Michael Franzese | Cambridge UnionJun 01, 2021
thank you good evening everyone welcome to
cambridgesyndicate thank you very much for coming we are very lucky tonight to have
michaelfranzis who is ex mob boss turned writer turned businessman turned speaker turned born again christian and many things uh we are very lucky to have him he will give a short speech and then we will have some time for questions from you but without further ado
michaelthank you very much i have to say this is my third visit to the states. kingdom i was here about three weeks ago and i was on a speaking tour mainly some churches and some other things and it's been a great time i really love this country the people have always been great to me and hopefully i will I will be. visiting uh quite a lot more uh jonas and his team have been great we have a uh a view of the city today and the university is amazing we don't have anything like this in the states regardless of what people may tell you ivy league schools are nice , but this is really amazing, so I just want to say thank you.
Really, when I got the call to come here, I thought it was a joke at first. It is an honor to be here and I am very excited. I look forward to answering your questions and people. They can ask me whatever they want. I have been asked everything under the sun. They will not offend me and if I do not. I don't want to answer, I know how to take the fifth, that's the right of, uh, I've done it many times in my life, so we're good, but hey, you know, just to give you a brief summary, I'll be. very brief because i enjoy Q&A more than anything other than listening to me talk all the time i'll give you a brief summary about me and then we can go from there i was born in brooklyn new york and uh there are five lakos norster mafia families in that area and actually the mafia does not exist in america and it exists in italy in america it is called the cosa nostra it means this ours they are similar organizations but if you are a member made of the mafia in italy you are not automatically made in the united states and vice versa when people we would come from the mafia we respect them obviously we were courteous to them but we did not share our secrets because they are two separate organizations my dad was the underboss of the columbo family one of the five families very powerful position that was in the 60s in that life you have a boss a deputy chief a copper regime or a captain and a soldier many of you have seen the godfather i'm sure there is a position called conc iliador robert duvall played that role brilliantly i might add but he was fictional in the godfather because to be a sworn member of that life and take the oath and you do it your father must be italian mom can be of low ancestry your father must be italian and my father was very professional file always under investigation im sure i grew up very differently than all of you here i grew up really hating the police hating the government hating law enforcement and really not because i was taught that way but because of what i witnessed in my life i loved my dad i idolized him a lot and law enforcement was always after him and i saw them as the enemy so i grew up in that kind of atmosphere huh i was originally going to school to be a doctor my dad . he didn't want me on the street he wanted me to get an education he got into serious trouble in the 1960s he was indicted multiple times in both the state and federal court system he was eventually convicted of masterminding a national chain of bank robberies and he was sentenced to 50 years in prison and he left to serve his time in 1970 and i was a pre-med student at the time i was devastated when my dad walked in i thought he was 50 when he walked in he was 50 plus of that he would never get out of prison alive other than my father is 100 years old he has served 38 years in prison since 1970 and he is in prison now he will be out next month actually in the month of June for what will be an exciting time for us and i visited him in leavenworth and at that time he wanted me to try to help him stop going to school and become a member of his life and so i was 22 for about a year and a half . i was in some sort of commitment period where i had to do anything and everything i was told to do to prove myself worthy of becoming a member of that life and in 1975 actually halloween night in the states United i took an oath and became a sworn member of the columbo family and you enter life you enter as a soldier i was motivated to do two things i wanted to get my dad out of prison i ended up getting him out after 10 years i got him out on probation but then he raped and kept coming back and i wanted to make money in that life my uh my dad said making money translates to power not too different from the real world i was lucky i knew how to use that life to profit in business and i made a very significant amount of money in 1980 I was made a copper regime or captain which is a very powerful position and from 1980 to about 95 I operated in that capacity in 1984 among many things I was doing Well, I was making movies, I had a production company in Los Angeles, and I was shooting a movie that Smokey Robinson had brought over.
I wrote a script for him and I were friends at the time and uh on that movie uh we brought in dancers from the y and the cast of the a uh to work on the movie we filmed it in florida and it was during that uh filming that I met a young woman that she was a girl of faith and now she's my wife of 31 years and she's here somewhere I don't know where she is I think she's here anyway um uh it was uh that woman that gave me the motivation to uh really try to make a break from that life and i'm sure you'll ask what's yours on that so i'm not going to get into that and as part of this i was indicted five times i went to trial five times in the states for various crimes two federal racketeering cases one filed for rudy giuliani and uh in trying to break that life i actually accepted myself into a racketeering case i was sentenced to 10 years in prison 15 million dollars in restitution 5 million in forfeiture of my assets i married camille and went to make my time last At that time it was made public that I was moving away from that life I had a lot of problems contracting my life my father basically disowned me and we had a lot of problems I was in prison for almost eight years during that time and I got out of prison I had no idea what was going on to do and ended up becoming a speaker speaking at various churches i work a lot with universities i have visited over 300 universities in the last 20 years and i talk to student athletes about the game and the relationships they have and so on i have written f our books are doing a movie about my life now they have made many documentaries about me some of them you may have seen i am all over youtube so you can know a lot about me and i became a person of faith and my life has changed i consider myself probably the most blessed person and lucky i will never talk to in this room and the reason i say that is god if i was left alone to do what i wanted to do in my life and follow the path I was originally on, I'd be dead or in prison for the rest of my life and honestly you spent 20 years on the streets and that's what you earned and I'm extremely blessed very very I was lucky enough to be here today so having said I'm done and could you shoot thank you thank you very much michael that was very interesting I want the first half of my questions to be a little bit more about your life before prison and then i will move on to your life after um my first question is if you can say we how did you get that money?
What did you do right? Like I said it was. You know it's fun. I used to think I spoke English until I got here and realized I speak a different language, but I hope everyone understands me. lucky because I knew how to use that life, there are benefits that help you succeed in business and, um, I had a lot of legitimate businesses, I had two car dealerships, I had several restaurants that I was involved in, I had a great lease. company and then, um, you know, I guess I was lucky because I just got a head for business, I don't know how I developed it or whatever, but it kind of just came naturally to me and, um, you know, I wrote a book afterward. which is I called I'll make you an offer you can't refuse it's not very original but I didn't choose the title the editors choose the title but what I was able to do in that book is say that business is business and if you have a sense if you're doing it legally or illegally if you follow the same principles you will probably succeed the problem with doing it illegally is that after your success you end up in prison like I did so you don't want to do that but um you know if you know if you have a head for business you just develop certain things and you succeed, do you regret everything you did during that time? the things i saw huh no regrets and i have some i wish there were things i could go back and change but obviously i can't but it gets easier as you get older and you realize that um we can't change the things we can only do better in our life and trying to live our lives the right way and hopefully I've been able to do that, yeah can you tell me more about the day you became a servant? uh i was in kind of a commitment period for about a year and a half where i had to do anything and ev everything i was told to do to prove myself worthy and it could have been a very menial thing there's a lot of discipline in that life a lot of respect I presumed respect a lot of authority if you had a meeting at eight o'clock and you weren't there at 7:30 you were late you could never be late in that life and many things like that and unfortunately you know I'm going to be very honest with everyone you here tonight uh that life is sometimes very violent and if you are part of life you are part of the violence and there is no escape and if someone tells you otherwise, either they are not being honest with you or they were not a member made of that life so for about 18 months i was kind of in a commitment period where i had to do all this stuff to prove myself worthy and the night they'll make you and that's the expression we use um it's a very safe night No you're giving no advance notice you get a phone call and they tell you to put on a suit and be in a certain place for this to happen ed to be uh for me it was halloween night 1975 when i was called with five other gentlemen and we all did an oath i took it very seriously back then i take it very seriously today even though i don't consider myself a member of life you never get to that life again you don't sign a contract there is no retirement age do they know what i i know life is in my heart my mind is not easily forgotten and they say when you leave that life or leave a coffin or join the government and then go into a witness protection program you cooperate obviously i have done neither so it was very serious it was something I was very proud of at the time I had this very idealistic view of that life and I was young and I didn't realize that you don't realize until you get involved what it's really about because it's a lives secrete and you know I was uh that night I was you know I was very inspired I was very happy I felt good about it and um that started to change as time went on and how much of the type of activities the ones you were involved in still happens today well you know life has gone downhill massively i always consider the golden years of the mafia la cosinhostra in the US to be between the 50's and 80's mid 80's is when law enforcement really started to crack down on that life and they drove a lot of people away and um made them devastate that life um but it still exists and uh it won't go away In my life those guys are very resourceful.
It's changed a bit, but I think it will continue as long as I can wait. I don't see it going away. Did he have ties to the Italian mafia? i know the
cambridgemob was there was there some sort of link between them or was it pretty isolated not sure about the cambridge mob i haven't heard that but yeah we had ties to the italians in italy and certainly to the russians mob i uh i had Russian partners for many years Since we were in the gasoline business together, I had come up with the plan to defraud the government with the taxes on every gallon of gasoline and the Russians were my partners in Brooklyn and they were the best partners I've ever had, by the way.
Those guys were great. they were very smart they weren't afraid of our criminal justice system in the United States so it was great to work with some of them they had spent time in a russian prison they said oh michael serving time in your prison it's like going on vacation i said great So uh yeah, we had a great relationship for a number of years, wow, and then we moved on to how you left, how could you leave after prison without I guess they followed you to try to get you back on track and be without being an informant? well I refused, you know, the government put a lot of pressure on me to become a witness and I had a lot of problems because I resisted in many ways, I tried to make the government believe that I agreed with them, but in the end.
I really w notI could and that got me back in prison after I got parole they were mad at me but I didn't ask to go because I wouldn't have made it, they probably would have killed me on the spot, I just walked out, you know, pleaded guilty and, As part of my plan, I would serve a few years in prison when I get out on parole. You're not allowed to associate with criminals or anyone in organized crime, so I'd use that as an excuse. I moved to the west coast away from new york and thought maybe after a few years they would forget about me, uh, that wasn't the case. it happened um when i walked away um contract in my life my father basically betrayed me in many ways because he agreed and we had a lot of problems for several years and unfortunately what i tell people is um i survived everyone everyone i know in that life are either dead or in prison for the rest of their lives everyone I ran with and I mean everyone so um I've been very lucky um I think my faith has a lot to do with it and um you I know I always say that um you know I can't be stupid I can't go back to brooklyn hey guys I want to go back to the neighborhood it wouldn't last long but you know God doesn't tell you to be stupid you have to use your head so um i've been very lucky and i don't live in fear and you know as part of that life i saw a lot so the fear has gone from me and i hope it continues what's the worst thing you've ever seen? that life and sadly i've seen my share of it um i've seen people get killed let me be honest with you and um it's hard to take yeah it's never easy wow uh yeah i guess looking back now right? ever with the faith you have found since then, do you feel more guilty about the things you did or do you just say you know they are in the past and you know i did them right?
