100-Year-Old Mob Boss Freed From Prison

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Jack Crowe Political Reporter
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John “Sonny” Franzese, the oldest federal prisoner in the country, became a free man Friday at 100 years of age.

Franzese, who ran criminal rackets in Long Island for the Colombo family, was released from the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Mass., shortly before noon Friday. He left the facility with the aid of a walker and was picked up by two men in a white Range Rover who drove him to his daughter’s Brooklyn home, according to Newsday.

The aging mobster was sentenced to eight years in prison at the age of 93 for extorting Penthouse and Hustler strip clubs in New York, only his most recent conviction in a long life of criminal activity.

During the prime of his career in the 1960s, Franzese allegedly had a financial interest in strip clubs, restaurants, record labels and even the popular pornographic film “Deep Throat.” He was also heavily involved in loan sharking and extortion.

He served his longest stint behind bars for refusing to cooperate after being convicted of bank robbery in 1967, electing instead to serve a 50-year sentence. Authorities believe his rap sheet should include a host of other more serious crimes, including the murder of between 50 and 100 people.

At the time of his sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cristina Posa told the sentencing judge, Brian Cogan, that “for him to die now as a criminal in jail is not an inappropriate response to the lifestyle he lived,” according to the NY Post.

Posa added, “He is largely responsible for the glamorization of the Mafia over the past century.”

The Mafia underboss did have a reputation for socializing with New York’s elite, he was often spotted in the company of celebrities like boxing champ Jake LaMotta and Frank Sinatra.

Despite his refusal to cooperate, Franzese was paroled after serving 35 years. He was subsequently arrested six times for parole violations, largely the result of his continued affiliation with organized crime figures.

In addition to his prolific criminal career, Franzese gained notoriety for his adherence to the now discarded Italian code of silence, known as of Omerta.

“I think it’s amazing that he stood up,” Bernard Welsh, a former FBI agent who arrested Franzese several times on parole violations, told Newsday. “He never gave anybody up.”

Former FBI agent Robert Lewicki, who persuaded Sonny’s son John Jr. Franzese to wear a wire against the mob in 2005, also expressed a certain level of grudging respect for Franzese’s adherence to the Mafia’s code of silence.

“He’s one of a kind,” Robert Lewicki, a retired FBI agent told Newsday. “There’s never been a guy like Sonny. There will never be another guy like Sonny, the last of a dying breed.”

Lewicki also pointed out that ironically the longtime gangster may have ended up in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

“It’s an absolute certainty that he committed numerous other crimes, including violent crimes, murder, etcetera,” he said. “He got away with a lot, but he was convicted of something he may or may not have done. It’s also true he’s got bodies under his belt.”

Three of Franzese’s co-defendants, his attorney and the judge who sentenced him in the bank-robbery case are all dead.

Franzese plans to spend the weekend at his daughter’s home surrounded by his family, which includes eight children, 18 grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

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Jack Crowe