Long Missing Letter Questions Fate of Franzese Surveillance Records

A letter written in 1976 by former Nassau County District Attorney Bennett Cullison Jr. to Michael B. Pollack, then attorney for John “Sonny” Franzese, sentenced to 50 years in prison in 1970 for “masterminding” multiple bank robberies, raises questions over the fate of numerous surveillance records allegedly taken by several law enforcement agencies.


Pollack, who has since been disbarred, was not available for comment.

Given that Franzese's bank robbery trial took place some 40 years ago, it is difficult finding law-enforcement sources to comment. (They're quite old, and many were not blessed with Sonny Franzese's genes.)

Long, careful efforts failed to turn up contact information for sources. Still, voicemails were left with the press departments of several agencies. This report will be updated if new information arises.





The letter admits that surveillance records were, as of then, either “destroyed” or in storage in the D.A.’s office, which Cullison had departed to pursue private practice before writing the letter to Pollack.

Franzese was convicted and sentenced to 50 years for managing a series of bank robberies across the nation which were committed in the mid-1960s by John Cordero, Jimmy Smith, Richie Parks and Charles Zaher.

Over the years, high-profile journalists have come forward and expressed doubt regarding the strength of the case against Franzese, whether he was really guilty or a convenient scapegoat, and whether the FBI had overstepped its bounds.

According to an article by J. R. de Szigethy posted on Rick Porrello’s AmericanMafia.com site, former New York Post columnist Jack Newfield had penned a detailed report on various crimes committed by FBI agents to set up Franzese for the bank robbery.

"One disturbing aspect of this case was revealed years later when Michael Gillen, the prosecutor made a startling confession to Sidney Zion, the New York Times reporter who covered the trial; 'Gillen admitted to me that he intentionally went drinking with me one night in the hotel bar to keep me distracted while two FBI agents broke into my car and photographed my notes and files.'"

Aside from the media, all four witnesses who had fingered Franzese recanted their testimony at one time or another.

A sworn affidavit by the wife of one of the robbers stated that Franzese and other defendants convicted in the 1967 trial were not involved in the robberies. It also stated that the supposed getaway driver, Anne Messineo, was not the driver at all; she too was framed.

Surveillance evidence, as the letter indicates, was either destroyed or put in storage. It was never turned over to the Franzese defense team, according to sources close to the case.

Judge Mishler, a federal judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, who presided over Franzese’s trial, refused to rule in Franzese’s favor after several appeals – one of which included the results of a lie-detector test Franzese had taken and passed -- at Mishler’s own suggestion. No appeal, said Mishler.

Tina Franzese, wife of Sonny Franzese, is still working on appealing the verdict, which she says, “destroyed my family.”

“When Gillen was asked if there were any surveillance records related to Sonny, he said, ‘Nothing that I have received.’ 

“We started trying to find out what happened to the surveillance records.

“They did such a job on Sonny. He got 50 years, every one else was out in five to six years.

“This letter tells us they all lied when they said there was no surveillance. Michael Pollack knew about this letter, and we never got it.” Tina Franzese believes Pollack buried the letter for any one of a variety of reasons. “We think he used it for his own reasons,” she said.

The reason Franzese’s appeal team wants the surveillance evidence is that they believe it will vindicate the 93-year-old mobster. If it implicated him, Tina said, “they would have showed it in court and gave it to us.


Page one of three-page letter.


“If it showed the robbers with Sonny, it would have helped prove their case. But we didn’t get any of it. They denied information to us. Lawyers were denied the material.”

Director/producer Chris Selletti, a friend of the Franzese family, has been assisting Tina in putting together another appeal and is also producing a documentary called “Framed,” which will detail the Sonny Franzese story through reenactments and interviews with people close to the case.

“This letter proves there were surveillance records,” Selletti said.

“Some were destroyed, some were put in storage. Michael Pollack, for some reason, didn’t use them in the appeal.” In fact no one had ever seen the letter from the former D.A. confirming that surveillance records did or still exist until Selletti got hold of several crates of trial transcripts and other materials. He found the letter among the papers.

Tina Franzese said she has affidavits from 500 people who had seen the Franzeses under constant surveillance back in those days, when the robberies were taking place.

A 1975 appeal on Franzese’s behalf was bolstered by the affidavit dated Oct.19, 1974, by Eleanor Cordero, wife of John Cordero, one of the four confessed participants in the robberies. In summation, it reads that the testimony of these four was the principal, indeed almost the sole, basis of the government's case. The thrust of Mrs. Cordero's affidavit was that the 1965 robberies had been committed by some or all of the confessed participants, as testified at the trial, but with Eleanor playing an important role and Anne Messineo playing none (Messineo was named by the robbers as their driver, a role which in fact Eleanor had played). Further, the affidavit stated that Franzese and other defendants convicted in the 1967 trial were not involved in the robberies.

