Sunday, November 22, 2015

Turning it all around: Michael Franzese

I get a lot of emails calling me a rat, and others who chose to go down the same path experience the same.  Some people want to argue with me about how the life of crime is good.  One more time: there are no happy endings in the Cosa Nostra.

I just watched a DVD with Michael Franzese talking about his life.  I've had it for years and it has moved with me at least twice.  I had never watched it and the other day I sat down and started watching.  The funny thing is I am sure that I got it from someone in law enforcement at some speaking engagement I’ve done in the past - I can’t remember when or how.

It has taken me ten years to come to grips with my former life.  I take responsibility for my life and all I've done.  I lay it all out and tell it like it was and is now.  

Michael has a great Christian testimony, one of the first things he speaks about is the toll that being in the life takes on those around you.  All these people that think the Cosa Nostra is about a bunch of guys cracking jokes, living the high life are wrong.  The toll it takes on the families is huge and that is an untold story.  I know a number of family members from the life and it was never as good as the movies portray, in fact it was more like a horror movie.

Michael had to live a life growing up where law enforcement contact became normal.  The police arriving to arrest his father Sonny, or to search the house was routine.  To read about Sonny in the newspapers and to have friends like the Hawk and the Chubby Brothers.

Michael did go to Catholic school and he did study the Bible, but they were just subjects in class.  He would lose his father to a 50 year prison sentence for a string of bank robberies.  
It is crazy that Sonny would get convicted for that crime when there is no way he would deal with such low lifes.  I spoke to Jerry Zimmerman about it and he told me it was crap. A set up.  The problem is, Sonny lived the life and committed many more crimes that in reality were worse.

Michael would lose a sister to drugs.   There was another sister in LA who passed away a few years ago.  John Jr., his brother, was a drug addict who was in Los Angeles for a time.  I knew him and he was just a sad guy.  He could not live in his father's shadow.  He would end up going back to New York to work as a helper for Sonny after he got out of prison in the 2000’s for his 5th parole violation.  John Jr. would end up wearing a wire on his father and even testifying against him.  

John was home with his wife in Los Angeles one day and he went into the garage and that was the last she saw of him.  He was whisked away into the WITSEC program.   So even in the storied Franzese clan there are no happy endings.  In the American Cosa Nostra or as the media likes to say it the Mafia you do not get much higher than Sonny Franzese.

Michael far surpassed his father in money making.  Michael made money in car dealerships and traditional Organized Crime activities.  It was when he partnered up with Fat Larry Iorizzo in the gas business that he went into the stratosphere of mob moneymakers.  I've written about guys in his crew that worked in the gas business with him.  They had huge homes and helicopters. They made huge amounts of cash by stealing the federal and state gas tax.  Jerry Zimmerman, who moved to California to get into the movie business, had a picture with a large cooler sized stack of cash from those days.  

Michael’s life changed because of Jerry Zimmerman but he had no idea at the time.  Jerry got him involved in a movie that would be called Knights of the City.  It was a breakdance movie and even though I've not seen it in years I'm sure it represents that time period well.

Michael would meet his future wife on set.  What Michael did not know was that he was setting the foundation for him to completely change his life.  I've heard it all about Michael. I've never met him, but like I said we have many former friends in common.

Michael’s life was not to be spent in prison or murdered on some street in Brooklyn. Michael had no idea that by sending Jerry Zimmerman out to California he would touch people all over the world.  Like Michael or not, he has a powerful message that people listen to and understand.

Michael found that he could be forgiven through Jesus.   The best part of the DVD is when Michael says that it was not until he surrendered his life to God that everything changed.
It has been many years now and Michael is alive and well.  He has never gone back to the life. The proof is there.

That is the message in a nutshell.  We can all try and force things to happen.  Do what we think is right.  It will not be until we surrender to God and do what we were put here to do that we will find peace and happiness.

The money and the power that comes with being a Mafia boss is nothing.  You would never be happy or have a good life. I'll say it again, in that life there are no happy endings.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


The Mafia has aged just like much of America and the rest of the world.  Guys who are up and coming no longer want a long apprenticeship.  They want everything now and have no intention of waiting.  Yet mafia leaders are living longer than ever.  The problem is just like the problem that faces legitimate Americans - they can no longer earn like they could in their heyday.  Today the problem with the aging Mafia is even more pronounced because the Feds take your assets away with powerful laws like RICO.  Let's say you own a business and property. Today they seize it and after your prison term you come back to nothing.  Not the case with Vincent Asaro, a former Bonanno Capo who is now on trial in Manhattan US District Court for (among other things) the 1978 robbery of $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewelry from Lufthansa Airlines.  It was most famously portrayed on the big screen in the movie Goodfellas.  

Vincent Asaro is now 80 years old and not only facing the robbery charge from the Lufthansa heist, but a 44 year old murder.  Paul Katz was an associate of Jimmy Burke’s, the Irish hoodlum made famous by Robert De Niro in Goodfellas.  Burke got information from his law enforcement sources that Katz was cooperating so he strangled him with a dog chain.  Burke and Asaro buried him in a vacant queens home under some concrete.  Years later Burke contacted Asaro from prison and had him move the skeleton to the basement of a home he owned.  It might never have been discovered, but one of the men who helped decided to cash in on his time in the Mafia.

Gaspare Valenti, a cousin of Asaro, was over his head in gambling debts.  So, he went to the FBI.  He started wearing a wire and he recorded over 1000 hours of conversations with many Bonanno family members. Valenti was paid by the FBI the whole time he was wearing a wire.  
The lawyer for Asaro is making a big deal about this, but Asaro’s words come from his mouth and that is a fact.  What the US Attorneys fail to realize is that American juries that are made up of mostly blue collar and retired people are sick of these government vendettas.  
They spend millions of dollars paying a loser criminal to record another older criminal for a crime that took place 30 years ago.  They cannot stop the killings today or the invasion from Mexico, but they waste resources to go after an old man?

The government spent 3 weeks presenting its case, which included playing some bad tapes of Asaro complaining he did not get his share of the famous heist.  He even spoke about being worried he would be put on the shelf by the Bonanno family.  The problem is that most of the tapes are bad and they are spoken in a code.  They have to be explained by Valenti and he did not come across as likable. Juries also resent that murderers and criminals get paid by the FBI when they have to work hard just to live.  The former Underboss Sal Vitale made an appearance on the stand. He was above Asaro and made millions and murdered many people, yet he is free?

The case rested on the tapes, yet as damning as they were, Asaro never says Lufthansa or admits directly to murder.  They brought in 33 witnesses and dozens of pictures but not one picture showed Asaro engaged in a criminal act.

Valenti did describe how the robbery of Lufthansa went down.  It is a riveting first hand description of what it was like to break in and steal so much cash.  They formed a chain and handed over 50 boxes of $125k in cash from the vault to the van.  How did they plan the robbery so well, only to forget to have a place to keep the cash afterwards?  They ended up keeping it at Valenti’s home for the next couple of days.  They had no idea that there would be so much cash and the heat it would cause.  The police found the black van just like in the movie Goodfellas.  They found the yellow styrofoam popcorn that was used in the boxes to pack the cash.  They just ate the details up, but all that showed them was that Valenti was in on the robbery.

Asaro’s lawyer spent just one afternoon on two witness and then rested.  The jury took two days but came back with a not guilty verdict on all counts.  After two years in custody, Asaro was free to go.  The first place he went was to get a plate of pasta.