It's not a, it's not a matter of feeling more guilty I mean I still regret it but you know the Christian faith um and I don't wear my faith on my sleeve you know I'm not a holy roller so to speak but my faith is strong because my beliefs are strong and my beliefs are based on me they are based on evidence and experience and you know the basis of our christian faith is believing that we are forgiven and um and that's what we have to believe we can't take a repeat we can't go back and do it all over again so we have to believe in our faith that we're truly forgiven if we're honest with you I know anyone can say hey you know I'm sorry for what I did but I don't mean it and I always say this , I was pretty good on the street, I can probably fool a lot of your eyes here and you think I'm a great guy and I can go out and be the complete opposite, but you're not fooling God.
I mean he knows our hearts so I'm only kidding myself if I do that and as a result I think um I've been forgiven I see it and I guess your faith has made you see other bosses in a different way are they are powerless and helpless and pathetic or are they evil and you meet horrible men like how do you see them now that you well I've learned not to judge anyone I um don't judge people because at one point I could probably be considered the worst of the room and um god has changed my life in many ways so i don't judge anyone i can have my own opinions but i don't think anyone is so bad that their life can't be transformed and i use myself as an example but, again, that transformation is from the inside out, you know it's not a change, change can be temporary, transformation is usually permanent and can happen to anyone, people from that past life tried to get back in touch with you, yes abes Are they all really gone?
Oh yeah no no one has tried to contact me a lot of them said you know we're not making money we need you back and you know but it's not at all it's not even a choice or a thought or not i find attraction in that not at all right and one last thing ng before we opened did you know did you know john gotti the crime i guess i knew john very well what he was like socially he was great we had a lot of fun you know um business was an absolute nightmare i mean what you couldn't.
I didn't do business with him, he had a tremendous ego, he didn't really understand business and I had some confrontations with him in that regard because I was very active and so was he, but he was very difficult to deal with, I'm still around. I associate myself with his family, uh, you know, we mainly talked to his wife and daughters, I wasn't close to his youngest son, John Jr, but John was uh, he was fine, I respected him because he didn't want to be more than a gangster I didn't care, he didn't make any mistakes, he was who he was and that was it, wow, and there were a lot of connections between the families, so yes, yes, there was a lot of connection between the five families. it means that in new york you have to understand that you know we outdid each other all the time and we ran into each other constantly so we had a lot of business dealings, a lot of relationships, i got along very well with the heads of the other families, um, so we're constantly in touch, wow, thank you very much.
I'm going to open up to you guys so if you have a question raise your hand and I'll pick you uh anyone yeah in the back and thanks for your chat it's been great hearing everything you guys had to say that you talked um before about how um when you turned your back on that life um your relationship with uh your father turned his back on you um how your relationship with him has developed sins i mean obviously he said he's coming out in prison next month and have you gone back to how things were? Has he forgiven you?
Have you forgiven him? How has that changed over the years? I understand that the government did not play fair with me and that during the time that I walked away they put my name on the witness list of many trials that were taking place in new york and then people thought that I would become a witness and testify and he would start locking up my friends that wasn't true and when it became clear that wasn't going to happen and it took a long time me and my dad hadn't talked for 10 years and then he was on probation and he sent for me and he said that I want to see you and I told him that it was fine and that he wanted to meet me at a certain place and I refused.
I told him I'd see you at your house because honestly I didn't trust my dad because if my dad is anything he's a soldier. I mean. this is his life and i met him at his house in the morning at 5:30 in the morning and we had a good argument and we fixed it at that time he denied the fact that he betrayed me but i know it was so true i had an incident the one where i found out what he did and it was very upsetting for me i still love my dad because i know i understand his mentality i know he loves me it's not the same but my wife will tell you i have worked hard to try to get him out of jail every time i have supported him because he was a very good father when i was growing up unfortunately my younger brother who had a drug problem his whole life ended up becoming an informant, now he is in the witness protection program and testified against my father in a case that put my father back in prison so you know what i try to tell people is this life an evil life and i consider it evil?
I won't call the boys evil because I was one of them but life is evil because I don't know any family of any member of that life including my own not mine. wife and children praise god but my mother father brothers sisters that has not been totally destroyed and that is true for every member of every family of every member i know and any life that does that is evil and you know our whole family was really destroyed basically because of us being involved in that my life and when my dad comes home i'll be happy i mean i hope he has a little fun he's had a really hard time in the last 50 years but it will never be quite the same in the top, yes, absolutely not. no they are uh one thing that got me in godfather 3 if any of you saw that is talia shire played an active role in making decisions that don't happen there are no women in that life we have always tried to keep women out of that life my wife will tell you that up to this very moment and we've known each other now 32 years I think we're married 31 I've never had a discussion with my wife about my previous life and it's just not in me to have that conversation so women don't play a role in that and that's really to their benefit they shouldn't yeah on top well you know I'll be honest with you people of you know I made a very significant amount of money and i was very successful in business and people always consider me a business genius and i don't consider myself i mean there are many people who are much smarter than me in business but i think i had two talents which worked very well For me, number one, I was able to recognize a good deal and um I was able to recognize that that was good and those I shouldn't be concerned with and that in that moment I was able to get the right people to do the right job and I was able to motivate them in a way that they did the job they were supposed to do and many times they thought I was smarter than them but I really wasn't I just made them think I was smarter than them you know there's an old saying sometimes you could be the right person The smartest person in the room you don't want anyone to know and sometimes you're the dumbest person in the room and you don't want anyone to know, but that was really my talent.
