Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • They say that crime doesn't pay, but  the truth is, in the cutthroat world  

  • of the American mafia, those who survived  long enough to rise up through the ranks  

  • could pull in some serious cash from  a variety of illicit activities.

  • Nobody knows that better than the subject  of today's video - a man who, at the peak  

  • of his career in the mob, was making 8 million  dollars a week. This man was named 18th on a  

  • list of America's 50 richest and most powerful  mob bosses on a Fortune Magazine list in 1986,  

  • and as of this year, he's the only  one on that list who's still alive.  

  • This is the story of Michael Franzese  – the Yuppie Don who stole millions.

  • Michael Franzese was born on May 27th 1951 in  Brooklyn, New York City. His parents were John  

  • SonnyFranzese, an underboss for the Columbo  crime family, and Cristina Capobianco, a cigarette  

  • girl at Manhattan's Stork Club. The two were not  married at the time. In fact, John was married to  

  • another woman and had three children. To  avoid the inevitable scandal of having a  

  • child out of wedlock, Capobianco married a man  named Frank Grillo - No relation to the actor.

  • However, John Franzese eventually got  permission from the Columbo family higher-ups  

  • to divorce his wife, and after Grillo mysteriously  disappeared, Franzese and Capobianco were married.

  • Michael Franzese, who went by the name  Michael Grillo for most of his early life,  

  • believed he was adopted until he was  18, when he realized his 'step-dad'  

  • Franzese had been his biological father all along.

  • Though John Franzese was  involved in the mafia life,  

  • he never wanted to pass that onto his sonencouraging Michael to go to college and  

  • study medicine. Michael enrolled at Hofstra  University to study pre-medicine in 1969.

  • Unfortunately, he had to put his dreams of  becoming a doctor on hold when, in 1971,  

  • his father was sentenced to 50 years in prison  

  • and he needed to return home and help  support his family. During this time,  

  • Joseph Columbo, the boss of the Columbo family  at the time, took Michael under his wing.

  • Over time, Michael started spending more and  more time with his dad's friends and associates  

  • from the crime world. They eventually convinced  him that if he didn't quit school and take up  

  • the family business, there would be no way of  Michael ever getting his father out of prison.  

  • John Franzese was already in his 50's when he was  incarcerated, so Michael figured that unless he  

  • got his dad free, he'd probably never see him  alive again, given the length of his sentence.

  • So, Michael did what he felt he had to  do. His father, who he visited in prison,  

  • was upset at the prospect of his son following  in his footsteps and joining the mafia,  

  • but Michael had made his mind upHis father accepted his decision,  

  • but wanted to make sure that if he was going  to be in the mob, he'd do it the right way.

  • From prison, John got in contact with some of his  

  • associates and proposed his son for  membership in the Columbo family,  

  • and from those humble beginnings, Michael  Franzese would build himself a criminal empire.

  • For his first 18 months in the mob, he was  merely a recruit, and during this period  

  • he was on call 24/7. If anyone got in touch  with him from the higher ranks of the family,  

  • Michael had to do whatever they asked of him, no  matter how sketchy, to prove his loyalty. Then,  

  • in 1975, he was finally deemed  ready to be inducted as a made man.

  • In the Mafia, the process of being 'maderefers to the process of being officially  

  • brought in as a member of a crime familyInductees must be of Italian descent,  

  • and have been sponsored by a member of the familyThen, after a pledge period, they will be asked  

  • to take part in a ceremony where they swear an  oath of omerta - basically, a code of silence  

  • that forbids talking about mafia activities or  snitching on any other members of the family.

  • Michael's ceremony took place on Halloween night,  

  • 1975, alongside 5 other mafia recruits- Jimmy  Angelino, Joseph Peraino Jr., Salvatore Miciotta,  

  • Vito Guzzo Sr., and John Minerva. All of these men  would suffer violent deaths in the next 20 years,  

  • leaving Michael the only  person alive from that night.

  • Each recruit entered a roomone at a time, where they stood  

  • before the boss. They held their hands outand the boss cut their hands with a knife,  

  • dripping their blood on the floor. The boss  then handed them a picture of a catholic saint,  

  • which he set alight in their hands. He told the  recruits - “Tonight, you are born again into a new  

  • life. If you betray your oath, you're gonna burn  in hell like this saint is burning in your hands.”

  • Once he was a made man, Michael's goals were  twofold. He wanted to get his dad out of prison,  

  • firstly, and secondly, he wanted to  make money. Lots and lots of money.

  • Throughout the 70's, he made money  through not only mafia operations,  

  • but through legitimate businesses such as car  dealerships, leasing companies, auto repair shops,  

  • restaurants, nightclubs, a contractor companymovie production and distribution companies,  

  • travel agencies and video stores. If you're  wondering why he had his fingers in so many  

  • different pies, it's common for organized  crime syndicates to launder the money they  

  • make from their criminal enterprise through  other, more legitimate business operations.

  • Over time, Michael would climb  the ranks of the Columbo family,  

  • until in 1980 he became the caporegimetwo ranks below boss - of a group of 300  

  • soldiers. This was the point in his career  when Michael Franzese would execute one of  

  • the most ambitious and lucrative criminal  operations the mob had ever pulled off.

  • It started when Michael was contacted by  a man named Lawrence Salvatore Iorizzo,  

  • who had been running a small scheme defrauding the  government of gasoline sales taxes. Iorizzo was  

  • being harassed by a rival crime family who wanted  in on the operation, and he promised Michael  

  • a cut of the profits if he defended him. Michael  successfully got the rival family off of Iorizzo's  

  • case, and the two started working together to  take this gasoline scheme to the next level.

  • The pair set up 18 stock-bearer companies  in Panama, which at the time had laws  

  • allowing companies to sell gasoline to  each other wholesale and without tax. So,  

  • Michael and his associates were able to buy large  amounts of gasoline tax-free, then import it to  

  • America and sell it at a number of gas stationsThe family collected the state and federal  

  • taxes for each gallon purchased, but instead of  paying it, they kept the money for themselves.

  • This meant that, even though they were  selling the gas at much lower prices  

  • than at legitimate gas stationsthey were still making millions.  

  • If ever the feds started to catch on to the  operation, Michael and his crew would simply  

  • move their operation to a different one  of their 18 gas companies and start again.

  • This scheme ran for 8 years, and during that time,  

  • it's estimated that $250 million  dollars in gasoline tax was stolen  

  • per year from the New York state governmentWhen Franzese moved the operation to Florida,  

  • it's estimated that he was responsible for  between $40 million and $250 million tax stolen.

  • All in all, at the height of this  operation, the Colombo family and  

  • their associates were pulling incollective 8 million dollars a week.

  • Michael Franzese was making about  a million per week for himself,  

  • money which he would use to buy himself  a private helicopter, a house in Florida,  

  • and another house in Marina Del ReyCalifornia. Much of the money made  

  • from this scheme was put into offshore bank  accounts in Panama and Austria, and the money  

  • that stayed in America was laundered through  Franzese's film production company, Miami Gold.

  • In the 80's, Michael was also a business partner  with talent agent Norby Walters. Michael's  

  • main role as partner in Walters' firm was to  intimidate any existing or prospective clients.  

  • By all accounts, this was a job that he was  extremely good at. In 1981, he was even able to  

  • extort a job for Walters working with king of popMichael Jackson, on his upcoming national tour.

  • In 1982, Michael also managed to  'gently persuade' the managers of  

  • R&B legend Dionne Warwick to  keep Walters on as an agent.  

  • We'll leave it up to you to imagine  what kind of persuasion tactics he used.

  • On top of his work in the music industry, he  also allegedly had some ties to boxing promoter  

  • Don King, and in 1985, he was made a partner  in Norby Walters' new sports management firm.  

  • Then there was also the aforementioned  film production company, Miami Gold.

