Former Mafia boss talks mob, faith ahead of Greensburg prayer breakfast
Michael Franzese traded the feared title “caporegime” of New York City’s Colombo crime family for motivational speaker, husband, father and — importantly — follower of Christ.
“God had a different plan and purpose for me,” Franzese told the Tribune-Review. “To say that I’m blessed is kind of an understatement.”
Blessing No. 1 is that he’s still alive — more than two decades after walking away from the Mafia.
“At the end of the day, I just outlasted everybody,” said Franzese (pronounced Fran-Cease). “Everybody I know is either dead or in prison for life.”
He will visit the Greensburg area Thursday and Friday, serving as guest speaker for the 47th annual Good Friday Family Prayer Breakfast, sponsored by the Greensburg Christian Businessmen’s Connection.
Once called the 18th most-powerful Mafia boss in the country by Fortune magazine, Franzese now spends his time traveling as a motivational speaker, leading a Southern California-based ministry and appearing in the acclaimed Las Vegas musical “A Mob Story.” Actor Joseph Bono portrayed Mikey Franzese in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 film “Goodfellas.”
Franzese, 67, said he will give his testimony and draw out lessons for succeeding in life and in business. Although his notorious past is always in the background, he doesn’t dwell on it. “I don’t worry about anything,” he said.
“My dad was the John Gotti of his day, without a doubt. He was constantly covered by media and a major target of law enforcement,” Franzese told Las Vegas Magazine in 2018. “I grew up in an atmosphere where the police were always around us and he was always in the newspaper, so from an early age I knew there was something different about my dad even though he never brought it into the house, never spoke about it.”
At age 22, Franzese was proposed for membership in the family’s leadership. He developed a reputation as an effective organizer and moneymaker for the family, devising business schemes both legal and illegal.
As “capo,” or captain, Franzese had several hundred men reporting to him. He worked in that position for about 15 years, generating $5 million to $8 million a week for the family, according to his website.
“There’s a lot of responsibility that goes with it,” he said. “It’s a powerful position because that’s when you get men assigned to you. You take care of those soldiers and report directly to the boss.”
Known then as the “Yuppie Don,” Franzese eventually caught the attention of then-U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani, who, after several unsuccessful attempts, finally extracted a guilty plea from Franzese in 1985.
“As part of my exit strategy, I took a plea on a big racketeering case. I had just won a huge case in the Southern District of New York, so I had some leverage with the government,” he said.
Franzese instead pleaded guilty to tax fraud and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He served eight years, including the last three in solitary confinement, he said.
Before entering prison, Franzese had met his future wife, Camille, on a movie set in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. They got married in July 1985. He entered prison in December of that year.
It was his wife and mother-in-law who were most influential in his decision to leave the mob, he said. That, and his time in prison.
“I started to make a plan to gradually move away from that life,” he said. “That didn’t come easy.”
Franzese said he also came to know Christ as his savior in prison. “I really developed my relationship with the Lord in the hole — through my Bible reading, through the books I read, through listening to pastors on my Sony Walkman,” he said.
Upon his release in 1993, Franzese decided to put 3,000 miles between him and his old life. He relocated to Southern California and got involved with Westwood Hills Christian Church in Los Angeles. His pastor, Myron Taylor, who had married and baptized him, asked him to speak to the congregation.
That started him on a speaking career that has included talks to professional athletes about the pitfalls of gambling, he said.
As for how he managed to do what was once thought impossible — walk away from the mob — he said that started with the decision to leave New York.
“I said, ‘If someone’s going to come after me, they’re going to have to work at it,’ ” he said.
“After I moved here, I changed my plans and routines. I didn’t walk my dog every morning or go to the same restaurant all the time,” he said. “They look for patterns in your life, and that’s how they get you. I was disciplined about it.”
Franzese said the March murder of Gambino mob boss Frank Cali was unsettling. “It did spark thoughts like, ‘OK, is this family going to war now?’ ” he said. “As soon as I hear things like that, I start wondering.”
Franzese said he expects “A Mob Story” to resume shows in August.
He will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday and 7 a.m. Friday at the Ramada Greensburg Hotel and Conference Center, 100 Ramada Inn Drive, Hempfield. Tickets — $28 for the dinner, $16 for the breakfast — must be purchased in advance by going to pit.cbmc.com or by calling Boice Bailey at 724-689-3305 or Paul Schimizzi at 724-834-8440, ext. 1205. Make checks payable to CBMC.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .