We thought we'd seen it all in the trial of John (Sonny) Franzese: There was the son, John Franzese Jr., who spent four days testifying about how he wore a wire for the FBI against his own father; there was the mother, Tina Franzese, who showed up in court to support her son against her estranged 93-year old husband. There was the mini-riot that broke out in the hallway between feuding family members, with Franzese Sr. in a wheelchair in the middle, cursing both sides.
But the most stunning moment yet was the revelation by the feds last week that, a few months after he learned his son was a snitch, Sonny Franzese asked a mob associate to help whack his own offspring.
Fortunately, the hit never took place, and the testimony which cooperating witness Gaetano (Guy) Fatato was set to offer, was never heard in court. Once Franzese defense lawyer Richard Lind learned what the witness would say he wisely decided not to call him to the stand.
But sources confirm to Gang Land that the first known instance of a father looking to have his son killed took place just as federal prosecutors described it in a letter to the court last week.
The legendary gangster's fury against his stool pigeon son had been building for months, but it reached a fever pitch on a cold morning in January three years ago, the sources say. That's when Sonny Franzese allegedly decided to whack his double-crossing namesake son.
He never got the chance, but according to court papers filed this week by federal prosecutors at his racketeering trial - which resumes today (Monday) with closing arguments - Sonny told a cohort he trusted that he "wanted to kill Franzese Jr." and asked the underling to be on the hit team.
Ironically, sources say, Franzese, who was then the "official" underboss of the Colombo family, exploded in anger because he was not arrested for his fifth parole violation in 25 years a day earlier during a scheduled visit the aging mobster had with his parole officer.
Sources tell Gang Land that Sonny expected to be sent back to prison again because several months earlier, he and his cohorts had been alerted by FBI agents that John Franzese Jr. - who had fingered his old man for the FBI in 2000 but had earned his way back into his father's graces - had betrayed him again.
So when Franzese wasn't arrested that day, sources say the always scheming mobster believed that the FBI - the longtime nemesis that he has long insisted framed him for a 1950s bank robbery conspiracy - was behind a diabolical plot to encourage his mob cronies to whack him.
"The FBI is smart," he railed to an old prison buddy he had taken under his wing, Guy Fatato, explaining that by not arresting him the feds were in fact "letting everyone in the family think" that he okayed his son's decision to cooperate with the FBI, said one source familiar with the discussion Franzese allegedly had with Fatato.
"I don't care," said Sonny, adding "I'm gonna carry two guns and kill everyone if I have to," according to the same knowledgeable source.
Unfortunately for the elderly Franzese, at the time he allegedly uttered those words, Fatato was 15 months into his own two-year-long sting during which he would ultimately record more than 1,000 hours of talk with Sonny & Company on 242 separate occasions, according to testimony by FBI agent Vincent D'Agostino, the "case agent" at Franzese's trial.
The alleged murder-plot conversation was not recorded, D'Agostino testified, because Sonny "showed up in his bedroom unannounced and he wasn't able to activate the device in time."
The agent gave no details about the conversation, but sources say Fatato was home ill at the time and Franzese stopped by to check on him. The gangster was led to his bedroom by Fatato's wife, who knew Sonny was an important close associate of her husband.
During their bedside talk, sources say Franzese cocked his hand in the shape of a gun and told Fatato he might have to "call his son," and that if the dirty deed had to be done, he wanted Fatato, whom he had been schooling and grooming for his Mafia induction, "to help him do it."
In court papers, prosecutors Cristina Posa and Rachel Nash, who were prohibited from introducing evidence about prior murders that Franzese had committed, asked judge Brian Cogan to permit them to bring up the plan to kill his son if the defense called Fatato as a witness, as it had threatened to do.
Rather than subject Fatato, a duplicitous drug dealer with substantial "baggage" who had a less-than-stellar showing in his only prior stint as a government witness to a grilling by the defense, prosecutors opted to use a smattering of the tape recordings he made while working for the FBI, and not call Fatato as a witness.
By telling him to stay home, prosecutors ended up with the best of both worlds - especially when defense attorney Lind decided against calling Fatato: They were able to use the tape recorded words of Franzese and his codefendants against them, without permitting his own crimes, and his credibility, to become an issue in the case.
Among many things, the jury heard Sonny tell Guy about the family's official boss, Carmine (Junior) Persico, identify capo Thomas (Tommy Shots) Gioeli as a major player in the crime family, and discuss his own rank as the "official" number two man in the family, its underboss.
"I wanna groom you," he told Fatato in the earliest recording played for the jury, a December 5, 2005 talk. "It takes time, and it'll take a little time...but I want you to meet everybody."
Lind was able to get agent D'Agostino to buttress a contention he offered the jury in his opening statement, and words he is likely to repeat in his closing remarks next week: that Sonny was a very old man who was beaten up and abused by his much younger wife Tina.
When asked whether Franzese "would be kicked out of his house by his wife," the agent said he "became aware of that on several occasions."
Queried whether Franzese's "wife would berate him and beat him up," D'Agostino stated that he hadn't personally observed that, but "did become aware of that through the tapes," and later confirmed that through follow up inquiries.
"You heard her hitting him, correct?" said Lind.
"It sounded like that," he said.
For the record, Tina Franzese adamantly denied to reporters that she ever struck her husband. "I don't slap," she said when she showed up to hear her son's testimony against her husband. "I'd rather knife."