Q&A: Michael Franzese
Michael Franzese is recognized as the only high ranking official of a major crime family to ever walk away from the mob and survive. The former caporegime of the New York City Colombo crime family and son of underboss and enforcer John “Sonny” Franzese, Michael was one of the most wealthy and powerful mafia bosses in the country operating legal and illegal businesses until he was convicted on racketeering charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
After turning his back on the mob, Franzese transformed into a highly sought-after speaker and author of several books about his life and operates a ministry serving at-risk youth and former criminals. He has teamed with producer Jeff Kutash to create the original show A Mob Story, opening in August at the Plaza in downtown Las Vegas, where Franzese will play the role of narrator and share real and unbelievable stories about the mob and its influence on Las Vegas.
You’ve known Jeff Kutash for a long time. How did A Mob Story come together?
Jeff and I go back 35 years. I hired him to choreograph a movie I produced in 1984 and he actually introduced me to my wife. She was one of his dancers on the set. About two and a half years ago he approached me and was thinking since (Kutash’s show) Splash was such a huge success, maybe lightning could strike twice. He had an idea about doing something mob-related here in town and we both thought it was amazing it had never really been done before.
You’ve done many other entertainment projects. Is this something completely different?
I’ve never done a stage show, so in that regard it is different. I’m narrating the show so I’ll be onstage, which is not foreign to me. Even though I don’t consider this a musical, there’s a lot of music and dance. We’re hoping to have a long run and enjoy ourselves not only here in Vegas, but maybe we’ll clone the show around the world.
Your experience with the mob in New York gives you a lot of knowledge about how organized crime influenced Las Vegas, since it was all connected.
That story hasn’t been told. What’s important to us is authenticity, and anything I am involved in has to be authentic. You have mob in Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, New Orleans and other cities, but the strength of that life is New York. Anything that happened in Las Vegas, New York had a hand in it also. Being a part of that life for so long, I picked up a lot of knowledge and some of the people involved I knew personally.
You do so many speaking engagements and TV interviews and you’ve written books, but I’m sure you still have plenty of stories left to tell. Are we going to hear those tales in A Mob Story?
Yes. That’s all I’m going to say. We have a couple special things planned. Over the years, doing this as often as I have, I know what people want to hear. They like to know they’re hearing something for the first time and getting some real insight and they believe it because it’s delivered by someone who knows.
Your father didn’t want you to get involved in the mob life. When did you first realize who your father was and what he did?
My dad was the John Gotti of his day, without a doubt. He was constantly covered by media and a major target of law enforcement. I grew up in an atmosphere where the police were always around us and he was always in the newspaper, so from an early age I knew there was something different about my dad even though he never brought it into the house, never spoke about it. There were several different agencies parked around our house surveilling us 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was hard to miss. I had a graduation party in 1969 and there were several hundred people there, all my friends, and the cops went around and took everyone’s license plate number. Everyone who attended my party got a subpoena to appear in front of a grand jury. But my dad never sat me down and told my anything because he wanted me to go to school and be a doctor. It wasn’t until he drew a 50-year prison sentence and went off to prison that he sat down with me. He proposed me for membership when I was 22 years old and that was it.
It seems the demand for movies, shows and information about the mob is always growing and never shrinking.
I’ve been speaking for 20 years and when I first started, if you weren’t on the East Coast, you didn’t know who I was. I wasn’t a household name by any means. But everywhere we went, I packed the house because they would bill me as the mob guy. Singapore, Australia, Israel, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, everywhere. It’s the genre, the brand. People have interest worldwide.