I was able to get people to work for my job. hard and you know find out what a good deal it was my kind of motto was do what you do best and delegate the rest and that always worked for me the other thing i'll tell you is very very important when you go into business you have to have a plan you have to have a plan you have to know what your middle and bottom line is what you want to try to establish that that might change down the road because circumstances change and the economy changes but you have to have a business plan and you have to try to stick with it as best you can, yes sir, when you could have stopped crimes in the future, why do you choose not to cooperate? well, you know, it's a couple of things, number one, I don't consider myself a person in law enforcement, that's not my job to fight crime, um, number one, number two, I don't think so. noble thing to be involved in crime and save yourself uh betray the people you were involved with and i have been through five criminal trials of my own and four of my parents and many others i have never seen an informant including my own brother he takes the witness stand puts his hand on the bible swears to tell the truth and then lies through his teeth because he is saving himself and if you really feel a moral responsibility to fight crime then become a law enforcement officer or really fight crime if you're doing it to save your own skin i don't see anything noble in it and i refuse to do it and that's my position now and i have a lot of friends in law enforcement now you know i really finally realized that they were the good guys when we were the bad guys i have a lot of friends in law enforcement all over the united states and i do a lot last june i spoke at the southern calif gang conference Ornia where there were 1,700 law enforcement officers from across the country because I do a lot with these gang members to try to help them and, um, you know they're all friends, so I support law enforcement that way.
I will give them knowledge, I will impart knowledge, but I don't think it is my responsibility to put people in jail and b etray people I was once friends with thanks yes do you have any opinion on your current president? Oh, I promised I wouldn't get political. conservative in my point of view and i want to give him a chance i mean he said all the right things i think he's gotten a bad rap on a lot of things i happen to know people who know donald very well uh part of his campaign uh some of the people who were on his campaign they were friends of mine i really think he wants to do something and really help america and i just hope he gets a chance to do it um i cringed at some of the things he said his tweets annoy me like endless and some of the things he says you would tell donald to shut up but i think we needed change in america i really did and i support him because i think what he does in america not only impacts my kids and grandchildren but the whole world and that's why I'm going to be sup portive of him until unless he does something that I can't anymore I hope that doesn't happen eh yes, how did you come to know that God is real?
I'm sorry, how did you come to know how did you come to know what God is? real to you how did i know um god be how god became real to me you know i um really accepted christ as a result of my wife's faith in my mother in law's faith who was my mother in law she was the most godly woman i ever met in my life i mean my mother in law had a prayer book you meet her for two minutes your name goes into her prayer book and she would even have to know your name i mean if she saw you and you needed prayer the boy on the street corner with one shoe would walk into a prayer book and her faith was very real to her my wife's faith was very real when i met them i thought it was silly i wasn't buying it at all but i really did what happened to me, I spent five years inprison, i got out and got raped and i came back for three years and, um, the night i nt back was probably definitely not probably the worst night of my life was the only night i experienced hopelessness and i can tell you this i have experienced every emotion in life from ecstasy to pain and everything in between i have lived a full life by far the worst emotion you could ever experience is hopelessness and i felt like my world had ended i was 39 i thought i was going to lose my wife my children i thought that I would never get out of jail again and that night you can call me a coward or weak or whatever because it really applied I wanted to close my eyes and not wake up it was too painful to think about my future and I was in the six by eight cell and a prison guard came by my cell and uh he said francis you're fine you don't look good and i said get away from me i chased him i didn't want to see him he came back a minute later and pushed the bible through the slot in the door and I honestly picked up the bible and slammed it against the wall.
I was so upset and didn't want to hear about God and about a minute later I picked it up because I was like, hey, it's just me and God in this cell. I believed in god but had no relationship with him and i spent three years in the hole six by eight cell 24 7 just me and god and that's so hard you know i realized during that time that we weren't meant to be solitary creatures we were They were meant to be social and I saw a lot of people in that situation that didn't work out well and it was during that time that I want to say if you look at my prison bible, there's more of my notes in there than the scriptures I absorbed.
My wife sent me books on all religions and I studied. I had nothing but time on my hands and I walked out of there believing for myself that the Bible was the word of God and that Jesus was my savior and when I got out of prison I can honestly say that in the last 20 years it has become much more real to me not only in my own experiences but in what I've seen in others and as a result of that my faith is very strong and I try to say this you know I don't carry around the bible I'm a pretty normal guy In a lot of ways, well I guess not, in a lot of ways what I did before wasn't normal, but um, you know it's just that my faith is very strong and evidence based you know I'm a guy who doesn't take things lightly. verbatim i'm a very cynical guy you grow up on the street you question everything and for me my faith is based on evidence and experience and i believe it with all my heart so if i'm wrong what do i have to lose?