  • In 1984, the company was producing  a film called Knights of the City,  

  • a film about street gangs facing off in a singing  competition, and while casting performers for the  

  • film, Michael met professional dancer  Camille Garcia. Michael and Camille  

  • instantly hit it off and would later marry. As  of 2021, the two of them are still together.

  • Michael was able to achieve his goal of making  money, but he didn't forget about his other goal  

  • of getting his dad out of prison. John Franzese  was released on parole after serving 10 of his  

  • 50 year sentence, and though he would be in  and out of prison over the next few decades,  

  • he was released in 2017 and died in  the hospital in 2020 at the age of 103.

  • So, he was making bank, and his dad was out  of prison, but things wouldn't stay this  

  • good for Michael Franzese forever. In April  of 1985, he was charged with racketeering,  

  • but was acquitted. In December of that  same year, he would be called back to court  

  • as one of 9 people being charged with 14 counts  of racketeering, counterfeiting and extortion.

  • Lawrence Iorizzo, the guy who had initially  been Michael's partner on the gasoline racket,  

  • started testifying against him in the trialhaving already been sentenced to five years in  

  • prison and ordered to pay back $1.7 million  of the stolen money. On March 21st, 1986,  

  • Michael Franzese plead guilty to one count of  racketeering and one count of tax conspiracy. He  

  • was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered  to forfeit over $14 million in restitution.

  • In order to do so, he had to give up his New  York mansion, the Miami Gold film company,  

  • and most of the profits from Knights of the CityMichael would get out of prison on parole in 1989,  

  • but he would be put back behind bars in  1991 after violating probation requirements.

  • While in prison, Michael would spend time in  solitary confinement, which he considers to be  

  • one of the worst experiences of his life. Howeverone good thing would come out of his prison  

  • sentence - a chance at redemption. He was given  a copy of the bible by a prison guard and, like  

  • many prisoners do, gained a sense of comfort and  purpose through rediscovering his spirituality.

  • He became a born-again Christian and when he got  out of prison in 1994, he decided to relocate  

  • with his wife and kids to California, quitting his  life of crime for good. But, like we said before,  

  • Michael had taken the oath of omerta, and in  the Mafia, that's not something you go back on.

  • Michael's decision to walk away from the mob  wasn't without consequences, and during this time  

  • in his life he recalls basically having to dodge  bullets everywhere he went. One of the hits put  

  • out on him had even been signed by his own fatherwho had all but disowned him after his betrayal of  

  • the family. Even so, Michael has never regretted  his decision to turn his back on organized crime,  

  • as so many of his associates from his time  in the mob went on to suffer violent deaths.

  • So, you might be wondering what Michael is up to  these days, after losing so much of his money and  

  • power. Well, we're happy to say that he's doing  pretty well for himself. Michael and his wife  

  • Camille currently live in Anaheim with their  seven kids. Michael works as a motivational  

  • speaker and author, appearing at schoolsyouth centres and Christian conferences.

  • He's written 6 booksone of which we feel  the need to tell you is called 'From Godfather  

  • to God the Father'- that all deal with his  experiences in the Mafia and his spiritual  

  • journey. In addition to the books, he's also  been involved in a number of documentaries,  

  • including 2013's The Definitive Guide to the  Mob and 2020's Fear City: New York vs the Mafia.

  • He also briefly appeared ascharacter in the movie Goodfellas,  

  • where he was played by Joseph Bono. Michael even  has a youtube channel where he answers questions,  

  • shares life advice, and reviews gangster  movies in a series called 'Mob Movie Mondays'.  

  • If he thought the Mafia was competitive, wait  until he hears about the YouTube algorithm...

  • Now check outCrazy Italian Mafia  CrimesandWhat Does the Mafia  

  • Even Do Anymore?” for more Mafia secrets!

They say that crime doesn't pay, but  the truth is, in the cutthroat world  

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 michael mafia prison family gasoline crime

Mafia Boss Reveals How He Stole $8 Million A Week

  • 3 0
    Summer posted on 2021/04/16
Video vocabulary