John 'Sonny' Franzese, legendary New York mobster, dead at 103

John "Sonny" Franzese. (Photo by Bob Koller/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Legendary New York mobster John “Sonny” Franzese, the former underboss of the Colombo Crime Family, has died at 103.

As a younger man, according to Mafia lore, Franzese was a big spender and a regular at New York's Copacabana nightclub, where he hobnobbed with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.

He also provided financing for the classic 1972 porn film "Deep Throat.”

Franzese died of natural causes at a nursing home in New York, Fox News confirmed.


Gangster John "Sonny" Franzese mugshot in circa 1990. (Photo courtesy Bureau of Prisons/Getty Images)

 He was 100 when he was released from the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Mass., after being sentenced to eight years in prison in 2011 at age 93.

He was convicted of extorting Manhattan strip clubs and a pizzeria on Long Island. He was forced to watch his son John Franzese Jr. testify against him at the trial in Brooklyn.

Franzese raised a family on Long Island and was said by law enforcement to have been an earner for the Colombo mob, working extortion and loan sharking rackets.

He was sentenced to 50 years on a 1967 bank robbery charge. He was offered a reduction if he gave out any information, but the mobster did not.

He ended up getting parole but went back to prison. He was paroled up to six times, but was sent back to prison after every time.


Longtime mob underboss John (Sonny) Franzese speaks during an interview with Newsday on April 24, 2018 in Queens, New York. (Photo by Jeffrey Basinger/Newsday via Getty Images)

Franzese took pride in living by the underworld code of "Omerta" and never becoming a mob rat.

“They wanted me to roll all the time,” Franzese told Newsday in 2019. “I couldn’t do that. Because it’s my principle. I could never give a guy up because I knew what jail was. I wouldn’t put a dog in a jail pod.”

“He’s one of a kind,” Robert Lewicki, a retired FBI agent, was quoted as saying in 2017. “There’s never been a guy like Sonny. There will never be another guy like Sonny -- the last of a dying breed.”


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