An elderly gangster who struggled to stay awake while his turncoat son testified against him at his racketeering trial was convicted on Wednesday of charges that he shook down New York strip clubs and a pizzeria.
A jury in Brooklyn federal court found 93-year-old John “Sonny” Franzese — reputed underboss of the Colombo organized crime family and one-time acquaintance of Frank Sinatra — and three co-defendants guilty on its fifth day of deliberations.
Franzese, who had been out on bail, was jailed after the verdict was announced. Prosecutors say he faces up to 20 years in prison.
At trial, prosecutors used John Franzese Jr, a former Colombo associate-turned-paid informant, to help convince jurors that his father’s frail appearance was deceiving. The defendant briefly dozed off on the first of his son’s three days on the witness stand.
“I’m not talking about my father as a man,” Franzese Jr testified. “I’m talking about the life he chose ... This life absorbs you. You only see one way.”
The 50-year-old son testified that he tried to follow in the footsteps of his father, who used him to pass messages to other mobsters, but after developing a crack cocaine addiction, he said he sought “to make up for what I had done in my life” by becoming a government witness.
The jury also heard secretly recorded conversations of the elder Franzese coaching his son and a Colombo captain on how to handle an extortion victim:
“If he don’t give it to you, leave him on the floor,” he said.
Defense lawyer Richard Lind had argued that his client, dubbed the “Nod Father” by the Daily News, hadn’t been a threat since “the age of Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson and maybe the age of George Washington.”
In his heyday, Franzese was a regular at the Copacabana nightclub, where he mixed with Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. He also had a stake in the classic porn film Deep Throat.
Franzese was convicted in 1967 in a bank robbery, sent to prison and paroled in the late 1970s. Though never convicted of another crime, authorities say he rose to second-in-command of the Colombos, one of the city’s five Italian crime families.
He also kept meeting with mob associates in restaurants and other public places — a habit that violated his parole and landed him in prison multiple times. In 2008, he was arrested on a racketeering indictment and later freed on US$1 million bail.
Before the conviction, Frazese had told reporters outside court he was unfazed by the prospect of returning to prison.
“Who cares?” he said. “I gotta die someplace.”
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