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Michael Franzese Discusses Champagne

The Sydney Morning Herald interviewed Michael Franzese who addressed a couple of compelling topics, one of which is the murder of Larry "Champagne" Carrozza, supposedly over a married Carrozza having the audacity to date the also-married daughter of Colombo powerhouse John "Sonny" Franzese."

Michael also reveals that he learned in recent years that he was not adopted.

(Franzese is visiting Australia to promote "An Evening with The Godfather," which was delayed because "Australian immigration authorities pondered "character" issues before granting Franzese's visa." While in Australia Michael Franzese also gave an interview--click here to check it out--to life coach Joseph Sulfaro of the Newport Hypnotherapy, Health & Healing Centre.)

A 1991 Vanity Fair article described Sonny Franzese as "a shark-eyed, bull-necked hoodlum ... a legendary enforcer given credit for dozens of murders; a man who had been tossed out of the US Army as a 'psycho-neurotic with pronounced homicidal tendencies'."

Born in 1917, he is the oldest active member of the American Mafia.
John Sonny Franzese

In 2010, John Franzese Jr turned state’s evidence against his father. At trial, Sonny’s lawyer argued that his client hadn’t been a threat to law enforcement since “the age of Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson and maybe the age of George Washington.” Sonny earned the “Nod Father” nickname in the press when he was observed dozing during the trial. Convicted of extortion and sentenced to eight years in prison, Sonny is slated for release in about two years.

John Franzese Jr. entered the Witness Protection Program and lives with HIV, acquired via drug use.

Do Champagne and Gasoline Mix?Some believe the Carrozza hit "stank of gasoline money" and that Michael himself may have ordered the murder, committed when he was at the Colombo crime family's pinnacle running a billion-dollar gasoline racket.

Michael Franzese idolized his father as a child, the article notes.

"Sonny was everything to me," he says. "He was my hero." He didn't believe what kids at school said about his father being a violent mobster, and it wasn't until the early 1960s - when law enforcement agencies targeted Sonny, and their Long Island home was under constant surveillance - that reality dawned.

Until a few years ago, Franzese believed he'd been adopted by Sonny, and that his real father was one Frank Grillo. But it turns out that his late mother, Christine "Tina" Capobianco, had been a 16-year-old cigarette girl at the Stork Club in Manhattan when Sonny, already married with three kids, got her pregnant with Michael.

She married Grillo to avoid a scandal, and later, after the Mob gave Sonny permission to divorce his first wife (who'd left him and the kids), Grillo "disappeared", and Sonny and Tina got married.

"So then my mother suddenly had all these kids in the house, and she didn't treat them very well, not well at all," Franzese says gravely. "Thinking Sonny was my stepfather, I was always worried that he was gunna turn on me, like my mother did with his kids.

"That's one of the reasons I did everything I could to please him. He wanted me to be an athlete; I was an athlete. He wanted me to be a doctor; I went to college to be a doctor. That became the motivating force in my life: to please him, because I was so grateful he never turned on me."

Franzese also discussed Larry Carrozza, other things:

As Franzese likes to point out, no one of his status has ever before turned on the Mob and lived to tell the tale. (Let alone turned the tale into a lucrative industry.) He scoffs at suggestions that he actually paid Mafia bosses $10 million dollars in advance not to kill him.

"That came from one of my old prosecutors, who predicted my death right off the bat," he says. "When I survived, the same guy suggested I must have paid. Which just showed that this guy still doesn't understand the life [Mafia ways]. Because if I had paid they would have taken the $10 million and killed me anyway!"

Serendipitously, it seems, Franzese's moral crusade happens to embody one of the best-selling entertainment themes ever. Ordinary, law-abiding citizens can't resist a good, inside-the-Mob yarn, as The Godfather, Goodfellas and The Sopranos attest. The key ingredients are Brooklyn accents, dangerous sex, pitiless violence and the whatever-it-takes pragmatism Mob bosses hone by studying the works of their "champion": 16th-century Italian philosopher, diplomat and apparent sociopath, Niccolo Machiavelli.

