Michael Franzese didn’t have anything good to say about his “old” life – as a high-ranking mobster – when he spoke to a group of 400 students, staff and community members at Fallbrook High School on Jan. 30. He not only painted a dark, dismal picture of the “evil” that results from organized crime and gang activity, but said no one living that life ends up a winner.
“After spending 28 years on the street violating God’s laws and the laws of man, I found out you never end up beating the police; they eventually always win,” said Franzese, adding that everyone he worked with in organized crime is now “either dead or in prison.”
Franzese was invited to speak at the school by Florene Villane, the Fallbrook High Film Dept. teacher.
“My students are preparing a documentary called “Impact” on Michael’s presentation today,” said Villane. Video and film production students were manning cameras, lights, sound systems, and more to record Franzese’s talk inside the Bob Burton Center for the Performing Arts.
Franzese is passionate about reaching out to youth because he sees the threat of gang influence as greater than ever.
“You have more negative influences at your fingertips right now than I ever had growing up,” he said.
The ex-mobster, who has renounced organized crime and is now a motivational speaker for youth, told the students, “If I can change, anyone can change.”
Born into the Sicilian mob, Franzese’s father, John “Sonny” Franzese was the underboss of the Colombo crime family in New York.
“I grew up hating the police because they always had my father under surveillance,” he explained. Franzese said his father tried to steer him away from the mob and he was actually studying pre-med at Hofstra University when his dad was jailed for racketeering.
“That’s when I made the biggest mistake in my life; I decided to help my father and go into the mob; I was confirmed into the mob in 1975,” he said. “It was an evil life and I did horrible things that I regret and still think about today. I regret the things I did to hurt my family and the families of others.”
Franzese detailed how he was on “24-hour call” to the Colombo crime family.
“It takes you over,” he said. “That is the La Cosa Nostra; the biggest gang in the world.” And told students he doesn’t buy excuses about distancing one’s self from a gang.
“Don’t tell me you can’t leave a gang because I left the biggest gang that exists,” said Franzese.
In the mid 1980s, Fortune Magazine listed Franzese as number 18 on its list of the “Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses.”
“I was bringing in $8 to $9 million dollars a week and had 300 guys under me,” said Franzese.
What made Franzese decide to turn his life around, he said, was a young woman he met shortly before being arrested and put in prison.
“She was the most gorgeous girl I had ever met and she was a Christian,” he explained. “I fell madly in love with her and decided to walk away from [the mob]. I believe God saved my life through this girl.”
While in prison, Franzese wrote letters daily to the warden telling him of his intent to change his life.
One day federal agents came to the prison and spoke to Franzese, asking him if he was interested in helping them with an anti-gambling program focused on major league athletes. During that time, the mob put a contract out on his life which was endorsed by his own father, who is still in prison today, 95 years old, and referred to as “the oldest living mobster.”
Franzese was released from prison in 1996 and began making appearances for the NBA, MLB, NHL and other professional leagues, talking to players about the problems and dangers associated with gambling and “throwing games.”
“When I began speaking, it really turned my whole life around,” he said. “Prison is for fools.”
After his primary presentation at the Burton center, the facility was closed to a group of approximately 50 select students for a special question and answer session with Franzese. The majority of the students were identified as at-risk individuals.
In that session, he was asked why he is still alive if a contract was put out on his life.
“Well they have tried very hard, but what worked in my favor was that I knew the life; I moved from the East Coast to the West Coast; it was a real struggle,” said Franzese, who admitted he still feels he would be at risk if he visited the East Coast.
He was also asked why he thought America has such a fascination with the mob and gangs.
“Hollywood plays up on the violence in movies and videos and those have influence on youth,” he said. “Kids have become de-sensitized to violence because of it. [Movie makers] are sending the wrong message. Currently a movie is being made on my life and I wrote the script.”
One student wanted to know if the “perks” of being a mobster were good.
“People say it’s great to have money and power; but it’s a dead-end street; people get killed and arrested; that’s the rest of the real story,” said Franzese. “The decisions you make can have grave consequences.”
In closing, Franzese emphasized to the students that surrounding one’s self with quality individuals is the key to real success.
“You really are who you hang with in this world; you must surround yourself with good people,” he said. “Life is tough enough as it is; don’t put any extra baggage on yourself.”
Editor’s Note: Franzese appeared for the purpose of the documentary free of charge. The documentary is set to debut on May 18 at the Fallbrook High School Student Film Festival and is to be submitted for national competition.