Today the Rock welcomed Michael Franzese as a guest speaker. Dubbed by Tom Brokaw as "The Prince of the Mafia," Michael was one of organized crime's biggest money earners since Al Capone. In 1986, Fortune Magazine named him as one of "The 50 Biggest Mafia Bosses." He later became one of the first high ranking member of the Mafia to publicly walk away from a life of crime.
Today Michael shared his story of how his wife, a prison guard, and a Bible transformed his life.
Michael grew up as the son of the underboss of the Colombo family, one of the five organized crime families of New York. His father's position was powerful and dangerous, and his entire family was constantly under the watch of law enforcement.
In the 1960's Michael's father, Sonny, went to trial on many cases and was finally indicted in federal court for masterminding a string of bank robberies and sentenced to fifty years in prison. After losing his appeals, he was send to Leavenworth in 1970. Though released on parole a few times, Sonny was quickly imprisoned again for the parole violation of visiting with crime suspects.
Michael has asked thousands of people to pray for his father over the last fifteen years. Now 94 years old and still imprisoned, Sonny's dad accepted Christ in a jail cell six months ago and asked Michael to send him a Bible. Don't ever give up on prayer because God does answer!
As a young pre-med student in the 70's, Michael was devastated knowing his dad would never come out of prison alive. Michael knew his father was innocent of the crime of which he was convicted, but who would believe him or feel sorry for him as an underboss in the mafia? Michael decided his only option was to leave school and join the business on the street so that he could earn enough money to help his father. Sonny told Michael to go home and wait for someone to be in touch. After that, he was simply to do what he was told without asking questions.
Within two weeks, Michael received word that he was now on call 24-7 to serve the Colombo family and that nothing was to take precedence over his commitment to them. The Mafia is a way of life that required abandonment of everything else - 100% commitment. At 22 years old, Michael entered his pledge period, where he would be asked to do anything and everything to prove himself.
After a year, on Halloween of 1975, Michael and five others took a blood oath as sworn members of the Colombo crime family. Michael was told that night that he was being born again into a new life, into la Cosa Nostra, and that if he betrayed his brothers he would burn in hell. This job had no contract or retirement plan; he would leave in a witness protection plan or a coffin.
Michael was motivated and aggressive and he knew how to use the mafia lifestyle to benefit him. In 1980, he was made a caporegime, or captain, of a crew. He became a major target of law enforcement, having 300 workers under him ready to do whatever he said. He was bringing in $8-9 million each week. By 1984, he had a jet, a helicopter, and multiple homes. At 31 years old, he felt he was on top of the world.
But by 1984, God began to work a change in Michael's life. As he was in Florida making a dance movie with his production company, he met a dancer named Camille who caught his eye and began pursuing her. Little did he know that Camille was the Christian who would be the catalyst to Michael's eventual commitment to Christ.
Michael's love for Camille soon became more important to him that his blood oath. It was never on his radar to walk away from the mafia life, but God had a plan. Michael soon began to see that his lifestyle was in direct contradiction to Camilles and he knew he had to make a change.
Michael was facing new charges in court and knew he would be indicted. He planned to take a plea, serve a couple of years in prison, marry Camille, and move to west. His hope was that maybe after prison, since he would not be permitted to interact with crime suspects due to his parole, they would eventually forget about him.
Michael got a ten-year sentence with a $15 million restitution. He married Camille in July and went to prison in December. After Michael was in an out of prison for five years, it became public that he was leaving his life of crime. Camille and Michael now faced a new set of challenges. He was under pressure from federal agents to become an informant and enter witness protection and was constantly afraid for his life. One day upon entering a bank, Michael was re-arrested and indicted on racketeering.
Now in a prison cell once more, Michael felt hopelessness closing in. He had a 27-year-old wife and 2 children. He had no money to fight his case. He could not even be in the prison yard because his enemies were everywhere. Even his father had a contract out on him. He felt his life was over.
As he lay on the cot in his cell, a prison guard walks by and asked if he was okay. Michael responded rudely for the guard to just leave him alone. When the guard returned, he pushed a Bible into the cell. Michael was so angry that he wanted to throw it against wall. He felt he had left the crime life for God, and it had landed him in the deepest, darkest hole he had ever known. But then Michael realized he had so many enemies, he didn't need to make an enemy of God. He finally picked up the Bible and was ready to listen. He turned to the Lord at his lowest moment, praying, "God if you're really up there, help me deal with this. I can't do this alone."
He soon encountered Proverbs 16:7, When a man's ways are pleasing to the Lord, even his enemies are at peace with him.
God soon revealed to Michael that he hadn't "done all of this for God." He had done it for himself, to have the wife and life he wanted. God challenged Michael with another verse, Proverbs 3:5-6, which says, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. That night, Michael challenged God. He had committed himself 100% twice before and had been thoroughly let down. If he was going to commit himself 100% to Jesus, he was going to need proof that this was the truth. He asked God to show him.
Michael now began a relentless pursuit of the truths of God. He poured over his prison Bible. He listened to sermons and read over 400 books - anything he could find - looking for evidence.
By the grace of God, the racketeering case against Michael fell apart and he was sentenced to only four years for a parole violation. He spent 35 more months in prison, 29 months in the hold, and all the time, God was with him. Michael had nowhere else to turn.
God knew that on the street, Michael would have never accepted the Lord because he thought himself self-sufficient. But when God is pursuing you, He will take you as far as necessary to see your need for him.
When Michael walked away from a life of crime in 1993-94, everyone predicted his death. But the mafia life he had been sealed into was no better. Of the six men who took a blood oath on Halloween night 35 years ago, Michael is the only one still alive. Of the 50 most powerful mob bosses named in Fortune magazine in 1987, 43 are dead and 3 are serving life in prison.
Why is Michael alive? How can he be husband to his wife and father to his children? Why is he able to travel and share his testimony about God's amazing faithfulness? Because, as Michael says, if God has a purpose for you, then nothing will stand in the way. No mob, no addiction, nothing can stand in the way of God fulfilling that purpose, except for YOU. God is never an intruder, but always an invited guest.
Have you invited Him in? If you don't have a relationship with Jesus, don't waste any more time. Don't ever feel that you've fallen so far from God's grace that he can't pull you back. If you are truly sorry for your sin, you must trust that God knows your heart and has a purpose for you. Don't allow the enemy to separate you from God by guilt or anything else. Michael feels that if God can forgive and use him after the lifestyle he chose, than he can forgive and use anyone. Let it be you!