I mean, when you're dead, you're dead anyway, so you didn't lose. everything i live my life i think the way i am supposed to now i have been extremely blessed with a great family and things i never thought i would be doing in my life and for some reason um what do i have to say that has an impact in people and I think we've motivated a lot of people I'm really I'm there my mission in life now is to encourage people that if my life can I would transform and turn around then it certainly could happen to anyone and I spend a lot of time on our young people because in America I don't know what it's like here, I'm actually meeting with members of parliament tomorrow because they heard me speak. here a few weeks ago and they want to know if I can help them with the gang situation and the youth problem that they have in some of their cities a lot of what I do in the United States we are losing a lot of young people there and for me I think the The root of the problem is the breakup of the family, these young people just don't have the right influence in their life and it's very difficult in a world where we have so many distractions at our fingertips, I mean you guys. having more distractions at your fingertips more negative influences that I've had growing up and I think as adults we create the environment that you live in today and we have a responsibility to help our young people and so I try to encourage them and get them on the right track and i feel like that is my purpose in life now thank you yes hi um hi uh i was wondering how you maintain your empathy when i mean how did you maintain your empathy when you were aware of you know pretty dire things as you suggested or felt you lost it and then had to get it back how do you like to morally reason to yourself what you're seeing and emotionally survive it well empathize with the victim the person who might be losing their life or well you know I can honestly say I did things in that life that i didn't feel comfortable but i did them anyway so there is no excuse and i take full responsibility for it but you have to understand something when we get into that life and we make that oath we are told that if we violate the oath we can pay for it with our lives and it's your best friend who might be called upon to carry it out because um that's life c sometimes before anything and everything and when we do that we realize the playing field is level we have to play by the rules if we don't understand the consequences and that's the way things are and it's not a good mentality because anytime you justify evil, for whatever reason, it's obviously wrong , but I had a very idealistic view of that life, so, um, I was telling someone today, one of the regrets I have is that a very dear, um very, very close friend of mine was like a brother to me. , he was killed and I couldn't save him and it's something I deeply regret, so I guess when you go through it you feel empathy for it, even though you know it you you violate your conscience you still feel empathy for it and I think about it a lot my wife She will tell you, do you know that she says that I have nightmares at night, sometimes I fight in my dreams now I don't realize it, but I think it's those times when things come out and it will go away sometime, I don't know, it's just that it's there, yes, in the part of back there um since so much has happened um how did faith help you find forgiveness both for yourself and others thank you well my faith has played a big part in my life like i said um you know it has changed me Life, it's been transformed because look when you spend 20 years on the street and you come across some of the things I found, you just can't go on in life like everything is great and it's your faith that allows you to believe that you can be forgiven for those things and you can go on and lead a productive life and see, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. i've been out of that life for 20 years and i consider myself extremely lucky very blessed i don't deserve it i didn't earn it then i earned the opposite but for some reason things are going pretty well for me now that could change i know we look like we live in the world real If you become a Christian, it does not mean that life becomes the garden of eden.
You know things can still happen and you know that old question: what a good thing. Why do bad things happen to good people? That's life, you know. I always say this. God never promised us heaven on earth. He promised us heaven in heaven. a tremendous amount of struggle and for some reason we keep getting through it and we get through it by trying to do right not wrong so my faith has played a tremendous role in my life and like I said I have nothing to lose because if by some reason i'm wrong and i don't think i am but if i'm alright when i die i'm dead anyway so at least i did the best of my life because i had a sight of an amazing um merciful loving god and that has been has worked for me and it works for many others thanks and hey michael thanks for your chat.
You mentioned that your brother became a government informant. And he reported on your father. How do you see your brother? seeing it that's a big question my dad was obviously crushed by it my dad really loves his kids even though he led us astray in so many ways i think he really loved his kids so he was crushed by the fact that his son his son minor would do something because my dad I think anyway my dad was very good to my brother I will say this I love my brother I do not agree with what he did because he did it to save himself and I always say this my brother one of the one one of the worst qualities you can have in life or characteristics is to be selfish my brother since he was a child he never went out of his way for anyone he was always very very selfish always and as a result when the time came and he had to save himself he chose save himself instead of hurting my dad um I still love him um I don't know if I'll ever see him again because he's on the show maybe we'll go up you know we will I'll be in a relationship again at some point I certainly will I forgive, but I don't agree with him, you know, um and uh, like I said, I don't consider what he did to be noble in any way, I don't consider it. moral either way i sat in court when he swore an oath to tell the truth and he lied i have seen it so often and it was very upsetting to me so um yeah i feel terrible for what he has done thanks uh yeah um what is it so hard to trust people?
How hard was it then and how easy is it now? I, uh, seem pretty trusting. I mean, I think my wife is much more perceptive than me. its space for me you start off the right way and you have to work your way down from there and that has hurt me um its just my nature you know i like to give people uh a certain amount of leeway and leverage and let them prove them right or wrong but I'm always cautious you know it's always like a cautious trust um and I think the life you know had a lot to do with it now that I was in that life.
