Former mob boss John "Sonny" Franzese refused to talk to with investigators for decades, but is now opening up about his life of crime in a new interview.
Franzese, now 102, spent a total of more than 35 years in the prison system for various mob-related crimes. Despite pressure from investigators who had been hoping to use him to bust open the mafia's operations, Franzese never turned on a single comrade or gave information on any of his operations. If you ask him, his commitment to keeping his mouth shut in prison was downright Christ-like.
"Jesus suffered. He didn’t squeal on nobody,” Franzese boldly said in an interview with Newsday.
Franzese said he officially became involved with the mob since the age of 14, was running illegal gambling rings by 18 and later operated a bevy of illegal businesses under false names. He was named by fellow criminals as involved in La Cosa Nostra dealings in the 1960s and ultimately convicted on conspiracy charges and sent to jail in 1970.
Describing his early life, Franzese says he was born in Naples but came to New York as a small child and that he was "straightened out" (inducted into a criminal organization) in 1931 as a young teenager. After a brief stint in the army, from which he was dishonorably discharged following an affair with a major's wife, he re-entered the criminal world, eventually purchasing a series of small businesses on Long Island.
“I started a used car business," Franzese now says. "I started making money and then I opened up a club, another club, another club, and I started making big money. Never under my name, though. I couldn’t get a [liquor] license.”
A smooth talker with a penchant for violence, Franzese says that unlike other criminals he associated with, he never drank, smoked, or did drugs. As part of the Colombo family, Franzese described himself as an "earner," or someone who steadily generated income. His reputation for silence in the face of pressure earned him the adoration of fellow criminal kingpin John Gotti, who once described him in a secretly recorded tape as "one tough [expletive] guy.”
Police were made aware of Franzese's doings when Genovese gangster Joseph Valachi identified him as part of the Profaci crime family (a precursor to the Colombo family) at a U.S. Senate hearing in 1963, during which the existence of the Italian mob was first publicly acknowledged by a member. That's when the investigations began.
“One time, I met an FBI agent on the street,” Franzese said. “And he said to me, ‘[On] account of you, we could have broke the Mafia up. We had Joe Valachi, and if you would have opened up, it would have destroyed the Mafia. You wouldn’t help us.’ I said, ‘Go and F yourself!’ And I walked away from him.”
Police believed Franzese had killed or ordered the deaths of several people. In a secretly recorded communications, Franzese can be heard admitting that he "killed a lot of guys. … You’re not talking about four, five, six, 10," but now says that he "never hurt nobody that was innocent.”
Police were able to pin a handful of charges on Franzese in 1966. He was ultimately acquitted in trials for homicide and home invasion, but was convicted for conspiring to rob banks — a crime he claims he never committed.
“Never happened,” Franzese said. “It ain’t right for something I’d never done."
Franzese added that part of the reason he wound up serving such a long sentence was because he "didn’t want to rat on anybody."
Paroled in 1978 and then brought back to jail five more times after violating that parole, Franzese would again serve time at the age of 93 after an extortion conviction involving the Hustler and Penthouse strip clubs in Manhattan and a pizzeria in Albertson.
It was Franzese's son that had helped police catch him this time around.
"I don’t know what happened to him," Franzese said of the child who betrayed him. "Maybe all the drugs he took. Screwed his mind up.”
Franzese was finally released from prison in June of 2018, at the age of 100, according to the New York Daily News. After that, he went to live with a daughter in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
"I am absolutely happy he's home," said Pietro Scorsone, Franzese's grandson, at the time. "He's my grandpa. We love him. I mean he's 100 years old. He doesn't hear much at all. He doesn't see well. He's still very sharp though. He also has some prostate issues — normal things for a 100-year-old man."
According to this latest update from Newsday, Franzese has since been relocated to a nursing home, where he now lives.
Crime Time is your destination for true crime stories from around the world, breaking crime news, and information about Oxygen's original true crime shows and documentaries. Sign up for our Crime Time Newsletter and subscribe to our true crime podcast Martinis & Murder for all the best true crime content.