By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
"It's a horrible lie," she snapped. "I don't slap. I'd rather knife." After 53 years of marriage, she said, she had finally tossed her husband out. "I wouldn't let him in the house anymore. Enough already. I don't want to see any more parole officers." She was there, she said, to support her son. "He's not testifying against his father. He's testifying against his way of life. He wants all of this to end."
Yes, she allowed, she and Sonny had once been madly in love. They met at the old Palladium on a Wednesday night in 1954, Tito Puente's orchestra playing. At the time, she was a teenaged head-turner, checking coats at the Stork Club. Montgomery Clift, who was still making up his mind which team he played for, fancied her as well, but the good-looking mobster on his way up won out. He brought three kids by a first wife to the union; Tina, at 16, had a baby, Michael. They made a comfortable home in a Long Island ranch house and had three children of their own, John Jr. and two daughters, both of whom are gone now, one due to drugs, the other to cancer.
Back then, Sonny Franzese's name headed the Mafia hit parade. Life magazine gave him a 28-page spread. Newsday ace Bob Greene wrote a front-page series, "The Hood in Our Neighborhood." In 1967, the dream of suburban mob splendor crashed when Sonny was convicted of running a bank robbery ring. He got 50 years. He managed to parole out, but many people, on both sides of the law, believe he was framed. "He was no angel, but he was innocent of that one," says Michael Pollack, a veteran ex-prosecutor and defense attorney who fought to win Franzese's appeal and wrote an unpublished book about it, titled Substantial Justice.
On parole, Sonny remained a target. Five times, he was nailed for hanging with his old gangland pals, each violation earning a prison hitch.
"John was six years old when his father went to prison. What kind a childhood is that?" asked Tina Franzese, standing in front of federal court, summons in hand. "When Sonny came out, he sent John on errands. He never let him alone. I was the best thing that ever happened to him. But I'm done with him. Finished."