“If you watched his YouTube channel, you read this book”
Michael Franzese, better known around here as Michael “Stole some Gas Tax” Franzese is the author of several books, including the one I want to review and share my thoughts on. Blood Covenant, his updated biography written in 2002, is not a book about the Mafia or La Cosa Nostra. His mob background is merely a plot device used to facilitate the meeting of his second wife Camille Garcia which catalyzed his newfound relationship with God. As such his Mafia stories are never the centre point of the book and only enough was included to illustrate three points: his unhealthy relationship with his Father, the treachery of the mob, and ultimately that religion (Christianity) offered everything the Mafia does (just without all the violence and negativity). This way it reads more like a fiction novel, whereby the hero (Michael) overcomes several challenges along the way before meeting his princess and riding off to the sunset, guided by a power high above. I wanted to split my thoughts into three general categories: what I liked about the book, what I disliked, and the potential it could have had in relation to his YouTube Channel and expanded book focused simply on stories while in LCN.
There is a lot to like about this book, from the way it’s structured to the little nuggets of insight that provide lessons to would-be business professionals. Michael was the ultimate racketeer, using the might of La Cosa Nostra to its fullest extent in his business dealings. He constantly reminds viewers on his YouTube channel about his Gas Tax Scheme and by reading the book you get to understand why. He was (and is) extremely proud of it. The sophistication, scale, and length of the operation were a marvel to behold. The book does not gloss over the details and goes quite in-depth in the intricacies of how the scheme grew, evolved into the wholesale level, and expanded to include the Russians of Brighton Beach as well as other players that brought in the Genovese Crime Family. Always ready to bash the federal government Michael highlighted a funny story about the government’s incompetence where the State of New York (in trying to fight the theft of gasoline taxes) made it easier for Michael and his partner Larry Iorizzo to steal taxes. Being so enamored with their new status and wealth, Larry destroyed his brand new Cadillac for the sheer cathartic experience because he was able to buy a new one tomorrow. The duo was drunk on power. At his peak Michael was taking down $60-100 million per month in stolen gas taxes alone, not counting the legitimate profits made from owning and supplying 300+ gas stations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Even after the “mastermind” behind the operation flipped and began testifying against Michael, he was able to keep the operation going showing his business knowledge and that he was not some “thug” taking a cut while Larry was doing all the work. The mansions, jets, jewelry, and yachts; this was his “professional” peak, and I began to understand why he loves to bring that up any way he can. The book also made it clear that he has a lot of money stashed everywhere. After all, how was his wife able to charter jets while he was a guest of the government?
While the Gas Scam was certainly the peak of his racketeering activities, throughout the book you saw Michael’s head for business being put to good use. Without a lot of help, he was able to put together several businesses and ventures together even before joining LCN. We get, for example, to see his thought process behind reasoning why a Mazda dealership was a good investment when Mazda was suffering reputational damages for their bad engines. He dropped interesting and insightful tidbits on critical leadership and business skills. Although a bit self-serving to cultivate his image of a “gentle don”, Michael illustrated that being friendly and ultimately providing value-add to potential partners/competition will create more good than extorting and bullying competitors into submission and servitude. Taking the latter approach is what resulted in Shelly Levine (a competitor Michael wanted to sweep into his operation) bringing along the Genovese into his operation. All these valuable lessons are no doubt presented better in his business-oriented book, but Blood Covenant still provides excellent insights for would-be entrepreneurs. He also explains some of his other illegal activities, including union racketeering and fraud of all kinds, and how they worked.
His legal troubles were very thoroughly examined, which I found refreshing, and in many instances, he explained what the specific counts on the indictments meant and his defence strategy on how they tackled it. I found the legal sections of the book to be the second most interesting part of the book (after the racketeering bits). His three State trials for grand larceny among other counts were particularly entertaining to read. Unable to replicate John Gotti’s success, Michael’s jury tampering efforts backfired on him in a hilarious way. Michael was also one of Rudy Giuliani’s first RICO victims in his zeal to take down all Mafia members. That indictment blew up in Rudy’s face, however, and not only did all of the Italians get acquitted (it was the Kosher Nostra members who got convicted), it also tipped the Fed’s hand into revealing Michael’s pending Eastern District of New York indictment. Worse, Michael’s lawyers were able to eviscerate the government’s two-star witnesses, Larry Iorizzo and James Feynman on the stand who would be critical to the Eastern District’s upcoming RICO. This was a massive blunder by the government and the Yuppie Don walked free on the 1984 loansharking and racketeering case ready to take on his next battle. What shocked me was that despite the State of New York estimating that more than $500 million of gas taxes were stolen, they were only able to pin one count on Michael in the 1985 indictment, and for a measly sum of $3 million. Among the laundry list of charges pinned on him, he figured not that much could even stick in court. After all, he was already able to discredit Larry and James once already in court. The other charges had dubious paper trails and or were vague. No wonder he got such a sweet deal. The sophistication of his operations and the government’s inability to infiltrate much of anything was astonishing.