It was different you know I was always very wary of anyone around me and because you have to be because like I said you know one of the horrors of that life is that you might have done something wrong you really don't know huh you your best friend walks you into the room and you don't come out again and that's a nightmare to say the least and unfortunately i've seen it in my life and as a result of that you get a little leery but i don't have to face that in this life it's not a matter of life and death when i trust someone it's you you know for any other reason yeah well i was uh we are quite different yeah but my wife and i prove that opposites attract because we've been together a long time we don't agree on almost nothing am true babe um but somehow it worked um i was shooting a movie in south florida and she was one of the dancers they brought in to dance and i was sitting by the pool one day i had a party p For all of us who had just finished pre-production and were going to start principal photography on a Monday, it was a Sunday afternoon, a beautiful day in Florida, so I threw a party for the whole crew and all the actors and actresses and I was sitting next to the pool and all of a sudden she came out of the water and i saw her and it was like a pepsi commercial everything was in slow motion ok and i asked her to have the choreographer sit next to me i said jeff is one of your dancers and he said yes i said bring her i want to meet her so she comes I introduce myself to her I said listen I'm your producer I want to get to know you better let me take you to lunch so she says great so I set a time somewhere and I go and I'm there for 45 minutes she stood me up she never shows up I got up like this that I saw her on set and she was 20 at the time and I was like hey we had a date you know what happened you didn't show up and you know what got me is she didn't make an excuse she just looked at me like you really expected that suits me and uh so I said well you were dancing rehearsing she was rehearsing I said can we try again she said sure no problem we said again somewhere she stood me up now we have a big disagreement here because she did this to me five times and He usually rolls his eyes so don't exaggerate it wasn't five times guys we know when we got up believe me it was five times right? one night uh she uh we had a cast meeting and she walked out of the meeting and she was upset because she was with her friends something was wrong i said hey this is great i said i have to fire someone get rid of someone i'm going to be their hero and we started talking from that point on and we started hanging out on set for a while and she took me home to meet her mom which was another experience but uh 31 years later uh here we are so somehow That way worked but again we disagree on almost nothing and every time I would ask him so he was really surprised every time I ask him something his first reaction is no I don't want you to do that I want you to do that , well I said I'm going to Cambridge she says hey that's great yeah ok we're leaving. do that, but yeah, in a way, I always say this, honestly, people, uh, I'm not really the story here and she's my wife, she's very humble, she doesn't like the press or anything, and uh , she always said my job is to take care of the kids and support you in prayer um but I'm really not the story here I mean she's the story I mean I brought so much baggage into her life she had no idea what she saw the godfather one time she didn't know anything about the mob she didn't even know what it really was and um you know she's been through so much and she'll tell you how much she loves me i think if god wasn't on the base of our marriage we probably wouldn't be together so it certainly worked out for us am i right honey thank you for a good look yeah yeah thanks thanks for the chat um just wondering so you talk abouta kind of transformation how it comes from within do you think the prison system as it is today and how you have experienced it helps that and if not how could it be improved i am not a fan of our prison system in america i don't believe in rehab they believe to put you in jail and lock you up and that's it and it doesn't make sense and I've had many conversations with government officials and I tell them that you jail people who are with other inmates. i was there um you know i know how not to get caught after time i said really how did you know everyone else here got caught? how did you know you didn't get caught? they say it's ridiculous and then they expect you to go through it and go out and be a productive member of society and it just doesn't work and I tell them if you're going to do that, lock people up and don't ever let them out because what they you're doing you're creating another problem for society because they come out they can't get a job they don't have skills no one will hire them because of their background and you hope they assimilate back into society and it won't be a problem i said it doesn't make sense you have than to rehabilitate people, yes, they should be punished, okay, you commit a crime, there are consequences, but rehabilitation has to be part of that and it's not in the frame of mind of our policy. system you know I heard about once when I was in prison a politician out of nowhere created this idea that prison systems were creating super criminals why because of weight rooms because they would go in there and pick up waste and come out and become super criminals had no evidence of that you know it's like they were almost going to put on a cape and become superman they had no evidence that they had no prior crimes that no super criminal had committed but it sounded great and it got the guy was re-elected, so what happens? he passes a bill that all the weight rooms had to be taken out of the prison, well the warden and all the guards went crazy because it's a place where inmates go and they take the pressure off a little bit you know , and they get fed up and go to the prison guards and the warden all they want is peace in the prison they don't care what you bring as long as it doesn't cause any trouble but until today in a federal system when it breaks a team. they're not allowed to replace it, the wardens fought back and they didn't, they didn't take all the weight off of it, uh, the rooms, but they're not allowed to put it in the new prisons and it's terrible and that's it. part of this idea of rehab so I'm telling you I don't think it's going to change but I've heard in some states it's starting to change they think rehab should be a part of the prison experience and hopefully that will be all.
I happen to speak at uh what prison was that here in London Pennington or did I forget the name Penville or something like that Pentonville Yeah I spoke there three weeks ago and I was here with about 150 inmates. It really taught me something that you know prison is prison and people are going through the same experience, whether it's here in the United States or anywhere else, and it was a tremendous experience. here it is is part of w what i do i like to do that but i hope rehab is in the mindset of our government and our political figures because it's important to all of us you know people tell me well mike it's possible that you are not, because of your experience, you are not. tough on crime and they say, well, excuse me, I have five daughters and I have a wife, and when they walk down the streets I want to make sure they're safe, so I'm just as tough on crime and criminals as anybody else. one so i know what they are supposed to have um but there is also another side to that and you have to be practical about it you have to use your head to protect society for the future yes my host for lunch , this very nice young gentleman, by the way, thank you, so, when you were the boss of the mafia, what did you pursue in life?, what did you live for and how is that?, how are those activities and objectives different?
