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An Interview with Former Mobster, Michael Franzese

A New Beginning / Greg Laurie
The Truth Network Radio
June 15, 2024 3:00 am

An Interview with Former Mobster, Michael Franzese

A New Beginning / Greg Laurie

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June 15, 2024 3:00 am

In this classic interview, Pastor Greg Laurie interviews former Colombo family underboss Michael Franzese about his testimony of coming to faith in Christ. 

In his past life, Michael was one of the richest and most powerful mobsters of his day, earning tens of millions of dollars from various criminal enterprises, but this is not the most incredible thing about Michael Franzese. By God’s grace, the impossible happened in Michael’s life: he quit the mob and lived. Christ transformed him from hardened criminal to follower of Christ. 

This is an amazing and encouraging story giving hope that no one is beyond Christ and His transformative power. 

This interview previously aired exclusively on A New Beginning radio.

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Hey everybody, Greg Laurie here. You're listening to the Greg Laurie Podcast and my objective is to deliver hopefully compelling practical insights in faith, culture, and current events from a biblical perspective.

To find out more about our ministry, just go to our website harvest.org. So thanks for joining me for this podcast. Sitting next to me is Michael, who's become a good friend. And you know, of all the stories and testimonies I've heard over the years, I've never heard one quite like this. I mean, I've heard of guys coming out of a life of crime. I've heard of guys coming out of gangs. I've heard of people coming out of drug addiction. But I've never spoken to a person that was a made man, i.e.

a good fella. And sometimes when we talk about the mob, we call it the mafia, but the mafia is really describing more the Italian arm of organized crime, or am I wrong in that? No, the mafia really exists in Italy. In America it's called La Cosa Nostra.

It means this thing of ours. And there's similar organizations, but if you're a made man in Italy, you're not automatically made in America. Define a made man.

Made man means you're proposed into the family. You take a blood oath and you commit your life to La Cosa Nostra or the mafia. And you took that blood oath.

I did. So this life of crime, which can appear so glamorous because of movies like The Godfather or Goodfellas and others that make it look like such an appealing life, even the young men today, you had that initial excitement and you were making millions and millions of dollars. You were what they called in the mob and earner, correct? Correct. I was totally exhilarated the night I took the oath.

It was Halloween night, 1975. And, you know, just wanted to be a made guy. And I started out as a soldier, rose to the position of Caporegime or Capo, which is very powerful position in that life. So in the kind of the organized structure of a family, you have the Don, who we might think of as the Godfather. The boss, right? The boss.

Okay. And then we have the what? Underboss.

The underboss. And then we have the captain. Well, you have a consigliere, who is the advisor, allegedly to Robert Duvall and the Godfather. Correct. He was fictional.

Yes. Because he wasn't Italian. You have to be Italian to be in that life. Oh, really?

Your father has to be Italian. So you're fourth in command effectively? Correct. And then are you going to move up the ranks depending on if the boss is killed or something happens? Is that sort of the road to getting to the top in that structure? Yes. Normally every boss was a Caporegime first. Yes. So you reach the level of Capo, your next position really could be the boss. So you're a made man. You're a Caporegime. Is that how you say it? Correct.

Okay. But you're making millions of dollars. You're becoming very successful. And actually, that becomes problematic, because when you're too successful, now you are a potential threat to some of the other members of your family, or maybe even to other families, right? Double-edged sword, Greg. When you start to gain that power and that recognition, people in your own life start to look at you, because it's a treacherous life.

People are always looking for power and control. And then, of course, you have a bullseye on your back from the government, and I had it both ways. So you were eventually arrested. And what were you arrested for? I was indicted several times, twice, two federal racketeering cases, a RICO statute, and very serious. Rudy Giuliani was the first to indict me and went through a very lengthy trial. And fortunately, I was acquitted in the Giuliani case. And he had told me if he convicted me, he was going to give me 100 years.

That's the kind of time they would give a mob guys back in the 80s. But I was acquitted in that case. And then within a year, I was indicted again in the Eastern District of New York for another racketeering case. So you eventually served time in what prison? I was in federal prison. So they really moved me all over the country.

But mainly my time was in Terminal Island, California, and then Lompoc, California. And one of the big things that can happen when you are arrested is you're going to give evidence to the authorities so you can reduce your sentence or maybe get in a relocation program. But you never, as they say, ratted out anybody, did you? No, the government put a lot of pressure on me. They wanted me to turn, become an informant, because they knew that I was trying to make an exit from that life.

It wasn't what I was interested in doing. How much time did you serve in prison? About eight years. Eight years. So when you were in prison, they put you in solitary confinement that you describe as the whole, right?

Right. Tell us what it's like in the whole. How big is that room? What is it like in a typical day to be in a place like that? Well, in the federal system, it's a six by eight cell, and you're there 24-7.

They let you out maybe five hours a week to take a shower and maybe hit the yard. And it's you and four walls. And really, that's it.

So here you were at the top of your game. The media described you as the prince of the mafia, the yuppie don, making all this money, now you're arrested. Now you're in solitary confinement in this small cell called the whole. And there was a guard that did something significant for you when you were in the whole.

Tell us about that. Yeah, what happened to me, Greg, that was my second stint in prison. I had done five years, was out 13 months, and then they re-arrested me and said they were going to put me away for the rest of my life. So that first night in that cell, I can't even describe emotionally just how I hit bottom.

I mean, and it wasn't so much being in the cell, because I'd been there before. But it was the loss of everything, my wife, my children, my freedom, everything that was dear to me. We didn't mention that you were married at this point. And how many children did you have?

Married with, with three children at that point. Yeah. And so I just thought it was all over 37 years old, I'm losing everything, it was done. And, you know, I was laying on the cell. And you know, I say this, at one time, I was, I would demean people that were suicidal, I would call them weak. And that night, I wasn't suicidal, but my heart hurt so much, I wanted to close my eyes and never wake up.

It was too painful to think, that's the kind of condition I was in. And a prison guard walked by my cell and put a Bible, pushed it through the slide on the door, it fell on the floor. And that's when I started to have my encounter with the Lord. Had you ever read the Bible before?

Never. Where did you start? I, coincidentally, I would say, I opened it up to the book of Proverbs. And I saw a verse there that as I started reading, I was impressed by the brilliance of Solomon, because I'm kind of an analytical type of guy. And I thought it was a brilliant book. And then I came to a verse that just kind of stopped me cold.

Which was it? It was Proverbs 16, seven, says, when a man's ways are pleasing to the Lord, even his enemies are at peace with him. And I think we've got a lot of enemies. I had nothing but enemies.

I had the government, I had people on my own side. And it really just stopped me. And it said, well, my ways haven't been pleasing to the Lord.

I'm a sinner and a bad guy. And it just motivated to me to read on a little bit more. And I just kept reading that night. And God had an impact. It was the first time that he spoke to my heart that I listened. When did you make a commitment to follow Jesus Christ? You know, prior to coming in, prior to that night, I had made a commitment, because my mother-in-law and my wife were both strong Christians, had me accept Christ. But quite honestly, it was self-serving. I wanted my sins forgiven.

I had one foot in and one foot out. It was more self-serving than anything else. But it was during that time... Excuse me for interrupting. Is that when your mother-in-law said that she felt God was going to use you to preach to people all around the world?

Yes. So here you are just brand new in your faith, not even totally committed, and yet she makes a prediction that ends up coming true. Yeah, she was... I thought she was insane when she made that statement. I looked at my wife and I said, you know, what's your mother on?

But she saw something. She was a very godly woman. And during that time in the cell, as I started to read more about Jesus and focused on Jesus, I was just so impressed with his manhood more than anything else at that point. And he gradually brought me along, and I really accepted him. That's interesting, his manhood. So you're a man's man, no question about that. But what about the manhood of Christ impressed you?

What do you mean by that? Well, you know, growing up in that life, all I was ever told is that I had to be a man's man. That was the standard I had to live up to in life. And so I looked up to a lot of guys, my father, the bosses of some of the families, that they were men's men. And so coming to Christ, for some reason, I always had a wimpy impression of him.

I don't know why, I just did. Well, religious art portrays him as sort of this scrawny, anemic guy. Yeah, like he wasn't a real tough guy or a man. And so I separated his deity from his manhood, and I started to just focus on his character as a man. And I was just so impressed with his wisdom, the way he conducted himself, the way others followed him, the strength he had during the Passion.

And he really turned me on in that way. Well, speaking of the Passion of the Christ, Michael, you have a film that's coming out. In fact, it was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. It's a powerful film. I've seen the early part of it.

I've been privileged to have a small part in it myself talking about your amazing life. But you gave a great part of your film to showing what Jesus suffered. You have a crucifixion scene. It was shot very professionally.

