John "Sonny" Franzese (b. February 6, 1917), is a longtime member and the current Underboss of the Colombo crime family.
Born in New York City, Franzese joined the Profaci crime family, the predecessor to the Colombo family, under boss Joseph Profaci in the late 1930s. Franzese operated out of New York City and New Jersey and was involved in racketeering, fraud, and loansharking. Franzese continued to serve the family under succeeding bosses Joseph Colombo and then Carmine "Junior" Persico. In 1967, Franzese was convicted of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and sentenced to 50 years in prison. Franzese was released on parole in 1978, but returned to prison in 1982 for a parole violation. In June 1984, Francese was released on parole again. That same year, he was promoted Caporegime.
In 1986, Persico was convicted in the Mafia Commission Trial of racketeering, murder and conspiracy and was sentenced to 139 years in prison. To manage the Colombo family during his absence, Persico created a three-man Ruling Panel. Persico had planned to place Franzese on this panel, but in August 1986, Franzese was sent back to prison again for a second parole violation. In January of 1991, after returning to the weakened Colombo crime family, Franzese again violated parole and went to prison for meeting with other organized crime figures. In November 2000, after resuming a top authority in the family, Franzese violated parole again and was sent back to prison in January 2001. Law enforcement had learned about the meeting from Franzese's son, John Franzese Jr., who had become a government informant.
After being promoted Underboss of the Colombo crime family with the incarceration of John "Jackie" DeRoss in 2005, Franzese was sent back to federal prison (for the fifth time) due to parole violations in early 2007. In June 2008, Franzese, still incarcerated at the time, was indicted on charges of participating in gangland hits from the Colombo Wars in the early 1990s, stealing fur coats in New York in the mid 1990s, and participating in home invasion by police impersonators in Los Angeles in 2006.
As of June 2008, Franzese is incarcerated at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn. His projected release date has been changed from 2020 to November 9, 2008. Franzese is still the official Underboss of the Colombo crime family.
Franzese's other son, Michael Franzese, a former Caporegime in the Colombo crime family who also left the family took care of the day-to-day operations when Franzese was in and out of prison in the 1980s. Michael has since been able to turn his life around, speaking to professional and college athletes about the dangers of gambling and associating with the wrong crowd, and inspiring people from all walks of life who really want to make a positive change in their lives. He has written two books, has a third being released in January 09'. A movie based on his life is currently in development.
Arguably, Sonny Franzese has been famous as the current oldest member of the Mafia serving time.