“A waste of the trees it was printed on, could’ve been much better”
Another day, another Michael Franzese post. But bare with me, please. Despite the Petroleum Don churning out content on a weekly basis, I’m more starved than ever for real Mafia stories. Readers of my earliest post know that this initial feeling led me to buy his updated biography Blood Covenant published in 2002, and how unsatisfied I felt after finishing it. Well, I figured I would try my luck again, but this time I would read his first-ever book, Quitting the Mob published in 1992. I thought if I read something that was written closer to the time of the events described, it would feel more real, more raw and capture the essence of Michael Franzese and the Mafia life. Flawed logic, I fear. By and large, this is as sanitized a product as anything Michael puts out today. Sure, it’s a little bit better than Blood Covenant, but that’s not saying much. After two books, I still don’t know who the real Michael Franzese is, just the character he puts on. If you were going to buy a book written by the “Yuppie Don”, I would suggest grabbing this book rather than his updated biography. And for all the naysayers out there who think he has nothing else to say, I also wanted to use this as an opportunity to showcase how many stories he can still discuss (without getting into murders and such). In any event, I would like to break down my thoughts into: The Good, The Bad, and I Need More.
Quitting the Mob offered readers a glimpse into the mind of one of the smartest mobsters of all time. Few can deny Michael’s brilliance, he ran laps around his Mafia peers, talked his way out of certain doom, and conned the Government into giving him a sweetheart deal. No wonder the younger Franzese was so infatuated with Cammy Garcia, Michael has been dancing circles around everyone his entire life. His business mind worked in magical ways, possessing the Midas touch everywhere he went. He forged connections with executives seeking to make an extra buck, took the Colombo Family into new ventures and just seemed to create money out of thin air. Whatever business Michael touched; the money faucets were turned on. Night clubs? Andrew Russo couldn’t believe how much money they were making. Flee markets? Tens of thousands of dollars to be made shylocking to produce sellers and knick-knack peddlers. Construction? Two million in general contracting profits over a couple of years for just keeping the unions out. Dealerships? Restaurants? Labor Racketeering? Automotive Leasing? Insurance fraud? Fraudulent bonds? Gasoline? When it was all said and done, government sources indicated Michael had between $200mn and $400mn buried away in deserts and foreign bank accounts. The mob? Suckered. The Family bosses in Brooklyn were not receiving the 20% share they were promised. The government? Played like a fiddle. He paid the Marshal Services with phoney cheques while strolling the streets of Los Angeles like a Hollywood celebrity. His staggering restitution was negotiated down to a pitiful amount. Yet after getting out of prison, he moved into a three-million-dollar mansion. How strange? Suffolk County district attorney Ray Jermyn said it best, “ The government was suckered just like he suckers everybody else. The guy’s amazing. Everybody loves him. He smiles, steals them blind, and everybody still loves him.” This book offered us a window into the mind of a brilliant thief, his thought process and differentiated business acumen.
Dary Matera made for a welcome addition to the book, serving as Michael’s co-author to balance out the latter’s often one-sided take. He is a good writer who added a bit of finesse and made Michael’s world feel more alive and interconnected to the broader New York scene. Dary served two crucial roles that in my opinion elevated this book above Michael’s solo effort. One, he added much-needed scepticism to Franzese’s claims and provided readers with a more balanced assessment of situations so we could come to our own conclusions. Take for instance Joey Laezza’s convenient death. When the middleman was suspected of being an informant, Joey suffered a gruesome death at the hands of Michael’s goon. Dary paints a grisly portrait of the horrible violence that was inflected upon the poor man and questioned the Peaceful Don and his supposed adherence to non-violence. Secondly, the book contained more unflattering and truthful stories that chipped away at Michael’s well-crafted coating. When I came across the part discussing Michael’s encounter with singer Michelle Celli, I was confused since I didn’t remember the story from Blood Covenant. Turns out it was for good reason; this was the first major deviation from his more sanitized effort. Michael, bored with this plain fiancé Maria, struck a love affair with the passionate singer. When he was caught being unfaithful, he vehemently denied it took place. A Franzese and cheating? Who would have thought? Or how about Michael’s debauchery in Las Vegas with “Champagne” Larry? This rather colorful story stripped away at Michael’s carefully crafted image of pretending to be a “businessman”. The Yuppie Don was just an education thief and he loved to steal. He took pleasure in pilfering various organizations and corporations. Despite making millions in the gasoline racket, he was ripping off the Sand Dunes Hotel fifteen thousand dollars at a time through credit right-offs and fraudulent airline tickets. Just a well-dressed hoodlum. Dary also kept Michael’s preachiness to a tolerable minimum, sparing readers the agony of slogging through theology 101.
I was surprised to see that Disney didn’t publish this book because it might as well have been. Readers were offered a mostly romanticised version of the mob. The crimes are victimless, narcotics trafficking is forbidden, and violence is internally contained. All that was expected, and as such, the biggest disappointment to me was that if you read Blood Covenant you already read this book too. Shilling out an additional thirty dollars to re-read what you already know would not be something I’d recommend. The Cammy chapters arrived way too quickly and served as an unpleasant reminder that I got duped into buying a Mafia book containing hardly any Mafia stories (for the second time). The mob anecdotes that are present are carefully curated to showcase one thing: Michael was not like other mobsters in every sense of the word. He did not agree with what La Cosa Nostra stood for, felt queasy about the violence and treachery, opposed committing crimes against the “little guy”, and was wiser than his street-raised peers. Michael never had his heart set on being part of the Mafia. Right after his making ceremony, he was filled with doubts about “the life” and whether it was the right decision to join the Colombo Crime Family. I wonder if the Christian Don felt the same when he served as the get-a-way driver for “Scotty” Americo’s murder alongside mob pals Jimmy Angelino and Sal Miciotta. Unlike Larry Iorizzo and Michael Markowitz, Michael mostly resisted the hedonism that came along with possessing large quantities of money. He was of “strong moral character” even as a mob captain. Unlike his contemporary, Joseph Galizia, Michael was too smart to get caught on a bug. He was as gentle and as fair as the Mafia code permitted him to be. This is a criticism that I pointed out in Underboss about Sammy Gravano, but Michael is just as guilty of it. If Sammy was the hero of his story, Michael was a victim of his circumstance.
Michael’s romanticization of himself is almost equally matched by his nostalgia for his father. Or at least the person he dreamed his father was. The elder Franzese was a bundle of joy, he was fair to his associates, generous with his friends and loyal to “the life”. A perfect mobster. And he was hip to be square. Using his sixth sense to see where the music business was going, John embraced rock and roll like no Mafioso before him with his support for Buddha Records. He famously frightened Moe Levy and his feared backer DeCavalcante Crime Family soldier “Tommy” Vastola as a no-string attached favour to his friends. It is quite heartbreaking to read about Michael’s relationship with his dad and the clear unreciprocated love. But with the High-Octane racketeer, things aren’t what they seem to be. I think there is a purpose for the shine Michael puts on “Sonny” Franzese and it’s because he served as his scapegoat, someone he could blame for everything. By making “Sonny” the primary motivation for his pursuit of the mob, Michael subconsciously offloaded the guilt of the crimes committed during his tenure in the mob on John Sr. By painting him as such a magnetic force, who could blame Michael and his choices? At the end of the book, Tina’s shocking revelation about Michael’s parenthood implied he would have never joined La Cosa Nostra if he knew John Franzese Sr. was his real father all that time. In a way, everything bad that Michael has ever done was his dad’s fault. The elder Franzese took on Michael’s guilt and Jesus washed away his sins. Once again, Michael Franzese walked away scot-free and with a clean conscience.
