The son of the notorious underboss of New York’s Colombo crime family, Michael Franzese was born into the mafia and became a successful caporegime in his own right. He has been called one of the biggest mob earners since Al Capone, but he has since left his life of crime behind.
Today, Franzese is a bestselling author, motivational speaker, and host of the YouTube program Sit Down with Michael Franzese. On Tuesday’s show, Franzese joined Megyn and shared the moment in prison when he was handed a Bible and changed his life.
A Life of Crime
As Franzese explained, he was not always involved in organized crime. He was actually on the path to becoming a doctor when his father, Sonny Franzese, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for bank robbery in 1967. He dropped out of his pre-med program to help support his family, and, by 1980, Franzese had become a caporegime of a 300-person crew.
While Franzese had legitimate businesses in the form of car dealerships, film production and distribution, and more, he was also part of a gasoline bootlegging scheme to defraud the federal government out of gas taxes. Franzese has said that, at the height of his career, he brought in upwards of $8 million per week.
In 1985, he was charged in both Florida and New York in connection with the gasoline bootlegging racket. He pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy and one count of tax conspiracy and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
He was released on parole after serving 43 months but was sent back to jail for four more years in federal prison for violating his probation. “I had done five years. I’m out on parole. It was the worst 13 months of my life – people are trying to hurt me. The feds are all over me,” Franzese recalled. “I’m trying to get my life reorganized in LA… and, like a fool, I violate my parole… and they locked me up again.”
It was during that jail time, however, that his life changed.
The night Franzese was booked at Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, he believed his life was over. He thought he’d spend the rest of his life in prison and leave his wife, Camille, and their two young children alone. “I was struggling and I wished I could just close my eyes and not wake up,” he shared. “That’s how I felt.”
That same night, a prison guard walked by and asked if he was okay. Franzese said he “chased him away” because he didn’t want to talk to anyone, but the guard came back and slid a Bible into his cell. “I spent the next 29 months and seven days in solitary in a six-by-eight cell 24/7 meeting God,” Franzese said.
In addition to studying the Bible, he also had his wife bring him books on other faiths. “I said, ‘If I’m going to spend the rest of my life in this cell, I want to know where I’m going at the end of it all,’” Franzese explained. “And I just came out of this strongly believing in Christianity.”
That time spent learning about religion and finding faith ultimately led Franzese to leave the mob after getting out of prison. “In Christianity, we believe that we’re changed from the inside out when you develop a relationship with the Lord,” he noted. “That’s why it’s so important to be nourished; it’s so important to read the Word as often as you possibly can.”
He shared that he discovered two life lessons that he carries with him to this day. “Number one is… you are who you hang out with in this life,” Franzese said. “If you hang with the wrong crowd… they will influence you.” The second is accountability. “Who you are accountable to is going to dictate the path that you serve in your life,” he shared. “On the street, accountable to my boss, I was a criminal. Now, I am accountable to God first and accountable to my wife and children not to screw up so I end up back in prison.”
Franzese now finds himself with a completely “different outlook” that revolves around the life he and his family have created. “I think I’m probably the most fortunate, most blessed person around because I should either be dead or in prison for the rest of my life – that’s what I earned,” he concluded. “But for some reason I am here.”
You can check out Megyn’s full interview with Franzese by tuning in to episode 674 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.