It's very moving. And you tie that in to your own story. So this is a very important aspect of the Gospel to you, the manhood and the suffering of Jesus, isn't it? Yeah, and I try to let men understand that, you know, following Jesus, you're following the greatest man that ever walked the face of the earth in every way.

And the way we filmed it, we filmed it in a way to show how this man, Jesus, the man Jesus had an impact on this ex mob guy and how he can have an impact on any man. So there's a man listening right now. And he's thinking, I don't need this religion. I don't need Jesus Christ.

That's good for other people. What would you say to that guy that thinks he doesn't need God? Well, you know, I never impose my faith or anybody or try to turn anyone into a Christian. Great.

That's not what I do. But I really encourage people to look at Jesus, the man, and understand how he was a dynamic person in every way. And of course, him being our Savior, I can only say that for 15 years of my life, where he's brought me from to where I am now, I attribute that all to my faith in him, no doubt. He was fully God and he was fully man. He went to the cross.

He died for our sin. He rose again from the dead and he changed the life of Michael Franzese. When you were in the home, Michael, you were able to receive our radio program.

And since we're listening on radio right now, I thought it would really be helpful for our listeners to see how God has used this program to reach the most unexpected people in the most unexpected places. Tell us a little bit about the impact of A New Beginning when you were in solitary. Well, I stood in that hole. They kept me in there for 29 months and seven days. And you count the days when you're in there. And I've been given a Sony Walkman.

That's one of the few items you're allowed to have. So what year was this? This was in 91.

Yeah. And I started, I never heard of you, Greg, honestly. And I started listening to your radio show. And I tell people, you can't imagine the impact that you had on me. That's why I was so encouraged to meet you when I finally came out. Because your interpretation of the Bible, I tell people, it's not only reading the Bible, but those that are blessed like yourself to be able to interpret the Bible and let it come to life and really have meaning for me. And I can honestly say you did more for me in that hole than anybody else.

Because you made what I was reading come alive and you put substance to it. And it just helped me so much for three years. Wow.

Praise the Lord. You know, I first heard about Michael. He spoke at a church in the area and someone said, yeah, there's this guy who used to be a mobster. And he talked about listening to your radio program and he wants to meet you. And I'm thinking, ah, that's a little apprehensive at first. And I, you know, because I can't understand why. And I was thinking, is this real?

Is this guy legit? I mean, how could you be a mobster and be out talking about it? It seems like most of these guys that were involved with organized crime are either serving time or they're gone. They've been whacked, as they say.

But you're out. And as I got to understand your story, how you served time, I realized what God had done in your life. But I'll tell you, when I first met Michael, like three minutes after talking to him, I thought, this guy's legit.

This guy's the real deal. And this is a radical conversion, one of the most amazing conversions I've ever heard of. I would compare it to the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the Christian killer, a man renowned for his hatred of believers who meets Christ on the Damascus road.

And effectively, that's what's happened to Michael Franzese. And listen, if God can reach Michael, God can reach anybody. I don't care what they've done.

I don't care what sins they've committed, what crimes they've committed. It all can be forgiven because of the death of Jesus Christ, as Michael described him, the man's man on the cross. You know, Pastor Greg, today we're sort of completing a circle. You know, your teaching helped change someone's life a number of years ago, a prisoner at the time. And then he's gone on to have a successful ministry of his own and has written a book that we're making available to our listeners so that these other people will see their lives changed. It's a big circle that God has completed today.

Yes, it's a circle, and it's a fulfillment of Michael's mother-in-law's prophecy, if you will, her prediction that he would reach people all around the world because he's doing that. Michael, you travel all around the country speaking and all kinds of things, don't you? You speak in prisons too, right?

Speaking prisons. And, you know, just to add something to this book, I really put my heart in this book because I believe that anybody is really struggling and really needs encouragement. I kind of show them what I went through and how the Lord basically just pulled me out of this mess. And, you know, something I want to mention that's important, when I left the life in 1995, everybody, and I mean everybody, the media, the government, guys on the street all predicted my death because you don't walk away from that life publicly like I did without entering a program or something like that and live to tell about it. And it's been predicted all over that I would never make it. And I didn't know myself how it was going to go because I don't ever sell short the guys from my former life.

