During his lifetime, he associated with celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Rocky Graziano, plus he spent many years in prison. He was released from his final stint about 3 years ago at the age of 100. He was the oldest prisoner in federal custody.
Michael, Franzese’s son, broke the news of his father’s death, saying he died in a New York hospital. Franzese lived in the Jackson Heights area of Queens.
An Unrepentant Leader
Franzese was a notable criminal, well known to the FBI and was the underboss of the New York City area Colombo crime family. Unlike most other mobsters that make it to old age, Franzese continued his mafia dealings until his death.
Franzese was an unrepentant underworld leader who was tried on federal charges at the age of 94 for masterminding extortion rackets in Manhattan and Long Island. He was convicted and sent to jail, where he turned 100.
He was known to be among the wealthiest and deadliest Mafioso in history. The latter claim he himself corroborated in 1967, when he admitted responsibility for about 50 executions, according to an informant.
In the 2011 trial, the prosecution revealed the cold-hearted nature of Mr. Franzese, describing how he instructed hitmen to mutilate their victim’s body so as to destroy evidence.
But despite his long, successful and deadly criminal career, Franzese was tried only once for murder in a state court and found not guilty.
Carmine and Maria Franzese had 19 children; Sonny was the youngest. He was born in Naples on February 6, 1917. His parents came to the US and settled in Brooklyn. They made a living in the bakery business. Their 19 children included four sons and 15 daughters. His mother gave him the nickname, Sonny.
History has it that Sonny dropped out of high school and helped at his parents’ bakery before he joined the Army in 1942. His military career was short-lived and he was discharged the same year he enlisted on the grounds of homicidal tendencies. He denied this reason for his discharge and claimed it was a mistake due to his desire to enter combat and see some action instead of working in the kitchen.
A Made Man
Sonny’s military background and his physique made him the right candidate to be part of the Profaci family; one of the five original Mafia families. He rose from a “made” soldier to become a “workhorse” and later a “big earner” in the family. Their main activities were extortion, loan sharking and bookmaking with operations covering Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island.
The death of the Profaci family boss, Joseph Profaci, leader of the Profaci, opened up a higher position for John Franzese. After the leader died of Cancer in 1962, Joseph Colombo became the leader in 1963 and he immediately promoted Franzese to capo.
Although Franzese wanted people to think of him as a dry-cleaner in Brooklyn, in the 50s and 60s he hosted parties at the Copacabana nightclub in Manhattan for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr.
Franzese helped finance the very profitable Adult Film “Deep Throat” in 1972 which generated $30-$50 million and the 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre which earned over $30 million. Franzese was an associate producer on the 2003 movie, This Thing of Ours.
Franzese’s first felony conviction was in 1967 for planning the robbery of 4 banks. Nine months after that, he was on trial in Queens for murder involving a suspected government informer found with several stab and bullet wounds. He was found not guilty.
Franzese however, was not invincible. His bank robbery case lingered until 1970. After his multiple appeals were denied, he was sentenced to 50 years. He was first released in 1978 but would return to prison on six different occasions over the years for parole violations.
Franzese was unrepentant and continued his criminal life until he was convicted again in 2011 at the age of 94. At his trial, he gained the nickname “The Nodfather” for continually dosing off. After his son, John Franzese Jr turned on his father and testified against him, he was found guilty of extorting protection payments and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Sonny Franzese had 8 children, 18 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren.