In 1986 Fortune called 35-year-old Michael Franzese one of the most powerful Mafia bosses in the country, but God turned out to be more powerful. Here’s the gist of what he told Patrick Henry students about joining and then leaving La Cosa Nostra, “This Thing of Ours.”
Let’s start with the family business. Your dad said he killed a lot of guys. When did you start knowing about what your dad did for a living? I grew up in that. My dad was the underboss of the Colombo family during the 1960s and was a major target of law enforcement. The FBI, IRS, Brooklyn’s DA office would all have cars parked around our house 24/7. My dad tried to keep what was going on in his world out of the house, but I knew from an early age.
How did your mom take all that? My mom and dad loved each other, but she didn’t like it. We always viewed law enforcement as the enemy. I grew up hating the government. My dad was my hero and law enforcement was trying to hurt him.
You became a pre-med student. My dad wanted me to be a doctor; but when he was 50, he received a 50-year sentence. I was devastated. I visited him in Leavenworth and said, “I don’t want to go to school anymore.” He was upset. We argued about it. He knew my mind was made up. He said, “Son, if you’re going to be on the street, I want you on the street the right way.” And in his mind, the “right way” was to become a member of the Colombo family.
Did you think at the time that he murdered people? My dad asked me that day, “If you ever had to kill somebody, could you do it?” I said, “If the circumstances were right, I think I can do it.” He looked at me and said, “That’s the right answer.”
How did you become a Colombo family member? For almost two years I was in a pledge period. I had to prove myself worthy, doing everything I was told to do.
And what were you told to do? Some menial things. Drive the boss to a meeting and sit in the car for five hours. And I’ve got to be honest with you, that life at times can be very violent. I had to do what I had to do to prove myself.
FBI agents scoff at your claim that you didn’t have to kill anyone as part of the initiation. In that life, you don’t admit to anything. But I want people to understand that I was violating God’s laws and the laws of man every day. If that meant somebody had to get killed, you do what you have to do.
The Colombo family inducted you on Halloween night, 1975. What was that like? I walked down the aisle, stood in front of the boss, held out my hand, and he took a knife right here and cut my fingers. Some blood dropped on the floor: This was a blood oath. I cupped my hands. He took a picture of a saint, the Catholic altar card, and put it in my hands. He lit it aflame. He said to me, “Tonight, Michael Franzese, you are born again into a new life, into La Cosa Nostra. Violate what you know about this life, betray your brothers, and you will die and burn in hell like the saint is burning in your hands. Do you accept?” I said, “Yes, I do.” That’s how it started.
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SOURCE: WORLD Mag