Sonny Franzese has passed away. He died this past Sunday, February 23rd, late at night in his sleep. A quiet, serene ending for a man whose life was anything but.
Born February 6, 1917 as Giovanni Carmine Franzese or “Sonny” as he was commonly called by his mom and dad since he was a kid, was a pivotal figure in New York City who will not soon be forgotten.
Side Note: To this day, I truly believe he was born in 1919, not 1917. That he was 101 years old. But that’s a story for another day. Lol.
Federal and local law enforcement, and the various newspapers and tabloids across America knew him as one of the most notorious, powerful, and deadly mafioso to ever walk the streets of New York. Even now, in death, his obituary and life’s exploits are being splashed across the internet and newspapers throughout America.
Sonny was always big news. But his family and close friends knew him as a warm, engaging guy who always made you feel special. He had a friendly, approachable demeanor. A warmth and dry wit humor that belied what was commonly written about him. Whether you were simply a young kid or a seasoned adult, hobo or head of state, he would treat you with a respect and friendliness that immediately endeared you to him.
Side Note: I’m sure there are people out there that will read this and think differently. And maybe take exception to what I’ve written. And I’m sure depending upon how or why you met him, and under what circumstances you have met him, you may understandably think differently. I am not so naive as to think that it was all peaches and cream, so to speak. In his long life, he did many things. So it is, what it is.
His life started back in a little town named Palma, on the outskirts of Naples, in the Campania region of Italy. Mob lore has it that he was actually born on the ship that carried his mother, father, and siblings to America. Regardless, he was a baby when he hit America’s shores.
His large family settled into the Greenpoint/Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, a largely immigrant Italian area back in the early 1900s. His father, Carmina or Carmine, was an early, feared Camorrista, well-known in the neighborhood, who obtensibly owned a bakery and tavern by trade. He was called “Turiddo di Leone” or “Turi the Lion”.
But this story I’ve written is not about his notorious underworld life. Readers can click into the biography I wrote about him for that, and it’s all there….and 100% true!
This dialogue is about the man himself. His personal life. The one that the media and those in law enforcement don’t look at, or care about.
After a failed first marriage that produced three children, he divorced and married an attractive young woman named Tina. Together they would raise seven kids. Sonny’s three kids, a kid Tina had from an earlier marriage, and three they would make together.
They first moved to a small, modest home in Franklin Square on Long Island. And within a few years, by early 1961-62, they relocated to a home more befitting his growing position and success. A beautiful colonial-style home in the prestigious community of Hamilton Park in tony Roslyn.
They would live the “American Dream” in suburbia. But their life was anything but typical. He was under a near constant surveillance and scrutiny by various police agencies, and it understandably took a terrible toll on his fledgling family brood.
Sonny would fall hard by the late 1960s. Having beaten multiple investigations that produced serious indictments against him, the law finally nailed him for arguably the single offense he never committed or had anything to do with. The FBI used a lineup of miscreants, dope fiends, and lowly street urchins. Disreputables, that would make any normal person throw up.
They testified that Sonny did this, and Sonny did that… to save their own hides from federal bank robbery charges. The FBI knew it, but they used them anyway. In fact, the feds and prosecutors are the ones who put the words into their mouths that they spoke in the first place on the witness stand. His was a railroad job. All the way! Sonny was convicted. And that was that! He got 50 years in Leavenworth. Two – 25’s running wild. He would go in to serve only nine of those years (because of old sentencing guidelines). He was released in late 1978, finally hitting the streets and returning to his family, which had been devastated by his nearly decade-long absence.
Many in both law enforcement and the underworld were shocked by his release…. because many thought they’ve never see him again.
But it didn’t matter anyway. Because over the next forty-some odd years, the FBI would make sure to violate him for the smallest of infractions at least six more times. Keystone comical infractions that often defied any sense of decency or fair play…. but nobody was laughing except the FBI and federal prosecutors who gloated and basked in the media glory every time they would violate him.
To be named in the same news article as Sonny Franzese was a surefire career booster for many a Fed. They basically threw the Constitution into the garbage pail where Sonny was concerned. He would end up serving over 40 years in various prisons in total. And his family would be torn apart in more ways than can be imagined, or I care to describe here in this article.
He always kept his chin up. He had way too much pride to ever admit defeat or acknowledge the pain of it all.
I imagine Sonny is up there right now, talking to God and Jesus, trying to explain what’s what. And why he lived his life the way he did…. But that’s between him and his creator. It’ll unquestionably be the most important “sit-down” he ever had in his life… or death, as it were!
And to be sure, Sonny was great at sit-downs. He had honed his mafioso skills through the decades and knew the rules of this life better than nearly anyone. But the rules of “The Life” are a bit different from the rules of life. So, I imagine he may get a bit uncharacteristically tongue-tied this time around. It’s not for any of us mere mortals to cast dispersions or make judgements about anyone’s actions in their lives, whether it be a Sonny Franzese or anyone else. For as the Bible says, “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone”!
If he should get lucky and “win” the table, maybe they’ll give him his old regime back…. he was the last of his crew to pass on, so he’s got “all the boys” hanging around up there waiting for him.
I imagine they’ve got a game of Ziganette going already, and a hot pot of Espresso is steaming….at that big “members only” private social club up in the sky.
“Angels with Dirty Faces” to be sure…. with names like Little Joey, Tony the Gawk, Johnny Irish, Jojo, Charley Monk, Freddy Red, Tutti, Larry Baccala, Bobby Green, Black Sam, Frankie Camp, Mimi, Philly Cigars, Big Funzi, Whitey, Red, Nufio, Big Jerry, and a whole bunch more.
They were a bunch of guys more colorful than any characters Damon Runyon could have ever dreamt up. Neighborhood kids who had banded together to try and become something more than what the cards of a harsh life had dealt them. Depression-era children who had seen themselves born into a poverty reserved for few.
God bless him, and may God have great mercy on all their souls!
…. a buono anmo!
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