Greenpoint’s Notorious Sonny Franseze Released from Prison at Age 100

NY Daily News photo

The reputed local crime boss, John “Sonny” Franzese was recently released from the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Massachusetts. The hundred-year-old reputed member of the Colombo crime family had been serving a fifty year sentence for bank robbery that dated back to 1966. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons confirmed that the Greenpoint native had been the oldest prisoner in Federal custody until his release. He had been paroled at least six times since his 1967 conviction, but always violated his parole, ending up repeatedly back in prison.

Franseze lived for many years locally on Engert Avenue. Mob aficionados credit Franseze with introducing the kiss into mafia family culture. It all started when “Sonny” Franzese and Joey Brancato, both alleged members of the Colombo crime family, bumped into each other on the corner of Lorimer Street and Metropolitan Avenue. As a gesture of peace, they kissed each other on the cheeks. The only thing anybody on Metropolitan Avenue knew was that they had never seen it done before. After the men kissed, it quickly became a mafia trademark.

Associated Press photo

Federal prosecutors painted a frightening picture of a ruthless killer who was responsible for the deaths of sixty people. Federal prosecutors also allege that they caught him on tape recommending that the best way to dispose of body parts was to dry them out with a microwave and grind them up in a garbage disposal. Franzese is supposed to have observed, “Today, you can’t have a body no more…It’s better to take that half-an-hour, an hour, to get rid of the body than it is to leave the body on the street.”

He was born to Carmine “The Lion” Franzese and Maria Corvola, although his birth year is a source of confusion. Federal prison records say that he was born February 6, 1917. However, his son Michael Franzese says that his father was actually born in 1919. In the late 1930s Franzese joined the Profaci crime family (later named the Colombo crime family) under boss Joe Profaci. Franzese bore a close physical resemblance to boxer Rocky Marciano, one of his friends. His first arrest came in 1938, for assault. In 1942, in the midst of World War II, he was discharged from the United States Army because he displayed “homicidal tendencies”. Although never being arrested for it, court papers accused him of committing rape in 1947.

Franzese operated out of New York City and New Jersey and was involved in racketeering, fraud, and loansharking. He is believed to have been elevated to caporegime or captain in the Colombo family in the mid 1950s and by 1964 he had been promoted to underboss. In 1966, Franzese was able to avoid a conviction for murdering a rival and dumping the body into a bay.

Now confined to a wheelchair, Franseze is reputedly almost blind and deaf and would seem too feeble to be much of a threat nowadays. He will live with a daughter according to his son Michael, a famous ex-mafioso who wrote a book about his leaving the mafia and finding religious faith.

About Geoff Cobb

Geoffrey Cobb is a brooklyn high school history teacher and writer of the blog historicgreenpoint.wordpress.com. He has lived in Greenpoint for over twenty years and is the author of a history of the area Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past.
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