The affidavit went on to say that after the arrest on Oct. 1, 1965, she met with her husband on a number of occasions at the West Street Detention Center and at the office of the Assistant United States Attorney, Mr. Gillen; that "during this time" John told her that he, Parks, Smith and Zaher "concocted a story to involve the Polisis [small-time gangsters of that era] as the masterminds of the robberies" and had substituted Anne Messineo for her "to give further credence to their story, since she (Anne) was associated with the Aqueduct" Motor Inn which Anthony Polisi owned.

Later, when the four learned that the sole benefit they would receive for involving the Polisis was that they would get only 25 years rather than 125, they devised a scheme to implicate Franzese, a gangster of major importance in both the mob and law enforcement. Eleanor Cordero had never met Franzese; John Cordero had never mentioned his name in connection with the robberies in question; there were no floor plans and no central organization devised escape routes or procured stolen cars for the participants' benefit.

The smoking gun in this case, according to Tina Franzese and Chris Selletti, is the letter written and delivered to former Franzese attorney Michael B. Pollack decades ago in answer to a request initially sent to the D.A.’s office by Pollack regarding the status and location of the surveillance evidence gathered for use against Franzese.

During the course of the trial, the D.A.’s office never produced surveillance evidence, relying solely on the words of the four bank robbers, according to Tina Franzese, which agrees with Eleanor Cordero’s affidavit.

Franzese has spent about 25 of the past 40 years behind bars for the bank robbery conviction back in 1967. Sentenced to 50 years, Franzese served part of his time and was eventually released on parole -- but he was sent back to prison five times for violations.

Last year Franzese was hit with eight years in prison for extorting Hustler and Penthouse magazines for $150,000. With time off for good behavior, the 93-year-old gangster should be out by February 19, 2017, which is his 100th birthday. 

Tina also used last year’s trial to distribute a press release about “Framed,” the documentary that Selletti is making about the controversial Franzese bank robbery case.

The film contains interviews with Tina Franzese, among others, and also features re-creations based on affidavits by four trial witnesses who later recanted their testimony and fingered FBI agents as architects of the plot to frame Franzese. A small preview edited from what so far has been shot was shown last November to select members of the media.



Comments

  1. THIS LETTER SMELLS THE BAD STENCH IS A da'S OFFICE, NEVERMIND tHIS WOMENS FAMILY SUCH AS HER MAFIA SPEAKER WHO RATTED HIS DAD OUT AND HER LOSER HUBAND SHE IS THE ONLY RIDICULOUS MAFIA WIFE WHO HASN'T COLLECTED ON A BOOK SUCH AS GRAVANO AMD MILLITO AS YOU HAVE POSTED..i AM GOING (WISH THEM LUCK) ON THIS STENCH...

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    1. Hmmm...have you ever considered taking a remedial English class? And, do you really need to yell (e.g. typing in all caps)? For the love of God man, please DON"T write a book! And Michael Franzese did NOT rat out his father. That would be his brother who did that. Get your facts straight,sheesh!

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  2. what is this all about? if its Sonny Franzese we all know he has been Framed give the DA a lie detector test! they are scumbags...

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  3. any idiot who can read, and has an ounce of journalistic integrity will see Cullisons letter was written a full year after Sonny's motion was filed. Rather than hiding the letter the facts show a dedicated counsel continuing his persuit for justice. Tina never could parse truth from her dewsires

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    1. No offense, Hux, but I can't make heads or tails of what you are saying. I can't even tell if it's me you're insulting! What are you saying? To me, the purpose of the letter is that it existed (I have a copy) and said that the surveillance materials of Sonny Franzese during the period before the bank robbery did indeed exist. The Feds didn't use it at trial... Why not? [And: It's not often guys like Newfield and Zion come out and defend a mobster, accusing the FBI of misdeeds, quite serious ones. I myself have heard stories from NYPD detectives about dishonest Feds in other cases that make me ill]. Tina, RIP, was challenging the DA to release the surveillance records SHE KNEW existed, because it is obvious if this evidence was not used in trial, it did not help the DA's case and could've helped Sonny. And the lie detector stuff -- amazing. OK, I know who Sonny is, was, and I know he committed crimes, but I don't believe in framing anyone. If they did the crime, catch them doing it, legitimately. Because where is the line drawn when it is an innocent man being framed?

