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

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Sonny Franzese, the Legendary Mob Boss and Pal of Frank Sinatra Dies at 103

Legendary Colombo crime family mobster John “Sonny” Franzese, who hung out with Frank Sinatra and befriended Marilyn Monroe before a bank robbery conviction eventually made him the nation’s oldest federal inmate, has died at a New York City hospital. He was 103.

“Tough loss at any age,” his son Michael Franzese said. “He was so much a part of who I am as a man, good or bad. He loved his children. No doubt about that.”

Franzese, who died Monday, had been living in New York since being released from prison. A cause of death was not announced.

The renowned tough guy did his prison time without ever turning on his mob associates following a 1967 conviction that was widely considered both inside and outside organized crime as a setup.

John "Sonny" Franzese: Profaci-Colombo Underboss.

After he was sentenced to a 50-year stretch, Franzese offered only this prescient observation: “I’ll bet I do every one.”

Franzese, widely admired and respected in the Mafia for sticking to his oath of omerta and keeping silent, was finally freed in 2017 at the age of 100. His son Michael, who initially followed his father into the mob, eventually left organized crime and became a born-again Christian and motivational speaker.

The elder Franzese was born in Sicily, moving with his family as a child to Brooklyn. Mob lore held that the precocious gangster became a made man at age 14, and was soon running a mob-controlled craps game.

Over the years, Franzese listed his legitimate work as a tailor, a baker and a salesman. But his real job was as a gangster, authorities said, and living the high life.

Franzese, dark-haired and handsome, would claim dalliances with Monroe and actress Jayne Mansfield. He hung out with Sinatra and fellow Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr. at the legendary Copacabana nightclub in New York.

Once asked if he knew Sinatra, the gangster was quick to turn around the question: “You asked the question the wrong way. You should have asked, ‘Did Frank Sinatra know Sonny Franzese?’” But the business side of Franzese was darker: He once acknowledged killing 10 men during a 2006 chat with a mob informant, with other estimates of his mob murders running as high as 60. Yet he was tried for murder only once, and was acquitted.

Most importantly in his mob career, Franzese was an earner, making money for the family in a variety of ways. He worked in the record business, and put up some of the cash behind the mob’s alleged investment in the classic porn flick “Deep Throat” — reportedly securing a piece of its supposed $600-million gross.

Franzese returned to his family in Brooklyn after his release in 2017 from the Federal Medical Center in Danvers, Mass., leading a quiet life far from the spotlight of his youth.

Thanks to Larry McShane.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Little Black Book of Mafia Wisdom - Secrets, Lies, Tricks, and Tactics of the Organization That Was Once Bigger Than U.S. Steel

Don’t let your tongue be your worst enemy.” —John “Sonny” Franzese
You can go a long way with a smile. You can go a lot farther with a smile and a gun.” —Al Capone
I never lie to any man because I don't fear anyone. The only time you lie is when you are afraid.” —John Gotti

Despite the fact that secrecy is vital to the MobThe Little Black Book of Mafia Wisdom - Secrets, Lies, Tricks, and Tactics of the Organization That Was Once Bigger Than U.S. Steel, mobsters have revealed themselves to be notorious gossips, prone to bragging, and even outrageous loudmouths. Delve into the inner workings of the Mob and the mindset of those who run it through these mesmerizing quotes from some of the smoothest and most dangerous criminals, real and fictional, who ever made headlines. Whether they’re spilling to their lawyers or making blood-chilling threats, mobsters reveal startling insights on leadership, guilt, and loyalty. While at times shocking, crude, and even unintentionally funny, these quotes also help us to see the humanity behind these dark bosses of the underworld . . . and give us a little insight into the dark side of our own natures, as well. The Little Black Book of Mafia Wisdom: Secrets, Lies, Tricks, and Tactics of the Organization That Was Once Bigger Than U.S. Steel

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, April 29, 2013

Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at Federal Prison Hospital That Was Past Home for Several Mobsters

When Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev entered the federal prison hospital at Devens, he became the latest high-crime prisoner name to take up temporary residence at the former Army base.

The Federal Medical Center Devens, which opened in 1996, serves as a federal Bureau of Prisons hospital for inmates needing specialized or long-term medical or mental health care. The facility is on the site of the former Cutler Army Hospital.

Inmates treated there have been mobsters, corrupt politicians and people convicted of financial crimes.

Among the mobsters to spend time in the hospital was Sicilian crime boss Gaetano Badalamenti, who died of heart failure in 2004. He was convicted as ringleader of the $1.65 billion drug smuggling operation known as The Pizza Connection.

Other mafiosi at the hospital have included John "Sonny" Franzese, an underboss of the Colombo crime family convicted of racketeering; and John Riggi, former boss of the DeCavalcante crime family, released in November after 22 years at various prisons. He was convicted of conspiracy in the murder of acting mob boss John D’Amato. Also serving time at Devens was Frank Locascio, a former underboss of the Gambino crime family.

The 1,000-bed medical center opened its doors in Devens at 42 Patton Road in 1999, three years after Fort Devens formally ceased to be an Army base.

