Politics

‘I was one of the top Mafia bosses – even my own dad wanted me dead’


On October 31, 1975, Michael Franzese was walked into a room with a top Mafia boss seated at the head of a horseshoe table, with underbosses to his left and right. Michael, then 24, walked towards them and held out his hand, where they cut his finger with a knife.

His blood spilled onto a card placed into the cup of his hands, depicting a saint, which was then set alight. “‘Michael Franzese, you are born again into a new life, Cosa Nostra.

“Violate what you know about this life, betray your brothers, and you will die and burn in hell like the saint is burning in your hands. Do you accept?’ And I said ‘yes I do,’” Michael, now 71, tells the Manchester Evening News.

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“It’s a night I’ll never forget. When you take the oath of Omertà, an oath of silence, you’re never even supposed to admit the existence of that life, and you can never betray the life.

“It’s not an oath that says ‘from tonight you’re going to murder and steal and kill,’ does that happen? Yes. Did I violate the oath? Yes, because I talk about it and I walked away from it.”

At the height of his mob life as a ‘caporegime’ (captain) of the revered Colombo crime family who ran the New York Mafia alongside five other families, Michael Franzese defrauded the US Federal Government of upwards of $350 million with a gasoline bootlegging scheme, making him one of the most powerful men in the city and a prime target for law enforcement.

In 1986, Vanity Fair named Michael one of the biggest money earners the mob had seen since Al Capone, with Fortune Magazine listing him at number 18 on the ‘Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses’ list.

His life was like how you see it in the movies, he says, where he was briefly portrayed by Joseph Bono in the famous Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas. In his late twenties, Michael had his own jet plane, a Bell helicopter, a 7,000 sqft house on two acres of land in Long Island, a house on the water in Florida, and a house on the beach in California.



Michael and his dad Sonny, aged 101

He had a team of 300 men working under him, bringing in $8 million a week. “I was in a club every night, we partied a lot, we had a lot of fun,” Michael says.

“I also had legitimate businesses, a production company, a lot going on. I was fortunate and knew how to use life to benefit me business-wise. On the flip side, I was arrested 18 times, I was indicted seven times, and with a big crew under me, I’d be there if someone was in trouble.

“All the while I’m making this money, I’m spending it on lawyers, court, it was part of my life. It was very fast-paced; there was never a dull moment.” He adds: “The Mafia is not a business, it’s a whole way of life. We have our own rules, policies, it’s a part of you; you have to buy into it, body, mind and soul to survive.”

It was a challenge for Michael to be able to trust new faces, having to tread extremely carefully. “You had to be aware at all times that someone could be out to hurt you,” he explains.

“I had a couple of undercover investigations on me… I had two undercover agents with me for about eight months. They made 83 tape recordings of me, and they couldn’t use one of them.

“I never put myself in a position where they could. They tried to indict me after almost a year of investigation and they couldn’t. I was that careful with people I wasn’t sure of.”

By 1995, following several years in prison on racketeering charges, Michael’s life changed. Guided by a newfound faith in God, he decided to publicly turn his back on the mob.



Sonny Franzese at 101 and 50-years-old

What followed was several contracts on his life, including one approved by his own father – high profile underboss, Sonny Franzese, who was released from prison after forty years in 2017 aged 100, and died two years ago at 103.

“It hurt. My dad and I was so close but I also understood,” Michael says. “If I became a major witness and put people in prison, well my dad proposed me [to join the Mafia], so it endangers him too.

“Do I think my dad would have put a bullet in my head? No.” He adds: “We patched it up later on.”

Michael describes his dad as his “idol” growing up. But he was always in the media, which resulted in him getting into fights at school when his classmates would make comments.

“We had a lot of his men around who respected him, I looked up to him. But he didn’t want this life for me originally.

“He wanted me to go to school, he said ‘son, be a doctor, get an education,’ and so I was on that road until he got into some severe trouble in the 1960s. He was indicted four times, three in the state of New York for serious crimes but he went to trial and was acquitted, but then he was indicted in federal court, for masterminding a nationwide string of bank robberies, and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

“When he went off to do his time in 1970, I was 19, I was a pre-med student and I was devastated because he was 50 when he went in, I thought he would never come out alive. Joe Colombo was the boss of our family, I knew him well, he took me under his wing, and I started to meet a lot of my dad’s friends.

“They said ‘if you don’t help him out, he’s going to die in prison’, and that’s what led me to the streets. The best way to help him was to become a member of his life.”

Michael doesn’t look back with regret over his chosen path, but he is remorseful for the ‘“inescapable violence and destruction” that took hold. He has asked for “sincere repentance” from God, whom he turned to when confined to a 6 x 9 ft solitary cell, where he was housed for 29 months.



Michael during his first stint in prison in 1986 with wife Camille and their first child Miquelle

“I delved into my faith and it kept me going and made me determined to get out and have my life changed,” he reflects. “When you have nothing but time, and it’s you and God in a jail cell, you say ‘okay I want to learn everything I can about you, I want to see if this is real’.”

Michael had his wife of now 37 years, Camille Garcia, a devout Christian, send books to him in prison. He had met her when she was a dancer in one of his films and says there was an instant attraction.

She had a powerful influence on Michael, and the desire to be with her ultimately drove him to leave his former life behind. “When I fell in love with her, I said ‘if I marry this girl and stay in this life, she’s going to be alone’ because I’m either going to go to prison for the rest of my life or I’m going to get killed, so I had to make a choice; it was either her or the life and I chose her,” Michael says.

“That started my whole journey in a different way. I had previously married at a young age, we had three children in three years, with Camille, we have four, so I have seven children. Five daughters and two sons.

“This life is so destructive to families. My whole family was destroyed as a result of my dad’s involvement in that life. I didn’t want to do that to my family, I just couldn’t do it.”

When he was released from prison, he and his family moved straight to California for a fresh start. He sent a message to his dad saying he was finished, and that he wasn’t going to hurt anybody.



Michael’s wife was ultimately the reason why he left the mob

Michael cut ties by ensuring he didn’t create patterns of behaviour. “I didn’t walk my dog at 7am every morning so people watching me knew where I was, I didn’t go to the same restaurant on a Tuesday night. I was very disciplined.

“Everybody thought I was going to be a major witness, but that never happened. I just outlasted everybody and I don’t ever sell my former associates short. Everybody I ran with is either dead or in prison.”

He denies living in fear, and instead argues he lives with caution. “It’s my natural instinct. I tell my daughters, ‘when you’re in a parking lot, make sure you observe your surroundings’, I just feel this is the way you need to live.”

For the past 25 years, Michael has been sharing his advice as a motivational speaker and works to inspire youths and vulnerable adults against a life of organised crime. In the summer, he is embarking on a UK tour – An Evening with Michael Franzese – The Real Goodfella – with a show in Manchester, where he will reveal untold truths.

When asked if he has a message for those embroiled in gang culture in Greater Manchester, Michael says: “I have a lot of stories. The important part of the story is that I was able to overcome a bad situation.

“People with challenges in their life should realise there is always a way out. These young people ask ‘how can we walk away?’ I say ‘hey, I walked away from the biggest, most organised gang in the world. I can do it, you can do it.

“It gives people hope and encouragement. That’s what we hope to do any time I speak. There could be a happy ending to whatever you’re going through.”

Tickets for the Manchester show – An Evening with Michael Franzese – The Real Goodfella – on August 5 at the Mercure Manchester Piccadilly Hotel, Portland Street, are on sale now. For more details, please visit https://michaelfranzesetour.giftpro.co.uk/events/mercuremanchester/

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