It could be I was very motivated to do that I wanted to make a lot of money I was very motivated to do that I was very aggressive on the street I worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and that was my goal to be the best gangster I could be and i went um after they made me a kappa regime or captain they were grooming me to be the boss or the underboss. I was on my way and that's what I wanted to be so, um, I tend to want to, you know, be the best at what I do when I do something and it was no different when I was in that life, I had a very idealistic view of that life. at the time at this time um you know i've toned it down a bit i uh you know i take every speaking engagement i talk a lot probably 70-80 times a year a very prolific speaking career i guess you'd say i give it my all every timeout i want to be there and making sure that people are impacted by what I say I'll spend as much time as it takes signing books and spending time with people afterwards because I learned especially if you're in the ministry um when you come down from that stage if you're not the same person when you walk away that when you're there then everything you said on stage means nothing and i'm okay with that i've seen it in others so i take it very seriously and i've been extremely blessed to do what i do so which is important to me and you know I've written a couple of books and I'm writing another one now it's called mob democracy it's going to be very popular with our politicians when that book comes out and it's pos I may have to come to England for a while um and you know they're making a movie about my life now I've done a documentary series and we're actually producing a show in las vegas so if you ever come to las vegas , it's called the mafia musical and it will coincide and it will be uh it's coming out in september of this year so we just trying to do things t him the right way now um please can you explain your program to defraud the government of those tax revenues?
Well, did you hear that question? brooklyn i moved to the island and i was kind of a mob head guy so people would come to me all the time with different business propositions and this guy had a couple gas stations and he had a wholesale gas company and he came to me because three other mob guys from another family were trying to extort money from him so he came to me for health and initially i wasn't impressed and i didn't help him but he was very persistent and he kept coming back and he said he said michael i think that I have something, a little plan that might interest you and maybe we can cheat the government with the taxes on every gallon of gas, now I understand that that was music to my ears, I didn't do it like the government, so I said okay, let's go I talked about it so he gave me a little insight and I said okay so I got rid of the mob guys that got rid of I mean I made them disappear I didn't get rid of them you know I mean I they are still v you go so far like I know, but we started working together and we created this company and I assigned someone to keep an eye on it.
I had a guy around me who was, uh, he was a butcher. His name was Vinnie the butcher. We were not very original. in our nicknames he was a butcher we called him vinnie the butcher and he had a big scar on his head so he was kind of a foreboding guy he was a big guy and i assigned vinnie to stay with this larry guy and see what happens . it was about vinnie used to bring me meat on saturdays he would come to my house with meat so this saturday morning he comes to my house and he has a box on his shoulders and i looked at him and i said what are we going to have? a party why my wife ordered all this meat then she said no boss come to the kitchen and we go to the kitchen and she puts it on the table and says it's not meat it's the shot of the first week in the gas business and he opened it up and there were 320,000 in there, so it really caught my eye at the time and, um, we grew that operation. over seven years in um bringing in around 10 million a week and devised the scheme to defraud the government had 18 companies that were all Panamanian companies and the reason we use Panamanian companies because in Panama the corporations consisted of bearer shares, so whoever owned the shares or whoever owned the shares owned the company so if I had the shares I owned it, if I gave it to you you owned it and I created a daisy chain and figured out a way to defraud the government. licensed had 18 licenses and was paying people in the government to get the license and had 18 licenses and I thought of a way to steal the tax on each gallon of gas which at the time was about 40 cents a gallon and get away with that for about 10 months and I had a complex schematic on how to do that and after 10 months when our government finally fell we would just close shop and move on to the next license and they called it a daisy chain so I ran this operation with the Russians I brought them into the fold about two years after I started and we ran this for seven years and like I said we were making about 50 million dollars a month at the time and the government had no idea what we were doing .
I couldn't figure it out and the way they did it was my uh partner this Larry guy finally got in trouble and became an informant and he um blew the whistle on the whole operation otherwise we'd still be doing it I think but not me but others have tried but then they were able to succeed at it because we really had the schematic to the letter. I'm not going to give you too much detail because I don't want you to know that people have Come to me Mike you know I'm going to do this and d you won't have to be involved at all and you know I said yes until you get in trouble and then I'll be the main one involved, but um, it was uh, I had 300 and some weird gas stations at the time and I had a big wholesale operation, we were actually selling gasoline from New York to Florida, up and down the east coast and it was a sprawling operation, I have time for two more so yeah up front here thanks you um did you have a mob nickname in the family?
They call me the yuppie don and I guess yuppy because he was some kind of new wave gangster. Now I hate it but uh a little less she calls me that when she wants to get mad at me or make me mad at her pretty yuppy uh yeah the front I'm fine I'm fine on time if you yeah yeah yeah I'm low no I'm here for you tonight so whenever jonas thinks we should break up that's fine by me in his own experience um how much of the business activity was legally illegal was the business legal he was always doing business with people who were part of this underground life or was it actual activity with people who had no idea he was a member of the mob um and how much the mob interfered with things like elections and politics one of the things I tell people about the mob in general in the America is that we survived and thrived for over a hundred years and under very difficult conditions, but the reason it happened is because we infiltrated every fabric of society from the white house to the person on the street in the numbers business and we were involved in the
unions, you know, the teamsters
unionwas controlled by us at one point. to understand these two and a half million members uh truckers who drove all the trucks carrying all the products across the country if we were to call a strike we basically shut down the country the same with the docks we control all the docks all uh products coming in we we controlled in and out of america we called a strike it was over and politically we had a lot of power because of that and uh corporate america uh same thing i cant begin to tell you you know people think we used to sit in our social clubs and we devised schemes to defraud corporate corporations, it was not like that in every situation I got involved in, a corporate executive came to me and they had a plan to defraud their company and they thought that I could help them I could finance them, i wasn't going to rat them out and that's how it happened you know someone from the inside would come to us so my point is we infiltrate all the tissues two of society we just had a way of about ourselves that we knew how to get around people um i i i can't explain it's just the way you were you know we rubbed shoulders politically with a lot of people we were at the highest levels of corporate America with celebrities we always deal with you know I had a lot of legit companies so it wasn't always other members of my life that were involved with me and um you know you take some of the other organized crime groups if you take away the drugs they all collapse they're built around drugs now we weren't allowed to get involved in drugs we were told straight up deal drugs we die pay for it with your life so honestly as my wife will tell you i hate anything that has to to do with drugs, I had a sister who died from a drug overdose, my brother was a drug addict for 25 years and I feel like that caused so many. issues,my wife will tell you what that guy put us through was just unbelievable and um so we didn't get involved in drugs in any way and i wouldn't until today i mean i wouldn't get involved in any way but um , I think that's why we were so successful and You know the government was absolutely afraid of us and those who weren't afraid of us usually went along with us and we made them win.
