For Michael Franzese, life with the Colombo Mafia family began in 1975 with a knife to his finger â€“â€“ a blood oath that would make the crime family the most important thing in his life.
When he entered the â€œfamilyâ€ he entered a life of violence, gambling and eight to nine million dollars in racketeering money each week.
But in 1987, after making the Colombo family more than $300 million, he sacrificed his lifestyle and connections to the Mafia, plead guilty to racketeering charges, and received a 10-year sentence in federal prison.
Franzese spoke to a full theater at the Lincoln Center on Thursday about why he chose to walk away from the Colombo family and how the change affected his life.
The audience had a mix of students from several CSU Christian groups, friends they had invited and students who were just curious to hear the former Mafia manâ€™s message.
When asked what his message was to students, Franzese said that he felt a responsibility to young people to use his life as an example.
Though he had made poor choices as a young man, he encouraged young people to seek their purpose in life through a relationship with God.
â€œNone of you are here by accident, I can tell you that,â€ Franzese said after he introduced himself to the crowd. â€œIâ€™m here to share a story.â€
Franzese grew up in New York City with seven siblings fathered by John Franzese, a notorious leader in the Colombo crime family who is currently the oldest parolee in the country at 93 years old. While Franzise was never pressured to join the Mafia, he said he easily became a part of the world when he told his father he didnâ€™t want to attend college any more.
Within ten years of his life, Franzese became a Caporegime in the Colombo family, one of the Mafiaâ€™s top positions. He was ranked number 18 on a list of the 50 most wealthy and powerful mafia bosses. Franzese told students that out of that list, 43 bosses have died and three face life in prison.
However, Franzese began to rethink his commitment to the Mafia when he met his wife while producing a movie in Florida.
Camille Garcia, a Christian girl who was a dancer in Franzeseâ€™s film, convinced Franzese to break his oath to the Mafia and confess to the racketeering charges against him after they fell in love.
However, Franzese said he only became a Christian after finally losing connections to his father and the Colombo family.
While Franzese was in prison, an article in Life magazine gave a detailed account of how he had quit the Mafia, a secret he had kept from his father and the Colombo family. Franzese said that he lost all ties to the Colombos as well as the members of his family.
Franzese said that when he had become completely hopeless, a guard slipped a bible throught the slits of his jail cell.
When he opened the book, Franzese said that he was immediately impacted by the passage, which said, â€œWhen a manâ€™s ways are pleasing to the lord, all of his enemies are at peace with him.â€
Franzese said that that quote made him realize the selfishness of his life. He said that it was like God giving him a message.
â€œHere you are, youâ€™re stripped of everything,â€ he said. â€œYouâ€™re either gonna go my way or youâ€™re gonna go the other way.â€
Staff writer David Martinez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org