typed in plain Italian, supposedly detailing the 10 commandments of the Mafia. An initiation script of sorts, the document included the vow of admission into the Sicilian crime family: “I swear to be faithful to Cosa Nostra. If I should betray it, my flesh must burn, just as this image burns.” The sombre initiation ceremony has been depicted on The Sopranos and in movies dating back to The Valachi Papers.

In forensic fashion, the film parallels the list against true-crime stories, as related by law-enforcement officials and a fairly impressive lineup of felons.

The program includes interviews with former Colombo crime family capo Michael Franzese and one-time mob insider Henry Hill, whose life was chronicled in the 1990film Goodfellas. There are also interviews with former wise guys who prefer to keep their faces hidden. All the men are currently in the witness-protection program and would be considered “rats” in mob parlance.

The code itself is fascinating in its crudeness. Some of the rules are obtuse, and poorly penned. No. 10: “People who can't be part of Cosa Nostra are anyone with a close relative in the police, with a two-timing relative in the family, anyone who behaves badly and doesn't hold to moral values.”

Some of the commandments should be obvious to any respectable waste-management executive. No. 6: “Appointments must be respected.” Or No. 3: “Never be seen with cops.”

Revealing its old worldness, the list includes no less than three very important rules regarding the woman's place in the Mafia. No. 7: “Wives must be treated with respect.” No. 2: “Never look at the wives of friends.” And most tellingly, No. 5: “Always be available for Cosa Nostra, even if your wife's about to give birth.”

In between each commandment, the film explores the history of mob hierarchy and explains the titles of boss, underboss, captain and other mob rankings. Not so remarkably, the program confirms that most of the Mafia commandments seem to apply today, with the usual bending.

The Mafia has always held a convenient don't-ask-don't-tell policy. Members steal, cheat and murder in pursuit of monetary gain (were Mafia elders kidding with Commandment No. 9?: “Money cannot be appropriated if it belongs to others or to other families”), all the while pretending to adhere to an archaic code of honour. Perhaps most ludicrous is Commandment No. 8: “When asked for any information, the answer must be the truth.” Even the Mafia rule on lying is a lie.

For that matter, mob code still forbids the dealing of drugs, but the Mafia allegedly controls the billion-dollar global drug trade. Says one former wise guy with a shrug in the shadows: “As long as you're bringing in bagfuls of money, you can break any rule you want.”

And imagine the money set to roll in with the release of The Sopranos: The Complete Series, which landed in stores on Tuesday. Retailing at around $300, the DVD collection tops the price previously set by box sets of Six Feet Under and Sex and the City. Will Sopranos fans shell out the money? Does Paulie Walnuts wear white loafers?

In keeping with the template created by The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (both films air around the clock this weekend on AMC, starting Saturday at 8 p.m.), The Sopranos is a fictional mob saga steeped in realness. The Emmy-winning series has only expanded its zeitgeist since ending in 2006, courtesy of marathon broadcasts on A&E. Even with trimmed scenes and freakin' language adjustments, The Sopranos is still the “greatest show in TV history,” according to Vanity Fair.

Like Tony himself, the box set is bulky and imposing. Packaged in a black box and housed in a hefty coffee-table-type book, the box set features all 86 Sopranos episodes on 33 discs. All six seasons have been made previously available in DVD box sets; the draw this time is the staggering assortment of extra features.

All told, the master collection boasts 31/2 hours of bonus materials. Along with the deleted scenes, episodic commentary and soundtrack CDs, the box set features an extended interview with creator David Chase conducted by Alec Baldwin; a documentary titled Supper with the Sopranos, wherein cast members discuss the contentious series finale; and a collection of Sopranos spoofs that appeared on The Simpsons, MADtv and Saturday Night Live.

The tastiest bonus feature is The Whacked Sopranos, an hour-long filmed version of an event held last year at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York. The lively panel discussion brings together five actors who came to untimely ends on the mob drama.