And they put a contract on me and my father disowned me. I mean, it was a bad time that we had, but the Lord has taken me all through this and I put my faith in him and I used what resources he gave me to survive this. So, you know, people should understand no matter what problem you're in in your life, no matter how far you think you've sunk or how, you know, sinful you think you might be, the Lord can change all of that. And hopefully I'm an example of that.

Well, you are absolutely an example of that. Michael, if you would, you know, these broadcasts, these New Beginning broadcasts, reach a lot of prisoners. We hear from so many of them. And there's somebody right now listening to us, and they're identifying with you.

Maybe you could speak to them in the position that they're in and let them know, reassure them that God can meet them right where they are. Yes, and this book that I wrote, I really had a heart for inmates, understanding what they go through, not only on a daily basis, but on an hourly basis, in there to survive and to get through it emotionally, physically, and everything else. And all I can say is that I was there. I had reached the bottom.

I understand how horrible it could be. But in the three years that I spent in a hole, I actually had joy in reading my Bible and reading and realizing what God can do and what He ultimately did do for us. So I tell people, don't run away from God. You know, run towards Him, because He will lift you up when you're in your worst position there.

And at some point in time, He does have a plan and a purpose for you, and it will work out. And I can say this. I've been in some hardcore prisons where guys will be in there for the rest of their lives, and those that have accepted Christ have a joy in them that just blew me away. I mean, they were doing life.

They were never coming home. But they were at peace. They had joy.

They went about their business, and they seemed to be happy with the knowledge that God has their back, so to speak. I'm sure there's somebody listening to you right now who thinks that they just have too much baggage for the Lord to forgive them. They're thinking, yeah, yeah, yeah, but you don't know what I've done.

Speak to them in the situation that they're in. Well, I can only say that at some point in time, just about anywhere I go, I was the worst person in the room. I mean, I was hardcore mob guy. This was my life.

I hated the government, hated police. And I was that kind of guy, did what I had to do in that life. And you don't do good things all the time.

And if God can save me, not only save me, but give me my life, my freedom, a wife that I adore, children I love, and a ministry that I never asked for. If He can do this for me, then He can and will do it for anyone. You know, I often hear in the movies mob guys talking about how their wives are saints. And all that you've been through, I have to say, your wife must be a saint. Well, if she's listening, I'll be in trouble tonight by saying yes, because she'll want more out of me. But yeah, you know, she was a blessing. I always tell her, you were a plant. God put you in my life. And she says, you're darn right.

But she's been amazing. You know, just how she held me up in prayer. And stood by you for all that time. Stood by me. And you know, she will tell you, we had some tremendous struggles in our marriage. You don't go through what we went through.

Eight years in prison, death threats. I mean, they even at one point arrested her to try to get to me to have me take a plea and cooperate with them. And she will tell you that as much as she loves me, if God wasn't in the foundation of our marriage, we wouldn't have made it through. And I love the Lord for that, because I love this woman.

And we've been together 29 years and four children now, and we're still going strong, I think. And she was the first Christian that you had actually met, isn't that correct? Yeah, I never met a Christian before her. And she was a 20-year-old girl, and her faith impressed me. And she, you know, talked to me about it. I wasn't buying into her faith, but I respected her, and eventually God got to me through her. Well, what a story, huh, Pastor Greg?

It really is. And I'm thinking of ladies out there right now that maybe are in a tough marriage, and they're wondering if they can get through it. And hey, is your husband serving time in prison? I mean, there's a TV show called Mob Wives. I don't think any—I've never seen it, but I don't think any of them are actually mob wives.

But Cammie, Michael's wife, was a mob wife, and she kept loving her husband, and look what happened. So I'd say to you ladies out there in marriages with guys that aren't totally walking with the Lord right now, don't give up, because look what God did for Michael and Camilla. Well, I just have one final question, Michael, before we wrap up, and our time is just about gone. By having you on the program today, does that mean that Pastor Greg and I are about to get whacked? No, actually, I'm about to give you the oath, and you're going to be Amiga Nostra, friends of ours.

How's that? We're in a new mob, and God's the Father, and we're out there spreading the gospel. Hey everybody, Greg Laurie here. Thanks for listening to our podcast. And to learn more about Harvest Ministries, please subscribe and consider supporting this show. Just go to harvest.org. And by the way, if you want to find out how to come into a personal relationship with God, go to knowgod.org. That's K-N-O-W-G-O-D.org.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-15 04:11:19 / 2024-06-15 04:20:36 / 9

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