After running the clock out for nearly two years, the end game has begun for John (Sonny) Franzese. And it won't be fun. The legendary Colombo family wiseguy will be the first New York mobster to have his son testify against him.
He is not charged with murder, but his stated expertise as a mob hitman - as well as the very real possibility of his own death behind bars if he is convicted - hang like a dark cloud over Sonny as he gets set for his final stint before the bar of justice. At 93, he is the oldest mobster to go to trial on racketeering charges.
Tomorrow (Tuesday) Brooklyn Federal Judge Brian Cogan is scheduled to lay out the ground rules for the trial that is slated to begin next week for Franzese, who recently professed seeming indifference to the thought of dying in prison.
"Who cares? I gotta die someplace," said Franzese, after he pleaded not guilty to new extortion charges that prosecutors added to his indictment in an effort to beef up the case and insure that he spends his final days in a federal prison hospital.
Franzese, who was indicted in June of 2008 on racketeering, loansharking, and extortion charges involving a Long Island pizzeria, has been free on $1 million bail since Christmas Eve of that year.
"I die outside; I die in jail. It don't matter to me," said Franzese, who has spent about 25 of the past 40 years behind bars for a controversial bank robbery conspiracy conviction back in 1967. Sentenced to 50 years, Sonny has been paroled and sent back to prison five times. If he were to somehow beat the current indictment, it's a sure bet that he'd get sent back at least one more time, since he will remain on parole until 2020, until age 103.
The nonagenarian gangster has some difficulty hearing, but he is still pretty spry. He spoke briefly to reporters earlier this month following his arraignment for penny ante shake downs of free drinks from the Hustler and Penthouse strip clubs from 2004 to 2006, while he was the crime family's underboss.
Over the years, Franzese, who had a piece of the porn classic, Deep Throat, has earned millions of dollars through secret interests in entertainers, nightclubs and record companies. But, said one law enforcement source: "Sonny always feels he has it coming to him and should never have to pay when he goes out."
Or, in the words of a respected Gang Land source on the other side of the street who has seen Sonny in action: "He's a cheapskate. And he doesn't know that it's all passed him by."
Franzese's attorney Richard Lind has taken a similar position regarding the government's efforts to use Sonny's tape-recorded boasts that he "killed a lot of guys" over the years but was "never caught." Lind says that his client's words about "alleged murders" were old news, had nothing to do with the case, and were so "far more serious" than the charges against Franzese that jurors would be unable to render a verdict based solely on the evidence if they heard them.
Prosecutors counter that Sonny's murderous words about modern day mob killings are current, and relevant, especially his assertion that it was wise to dispose of victims rather than "leave them on the street." Franzese, they noted, told a wired-up turncoat that a good way to dispose of bodies was to cut up the corpse "in a kiddie pool" and then dry the "severed body parts in a microwave before stuffing the parts in a commercial-grade garage disposal."
Franzese, who sees himself as the consummate tough guy gangster, may actually be indifferent to the possibility of dying in prison, like so many of his peers have in recent years.
But his efforts to downplay the import of another touchy subject to Daily News Reporter John Marzulli fell flat. When asked about son John Franzese Jr., who fingered him for the feds, tape-recorded conversations with him for the FBI, and is slated to testify against him at trial, Sonny shrugged and said: "What do I know about him? I don't even know where he is."
Franzese may not know where John Jr. is, but he knows where he'll be and what he'll be doing at his trial: He'll be on the witness stand, pointing a damning finger at his old man. No matter what he says about that, Sonny is devastated by that betrayal, and surely distraught at being the only New York mobster in Gang Land's memory to have his son take the witness stand against him.
"It's kind of an embarrassment, pretty embarrassing for a son to be testifying against the father," conceded attorney Lind. He quickly added that it was "equally embarrassing for the government" to be using the troubled son, who has a history of drug and alcohol abuse, as a witness against his father.
Scheduled for trial with Sonny on various racketeering charges are local mob associates, John (Johnny Cop) Capolino, 41, and Joseph DiGorga, 69, who is also charged in the strip club extortions, as well as Los Angeles-based cohorts, Christopher Curanovic, 28, and Orlando (Ori) Spado, 65.
Meanwhile, Cogan gave prosecutors five more weeks to decide whether to seek capital punishment for co-defendants Joel (Joe Waverly) Cacace for the execution slaying of police officer Ralph Dols, and for mobsters Thomas (Tommy Shots) Gioeli and Dino (Little Dino) Saracino for other death penalty-eligible slayings.
Newly appointed U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, who took office earlier this month, has agreed to meet with defense lawyers for the three gangsters before submitting her recommendation to the Justice Department, according to court papers filed last week.
"I think it is refreshing that the new U.S. Attorney is taking the time to reflect on an appropriate and informed position instead of shooting from the hip," said Cacace's lawyer, Susan Kellman.