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'Geriatric Gangster' John 'Sonny' Franzese To Be Sentenced

TOM HAYS   01/14/11 12:38 PM ET   AP

Geriatric Gangster

NEW YORK — Convicted mob boss John "Sonny" Franzese is so old, he knew Frank Sinatra in his heyday. He's so old, his recent extortion trial became nap time – even when his turncoat son took the witness stand against him.

But a federal judge decided Friday that Franzese is not so old that he can avoid prison.

Franzese, 93, was sentenced to eight years in prison for extorting Manhattan strip clubs and a pizzeria on New York's Long Island.

The jailed Franzese appeared alert while sitting in a wheelchair in federal court in Brooklyn. But when asked if he wanted to speak, he managed only a fragmented mumble: "I never got a fair ..."

Federal prosecutors had sought at least 12 years behind bars for the underboss of the Colombo crime family – in effect, a life term. To bolster their argument, they had an FBI agent testify Friday that Franzese bragged about killing 60 people over the years and once contemplated putting out a hit on his own son for becoming a government cooperator.

"For him to die in prison is not an inappropriate response to the life he's led," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Posa.

Defense attorney Richard Lind argued that because of Franzese's advanced age and array of chronic illnesses, a long sentence was pointless. He labeled the talk of gangland carnage "pathetic boasting."

Sentencing a nonagenarian wasn't easy, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan said. But he also said he needed to send a message that "you can never escape the consequences of a lifetime of organized crime."

The sentencing was the latest chapter of a criminal career dating to the Great Depression.

Franzese's first arrest, for assault, came in 1938. Prosecutors say he was kicked out of the Army four years later after displaying "homicidal tendencies."

In 1947, court papers say, he raped a waitress in a garage. In 1966, he beat a murder charge accusing him of killing a rival and dumping the body – cement blocks chained to the feet – into a bay.

Franzese was convicted in 1967 in a bank robbery, sent to prison and paroled in the late 1970s. Though never convicted of another crime, authorities say he rose to second in command of the Colombos, one of New York's five Italian crime families.

According to Mafia lore, Franzese was a big spender and a regular at the Copacabana nightclub, where he hobnobbed with Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. He also once had a stake in the classic porn film "Deep Throat."

But in court papers, the government said Franzese's true legacy was something more akin to "Goodfellas."

The main reason Franzese dodged arrest in other murders is that he became good at making bodies disappear, the papers said. Investigators caught him on tape in 2006 describing his favorite recipe for that: Dismember victim in kiddie pool. Cook body parts in microwave. Stuff parts in garbage disposal. Be patient.

"Today, you can't have a body no more," the latest court papers quote him saying. "It's better to take that half an hour, an hour, to get rid of the body than it is just to leave the body in the street."

The FBI arrested Franzese in a mob takedown in 2008. A jury found him guilty last year on racketeering and other charges last year.

At trial, prosecutors used John Franzese Jr., a former Colombo associate turned paid informant, to help convince jurors that his father's frail appearance was deceiving. The defendant briefly dozed off when his son began testifying.

"I'm not talking about my father as a man," Franzese Jr. testified. "I'm talking about the life he chose. ... This life absorbs you. You only see one way."

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Filed by Carly Schwartz  |