The unlucky group includes Steve Buscemi (Tony Blundetto), Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy) and Drea de Matteo, who went from playing the doomed moll Adriana to a lead role in the ill-fated Friends' spinoff Joey. “They killed me on HBO, and then I went to NBC to commit complete suicide,” de Matteo says. And none of the dearly departed seem particularly surprised that their respective demises barely registered with Chase, the real Godfather of The Sopranos. “It's not a big deal to me,” Chase says simply. “These are not real people.”

Thanks to Andrew Ryan

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Fraud Forum will Feature Former Mafia Kingpin

A three-day forum on fraud and identity theft, featuring a talk from a former Mafia boss, is expected to attract law enforcement agencies from throughout California to Gold Country Casino, starting May 16th. Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, whose office is presenting the forum, said fraud and identity theft are the country's two fastest-growing categories of crime.

Topics to be covered include investigation of check and credit card fraud, computer and Internet fraud, counterfeiting, postal fraud and frauds involving contractors, workers compensation and automobile insurance.

On Thursday police officials will hear from Michael Franzese, a recognized expert on business and corporate fraud and a convicted Mafia boss once dubbed the "Long Island Don."

He reportedly beat charges brought by former New York state prosecutor Rudy Giuliani, but later decided to plead guilty to a racketeering indictment, accepted a 10-year prison sentence, then quit the mob.

From 2 to 4 p.m. on Thursday, Ramsey and investigator Jos Van Hout will present information to the public on fraud and identity theft at Gold Country Casino.

There is no reservation needed to attend the free public seminar. More information about identity theft and fraud can be obtained at buttecounty.

Friday, January 27, 2006

God Vs. the Mafia

Friends of ours: Michael Franzese, Colombo Crime Family, John "Sonny" Franzese

For fans of The Godfather and Goodfellas, it may be an offer you can't refuse: an invitation to dine with an ex-Mafia don. Lexington's Porter Memorial Baptist Church officials predict 1,000 men will pay $7 each to eat a Fazoli's Italian dinner tonight with Michael Franzese, a former high-ranking member of the Colombo crime family. Afterward, Franzese, 53, will speak about his journey from prison to the pulpit and the public-speaking circuit.

Trent Snyder, a Porter Memorial minister and a former Lexington police officer, says Franzese's story proves God's power to transform lives. "You can be a sinner and involved in the worst crimes in life and if you truly surrender your life, Christ can turn that around and use that to glorify him," he said.

Franzese's criminal past is well-documented. His 1985 indictment on criminal conspiracy charges made the front page of The New York Times. In 1986, Fortune Magazine ranked him No. 18 on its list of "50 biggest Mafia bosses." Life Magazine, in 1987, described him as "one of the biggest money earners in the history of the Mafia." Before his 1985 arrest, he allegedly helped steal more than $1 billion in gasoline tax revenues. When he wasn't stealing millions, he produced B movies such as Knights of the City and Mausoleum.

After his conviction on federal charges, Franzese cut a deal with the feds. He spent seven years behind bars. Law enforcement officials were skeptical that Franzese would ever give up crime, and when he became a born-again Christian, many viewed it as just another scam. "I carry a lot of baggage and it's always going to be there," Franzese said in a telephone interview. "People have every right to be skeptical." But he says he has truly changed.

The pivotal moment was in the mid-1980s, when he fell in love with an evangelical Christian who danced in one of his movies. "She had a tremendous effect on me," he said. "She planted the seed, and there's no doubt God used her as a catalyst to turn my life around." He married the woman, Cammy Garcia, after divorcing his previous wife. They have been married for 20 years.

Unlike most underworld figures, Franzese has never kept a low profile. He turned down chances to be in the witness protection program and welcomed the chance to appear on TV news shows. His autobiography, Quitting the Mob, was published in 1992. His latest book, Blood Covenant, was released in 2003. In addition to ministry, Franzese speaks out against gambling and meets with National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball players to warn them of the risks. He has also spoken on gambling at about 150 college campuses across America, including the University of Kentucky.

Quitting the mob was a risky move. "My dad (mobster John "Sonny" Franzese) didn't speak to me for 10 years," he says. There were death threats. But Franzese said he survived by trusting God and refusing to squeal. "I never put anybody in prison. At one point in time, they realized I wasn't a threat."

