What’s better than real-life organized-crime stories? Real-life organized crime stories told by a real (ex-) organized-crime bigshot. And that’s exactly what’s on tap Sept. 23 as Caesars Atlantic City hosts an evening with Michael Franzese.
Franseze, 72, wasn’t just a wannabe wise guy or garden-variety Mafia soldier, but a caporegime (underboss) of New York’s powerful Colombo family. He renounced his
criminal ways after Rudy Giuliani successfully prosecuted him, in 1986, on federal racketeering charges for devising and conducting a gasoline-tax scam that netted Franzese and his cohorts hundreds of millions of dollars (and which garnered him recognition as the biggest “earner” in organized-crime annals since Al Capone).
For his crimes, Franzese plea-bargained what could have essentially been a life sentence into a 10-year deal. He spent three years in prison, was released, and in 1991 sent back on a parole violation. He finally left federal custody for good in 1994.
During a recent phone chat, Franzese, who today is a successful motivational speaker, entrepreneur and YouTube star with over a million subscribers, admitted he never anticipated how the second chapter of his life would unfold. For starters, he recalled, his release caused major concerns among his former associates, which in turn made him wonder if he’d even have a future.
“I thought it was gonna be a quiet exit [from prison],” he said, “but it was blasted all over the newspapers and Life magazine and then everywhere that I was walking away from that life and immediately, that caused people in New York to be suspicious that I was cooperating [with prosecutors].
“I was trying to make peace with the government and say, ‘Look, I’m out. Leave me alone. I’m not doing anything anymore.’ But they didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
They said, ‘You know, you can help us out.’ And they put my name on the witness list of trials that were going on in New York. And so everybody thought I was gonna be a major cooperating witness, but I never intended to do that, nor would I.”
Nonetheless, after he was paroled, Franzese–whose entry into the Mafia came through his father, Sonny, who was also a Colombo family underboss–had what he described as “a very difficult time.”
“The boss of my family put out a contract on my life; I had to move a few times,” he explained. “It was just a bad, bad, bad time navigating through all of this.
Eventually, the government was upset with me because I refused to cooperate against people they wanted me to, and they threatened to indict me on another major case, and threw me back in prison and I did another three years–and I did it in solitary. They really, gave me the business.
“And then when I got out, even though people [in the mob] were upset that I walked away, the heat was off because they knew that I wasn’t hurting anybody.
“It worked out eventually, but in the short run, you know, for several years, it was tough to navigate.”
As for what he’ll be doing at Casears, Franzese, who credits much of his life-reversal to being a born-again Christian, is scheduled to present a program on the history of The Mob in Philadelphia and Atlantic City. Those in attendance can also expect to hear his personal story.
“Then,” he promised, “we’ll do a Q-and-A session; I let [audience members] ask me anything they want. I answer just about every question.”
Those who pay a premium admission fee are also offered the opportunity to get up-close and-personal with Franzese at a post-show VIP gathering.
Franzese, whose life story will be told in an upcoming TV series currently in production, credited Hollywood for making organized crime such a fascinating subject around the world. So, what does he think are the best and worst gangster films of all time?
“I can say unequivocally that the most accurate movie was ‘Gotti,’ the 1996 movie starring Armand Assante and Anthony Quinn,” he proclaimed without hesitation. “It was brilliantly acted and so extremely accurate because a lot of the script was written off the surveillance tapes. And obviously that was my time. I knew what was going on back then, and it was just a brilliant movie.
“So that’s number one. Obviously ‘Goodfellas,'” he added, shouting out the Martin Scorsese masterpiece in which Franzese is briefly mentioned in the nightclub scene that climaxes with Joe Pesci’s unforgettable “I’m funny? Funny how?” exchange with Ray Liotta.
“And ‘Casino’ was great; ‘A Bronx Tale’ was a brilliant movie. And Donnie Brasco, which I think was Al Pacino’s best, best, best performance. And of course, the ‘Godfather’ movies; they’re, fictional, but just brilliantly done.”
When asked to identify the gangster films he least admires, Franzese suggested there were too many to name, but did single out two he finds particularly odious. One is “The Many Saints of Newark,” the full- length feature that served as a “prequel” to “The Sopranos,” which he described as “cheesy.” The other is the 2018 film in which John Travolta starred as Gotti, the infamous “Teflon Don.”
“It was,” he insisted, “just horrible.”
For tickets, go to www.caesars.com/caesars-ac/shows.