Michael Franzese is a former mobster who worked as a caporegime in the Colombo crime family, which is known for organized crime activities in New York City, USA. He later renounced organized crime and evolved into an author, activist, and motivational speaker. Son of notorious Italian-American crime lord John ‘Sonny’ Franzese, Sr., Michael was raised amidst an atmosphere of crime and illegal activities. This is how he got involved in organized crime early in his life. In the ensuing years, he moved up the ranks and became a caporegime of the Colombo crime family. He operated his father’s illegal rackets during his father’s imprisonment in the 1980s. During the high point of his career as a mobster, Michael earned around eight million dollars a week from both legal and illegal businesses. He later quit organized crime and became a devoted Christian and motivational speaker. He also founded ‘Breaking Out Foundation’ to help youngsters avoid the dreadful path of crime and addiction.
Childhood & Family Background
Michael Franzese was born on May 27, 1951, in Brooklyn, New York, USA to Cristina Capobianco-Franzese and John ‘Sonny’ Franzese, Sr.
Franzese, Sr. did not want Michael to get into organized crime. Instead, he wanted his son to become a doctor. Accordingly, Michael completed his high school studies and got enrolled at the ‘Hofstra University’ where he began a pre-med program. In 1970, Franzese, Sr. was sentenced to 50 years in prison for masterminding several bank robberies. Michael dropped out of college around 1974 to take care of his father. Subsequently, he got involved in the activities of the Colombo crime family.
Michael’s mother succumbed to cancer in 2012 when his father was in prison. Franzese, Sr. was finally released in June 2017. By the time of his release, he had become the only centenarian in federal custody and the oldest federal prisoner in the United States. At present, Franzese, Sr. is the oldest living gangster in the world.
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Initiation into the Colombo Crime Family
Michael became acquainted with many of his father’s friends including Joseph Colombo who served as the boss of the Colombo crime family from 1964 to 1971. On the night of Halloween in 1975, Michael became a member of the Mafia and was inducted into the Colombo crime family as a soldier. He underwent the Mafia initiation ritual along with his best friend Jimmy Angelino among others. He was briefly mentored by Joseph ‘Joe-Joe’ Vitacco who served as a soldier.
Michael was elevated to the ranks of caporegime or captain in 1980. As a captain, he was in charge of an associate crew of 300 to 500 members. He had criminal dealings with Gambino crime family boss Paul Castellano; future Gambino crime family boss John Gotti; and Genovese crime family underboss Anthony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno.
Involvement in the Gasoline Bootlegging Racket
Lawrence Salvatore Iorizzo contacted Michael with an idea of starting a gasoline racket. Subsequently, Michael and Lawrence set up 18 Panama-based stock-bearer companies. When the authorities suspected one of these companies of fraudulent activity, Michael would move to the next company to run his illegal business.
Law in Panama at the time permitted a tax-free sale of gasoline from one wholesale company to another. Michael gradually became a popular name in the gasoline racket scene. He went on to introduce his friend and Genovese family soldier Joseph ‘Joe Glitz’ Galizia into the operation.
Galizia had organized the ‘Russian Mafia’ in Brooklyn. Subsequently, Michael’s organization joined hands with Galizia’s organization, allowing Michael to sell millions of gallons of gasoline. Compared to legitimate gas stations, Michael’s organization often sold the gas at lower prices.
For his involvement in the gasoline bootlegging racket, Michael was arrested in 1985 and was indicted on 14 counts of racketeering, counterfeiting, and extortion. He pleaded guilty to two counts the following year. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was also asked to cough up $14 million in restitution payments.
In 1986, Michael was ranked 18 in the ‘Fortune’ magazine’s list of ‘Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses.’ According to Michael, he was earning between $5–10 million per week at the height of his career. A Federal report mentioned that Michael earned more money than anyone in a crime family after Al Capone.
Other Endeavours & Renouncement of Organized Crime
In the 1970s, Michael became involved in legitimate businesses. By the mid-1980s, he had invested in various businesses including movie production, distribution companies, travel agencies, restaurants, nightclubs, leasing companies, video stores, and car dealerships among others.
By 1980, he had entered into a partnership with booking agent Norby Walters. He also became a partner in Walters’ sports management agency which was established in 1985. In 1989, Michael was subpoenaed to testify at a trial of Walters when the latter had invoked Michael’s name to frighten college students into signing management contracts with his sports agency.
Michael resolved to renounce the Colombo family while serving a term in prison in December 1987. He was released on parole a couple of years later in 1989. He once again faced a four-year sentence in federal prison on December 27, 1991, for violating the probation rules at the time of his release in 1989. After being released in 1994, Michael left the crime world the following year. Amidst several death threats, he relocated to California to join his wife and children.
Meanwhile, he co-wrote a sensational book titled ‘Quitting the Mob’ with Dary Matera in 1992. The autobiography narrates Michael’s story, including his life with his crime lord father, his own criminal pursuits, and interactions with mobsters across the US and Europe.
Over the years, Michael has evolved into a motivational speaker. He has spoken as an NCAA life skills speaker to student-athletes in over 400 college campuses. He has also spoken to professional athletes associated with the ‘National Football League’ (NFL), ‘National Basketball Association’ (NBA), and ‘Major League Baseball’ (MLB).
A keynote speaker at corporate events, Michael leads seminars involving students of business and law. He speaks at Christian conferences, church services, and special events. He also speaks at prisons across the globe. He made a pledge in 2016 to help the Christian refugees emigrating from the Middle East.
He has given interviews to ‘HBO,’ ‘ESPN,’ ‘CNBC,’ ‘CNN,’ ‘Fox Sports,’ ‘Fox News,’ ‘MSNBC,’ ‘The Savage Nation,’ ‘USA Today,’ ‘TBN,’ ‘Jim Rome Show,’ ‘Renegade Talk Radio,’ and ‘Nat Geo.’
He came up with another book titled ‘Blood Covenant’ in 2003. ‘Blood Covenant’ includes an updated and expanded story of his life. In total, he has penned down five books so far. He appeared in a two-part documentary on the American Mafia in March 2015. In May 2016, ‘The History Channel’ featured him in a show titled ‘The Definitive Guide To The Mob.’
Family & Personal Life
Michael was producing the action adventure film ‘Knights of the City’ in Florida when he was floored by the beauty of Camille Garcia, a dancer from Anaheim, California. The two fell in love and eventually got married in 1985. Camille, who has stood by Michael through thick and thin, helped him in his decision to quit organized crime. She also played a key role in his subsequent spiritual transformation.
‘Inside the American Mob,’ a six-part series released by the ‘National Geographic Channel’ in June 2013, includes the story of Michael’s rise in the Mafia hierarchy. A documentary titled ‘God the Father,’ which was released on October 31, 2014, recounts the spiritual transformation of Michael Franzese.