Michael Franzese may now be an evangelist, but he once faced a life of danger and was warned by the FBI that he was a dead man. But everything changed when a prison guard left a Bible in his cell
All alone in a jail cell with no hope of ever getting out, Michael Franzese felt like he’d lost everything. Growing up as the son of the notorious underboss of New York’s violent and feared Colombo crime family, Michael led a life filled with power, luxury and deadly violence.
In 1986 he was even named by Vanity Fair as one of the biggest money earners the mob had seen since Al Capone. At the age of 35, Fortune Magazine listed him as number 18 on its list of the ‘Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses’. But four years later – at the age of 39 – he was paying the price for this dangerous lifestyle.
And when Michael found God and became a Christian, he found true freedom for the first time in his life – despite still being locked up.
“I had done five years in prison after I took a plea to a serious racketeering case and I got a ten-year sentence,” he tells iBelieve.
“During that time, it became public knowledge that I was walking away from the mob because the media picked up the fact that I was trying to get away from that life and it was received very harshly. The boss in my family had a contract out on my life and my father turned on me as he went along with it.
“I had a rough time in prison because the FBI came in and told me I was a dead man. I got out and was on parole for 13 months and I was literally dodging bullets at times.
“Then I violated my parole and went back to prison – the first night in that jail cell was without a doubt the worst night of my life because they had told me I’d never see the street again.
“I was lying there and had no answers. For the first time in my life I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was 39 years old and I was going to spend the rest of my life in a six by eight foot cell.
Word of God
“But then a prison guard walked by my cell and basically put a Bible in the slot on the door, and that was the night that I started reading the Word of God.
“I was really studying to see where this was all going to lead me and I just came to the conclusion that the Bible was God’s Word and Jesus was my risen Saviour. It was in that jail cell that I gave my life to Christ and committed my life to him.”
Michael says from that point a miracle happened that enabled him to eventually walk away a free man.
“The case they were trying to bring against me fell apart and they were never able to charge me again with another crime. But they gave me four years on a parole violation and I spent almost three years in the hole. But it was during that time that I read my Bible inside out and upside down. I tell people if you saw my prison Bible it has more notes in there than Scripture.”
Michael says the journey that led him to walk away from life as a mob boss first began when he met his future wife on a film set.
“My wife was a 20-year-old dancer in a break-dancing movie I was producing in South Florida, and I immediately knew she was a strong person of faith.
“Then after we wrapped up the movie she asked me to come home and meet her mother in Anaheim, California. Her mother was the most godly woman I ever met. She just loved the Lord and lived her life that way.
“I wasn’t buying into it at that time as it was a direct contradiction to the lifestyle that I led. But as I started to listen to them it started to get to me.
“A strange thing happened at that time. I loved and respected my father very much and obviously I took a blood oath that I was very committed to, but my love for her started to become stronger than all of those bonds that I had. That’s when I decided to start making a move to get out of that life.”
A free man
When Michael eventually did walk away from his former life and came out of prison a free man, he says the transition along with his newfound faith was far from an easy ride.
“Christ transforms you from the inside out, but you still have the same mechanisms going on in your brain, so you know I didn’t become a good person overnight,” he adds.
“I had to fight off instincts my entire life and I still do. The only way I’m able to fight them off is by staying around the right people and being held accountable for my actions. I’ve been extremely blessed as I was prepared for what I was going to face. God took over from there because he had another purpose for me.”
That purpose for Michael was to travel the world and share his remarkable testimony over the next two decades, which today continues to have a major impact.
“I never realised how intrigued and fascinated people are around the world with my former life. Everywhere I go people are aware of the Godfather and the Mafia. So, I have a built-in audience. People come to hear the mob guy which they’re intrigued with but then they get to hear the gospel from me.
“I believe God has allowed me to have such an impact over the past 20 years and it’s so satisfying when you see that the word that you’re spreading is being received well by people and lives are being changed.
“God prepared me throughout my mob life because what the enemy meant for bad, God turned around to use it for his glory.”
Now Michael is in huge demand helping people from all walks of life from corporate executives, professional and student athletes, at-risk youth, church audiences, and for anyone seeking inspiration to beat the odds and make positive changes in their lives.
He says that despite all the fame and fortune he hopes that the greatest achievement in his life is that his family will be proud of what he is doing for the Lord today.
“I know for my wife and children I had a pretty bad legacy for 20 years of my life and I’m hoping that they can be proud of the fact that their dad is now a servant of the Lord.”
Michael Fanzese’s story in the Mafia is recounted in Fear City: New York vs The Mafia, a 2020 miniseries released by Netflix.