Franzese's contribution to the genre heightens the vicarious thrills by being real. One of his oft-used lines is the question his enforcer father, John "Sonny" Franzese (still in prison at 98), asked him before he took the Mafia oath and became a "made" man: "He said, 'Mike, if you ever had to kill anybody, could you do it?' And I said, 'Dad, if the circumstances were right, I could.'" 
Until a few years ago, Franzese believed he'd been adopted by Sonny, and that his real father was one Frank Grillo.
But it turns out that his late mother, Christine "Tina" Capobianco, had been a 16-year-old cigarette girl at the Stork Club in Manhattan when Sonny, already married with three kids, got her pregnant with Michael.
By the time he was 35, and a caporegime like Sonny, he was pulling in more bucks than any Mob boss since Capone in the 1940s. (In 1986, he was the youngest individual listed in Fortune magazine's survey of the "Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses".) His empire included car dealerships, gambling rackets, high-rise construction and the production of B-movies. But most of the loot came from an audacious bootleg gasoline scheme that generated almost $US50 million a month and brought him, personally, $US2 million a week.

The scam involved a process for circumventing state and federal excise tax (then 40¢ a gallon), which allowed Franzese to undercut the competition. He soon controlled 350 gas stations, storage terminals and fleets of tankers.

"We hadda get rid of [competitors]," Franzese says. "I mean, get them outta the business ... a lot of Arabs and Turks were in the business then, and we blew up a couple of their gas stations and stuff like that."

The Yuppie Don, as the media called the foppish gangster, bought homes on Long Island and in Florida and California, a private jet and a helicopter he used "instead of a car" because it could zip him away from FBI surveillance teams. Among the movies he financed was Knights of the City, a teen-gang musical. On the set he met the beautiful Cammy Garcia, a 19-year-old born-again Christian dancer who became his second wife early in 1985.

"At that stage I wasn't really buying into the Christian stuff"- Franzese was indicted on a range of charges related to his gasoline dealings. He cut a deal, pleaded guilty to some charges and got 10 years in prison. He was released after five years, after denouncing the Mob and agreeing to testify against his partners in crime (a deal he never kept), but was returned to jail for a further three years for breaching his parole and was finally freed in 1994.

Franzese maintains he never intended to testify about anything serious, but tricked investigators into believing he would. "I had immunity, so I just talked mostly about what I did, and tried to keep everybody else out of it. I was walking a fine line and it was nerve-racking. But in the end, thanks to a few lucky breaks, it worked out."
 Michael and his wife, who got him out of the Mafia.

Did Michael Franzese ever kill anyone himself?

He smiles in a practised way. "Listen," he says, "The Life is very treacherous. If you're part of it, you're part of the violence. There's no escape. I was a captain at a very high level, and I saw my share of things, let's put it that way."

What about Lawrence "Champagne Larry" Carrozza, a member of Franzese's crime crew who was murdered in 1983 for having an affair with Franzese's sister, Gia. Did he kill him?

Franzese: "Obviously not, because I was in Florida and three guys later admitted to it." (At that time, to commemorate the launch of Franzese's movie production company, Miami Gold, Miami Beach gave him the keys to the city and actually made him an honorary police commissioner.)

"They claimed I ordered Carrozza's murder," he says. "But I didn't. My sister and he were in love, but they were both married. And he was like my brother, that close. I said to him, 'Have you lost your freakin' mind? I can't even save you now!' Did I want it to happen? No way. Am I responsible? Well, I knew it was going to happen, and I didn't save him." He shrugs.

Franzese says he declined a suggestion from his boss in the Colombo family that he kill Carrozza himself. "He said, in that case, they'd handle it, and that's how it went down. Larry also had a drug habit which was another no-no. They told him they were taking him somewhere to help him straighten out. Larry was driving. They told him to pull over, then - boom - they shot him in the back of the head." Gia, who never recovered from Carrozzo's murder, took her own life nine years later.

In 2008-09 when two undercover police informants wearing bugging devices recorded 200 hours of Sonny singing like a bird about Mob crimes, including murders and the importance of properly disposing of bodies.

Even worse: one of the undercover agents was his own son, John Franzese Jr.

"I love my brother," says Franzese, "but he's been a selfish kid his whole life. I think he was always resentful that he never made it to another level [in the Mob]."

As Franzese tells it, he found his faith during his last three-year prison term, most of which was spent in solitary confinement, or "The Hole" as prisoners know it. "Cammy sent me about 400 books, and I studied every faith out there," he says. "The evidence for Christianity is very strong, and it just became real for me. I can't explain ... it was just a transformation of the heart."

He points out that he didn't leave jail as an evangelist: "I was recruited from outta prison by pro baseball leagues to come and speak to their athletes about gambling. It was years before I started speaking in churches."

Yet although he's passionate about the evils of the Mafia - "I don't know one family that's part of that life that hasn't been totally devastated!" - Franzese can switch, in a moment, to nostalgia for the homicidal brotherhood. "I miss it still," he confesses. "I'm a guy's guy. I like being around men and having their camaraderie ... we had good times, I won't deny it."