Who is Michael Franzese?
Michael is a former mobster who became known for his involvement in the Colombo crime family, one of the “Five Families” of the American Mafia. He gained notoriety for his high-ranking position within the organization, and his involvement in various illegal activities, including racketeering, extortion and money laundering. After leaving the mob, he became an author and motivational speaker.
Wiki: Age, Childhood and Education
Michael Franzese was born on 27 May 1951, in Brooklyn, New York City USA. His father, John “Sonny” Franzese, held a significant position as the underboss of the Colombo crime family. During his early years, Michael believed that he was adopted, and considered Frank Grillo to be his biological father. Consequently, he went by the name “Michael Grillo” until he reached the age of 18.
However, Michael later discovered the truth about his parentage – it was revealed that his mother, Cristina Capobianco, had an affair with John Franzese; they married after John divorced his first wife. This revelation shed light on Michael’s biological origins.
In 1969, Michael relocated to Long Island, and two years later made the decision to abandon his college education to provide financial support for his family, while his father served a prison sentence for a bank robbery committed in 1967.
As Michael became more involved with his father’s associates, he developed connections within the criminal underworld; among these was Joseph Colombo, a prominent figure in the Colombo crime family. In 1975, Michael was formally inducted into the family, solidifying his position within the organization. During the induction ceremony, he participated in a blood oath and swore an oath of silence, known as omerta.
Throughout his journey, Michael received guidance within the criminal organization. from a Colombo soldier named Joseph “Joe-Joe” Vitacco, who served as his mentor. Additionally, he had encounters with John Gotti, a future leader of the Gambino crime family – Michael expressed admiration for Gotti, noting his strict adherence to the mobster lifestyle and his notable ego.
By 1980, Michael had risen through the ranks and became a caporegime, leading a crew comprising 300 members. This position of authority solidified his status within the Colombo crime family, and highlighted his significant influence within the organization.
Michael Franzese during his mob days. pic.twitter.com/TGmMNvD9y4
— Mob History (@MobsterHistory) December 1, 2017
Prince of the Mafia
In 1981, Lawrence Salvatore Iorizzo presented Michael Franzese with a plan to defraud the federal government by evading gasoline taxes. To carry out this scheme, they established 18 stock-bearer companies in Panama, where tax-free gasoline sales were permitted. Franzese collaborated with the Russian Mafia in Brooklyn to execute the operation effectively.
The fraudulent scheme involved the sale of gasoline to one company, while diverting the shipments to another. A dummy company would then fabricate tax documents for the recipient of the gasoline. By exploiting this process, Franzese’s operation became a major supplier of gasoline in the New York metropolitan area.
From the profits generated by the scheme, Franzese retained 75% of the earnings, amounting to a staggering $1.26 million per month. Meanwhile, Iorizzo received $45,000 per month. At the peak of his criminal career, Franzese claimed to have amassed up to $8 million per week, highlighting the immense financial success of his illicit activities.
Revenue officials estimated that approximately $250 million in gasoline tax was being stolen annually in New York state. Florida was also impacted by similar fraudulent activities, resulting in significant losses ranging up to $250 million in stolen gasoline tax revenue. Authorities suspected that the substantial sums of money were being laundered through Franzese’s film production company, Miami Gold, as well as offshore bank accounts located in Austria and Panama.
The extent of Franzese’s wealth and power within the mafia ranks gained recognition when Fortune Magazine listed him as the 18th most wealthy and influential mafia boss in 1986. He was often referred to as the ‘Yuppie Don’ during the 1980s, signifying his association with the affluent and materialistic yuppie culture of the time. Additionally, he earned the moniker ‘Prince of the Mafia’, reflecting his prominent position and lavish lifestyle within organized crime circles.
Incarceration and Prison Time
In April 1985, Michael Franzese successfully fought against racketeering charges and was acquitted of the allegations. However, his legal troubles continued, as he faced charges in December 1985, this time in both Florida and New York, related to counterfeiting and extortion within the gasoline boot-legging racket.
During the legal proceedings, Iorizzo, who had already been sentenced and placed in the witness protection program, provided testimony against Franzese and others involved in their criminal operation, beginning in March 1985, shedding light on the illicit activities they were engaged in.
