Michael Franzese, a former mobster for the Colombo crime family, paid a visit to MU last Thursday to discuss the dangers of gambling and the criminal lifestyle.
Most famous for his gasoline bootlegging stint in the 1980s, Franzese is now a born-again Christian and motivational speaker sharing his experiences to church groups, universities and student and professional athletes nationwide.
Franzese grew up with six siblings in New York. John, Franzese’s father, was an underboss for the Colombo family in the 1960s.
“He was the John Gotti of his day,” Franzese said.
After deciding that medical school was not for him, Franzese followed in his father’s footsteps and officially joined the crime family in 1975. He took a blood oath and swore to make the business his number-one priority.
In his heyday, Franzese had his hands in the entertainment, restaurant, automobile and sports management industries and in 1984 made $8 to 10 million per week. At one point he was worth an estimated $300 million.
In 1985, Franzese was indicted on 14 counts of racketeering, counterfeiting and extortion from the gasoline-bootlegging racket, but only pleaded guilty for two. He received a 10-year prison sentence in 1986, but after agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors, he was released in 1989. He paid $15 million in restitution fees.
In December 1991 he returned to federal prison after violating probation requirements and got out for the last time in 1994.
While in prison, Franzese decided to turn his life around and leave the mafia. Now he lives with his wife Camille in Newport Beach, Calif., and is a Little League baseball coach. He has seven children and is a self-proclaimed suburban dad.
Franzese is the founder and chairman of the Breaking Out Foundation, which works to “motivate and inspire at-risk youth to establish career goals in both the entertainment and sports industries,” according to Franzese’s website.
“My favorite part of presenting is to see the people respond and to know that it’s hopefully being a help,” Franzese said after his presentation. “People respond to people that have been there and done that. I try to display that because I have a passion for this.”
The choices Franzese made in his formal life are still with him today.
“I view a lot of things cynically because of the life that I led,” he said. “When you change your life, you don’t get a lobotomy. You still are who you are.”
He then opened the floor for Q-and-A session, when people asked about his family, his jail time and which mobster movies most accurately depict the mafia lifestyle (his answers were “Goodfellas” and “Donnie Brasco.”)
Freshman John Taaffe attended the presentation out of pure curiosity.
“My favorite part was the Q-and-A,” he said. “I was amazed at how honest he was.”
After providing a background on his past endeavors, Franzese spoke about the consequences of the decisions people make.
“Who you associate with in this life is very important,” he said. “This life is tough enough when you do it all right.”