John "Sonny" Franzese, Sr. (born February 6, 1917 Naples), is a longtime member and the current underboss of the Colombo crime family. Arguably, Franzese has been famous as the current oldest active member of the American Mafia. Franzese is listed as an associate producer of the 2002 film This Thing of Ours, which stars James Caan.
Rise in the Colombo crime familyEdit
He was born to Carmine "The Lion" Franzese and Maria Corvola, although his birth year is a source of confusion. Federal prison records say that he was born February 6, 1917. However, his son Michael Franzese says that his father was actually born in 1919. According to some sources, Franzese was born at sea on the ship that brought his parents to New York.
Raised in New York City, in the late 1930s Franzese joined the Profaci crime family (later named the Colombo crime family) under boss Joe Profaci. Franzese bore a close physical resemblance to boxer Rocky Marciano, one of his friends. His first arrest came in 1938, for assault. In 1942, in the midst of World War II, he was discharged from the United States Army because he displayed '"homicidal tendencies" Although never being arrested for it, court papers accused him of committing rape in 1947.
Franzese operated out of New York City and New Jersey and was involved in racketeering, fraud, and loansharking. He is believed to have been elevated to caporegime or captain in the Colombo family in the mid 1950s and by 1964 he had been promoted to underboss. In 1966, Franzese was able to avoid a conviction for murdering a rival and dumping the body into a bay.
In 1967, Franzese gained a financial interest in a new recording company, Buddha Records. The company became quite successful, recordings hits for acts such as Melanie Safka, the Isley Brothers, and Curtis Mayfield. Franzese used Buddha to launder illegal mob earnings and to bribe disc jockies with payola.
In March 1967, Franzese was convicted of masterminding several bank robberies. During the trial, the prosecution produced records claiming that Franzese had killed between 30 to 50 people. In 1970, Franzese was sentenced to 50 years in prison. In 1978, Franzese was released on parole but returned to prison in 1982 for a parole violation. In 1984, Franzese was released on parole again. Until 2008, he was never charged with another crime, although he would frequently return to jail on parole violations.
Workshop on murderEdit
In later years, Franzese discussed techniques for mob murders with Gaetano "Guy" Fatato, a new Colombo associate. What Franzese did not realize was that Fatato was a government informant and was taping the conversation. Franzese told Fatato:
- "I killed a lot of guys - you’re not talking about four, five, six, ten."
Franzese also told Fatato that he put nail polish on his fingertips before a murder to avoid leaving fingerprints at the crime scene. Franzese also suggested wearing a hairnet during the murder so as to avoid leaving any hair strands at the crime scene that could be DNA analyzed. Finally, Franzese stressed the importance of properly dealing with the corpse. His procedure was to dismember the corpse in a kiddie pool, dry the severed body parts in a microwave oven, and then run the parts through a commercial-grade garbage disposal. Franzese observed:
- "Today, you can’t have a body no more...It’s better to take that half-an-hour, an hour, to get rid of the body than it is to leave the body on the street."
In 1986, after Carmine Persico was sentenced to 139 years in prison, he created a three-man Ruling Panel to oversee the Colombo family. Persico had planned to place Franzese on this panel, but in August 1986, Franzese was sent back to prison again for another parole violation. In January 1991, after returning to the weakened Colombo crime family, Franzese again violated parole and went to prison for meeting with other organized crime figures. In November 2000, after resuming a top authority in the family, Franzese violated parole again and was sent back to prison in January 2001. Law enforcement had learned about the meeting from Franzese's son, John Franzese, Jr., who had become a government informant.
After the 2005 incarceration of John DeRoss, Franzese became the new underboss. However, in May 2007, Franzese was again returned to prison for a parole violation. In June 2008, Franzese, still incarcerated, was indicted on charges of participating in murders during the Colombo Wars of the early 1990s, stealing fur coats in New York in the mid 1990s, and participating in home invasions by police impersonators in Los Angeles in 2006.
On June 4, 2008, Franzese was indicted along with other Colombo mobsters on charges of racketeering conspiracy, robbery, extortion, narcotics trafficking, and loansharking. On December 24, 2008, Franzese was released from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. According to law enforcement, Franzese remains the official underboss of the Colombo family.
On January 14, 2011, the 93-year-old Franzese was sentenced to eight years in prison for extorting Manhattan strip clubs and a pizzeria on New York's Long Island. Franzese is currently incarcerated at Federal Medical Center in Devens, Massachusetts. His scheduled release date is June 25, 2017.
Franzese was married to Cristina Capobianco-Franzese, although the two separated and she died shortly after his last trial. He has at least three children: Michael, John, Jr. and Lorraine. Michael Franzese became a Colombo capo (now out of the family) who ran his father's rackets during the 1980s when his father was in prison.