Michael “Yuppie Don” Franzese (born May 27, 1951) is a former New York mobster and caporegime of the Colombo crime family who was heavily involved in the gasoline tax rackets in the 1980s. Since then, he has publicly renounced organized crime, became a devoted Christian, created a foundation for helping youth, and became a motivational speaker.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Franzese is the son of reputed Colombo underboss John “Sonny” Franzese. He later moved to Long Island, which would become home to his countless of operations. After finishing high school, Franzese entered Hofstra University and started a pre-med program. His father originally wanted him to become a doctor and not get involved in organized crime.
However, around 1973-1974, Franzese decided to quit college to take care of his father and work for the Colombo family as Sonny was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison in 1967. Franzese became acquainted with his father’s friends such as Joseph Colombo and later became inducted as a soldier on Halloween 1975. He was briefly mentored by Colombo soldier Joseph “Joe-Joe” Vitacco (1927-1980).
In 1980, he had become a caporegime, or captain, of a crew and admitted that he had between 300-500 soldiers serving under him. He also has said that he bumped into FBI agent Joseph Pistone, better known as Bonanno crime family associate Donnie Brasco, several times on the streets of New York however the pair never had any criminal dealings. Both went on to star in the 2013 Inside the American Mob, a National Geographic documentary.
However Franzese did have criminal dealings with future Gambino crime family boss John Gotti. One such transaction is detailed in his book which refers to a flea market dispute. Then-soldier Gotti during the late 1970s had a meeting with him, Angelo Ruggiero was also present, Franzese was contacted by a flea market owner and complained that his partner was using and selling drugs at the market in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Franzese agreed to frighten him and would become the new partner, sending Colombo soldier-turned informant Anthony Sarivola and another member who remains unidentified.
Gotti however claimed that the scared-off partner was an associate of his. After several meetings, Franzese proposed to buy Gotti out. Gotti replied “buy me out? I buy you out” and handed over $70,000. Franzese later expressed admiration for Gotti, citing his strict gangster lifestyle and his overwhelming ego. Franzese has also admitted to having dealings with Gambino and Genovese crime family bosses, Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno and Paul “Big Paul” Castellano.