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    2. 1) I knew Sonny well at that time and was at the going away party held for him at the Austin Lounge. Sonny was a thug. He was not a bank robber. The guys around him, Whitey and Red, might have dabbled in it, and Sonny's name came into the picture. My nephew is currently doing time because his name was thrown around in a pump-and-dump where he knew no one and never met anyone, but his name was in the air as the perpetrators' boss. Same thing happened to Gribbs with the junk deal. Anyone who thinks he sat at a table and nodded his assent to someone dealing with a Puerto Rican dealer at another table is out of his or her mind. AND, I know for a fact that the Feds fabricate and hide material. It was done in my case and was done to send a second cousin, Dom, away for years when he clearly wasn't even at the crime scene. We'd go to an attorney for an appeal and Feds would walk out of the office just as we arrived, smiling. Minutes later the attorney said he couldn't help us. So, to Hux and whoever else thinks prosecutors are clean as a whistle, when Rudy Giuliani was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of NY he gave a speech to students at Fordham Law School. He said, to the shock of my legitimate nephew who believed in the system, that if he THOUGHT someone was a criminal, anything he did to get them locked up was fine.

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    3. I hear ya, Anonymous. I was a cop and I met a few that I was embarrassed even had a badge and I even testified for a defendant against my own once because I felt they were wrong in filing charges on the guy and I believed him to be innocent. I guarantee they wanted me to lie on the stand and I refused.

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  4. THIS STUFF ABOUT FBI SETUPS PISSES ME OFF BECAUSE I KNOW IT'S--TRUE--!! REALLY PISSES ME OFF!!!!! MY NAME IS MARTIN J. McNALLY. MY ORIGINAL FEDERAL CASE IS--- U.S.A. v. MARTIN J. McNALLY, 485 F2d 398, (8TH. CIR. 1973.) THE FBI IS AN ORGANIZATION OF -- THUGS --!!! I GOT 2 CONCURRENT LIFE SENTENCES.. THE FEDERAL JUDGE JOHN J. REGAN, TOLD MY DEFENSE ATTORNEY FREDERICH H. MEYER, "THAT IF THE CASE WASN'T SO BIG HE'D SUPPRESS THE EVIDENCE TAKEN OUTTA MY HOUSE IN MICHIGAN, BUT IF IT'S SUPPRESSED IT'LL HAVTA BE BY THE APPEALS COURT". I DID NOT KNOW LAW AT THAT TIME. THE ATTORNEY SOLD ME OUT!! HE SHOULDA FILED --"A MOTION TO RECUSE THE TRIAL JUDGE"--. EVERY SCUMBAG FBI AGENT AT MY TRIAL LIED ABOUT ENTRY INTO MY HOUSE BEFORE A SEARCH WARRANT WAS ISSUED.. PERJURY---TO MAKE CERTAIN THAT SOMEBODY THAT THEY KNEW WAS GUILTY WOULD BE CONVICTED AND NOT WALK FREE DUE TO FBI FUCKUPS... THE EVIDENCE WAS CLEAR THAT MY HOUSE WAS ENTERED ILLEGALLY.. AND THE APPEALS COURT HERE IN ST. LOUIS, MO. KNEW THAT WAS TRUE BUT REFUSED TO REVERSE THE CONVICTION BECAUSE I WOULDA WALKED!! AS IT IS, I SPENT 37 YEARS IN FEDERAL MAX JOINTS and WAS A VERY VIOLENT PRISONER DURING MOST OF THAT TIME.. PICKED UP MORE CONSECUTIVE LIFE SENTENCES and HAD AN OUT DATE OF 2082 BUT LEARNED LAW AND REVERSED MUCH OF THAT.. SEE: U.S.A. v. TRAPNELL-MCNALLY, (638 F2d. 1016 7th. CIR. 1980). THE FBI HAS ALWAYS BEEN A CORRUPT ORGANIZATION-UNDER HOOVER AND CONTINUING TO THIS DAY.. IN 2 FEDERAL INDICTMENTS FOR ASSAULT ON PRISON GUARDS EVERY GUARD COMMITTED PERJURY TO TRY TO HAVE ME CONVICTED.. I BEAT BOTH CASES BECAUSE I DEFENDED MYSELF DURING THOSE ATTACKS TO KILL PRISON GUARDS... BUT THE PAROLE BOARD TAXED ME 150 MONTHS ON MY GUIDELINES... IN ANY EVENT, I MADE IT OUT OF PRISON AND I'M ON--LIFE--PAROLE and WILL PROBABLY DIE WHILE ON PAROLE.. SONNY GOT CONVICTED DUE TO CORRUPT LAW ENFORCEMENT PRACTICES..AND A LEGAL SYSTEM THAT IS CORRUPT... I MET SONNY AT LEAVENWORTH IN 73-74 AND LIKED THE DUDE, HE ALWAYS HAD RESPECT... I WILL NEVER FORGIVE OR FORGET WHAT THE FBI DID IN MY CASE... SCUMBAGS ALL OF THEM......

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