Michael Franzese (born May 27, 1951), is a former New York mobster and former capo in the Colombo crime family who was heavily involved in the gasoline tax rackets in the 1980s. Since then, he has publicly renounced organized crime, created a foundation for helping youth and become a motivational speaker.
Member of the Colombo crime family
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Franzese is the son of reputed Colombo crime family Underboss John Franzese. After finishing high school, Franzese entered Hofstra University and started a premed program. However, in October 1975 Franzese decided to quit college and work full time for the Colombo crime family. As a soldier he served in the crew of Andrew "Andy Mush" Russo and was inducted under acting boss Thomas DiBella. By the 1980s, he had become a caporegime, or captain, of his own crew.
Franzese's rise in the Colombo family came from the infamous gasoline bootlegging rackets, which made Franzese a billionaire, and the scheme was incredibly lucrative for the family. In the 1970s, Franzese quickly became an extremely rich and powerful man, and by 1982, he became a multi-billionaire. Working with the Russian Mafia, Franzese sold billions of gallons of gas. The family would collect the state and federal gas taxes, but keep the money instead. At the same time, they were often selling the gas at lower prices than at legitimate gas stations. In the mid-1980s, Fortune Magazine listed Franzese as number 18 on its list of the "Top Fifty Wealthiest and Most Powerful Gangsters in the World". Franzese made billions of dollars over the years not only for himself but for the Five Families as well. By 1984, his greatest net worth was a staggering $20 billion, making him one of the richest gangsters of all time, According to a Federal report, Franzese made more money for the American Mafia than anyone since Chicago Mafia Boss Al Capone.
Entertainment and Sports Management
By 1980, Franzese was a partner with booking agent Norby Walters in his firm. Franzese's role was to intimidate existing and prospective clients. In 1981, Franzese successfully extorted a role for Norby in US tour for singer Michael Jackson and his brothers. In 1982, the manager for singer Dionne Warwick wanted to drop Norby as an agent. Franzese met with the manager and persuaded him to keep Norby.
In 1985, Norby set up a sports management agency with Franzese as a silent partner. Franzese later testified as a prosecution witness that Walters invoked his name to frighten college athletes into signing management contracts.
Franzese was also a co-founder of the film company Motion Picture Marketing, which distributed such films as Savage Streets with Linda Blair. In 1984, Franzese was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida producing a film called Knights of the City when he met Camille Garcia, an evangelical Christian dancer from Los Angeles. Franzese asked Garcia to meet him and have a meal but didnt appear for five times. Garcia and Franzese eventually married. According to Franzese, his wife was the catalyst for him to become a Christian.
In 1985, Franzese was indicted on 14 counts of racketeering, counterfeiting and extortion from the gasoline bootlegging racket. In 1986, Franzese pleaded guilty to two counts. He was sentenced to ten years in federal prison with $14 million in restitution payments.
In December 1987, while in prison, Franzese made a decision to walk away from the Colombo family and organized crime. In 1989, Franzese was released from prison on parole after serving 43 months. Franzese moved to Los Angeles. Prosecutors considered Franzese to be a high ranking member of the Colombo crime family and sought his cooperation against his former organized crime associates.
On December 27, 1991, Franzese was sentenced in New York to four years in federal prison for violating the probation requirements from his 1989 release. Franzese had been arrested in Los Angeles on a tax fraud accusation and was sent back to New York for the probation hearing. In court, prosecutors complained that Franzese had only started making the balance of his court ordered restitution payments earlier that year. Prosecutors also said Franzese was not considered by the government to be a cooperating witness. He was ultimately released in 1994.
In 1992, while out of prison on parole, Franzese authored an autobiography, Quitting the Mob. In this book, Franzese discussed his criminal activities, life with his father, and interactions with former Gambino crime family boss John Gotti.
Franzese is the founder and chairman of the Breaking Out Foundation. According to the foundation's website, Breaking Out is dedicated to educating, empowering, and equipping youth to face life's challenges, especially gambling addiction. Franzese has spoken on more than 400 Division 1 college campuses, speaking to student athletes as an NCAA life skills speaker. Franzese has addressed professional athletes with Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Football League (NFL). Franzese serves as a keynote speaker at corporate events and leads seminars for business and law students. He frequently speaks at Christian conferences, special events, and church services.
Franzese has been interviewed on the Jim Rome Show, ESPN, Home Box Office (HBO), Fox Sports, Cable News Network (CNN), CNBC, Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), MSNBC, NatGEO, Fox News Channel, Huskers Illustrated Radio, and USA Today. On July 23, 2002, while appearing on the HBO television program "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel", Franzese claimed that during the 1970's and 1980's he persuaded New York Yankees players who owed money to Colombo loansharks to fix baseball games for betting purposes. The Yankees organization immediately denied Franzese's accusations.
In 2003, Franzese published Blood Covenant, an updated and expanded life story.
In popular culture
Franzese was a contestant in the American version of the television show 1 vs. 100. He was asked which U.S. coins did not have ridges on them. After giving the wrong answer, Franzese remarked, "I only deal with bills."
In Martin Scorsese's 1990 film Goodfellas, Franzese is portrayed as the character "Mikey Franzese" by Joseph Bono.