He was known as the “Prince of the Mafia” and Vanity Fair magazine called him, “one of the biggest money earners the mob had seen since Al Capone.” At 35, Fortune Magazine listed him as number 18 on its list of the “Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia bosses,” five behind John Gotti.
As a member of the New York City-based Colombo crime family, he rose to the rank of Capo, or captain, of a crew. Through various dealings with everything from auto dealerships and union kickbacks to the sports and entertainment industry, his scams brought hundreds of millions of dollars into the family, the most successful of which was a multi-billion dollar gasoline tax racket.
Earning millions in cash every week, he was living the high life; all the while, surviving “dozens of grand jury appearances, three major racketeering indictments and five criminal trials,” even being prosecuted by Manhattan’s federal prosecutor, Rudy Giuiliani, who promised him 100 years behind bars. That is, until he met Camille Garcia, a dancer from California who he fell in love with and eventually married. Then, he did the unthinkable. With help from his wife, who he credits with introducing him to Jesus Christ, the Prince of the Mafia renounced the mob, pled guilty to the racketeering charges and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. After getting out early, he became a motivational speaker and now spends his days traveling the country, telling his tale of redemption.
It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood movie, and though a character from Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” is based on him, it’s actually the life story of Michael Franzese, “the only high-ranking official of a major crime family to ever walk away, without protective custodies, and live to tell about it.”
Ron Termale, pastor of the East Greenwich campus of the New Life Worship Center, a non-denominational Christian Family church based in Smithfield with satellite campuses in East Greenwich and Fall River, Mass., called Franzese’s story, “the greatest mob story of all time.” Those interested in hearing it will have their chance when Franzese visits the East Greenwich campus next weekend.
Termale said he heard about Franzese from a pastor friend in New York, who after hearing Franzese speak, said his story really impacts people’s lives.
“We’re hoping that people come and rethink in the possibility that God is real and cares for the worst person, and that it [Franzese’s story] will give them faith to believe,” Termale said. “We’re praying that those who have faith but have lost their way will have their faith renewed when they hear his story. It’s pretty powerful.”
Termale said Franzese “went from a life where he had everything and rejected it all and accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior.”
“We believe Franzese’s testimony will convince people there must be a God,” he said. “You don’t leave the Mafia as a Capo and live – that doesn’t happen.”
Referencing the New Testament of the Bible, Termale said, “Jesus is a friend of sinners.”
“In the New Testament, we see God can reach people in the worst position in life, when they think things will never change, and if they just open their heart and believe, God can take the worst sinner or the worst situation and change their whole life,” he said.
Franzese’s talks have included a wide range of audiences, such as corporate executives, professional and student athletes, at-risk youth and churches, and while he may focus on different aspects of his story depending on the group he’s speaking to, Termale said when he visits East Greenwich, he will simply tell his story.
“He’ll talk about how he was brought into the mob, the oaths you have to take, what you have to do to stay in and move up the ladder, as well as the miracle of how he got out and is able to talk about it,” he said. “God doesn’t look at people the way we do. Jesus was called a friend of sinners, and this guy was one of the biggest sinners around.”
Termale said bringing in Franzese to tell his story, and hopefully impact lives, is one of many ways New Life is changing the way people think about church.
“Church isn’t what it used to be,” he said. “Churches like New Life are really transforming communities and revitalizing faith among young people and people of every culture and race.”
Termale said many young people nowadays stop going to church because they find it boring.
“When you go to church, is it a celebration of Jesus, or is it a ceremony? We have close to 300 teens gathering here [at the Smithfield campus] on Wednesday nights and it’s charged with contemporary Christian music,” he said, adding New Life has its own worship band made up of youth in the church. “God is really working amongst young people. We’re growing by leaps and bounds.”
Termale said New Life was founded by Pastor Steve Boyce and his wife Nancy in 1988. Starting with a handful of people in a storefront behind the A&W of a strip mall on Route 44 in Smithfield, Termale said average attendance has grown to 1,200 among the three campuses. He said the East Greenwich campus was started two years ago with about 70 members, and now has upwards of 200.
“Find yourself a good church, and you will save your family,” Termale said. “We’ve been saving families and saving marriages; often they’re coming in on the back end of a tow truck and the kids are messed up, but they can be restored by coming to a church that ministers to every part of the family.”
Termale said some people would question why New Life is bringing a “Mafia guy” to church.
“It’s the same reason we have guitars and drums – we believe it’s a celebration of God’s life,” he said. “He’s not looking for a religion; He’s looking for a relationship.”
Franzese will speak at the New Life East Greenwich campus, located at the East Greenwich High School, 300 Avenger Drive, East Greenwich, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 31. He will also speak at the Fall River campus, 1802 Davol Street, Fall River, Mass., at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 30 and at the Smithfield campus, 915 Douglas Pike, Smithfield, at the 9 and 11 a.m. services on Sunday, April 1. Services at the East Greenwich campus are held Sundays at 11 a.m. For more information on Michael Franzese, visit his website at michaelfranzese.com. For more information about New Life, visit atnewlife.org.