"I have a sentimental weakness for my children, and I spoil them, as you can see."
- Don Corleone, "The Godfather"
Even grizzled old mobsters like legendary Colombo capo John "Sonny" Franzese find such sentiment hard to avoid. Franzese learned that lesson one more time last week when he was arrested on a parole violation charge for consorting with his old hoodlum pals.
The FBI's key informer in the case, Gang Land has learned, was a source very close to the 90-year old mobster: his son, John Franzese Jr., a drug-addled ne'er-do-well who has been in and out of rehab, and last year wore a wire for the FBI against his father and others, sources say.
The parole violation was the elder Franzese's fifth such arrest in 25 years, and the old-line gangster took the pinch in stride. But he should have known better.
Gang Land reported back in 2002 that Franzese Jr. had been responsible for his father's fourth parole violation arrest when he told the FBI that Sonny Franzese would be meeting a few underlings for conversation and coffee at a Starbucks in Greenvale, L.I. At the time, we wrote that the younger Franzese had become an informer to escape drug charges and help his mother, Tina, evade credit card fraud charges.
Incredibly, Sonny Franzese permitted Franzese Jr. back into his inner circle. He did so, one source said, after his son tearfully denied the allegation.
"He came home and cried his eyes out saying, ‘I would never do that, no matter what kind of trouble I had,'" the source said. "Sonny believed him."
This time, it's more than just the father who is in trouble. The aged gangster so faces possible retribution from wiseguy cronies for sharing mob secrets with his son.
Among those caught on the younger Franzese's tapes, sources say, were Colombo soldier Frank "Frankie Camp" Campione, a close, loyal pal of the elder Franzese. Campione's last prison stretch was for violating supervised release conditions, which replaced the parole system for crimes committed after 1987.
John Franzese Jr., 38, was taken off the streets and given a new identity in the federal Witness Protection Program last September, sources said.
Before he disappeared, however, the son also told an FBI squad that focuses on mob activities on Long Island about meetings his father was allegedly having with wiseguys from other families. The meetings took place after Sonny Franzese's release from prison in early 2004, according to law enforcement and other sources, including court records.
"The case against Sonny is the tip of the iceberg," one knowledgeable source said.
"A bunch of people are going to go down," another source familiar with the case said.
As he had the last time, Franzese Jr. "informed on his father to help his mother out of a jam," a source said, declining to elaborate.
The Franzese family's problems are of a magnitude that would keep Tony Soprano's shrink, Dr. Melfi, busy for years.
For one thing, Franzese Jr. isn't the only Franzese son to "go bad," in mob parlance.
Son Michael Franzese, a capo who earned millions of dollars in a so-called bootleg gas racket, quit the mob 20 years ago. Today, he makes a living preaching against his old ways.
Unlike his brother John, Michael Franzese, whose good looks and moneymaking talents earned him the moniker "The Yuppie Don" during his heyday, never gave up his old man and he never testified against any of his old mob cronies.
And, because Sonny and Tina Franzese reside together in Northport, L.I., but are essentially estranged, an acquaintance of both said: "When they need to have a discussion she calls Michael and he calls his father — and they go back and forth through him."
But even if Franzese wasn't talking to his wife, he was allegedly talking up a storm with his mob pals. After his 2004 release from prison, he met with high-level wiseguys from other families, according to a tape-recorded discussion between turncoat Bonanno boss Joseph Massino and his acting boss Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano.
Basciano reported that the Colombo family's "street" boss, Thomas "Tommy Shots" Gioelli, formally introduced Franzese to Bonanno capo Nicholas Santora during a "sit-down" to resolve a dispute between the families. "Nicky met him as underboss," Basciano said.
Sources say Gioelli, 54, of Farmingdale, L.I., as well as other wiseguys and associates spotted at meetings with Franzese at a number of Long Island eateries, are targets of a continuing investigation.
An FBI spokesman, Jim Margolin, confirmed that Franzese's parole violation charge stemmed from FBI surveillance, but declined to discuss other aspects of the probe, which sources say is now the focus of a grand jury investigation being conducted by two federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, Deborah Mayer and Thomas Seigel.
Ms. Mayer and Mr. Seigel, who are slated to prosecute acting Colombo boss Alphonse Persico later this year in a retrial on a racketeering and murder indictment, declined to comment about the Franzese investigation.
Law enforcement sources say the parole violation charge — it is not publicly filed — stems from an hour-long get-together that Franzese had with Colombo family cohorts at Marzullo Pastry Shop & Café in New Hyde Park, L.I., in 2005.
Since 1970, when he was incarcerated for a 1967 bank robbery conviction, Franzese has spent about 12 years outside of prison. He faces about three years if convicted of the new violation, according to a Parole Commission spokesman. Originally sentenced to 50 years, Franzese will remain on parole until 2020 — when he is 103.
Franzese was arrested at the Central Islip office of the U.S. Department of Probation and Parole by the FBI two days after he was summoned by his parole officer for an unscheduled meeting there, according to spokesmen for both agencies.
It's hard to believe that Franzese didn't see the arrest coming, but several knowledgeable sources say he didn't, not until he saw Special Agent Robert Lewicki, who had nailed him for parole violations two previous times (1996 and 2002), standing alongside his parole officer.
Michael Franzese, who has had contact with his father recently, wasn't surprised by his old man's inability to pick up that being called in for a special meeting likely meant another stay behind bars. He told Gang Land his father was a mere shell of his old self and no longer a high-ranked gangster.
"It's sad, but over the last several months, he's gotten old," Michael Franzese said. "He's still nobody's fool. But in the last year or so, he's really aged a lot. He has a touch of prostate cancer and other ills. It's sad to know that he has to go through this."
Michael Franzese also backed up his father on another longstanding dispute he's had with the federal prison system over the years — his age.
"He's 88, not 90," he told Gang Land, before adding a punch line based on the fact that while growing up, he believed he was Franzese's stepson, and learned only after writing a book about his life that Sonny Franzese was his biological father.
"He was born February 6, 1919, unless he threw everybody off on that too," the son cracked.
According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, he did. The agency, which has had a pretty close relationship with him for four decades, says he was born on February 6, 1917.
This column and other news of organized crime will be available today at ganglandnews.com.