The base served as the Army’s New England headquarters for 79 years. It was conveyed to the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency for redevelopment as Devens, a residential and business community made up of property formerly part of surrounding towns. The army still has its reserve forces training center on sections of the former base.

Among the better-known soldiers to serve there was Gen. Colin Powell, who met his wife while assigned to Fort Devens.

The U.S. Marshals Service said that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had left Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center overnight and been transported to Devens.

Thanks to George Barnes.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Colombo Crime Family Mobster Mickey Souza Learns the Mob is More About Money Than Honor

The Colombo crime family must really be going to the dogs if this is the type of muscle they're recruiting.

Meet Michael (Mickey) Souza.

Before legendary Colombo underboss John (Sonny) Franzese pricked Souza's finger with a sterile diabetic needle in 2005 to make him a made man, Souza had built quite the fiasco-filled résumé.

There was the time he shot himself, Plaxico Burress-style, while tucking a handgun in his sweatpants. There's his arrest for boating while drunk. And then there was the time he injured one of his fellow goons while the two busted up a funeral parlor.

If an organization is no better than its worst guy, then the Colombos are indeed in trouble. And what thanks do they get for taking in this mopey mobster? He's now turned stool pigeon.

Souza, 42, made his debut on the witness stand last week at the racketeering trial of Genovese gangster Anthony Antico in Brooklyn Federal Court.

He was facing 30 years to life for drug trafficking when he sought a cooperation agreement from the feds.

"'Hello, John,'" he wrote to John Buretta, the chief of the Brooklyn U.S. attorney's organized-crime section, in 2008, offering to help "seal up" some federal cases.

"P.S. I am so ready to go to [the witness protection program] ... can't do this anymore," Souza concluded.

His testimony - and dramatic turn against the bosses - speaks to the Colombos' disarray and lowering of standards for supposed "men of honor."

"Their [the Colombos'] roster is getting pretty thin," conceded a law enforcement official.

Souza's troubles go way back.

He was "honorably discharged" from high school because "I baseball-batted somebody on school property," he testified. He instead graduated to loansharking, drug dealing and running a Staten Island gym called Evolution, where wiseguys and wanna-bes pumped iron. And after assaulting his own wife, he was marked for death by his mobbed-up father-in-law. But maybe worst of all was violating a previously unknown rule by exposing himself in a Staten Island bar owned by a gangster.

"You know, the rules, you don't take out your private part in a wiseguy's place," Souza said on the stand, in describing his past with the mob.

In Souza's bizarro world, "sitdowns" to settle beefs are now called "standups" - "you talk on the corner." And he paid the medical bills for a guy whose eye he popped out during a grisly fight. But Souza said he sees the Mafia more clearly now. "There's no honor in this life. It's all about the dollar," he said.

Thanks to John Marzulli

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,, 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 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

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Nine Mobster Accused and Arrested for Mafia Crimes Nationwide

A reputed acting mob boss and eight other suspected gangsters were arrested Wednesday on federal charges accusing them of coast-to-coast Mafia crimes, ranging from gangland hits in New York to a home invasion by police impersonators in Los Angeles, authorities said.

Among those named in a racketeering indictment were Thomas "Tommy Shots" Gioeli, who authorities said was the acting boss of the Colombo organized crime family.

Three other defendants already behind bars also were charged, including 89-year-old John "Sonny" Franzese, identified as the family's underboss.

Gioeli, wearing a hoodie and basketball shorts after an early morning arrest at his Long Island home, pleaded not guilty to robbery, murder and extortion charges. He was ordered held without bail. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

"He's denied all the allegations," said his attorney, Adam Perlmutter, outside court. The other defendants were also due in court Wednesday.

The takedown -- following a three-month investigation using turncoat mobsters and electronic surveillance -- was part of a "relentless campaign to prosecute and convict the highest echelons of the Colombo family and La Cosa Nostra as a whole," said U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell.

He noted that former Colombo acting boss Alphonse "Allie Boy" Persico and another family member were convicted last year of orchestrating a 1999 murder.

Gioeli was charged in three of four slayings detailed in the indictment, including the 1992 slayings of two men amid a bloody civil war for control of the family. A Colombo captain was accused of participating in the shooting and killing of an armored truck guard, also in 1992, while the victim was delivering money to a cash-checking store in Brooklyn.

The indictment also alleges Gioeli participated in the holdup of a fur shop in February 1991 in which he posed as a customer shopping for a Valentine's Day gift. He and other bandits handcuffed the owner before they "filled garbage bags with fur coats" and fled, court papers said.

In 2006, two other defendants flew to Los Angeles to try to rob a home where they believed there was $1 million in drug money, court papers said. Donning hats and T-shirts emblazoned with "DEA" and carrying a fake search warrant, the men burst into the home and pistol-whipped a woman there, but never found the cash, the papers said.

It was the second high-profile mob case to be made in recent months: In February, prosecutors charged 62 reputed members and associates of the once-powerful Gambino crime family with murders, drug trafficking, robberies, extortion, and other crimes dating back to the 1970s.