The book itself began with an exposition on his father’s life, rise to power, and what it was like growing up under the infamous John “Sonny” Franzese. Of course, reading it, you can see that Michael was remembering everything through rose-tinted glasses. His mother was a tragic case, already married at the age of 16, Christina met Sonny when she was 17 and got married to him a day after she turned 18. Quite disturbing, but Michael did not seem bothered by it. He dove quite deeply into Sonny’s rise in La Cosa Nostra and his connections to the entertainment industry. It also goes at length into his various cases and why his conviction on the robbery case was unjust (reading it I was pretty convinced as well). It sets up the context of Michael’s life and his yearning for acceptance from his father. Ultimately, he realizes that acceptance from (and of) God is what he needed all along.
Finally, the book itself is divided into hundreds of chapters with usually self-contained anecdotes about his life. This helps make the story more digestible and aids with the pacing; no one story (except for maybe the story of his initial relationship with Camille) drags on too long and overstayed its welcome. The writing is straightforward, and at times can be pretty funny and self-aware. As a testament, I finished it in a day and a half of leisurely reading. Those were all some of the outstanding features in the book to me.
Although I had few expectations going in, I was disappointed that this Mafia book was not really a Mafia book. It’s Michael’s journey to true love and God, and in that light, the mob stuff served as a distraction to hit the ultimate ending. Although the book touched upon some of the inner workings of LCN, the Colombo administration at certain times, some of the capos and soldiers Michael interacted with along the way, it really lacked detail and character. What was it like working under Andrew Russo (both as a capo and as an Acting Boss)? How was Michael’s relationship with the other capos and members of the administration? What were Persico’s reaction and initial thoughts regarding the Gas Tax scheme? Alphonse “Allie Boy” Persico was the Godfather of Michael’s oldest son, yet we have no details of their relationship, both personal and professional. Not only are details of his interrelations within the Colombo hierarchy are missing (except for a few passages here and there) but details of his interactions with the other Families is also severely lacking. He couldn’t resist putting one John Gotti story in, but what about all the other encounters that he briefly mentioned? He was business partners with the Genovese in the Gas Scheme operation, yet besides their introduction to the business, no more was mentioned. He recently did an interview with Joe Pistone (Donnie Brasco) where Michael confirmed that he knew Sonny Black, “Lefty” Ruggiero, and Tony Mira (and he liked him too) quite well. Where are all those stories? He met Anthony Spilotro once, well how was his relationship with the Outfit? What about some of the other smaller Families? He had strong relationships with the DeCavalcante Family of New Jersey, yet no one besides a capo co-defendant was mentioned. I would love to hear those, and I’m sure many others would too. Yet, this highlights my initial point. This is not a mafia book. LCN is just a backdrop to explain how Michael was in Florida to meet Camille and his journey to Christianity.
On that point, the book does get very preachy, especially towards the end. I am a Christian and go to church, but even I had a hard time slogging through some of the more religious sections of the book. Michael Franzese publicly declared his faith during his first stint in prison, yet in 1991 he went back in for a parole violation. The authorities were not convinced of his conversion. Others believed that since he had such a good eye for business, he realized how much legitimate money he can make in the “Christian Racket”. I have no way of knowing how preachy his first autobiography might have been, but this one surely dials the born-again speech all the way to 11. Maybe he got tired of all the sceptics and ‘nonbelievers’, but the book does read in a way where he is trying to prove any way he can that his conversion to Christianity was and is legitimate. He includes proofs, quotes from Biblical scholars all in an attempt to ‘flex’ his knowledge and demonstrate that he is a true soldier in Christ’s Borgata. Unless you are into Christian theology and Biblical textual archeology, I would suggest skipping those sections.
Alongside his new Christian identity, Michael tried to repaint the past in a more colourful light. He is the hero of the book, and even when he was in an ‘evil life’ he was the good guy. First, he claimed he never made his bones, offering up a two-part explanation about how the Family was scrambling to build up their ranks and had no time to set up hits. In fact, he tried to spare people as much as he could and never killed anyone during his tenure in LCN. This is all honesty bullshit. I like Michael. I enjoy his content, but there is just no way that can be true. He is at least implicated by an informant as the getaway driver in a 1978 murder. Plus, it is just unthinkable that as a caporegime in an NYC crime Family, he wasn’t at least a co-conspirator in a murder. Finally, if he never killed (or ordered the killing of) anyone, why would he always say I can’t answer in interviews where he is asked that question. I understand that any murders were not part of his plea agreement, but you can’t paint yourself as the good guy if you are a mobster. There are many instances where he claimed that he disapproved of violence, and any claims of violence stated by people who took the stand against him were false. I have a hard time believing that.
I came away disappointed with this book because of the potential that it had, and that his YouTube channel could have if he just opened up more. He has over 500K subscribers, and I doubt he would see pushback if he didn’t paint himself as the good guy every time. There are many stories the book glosses over that could have been explored more. For instance, his book mentioned that he attempted to unionize the security guards of Atlantic City. As this was the territory of Philadelphia’s LCN, Michael had to arrange a sit-down with the homicidal Nicky Scarfo. Instead of expanding upon the meeting, how and where it took place, what was discussed, and his opinion of Nicky, he just glossed over it. Or what about his many encounters with John Gotti. Why not explore a few more stories between them? Apparently, Michael had interests in casinos in Haiti and Las Vegas. How did that come to be? Who was he partnered with? No details were offered. What about him defrauding blue-chip corporations? How did he do that? Reading that made me sad as stories were being wasted. I wish he devoted time on his YouTube channel to discuss those things if he is not willing to pen it out. He will run out of “Mob Movie Monday” material eventually. How about telling us a couple more stories?