Being half-Italian and raised in South Philadelphia, the hub of the Cosa Nostra organized crime family in Philadelphia and South Jersey, I was aware of the culture of Cosa Nostra early on.
I lived around the corner from the then-boss, Angelo Bruno, and I went to school and hung on the corner with a good number of friends who went on to become criminals.
Later, as a crime reporter and newspaper columnist, I covered organized crime and I met and spoke to many Cosa Nostra members and associates, although I agreed not to use their names for publication. I also interviewed two former Philadelphia Cosa Nostra bosses, former boss Ralph Natale, and former underboss, Philip Leonetti, both of whom became cooperating government witnesses.
I was also able to interview Michael Franzese, once a caporegime in the New York Cosa Nostra Colombo crime family, and today a popular podcaster and author.
Son of the former underboss of the Colombo crime family, John “Sonny” Franzese, a feared and respected mobster, Michael Franzese grew up in the criminal life. He later became a made member and a successful criminal, earning millions of dollars with criminal scams, such as cheating the government out of gasoline taxes. In addition to traditional Cosa Nostra criminal activity, Franzese was also active in legitimate businesses, such as auto dealerships, construction and the entertainment industry.
In 1986, Vanity Fair named him one of the biggest mob money earners since Al Capone Fortune magazine listed him as number 18 on its list of the 50th Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses.
After fighting the federal government’s many indictments against him, he pled guilty to racketeering charges and was sentenced to ten years in federal prison.
While in prison, Franzese became a devout Christian and announced that he was walking away from Cosa Nostra. He credits his wife Camille and his mother-in-law, as well as a prison guard who gave him a Bible when he was in solitary, with his religious conversion.
Michael Franzese is the only high-ranking member of a major crime family to walk away from the mob without being in the witness protection program. Although the Colombo family initially put out a contract on his life, he lives openly for the most part.
Back in August, I interviewed Michael Franzese about his most recent book, Mafia Democracy for my On Crime column that appears in the Washington Times.
You can read the column via the below link:
I later did a follow-up interview with Michael Franzese, which can be read below:
Davis: How did you get your former prosecutor Rudy Giuliani to write the forward to Mafia Democracy?
Franzese: Joe Patararillo contacted me and said that Rudy Giuliani was going to be on his show and he would love to have me on with him. You gotta be kidding. I said. I haven’t seen him since he tried to put me away for the rest of my life.
Davis: I watched the show on YouTube. Most interesting.
Franzese: So my publisher reached out and asked Rudy if he would write the forward to my book and he said yes. He wrote an amazing forward.
Davis: Why do you think elected government officials are acting like Cosa Nostra members?
Franzese: You can call Machiavelli the "patron saint" of Cosa Nostra. In his political treatise, The Prince, he advised the prince how to maintain control of his kingdom. He basically said, a prince can lie, steal, cheat.... even kill to maintain control of his kingdom. However, to the outside world he must always appear to be upright, honest and have integrity. He also states, "the promise given is a necessity of the past, the promise broken is a necessity of the present." It's all about amassing wealth, maintaining power by maintaining control of the masses... Very mob like and very much how our government is operating today. They use their power to bully and scare people - very mob like, as I detail in the book.
Davis: You stated in your book that there is an “Invisible Empire of Special Interest.” How would you describe this empire?
Franzese: President Woodrow Wilson warned us about this when he said, "The government, which was designed for the people, has gotten into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy." Our elected leaders not only accept favors and contributions from lobbyists but work hand in glove with industries to develop policies that enrich corporations while leaving the rest of us struggling to make our house payments.
Davis: What would you change about campaign financing?
Franzese: First, I would pass a law that any corporation that does business with the federal government has to disclose how much they spend to influence elections. Make it easy to connect the dots so we can identify those who are rigging the system. Each citizen should be able to designate the first $200 of our tax payments to support the political candidate of our choice. This would generate billions in small donations and eliminate the need for those candidates to accept money from huge donors and corporations who then want and get favors in return.
Davis: What is the current status of Cosa Nostra in America?
Franzese: Cosa Nostra still exists, but not nearly as powerful or influential as it was before the mid 80's when the government amped up its arsenal of weapons with the RICO statute, the bail reform act and the sentencing reform act.
Davis: How would you describe the difference between a racketeer
and a gangster?
Franzese: A gangster is normally a thug, a killer, a hoodlum. Violence is second nature to him. A racketeer can also be a gangster, yet he is more sophisticated and engages in fraudulent business dealings to support himself and his enterprise or criminal organization.
Davis: Why have you called your late father the “John Gotti of
Franzese: Because in his day, the 1960's, Dad had as much law enforcement attention and media coverage as did Gotti in his day.
Davis: Who was the most impressive Cosa Nostra member that you met in the criminal world?
Franzese: Aside from my father, who was both charismatic and legitimately tough, Joe Colombo impressed me for the way he carried himself. Also Carmine Persico, a legitimate tough guy.
Davis: Who was the most dangerous and intimidating?
Franzese: Although I had no reason to be intimidated by him, Chin Gigante. He was once the most powerful boss in New York. And you just knew it when you were around him.
Davis: Did you have any dealings in the past with the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra crime family?
Franzese: Yes, Nicky Scarfo. We were going to unionize the security guards in the hotels and resorts in Atlantic City. I controlled a security guards union. We both had our legal troubles and couldn't carry it through. I liked Nicky.
Davis: Well, others in Philadelphia saw a more brutal side to Scarfo. I interviewed Philip Leonetti, and his own nephew described Scarfo as a murderous psychopath.
Have you ever been to Philadelphia?
Franzese: Many times. Enjoy the city. Back in the day and since.
Note: You can watch Michael Franzese’s YouTube channel via the below link: