Fear City's Michael Franzese Was a Member of One of America's Most Legendary Crime Families

Josh St. Clair

From Men's Health

  • Fear City: New York vs. The Mafia is now streaming on Netflix.

  • The series features interviews with former FBI agents and mobsters, including Michael Franzese.

  • Franzese worked for the Colombo crime family before his arrest and imprisonment.

Netflix's Fear City: New York vs. The Mafia chronicles the FBI's nearly two-decades-long investigation into New York's crime families, including exclusive interviews with former agents and mobsters, such as Michael Franzese.

The FBI's operations began in the 1970s and concluded with the now-famous wiretap takedowns in the mid 1980s. The FBI's targets were the "Five Families," former Italian-American gangs reorganized in the 1930s into crime syndicates, each given territory in and around New York City.

Michael Franzese worked as a caporegime (a crime family rank similar to a captain) for the Colombo family. Then Franzese did the unthinkable: he walked away, pleading guilty to racketeering charges, exiting the mob, and renouncing his former life. Franzese later said his father disowned him and a contract was put out for his murder. After his release, he moved to California, all while avoiding retribution, and later became a writer and a motivational speaker.

Franzese was interviewed for the Netflix documentary, and he appears to be satisfied with the final product, posting on what appears to be his official Facebook page, "I was interviewed quite extensively in 2 or 3 of the episodes. The network did a good job with it. I think you will find it interesting."

Photo credit: New York Daily News Archive
Photo credit: New York Daily News Archive

Who is Michael Franzese?

Franzese was more or less born into New York's Five Families. His father, John "Sonny" Franzese, held senior leadership in the Colombo family. Franzese Sr., however, wanted his son to be a doctor, and, according to Franzese much later, never told him anything. In 1970, Franzese Sr. was sentenced to 50 years in prison for a series of bank robberies. Then intentions changed. When Franzese was 22, his father proposed him for membership in the Colombo family. Franzese became a "made guy" on Halloween night in 1975.

Over the next decade, Franzese and others would take part in 21 "schemes" of extortion and embezzlement across several industries, including motor, motion picture, insurance, and construction.

By the time he was 35, Franzese was believed to be pulling in $8 million per week. He was also ranked by Fortune Magazine as the 8th most wealthy and powerful mafia boss in 1986. That same year, Franzese pleaded guilty to charges of federal racketeering and tax conspiracy. He was sentenced to 10 years with 5 years' probation.

Franzese was released in 1989, but sentenced once more for violating parole. His final release from prison was in 1994. He has not been charged since.

Where is Michael Franzese now?

After his prison release, Franzese renounced his former life, quitting the mob. Membership in the crime families, however, was not renounceable, and Franzese left prison with a contract on his head. Still, he refused to go into witness protection.

In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun, Franzese explained how difficult it was to avoid retribution, explaining that "what happened throughout the years, just about everybody I ran with is either dead or in prison for the rest of your life. So I kind of outlasted everybody."

He said things eventually eased, but he's still cautious. "I still don’t take things for granted. When I’m in certain places, I make sure I have resources around me I should have. . . . I was part of that life and there’s guys there that are very capable of doing things."

Franzese has since authored books and began visiting prisons and communities as a motivational speaker, hoping to steer gang members away from criminal behavior.

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