Kuala Lumpur, March 8, 2015: Hollywood, as it is, popularised the Mob throughout the 1970s to 1990s with iconic films such as The Godfather, Scarface, and Goodfellas. For that reason, growing up, we were either fascinated by the inner workings of the Mafia or cower at the idea of ever meeting one.
For the first time in Malaysia, the real Godfather showed up to talk about life as the former underboss of the Colombo family, one of the five families that form the New York Mafia, and his incredible turn-around at Summit's signature event, The Masters of Success.
"I’m going to ask you something personal," someone in the audience asks. "Have you ever shot or killed anybody?"
It’s not the sort of question you expect to hear in a business conference. But then again, Michael Franzese, aka "The Yuppie Don," is not your typical speaker.
"When you are part of the life, you are part of the violence," says Franzese.
Michael Franzese speaking to a live audience at the Masters of Success event in Malaysia.
In his heyday, Michael Franzese was noted for his sophisticated money-making schemes, especially a high-profile gas tax scam in the 1980s that allegedly saw him earned an estimated eight million dollars every week.
His advice for achieving phenomenal success? "Focus on doing only what you do best, and delegate the rest."
At 35, Fortune Magazine ranked Franzese 18 on its list of 50 wealthiest, and most powerful Mob bosses of all time.
He got into a life of crime at age 22, when his father, Sonny Franzese, then the underboss of the Colombo family, was incarcerated for multiple charges. "My father had high hopes of me being a doctor," says Franzese, who was in pre-med school at the time, before associating with his father's former colleagues and joining the Mob barely a year later.
It was a life filled with power, luxury, and deadly violence. "I never glamorise my Mob life. It's an evil life," says Franzese.
Despite the violence, it was also a story of love and faith.
In 1984, he met Camille Garcia, a dancer working on set. Michael recalls, "We were sitting by the pool, relaxing before work started. I’m minding my own business, when suddenly this gorgeous 20-year-old girl comes out of the water. I saw her, and everything went in slow motion. It was like a Pepsi commercial!" He says with a laugh.
It was the love for Camille, a strong young woman of faith who changed the face of organised crime in America because of her influence on Franzese.
In 1985, three months after the pair got married, Franzese found himself going to prison, where he would remain, separated from Camille for eight years. His young wife, however, stood by him.
"When I saw how important her faith was to her, I realised my life was in contradiction to everything she believed in. At that moment I knew if I wanted her in my life, I had to make some changes."
But these changes did not come easy. While serving time in prison, he decided to walk away from the Mob and a contract was taken out on his life.
However, according to Franzese, he is the only high-ranking boss of a major crime family to ever walk away, without protective custodies, and survived to tell the tale.
Franzese said that due to his former life, he considered it an obligation to help make a change in the lives of people. If there is anyone who could positively affect at-risk youth, it must be Michael Franzese, due to his powerful anti-crime message.
Michael Franzese signing autographs for Summit staff as well as members of the media.
The following day, Franzese visits Summit’s office, where members of the media were invited to a press conference. As you would expect, more questions were raised as to the extent of his influence in the Mob.
Franzese says, "I had the power of life and death. If I was unhappy with someone, I wanted the person to be eliminated, I could do it. It’s an awesome power, but it comes with a lot of responsibility. But a lot of guys were abusive with it."
When asked about his future plans, Franzese says he is involved in an upcoming documentary series about the golden-era of the American Mafia. Today, Franzese continues to serve in his foundation, The Michael Franzese Ministries, which aims to encourage people to turn their lives around.