Last Thursday, the lone fugitive in the Gambino case, Nicholas "Little Nick" Corozzo, strolled up to the FBI's office and surrendered on charges he ordered a decades-old gangland hit that took an innocent bystander's life. He was ordered held without bail after pleading not guilty to racketeering, extortion and murder charges

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mob Menu: Donuts Followed by Jail for Sonny Franzese

At age 89, John "Sonny" Franzese still enjoys sitting for a bite with his friends. The problem, according to federal authorities, is when the octogenarian mobster inevitably puts his criminal interests on the menu.

For the third time since 1996, Franzese was back in federal lockup _ this time after authorities spotted him sharing donuts with associates in the Colombo crime family, violating his parole. In the two earlier arrests, Franzese was nabbed after meeting with alleged mobsters in a coffee shop and a restaurant.

It's enough to give the reputed family underboss indigestion. "It's really sad," said his son, Michael Franzese, who followed the elder Franzese into organized crime before leaving the mob and becoming a born-again Christian. "I believe he wasn't very active (with the Colombos) at all, but then again, I'm not with him 24/7. Many of his friends are dead."

No surprise there, since the elderly Franzese's contemporaries included mob veterans like Joe Colombo (RIP, 1978) or Alphonse "Allie Boy" Persico (RIP, 1989). But authorities said Franzese was spotted more than once in recent weeks sharing breakfast pastries with 21st century Colombo members.

Franzese was picked up last Wednesday during a scheduled check-in with his parole officer, said FBI spokesman Jim Margolin. He will remain behind bars pending resolution of his case, which could take up to three months, according to Tom Huchison of the U.S. Parole Commission.

If Franzese has a weakness for old friends, he also has an unfortunate predilection for meeting them in public places _ a major problem, since his parole bars him from any contact with organized crime figures.

A November 2000 sitdown for coffee with three Colombo associates at a Long Island Starbucks landed him behind bars for three years. A February 1996 bowl of spinach soup at Pucinella's restaurant in Great Neck led to a two-year term after authorities identified his dining companions as mobsters.

A decade earlier, Franzese was popped after a mobbed-up meal at Laina's Restaurant in Jericho. In all, Franzese has racked up five parole violations _ and gone to jail for each one _ since his November 1978 release on a bank robbery conviction.

By then, Franzese's reputation as a stand-up guy was already well-known among the Colombos.

He was once a frequent patron at the Copacabana nightclub, taking in headliners like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. And he was among the investors in the legendary movie "Deep Throat." But the up-and-coming mob star's career was derailed by a 1967 bank robbery conviction and subsequent 50-year jail term, which included parole restrictions that now extend though 2020 _ when Franzese would be 102 years old.

Franzese has not been convicted of any new crimes in the last 40 years.

When Michael and his father speak now, the discussions still focus on family _ Sonny's seven grandchildren (another son, John, went into federal witness protection). Michael says the old man is no longer in the best of health, and sometimes has trouble recognizing his voice.

The arrest, in an odd culinary twist, also denied Franzese one last good meal: A friend says they were due to share dinner in a Long Island restaurant just hours after his arrest.

Thanks to the Niagara Gazette.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

90-Year-Old Sonny Franzese, Reputed Head of Colombo Crime Family, Jailed

A 90-year-old Colombo crime family leader who rubbed elbows with Frank Sinatra and other celebrities during his heyday was arrested for associating with known mobsters, his fifth parole violation in 25 years, the FBI said.

John "Sonny" Franzese was arrested Wednesday when he appeared for a regularly scheduled visit with a probation officer, said Jim Margolin, an FBI spokesman.

It was the fifth parole violation for Franzese. Among the others: He was jailed for three years after a November 2000 meeting at a coffee shop with three Colombo family associates. Another time, he spent two years behind bars after federal agents watched him enjoying a bowl of spinach soup with mob associates at a restaurant.

Margolin had no details this time on where Franzese had violated his parole or what he might have been eating or drinking at the time.

Franzese was being held in jail and was to appear in court next week. He didn't have a lawyer, Margolin said.

Despite his age, Franzese reportedly ascended to Colombo underboss two years ago after family boss "Big Joey" Massino was convicted of racketeering and became a federal witness. Massino, who spent 14 years running the family, became the first sitting boss of one of New York's five Mafia families to flip. But Franzese was involved in organized crime long before Massino's ascension. He was a fixture at the Copacabana nightclub, where he often spent time with Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., according to Jerry Capeci, author of several books on organized crime and operator of the Web site

Franzese also had a financial stake in the legendary porn movie "Deep Throat."

Franzese's parole restrictions continue through 2020, when he would be older than 100. It was unclear how much prison time he might face on the parole violation.

Since going to jail in 1970 for a bank robbery, Franzese had spent more than two decades -- on and off -- behind bars. He was initially paroled on that charge in 1978, and the first of the parole violations was in 1982.

Franzese wasn't the only aging mobster in court Wednesday. Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello, 86, was sentenced in New Haven, Connecticut, to two years in prison for racketeering conspiracy and tax evasion. The case was part of a federal probe of the trash hauling industry in Connecticut and New York.

Thanks to CNN.

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."


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