As he talks about his faith, Franzese mentions the Apostle Paul, another tough guy who preached and spent time behind bars. "It just shows you," Franzese said. "Nobody's beyond redemption and fulfilling God's purpose."

Wednesday, May 15, 1996

Anthony Casso to Testify Against the Russian Mafia

Two years after defecting with a parcel of underworld secrets, a former Mafia kingpin is expected to surface publicly for the first time today to testify about the mob's alliances with Russian organized crime groups in the New York area.

Anthony S. Casso, the former acting boss of the Lucchese crime family in New York City, is scheduled to testify in Washington before a United States Senate Committee about murders and violent conspiracies arranged by American mobsters with Russian immigrant gangs, committee investigators said yesterday.

While such ties have been known to investigators in the past, Mr. Casso's testimony is expected to provide a rare glimpse from a leading Mafia figure about the links between the powerful organized crime groups.

His testimony is part of his bid for a lenient sentence on racketeering and murder charges to which he pleaded guilty in 1994.

The investigators said that another witness, a turncoat Russian criminal, would describe attempts by Russian gangsters to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from Russian players in the National Hockey League. In the past, league officials and players' agents said they were concerned that Russian gangsters were concentrating on Russian athletes. But the only evidence produced thus far was in March 1994, when a Russian immigrant pleaded guilty to a charge that he tried to extort $150,000 from Alexander Mogilny, who was then a player for the Buffalo Sabres.

The Senate panel, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, is looking into the emergence in the last decade of Russian immigrant crime groups in the country, and their ties to other crime groups.

"Casso will tell how the New York mobsters used their muscle to cash in on schemes and frauds that the Russians developed, especially gasoline tax frauds and gasoline bootlegging," said a committee investigator who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"The Russians supplied the brains and the Mafia supplied the hit men," the investigator added.

Senator William V. Roth, a Republican of Delaware, the committee's chairman, said in a statement yesterday that Mr. Casso will describe violent acts carried out by the Lucchese family for their Russian confederates and how Lucchese mobsters killed a Russian partner whom they suspected of disloyalty.

Another Mafia defector, Michael Franzese, who has admitted to being a captain in the Colombo crime family, is expected to testify about multimillion-dollar gasoline excise tax frauds engineered by Russian criminals and the Colombos, investigators said.

The relationships between Russian immigrant gangs and the Colombo and Gambino crime families were established in the 1980's at Federal trials in New York and in New Jersey. But Mr. Casso's testimony will shed light for the first time on the Lucchese faction's ties with its Russian counterparts, investigators said.

Mr. Casso, 56, who was nicknamed Gaspipe, would become the highest-ranking Mafia defector to provide details of the mob's connections to Russian gangsters.

Federal and state law enforcement officials say that a small group of Russian-born criminals slipped into the country in the 1970's and early 1980's among a wave of immigrants from the Soviet Union seeking political and religious freedom. These criminals, officials say, settled mainly in Brighton Beach and nearby sections of South Brooklyn and specialized in frauds and extortion of merchants in protection rackets.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought a new and more sophisticated group of criminals with direct links to organized crime gangs in Russia and in other countries, the officials say.

According to the authorities, the new groups have established bases in southern Florida and in Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia as well as in the New York region. They are extensively engaged in international narcotics trafficking and money laundering, the authorities say.

Before changing sides, Mr. Casso was portrayed by the F.B.I. as one of the country's most treacherous Mafia leaders.

He was considered a symbol of a new breed of dangerous Mafia gangsters who emerged in the 1980's to fill power vacuums in the five mob families in the New York area.

On the run for 32 months, Mr. Casso was captured in January 1993 by the F.B.I. in a hideout in Mount Olive, N.J. Facing life without parole if convicted, Mr. Casso sought leniency by becoming a Government witness and entering the Witness Protection Program.

In March 1994, at a closed hearing in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, he pleaded guilty to racketeering and murder charges and is awaiting sentencing.

Thanks to Selwyn Raab


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