Mob boss to motivational speaker isn’t your run-of-the-mill career path. But Michael Franzese, a former caporegime of the New York Colombo Crime Family, isn’t a typical guy. His interview footage in Netflix’s Fear City: New York vs. The Mafia, which drops onto Netflix Wednesday July 22, supplements the documentary with real anecdotes from his time inside the mob. But there’s more to his story than the three-part series reveals.
Born to notorious Colombo underboss John (Sonny) Franzese and his second wife Cristina Capobianco in 1951, Michael grew up in the shadowy world of the New York mafia. Although he began his higher education in pre-med at Hofstra University in 1969, Franzese’s father was sentenced to prison soon afterwards, and the younger Franzese dropped out to help his family with money. He was taken under the wing of Joe Colombo, the boss of the crime family, and in 1975, Michael became an official member of the mob himself. In his Colombo tenure, he served as a caporegime, the ranking below underboss, in charge of a crew of 300 soldiers. At the height of his mafia career, in which he focused primarily on tax scams in the business world, Franzese claims to have generated 5-8 million dollars per week.
But after he met and married a dancer named Camille Garcia on the set of a film he was producing in Florida, Franzese found faith and chose to plead guilty to racketeering charges, paying nearly $15 million to the government. In 1985 he received a 10-year prison sentence, and his family and friends in the mob turned against him, putting a contract on his life after he violated his oath.
After he served his sentence, Franzese and his family moved to Orange County to evade the death threats. “I moved out to California, I don’t put the house or utilities in my name, I don’t walk my dog every morning at 7 o’clock, I don’t go to the same restaurant, I don’t go to any nightclubs,” Michael Franzese told the Las Vegas Sun in 2013 when asked how he evaded trouble with the mob. According to his website, “Michael is the only high-ranking official of a major crime family to ever walk away without protective custody, and survive.” But even though he put his life of crime behind him, Franzese is still capitalizing and monetizing his mafia years.
For the past 25 years, Franzese has been lecturing at conferences, churches, prisons, universities, and events, as well as appearing in other mafia documentaries like Fear City. He’s authored six books, including an autobiography, and even hosted the first-ever mob musical entitled A Mob Story in Las Vegas in 2018. He also offers business, leadership, and life skills coaching and mentorship, which he promotes on his website and Twitter, where he often posts his support of the Republican establishment and Donald Trump (who had mob ties of his own). Franseze’s mission is “to use the compelling experiences of his former life for the benefit of others seeking redemption and forgiveness,” and his lecture topics include his own life story and conversion to Christianity, the dangers of gambling, business and insurance fraud, criminal justice, and the mafia. In the past month, he has begun posting mob stories and more on his YouTube channel, where he’s so far garnered 22.2K followers.
In February of this year, Franzese’s father John passed away at the age of 103. John Franzese remained active in the mafia well into his 90s, and at the age of 94 was sentenced to prison on extortion charges. He was released from prison in Massachusetts after eight years, at the age of 100. Although Michael’s father initially disowned him after he left the mafia, the two had since reconciled their differences.
Michael Franzese colors Fear City: New York vs. The Mafia with real stories from his mob years, but he was certainly no stranger to the spotlight before Netflix came knocking.
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