On 21 March 1986, Franzese decided to plead guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy and tax conspiracy. As a result, he was handed a 10-year prison sentence and ordered to pay $14.7 million in restitution for the federal charges. In addition, he reached a plea agreement on the state racketeering charges in Florida, receiving a concurrent nine-year sentence, and being required to pay an additional $3 million in restitution.
In 1989, Franzese became a key witness in the trial of James “Jim” Walters, in exchange for which he was granted immunity. Walters was found guilty, but his conviction was overturned in 1990 based on a technicality.
December 1991 brought another legal setback for Franzese; he was sentenced to four years in federal prison for violating probation requirements. Prosecutors criticized him for evading restitution payments, and for his lack of co-operation as a supposed witness.
Becoming a Motivational Speaker
After leaving the mob, Michael Franzese relocated to California with his wife and children to escape the significant threats on his life, including one orchestrated by his own father. Since his release from prison in 1994, Franzese has taken a firm stand against organized crime. He openly speaks out about the destructive nature of mob life, emphasizing that it should not be glamorized or admired. As a motivational speaker, he shares his experiences and insights with various audiences, including youth at schools, in prisons, and Christian conferences.
On the HBO program “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” in July 2002, Franzese made a controversial claim, asserting that he’d convinced New York Yankees players who were indebted to Colombo loan sharks to manipulate baseball games for illegal betting purposes. The Yankees organization promptly refuted Franzese’s allegations.
Franzese has made appearances in several documentaries that explore the world of organized crime, including “The Definitive Guide to the Mob” (2013), produced by Lionsgate, and “Inside the American Mob” (2013), a National Geographic documentary.
In 2014, Franzese released the autobiographical biopic “God the Father”, which premiered in theaters across 20 cities in the United States. The film combined stock footage, animated recreations, and interviews to tell his life story, highlighting his religious motivation for leaving behind a life of crime.
In March 2015, he featured in a two-part documentary alongside television presenter Trevor McDonald, in which he discussed his wealth and the impact of his Colombo crime family ties on his family, which ultimately led him to turn away from the criminal underworld.
In 2017, Franzese took on an acting role, portraying a reformed mobster in the film “Let There Be Light”, starring Kevin Sorbo, showcasing his talents as he contributed to a project that focused on the theme of redemption.
Franzese ventured into the entertainment industry in a different capacity, by hosting a stage musical entitled “A Mob Story”. This production, which debuted at the Plaza Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas in October 2018, offered an immersive experience into the world of organized crime. Created and directed by Jeff Kutash, the show captivated audiences with its depiction of mob life.
In 2019, Franzese expanded his business endeavors as he became a co-founder of “Slices Pizza,” a national franchise specializing in Sicilian-style square pizzas. The franchise, which started in California and now boasts five branches across the country, including one in Dallas, Texas, sources ingredients from Naples and Campania, and utilizes traditional ovens from Venice.
In July 2020, Franzese made an appearance in the Netflix docuseries Fear City: New York vs. The Mafia, further sharing his insights into the criminal underworld and its impact on the city.
In June 2020, Franzese launched his own YouTube channel, in which he shares captivating stories from his past life, conducts interviews, provides reviews of mafia-related films, television shows, and video games, and critically analyzes their accuracy. His channel has amassed over a million subscribers as of January 2023, making it a significant platform for those interested in his unique perspective and experiences.
As an author, Franzese has penned seven books, each shedding light on different aspects of his life:
Quitting the Mob (1992)
Blood Covenant (2003)
The Good, the Bad and the Forgiven (2009)
I’ll Make You an Offer You Can’t Refuse (2011)
From the Godfather to God the Father (2014)
Blood Covenant: The Story of the “Mafia Prince” Who Publicly Quit the Mob and Lived (2018)
Mafia Democracy (2022)
How rich is Michael Franzese Now?
According to authoritative sources, Michael Franzese’s net worth is estimated at $1 million, as of mid-2023.
Personal Life, Married, Wife, Children
He was married to Maria Franzese in the past. His second wife is Camille Garcia, with whom he has been married since 1985. The couple has seven children.
In a notable turn of events within the Franzese family, their father, Sonny Franzese, testified against by Michael’s brother John, in a racketeering case, having worn a wire during conversations with his father, so providing evidence that contributed to Sonny’s legal troubles.
Sonny Franzese faced legal consequences and was sentenced to eight years in prison. He was released in 2017 at the remarkable age of 100. However, his freedom was short-lived, as he passed away three years later.