Michael Franzese, who grew up in Roslyn, was a high ranking member of the Italian-American Colombo crime family before he walked away from his life in the mafia nearly 30 years ago.
Since then, Franzese has sought to deter youngsters from joining organized crime groups, and has pursued a new career as a motivational speaker, author and commentator.
“I go into juvenile halls, I speak to young people all the time… and tell them what it means to be on the street and where they’re going to eventually end up,” Franzese told Reuters in an interview.
“People, especially on the street, view Cosa Nostra mafia as the ultimate gang in the world so when I speak, they listen. I have credibility with them and that’s important. And I think I’ve been able to have a tremendous impact over the past 25 years with a lot of young people.”
New York-born Franzese, 70, is now bringing stories of his past and reformed life to the UK, kicking off a ticketed tour on July 2.
“There’s some things that I’ll talk about that I haven’t spoken about before that I think people are going to be really interested in,” he said of his tour, called “An Evening with Michael Franzese – The Real Goodfella”.
Franzese dropped out of university after his father, Colombo underboss John “Sonny” Franzese, was jailed for a bank robbery in 1967. He became a caporegime, or captain, involved in various dealings including a massive gasoline bootlegging scheme, and was briefly portrayed in 1990 mob movie “Goodfellas”.
He said making the decision to leave the mafia was “gut-wrenching” but said he now felt “blessed” to be out.
“Almost everybody I know in that life, everybody, is either dead or in prison for the rest of their lives,” said Franzese, who spent time in jail in the 1990s for racketeering charges.
“I just want to be known as a guy that just did the right thing after doing the wrong thing for quite some time.”
(Reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)