Notorious “Mafia Prince” Michael Franzese ‘betrayed’ his crime family to become a motivational speaker
In a dimly lit room on Halloween night, 1975, Michael Franzese and five other men take the blood oath required to join the Colombo crime family, having proved themselves worthy over 18 months.
Walking down the aisle Michael holds out his hand to the boss, who slices his inductee's finger with a knife and places a photo of a venerated saint into his cupped hands before setting it alight.
"Tonight, Michael Franzese, you are born again into a new life," the boss says.
"Violate what you know about this life, betray your brothers, and you'll die and burn in hell like the saint is burning in your hands."
At his most affluent Michael was generating an estimated $5 to $8 million per week from legal and illegal businesses.
He was one of the biggest money earners the mob had seen since Al Capone.
"I was succeeding pretty well in that life," he explains.
"I was very motivated to make money. It was never on my radar screen, ever, ever, to walk away from that life."
As the son of the Underboss of New York's violent and feared Colombo crime family, it seemed almost unavoidable Michael would become the "Prince of the Mafia".
What did seem avoidable is what happened after.
Michael turned his back on his Mafia vows, deserted his brothers and founded a Christian ministry.
Somehow he managed to avoid dying and burning in hell like the saint had burned in his hands on the night of his initiation ceremony.
But let's take it back a bit.
In Florida while producing the break dance movie Knights of the City, Michael says he met a beautiful dancer named Camille Garcia "whose innocent beauty and faith turned his world upside down".
During his days as a captain in the Colombo crime family Michael had escaped four indictments from Manhattan's federal prosecutor.
After falling in love and eventually marrying Camille, Michael pled guilty to the charges against him, accepted a 10 year prison sentence, and vowed to walk away from the mob — something no one of his rank had ever done and lived to talk about it.
While in prison Michael was given a Bible, which he admits he was initially reluctant to read. "I threw it against the wall," he says.
But when he opened it he read something that shook him to his core. He describes this as the first time God spoke to his heart and he listened, because he was desperate.
"When a man's ways are pleasing to the Lord, even his enemies are at peace with him," he read in Proverbs chapter 16, verse 7.
In that prison, with enemies surrounding him from every corner, Michael says God told him through this verse: "I know you've got enemies. But I can take care of that."
He realized "the only person in life we can really rely on 100 per cent, who will never let us down, is God."
For the next three years Michael lived in solitary confinement and studied the entire Bible and every Christian book he could find.
In 1992, while out of prison on parole, Michael wrote an autobiography in which he discussed his criminal activities, life with his father, and interactions with former Gambino crime family boss John Gotti. He titled it Quitting the Mob.
He has since written several books, notably Blood Covenant, I'll Make You An Offer You Can't Refuse, This Thing Of Ours, and The Good, The Bad, and The Forgiven.
Michael has also created a foundation for helping youth and become a motivational speaker.
"Today, I serve Christ by telling people my story," the former 'Mafia Prince' says. "I tell people that the ground at the foot of the cross is level. Sin is sin and God's grace truly extends to everyone.
"I try to tell everyone I speak to that God forgives our sins once we truly repent [i.e. are truly willing to be changed by God]. Look, if the Lord can get through to me and forgive me, then His forgiveness is truly for anyone.
"God is my hero now." •