I Need More
What’s missing? Well for one, actual Mafia anecdotes. The book so narrowly focused on Michael’s journey of love and redemption from the evil lifestyle he was forced to pursue, that it forgot to include stories that made that world feel alive. The tales that are included are G-rated at best to further perpetuate the “Gentle Don” image he likes to cultivate. Does anyone know if Angelo Bruno paid Michael a licensing fee to use that nickname? I poured through countless hours of Michael Franzese’s videos and articles to find the missing stories from his book that I would find interesting. From what I can tell, Michael gravitated towards the Genovese Crime Family and did a lot of business with them. When Michael’s name was going around New York to see if anyone objected to his upcoming induction into the Colombo Crime Family, Pasquale Marchiola, a Genovese soldier tried to claim the “Yuppie Don” as his recruit. What were the circumstances of that relationship? Michael’s only other mob partner in the gasoline business was Joseph Galizia, another Genovese soldier with close ties to the Chin. Yet Michael glossed over that partnership, only mentioning the cigar-chomping mobster twice in his book. Daniel Pagano, yet another Genovese caporegime getting acquainted in the Texan ways, was involved with Michael’s failed forays into boxing. Yet he is conspicuously missing from the book. When Vincent Gigante called upon Michael several times, he sent “Fritzy” Giovanelli to carry his messages. None of that is in the book. Why? What about one-time Acting Boss Matty “the Horse” Ianniello? Apparently, Michael has a story with him involving Las Vegas. Or how about the Czar of gambling, Jimmy Napoli? The Long Island Don has stories to share about him as well. So many stories, so much Mafia lore, yet our time is wasted with Jimmy Hoffa conspiracy theories? And this is just the Genovese Crime Family! There is so much more to tell.
What about the other families? Despite Michael’s seemingly benign nature, he sure liked to hang out with violent Bonanno members. He was well acquainted with Bonanno skippers Anthony “Bruno” Indelicato and “Tony” Mirra. Despite being certified killers, Michael called them good guys and enjoyed their company. In fact, Michael has a story about Bruno’s restaurant. Crickets on that though… What about the DeCavalcante Crime Family? Michael was extremely good friends with John Riggi, North Jersey’s crime boss, and was involved with him in several business operations. They levied a tax on windows going into Manhattan to be installed in office buildings. How did the scam work and how was it set up? Was this done as part of the wider ‘Windows Case’ scheme or a separate operation? What union locals did they control to achieve this? Silence. Michael viewed John so highly he told the Government he would commit perjury in court if he was called upon to testify against his friend. Speaking of construction, how was Michael’s relationship like with Ralph “the Cement Guy” Scopo given Michael was the general contractor for several co-op buildings? We all know Michael acted as his own investment banker, orchestrating several acquisitions to roll up the illegal gasoline bootlegging industry. Where others rolled over and allowed themselves to be swallowed up by Michael’s greed, one person stood up to the tyranny of Colombo extortion… only to be extorted by the Luchese Crime Family instead. Marat Balagula ran to Lucchese Consigliere “Christie Tick” for protection and that’s how the infamous “Gaspipe” Casso came into the gasoline racket. Well, Michael said he had several run-ins with him, where are those stories? In fact, how badly was he treating Marat that he had to run to others for protection? How did Vic Orena Sr. get into the gas business? Questions upon questions upon questions. Then there is the curious case of the missing prison stories. Michael was bunkmates with international heroin kingpin Rosario Gambino, a key member of the Cherryhill Gambino crew. What did they chat about? Akin to one time Boss of the Lupertazzi Crime Family, Phil Leotardo, Michael has made several disparaging remarks about the Los Angeles Crime Family, calling them a glorified crew. So what did Michael talk about with Peter Milano, L.A. Crew Boss, when they were walking the track all those years? Who knows because Michael is radio silent on this and many other topics.
Hey Michael, how about you write a real Mafia book, instead of giving us political commentary?
Next time, we will talk about the book that started it all, The Valachi Papers written by Peter Maas.
Fun Fact: Michael Franzese and John Gotti almost became ‘Eskimo Brothers’.