I can't tell you how many political functions I attended and we always donated to them for a reason: others, we were buying them, but as they were, yeah, in the back, what's it like, um, just being in the mob day to day day, what do you do?, how do you feel?, are you constantly scared? Is it like in the movies where everyone laughs and eats spaghetti or is it actually pretty cool? What is it that I really like being there? Well, you know, when I became a carpenter or a captain, I spent a lot of my day.
I had a lot of guys around me I had a great team I had 300 guys under me and they were always getting into trouble one way or another and I had to settle disputes for them all the time I had a lot of meetings we called it with uh with gotti and other people because my guys would get in trouble ble, whatever it was, it could have been a business dispute, it could have been something and that's a big part of his life, dealing with other family members over disputes and, um, so I had my businesses to manage. dealerships new car dealerships had a leasing company so i was a business person in that sense so i would say you know 50 of my life went to my life of organized crime and the other 50 went to my life of business and like i said i was i was aggressive so i got involved in a lot of different things and i was busy from morning till night i mean i was a workaholic and there's no way to live i mean i'm not no I'm saying it's a great thing to do but I was very motivated at the time um so again a lot and then uh every weekend no doubt every weekend I had to attend weddings and funerals , unbelievable, half the time I didn't know who was getting married or who was dead us.
I just had to go out of respect because again we had five families and someone was dying or getting married and we had to go and sit at a table and give an envelope or pay our respects so that's also a big part of that life and you know that too we party a lot, I mean I was in a nightclub six nights a week before I met my wife, that was my life and, you know, until three, four and five in the morning every night, so we did a lot of that and, um, it's a very active life if you're active. boy like me, you know, i'll tell you another thing, you know there's a big fallacy in that life, that you come to that life and suddenly you become a millionaire, well, it's the opposite, you come to that life that you're paying for. all the time and we had 115 guys in our family who actually took the oath of 115 20 of us were salaried the other 95 had a support somehow and we got them a job and they did a lot of the grunt work um you know it's not a life where everyone makes a lot of money contrary to what people believe uh and it's out there um do you think that life has been and is and continues to be too romantic in the public mind and um you said there's making a movie about your life and you're producing this musical and you've written books, so what do you do or do anything to dispel these romantic perceptions, uh, that people have?
Yeah I never glorify life cause you know I said this before. they get destroyed as a result of that so it's not to be glorified it's been glorified i mean the godfather did more for the glamor and prestige of my former life than any other movie and i remember that i mean even the guys in the streets they began to walk. differently, after that movie came out, it created an aura that in many ways exists today and it shouldn't be that life shouldn't be glorified and, um, you know, it just happens to be the platform that I was given and I never realized what was i telling jonah before i gave a speaking event in singapore singapore was a ticketed event a secular event and my host came after and said michael we we uh we are going to have a q a later we promised the ticket buyers they can have that i said great it was called best man night out and um but he said but dont worry um singaporeans are very reserved they are very um they dont ask a lot of questions so we can put an accomplice there to ask a question or two i said great we will go home early no problem uh we were there for two and a half hours the questions they were asking i was surprised about john gotti where jimmy hoffa paul castellano was buried they were asking about murders about my life about sopranos i couldn't believe that and the same thing happened in australia and the same thing happens everywhere and the movies have created an aura for that life that is known all over the world i will tell you this i was here three weeks ago and i spoke at 14 churches and a secular event at the is Le of man, in case none of you have been there I would not suggest going anytime soon not much going on there it will rain a lot but the people were wonderful and just so you know they call it , they describe themselves as 70,000 drunk people hanging on a rock and we met a bunch of them that night but it was fun um what was I saying oh god what was I saying baby yeah oh yeah Same thing in Australia, I mean, I couldn't believe it. this is the platform that they gave me and we were here oh we were here three weeks ago we were treated like rock stars and we walked out of there I mean standing room only crowds and I just couldn't believe it and to me, you know i always say god is great to get people into the room because people are intrigued with my past life and it gives me a chance to share some things that are hopefully uplifting to people but i never realized when you're part of that life it's just your life never real I realized how intriguing and interesting it is to people until I got out of it and started experiencing it myself. it made you see that like the truth um well historically i was able to verify a lot of things i really like apologetics um and i read a lot about apologetics uh lee strobel is a friend and someone who i consider a brilliant biblical scholar um and i was able to verify a lot of things that i read in the bible historically and then practically in my own life and in the lives of others and you know and i'm answering the question i'm not believing when i tell you i don't impose my faith or anyone else on anyone and i never try to make anyone a christian you know, as christians we are somehow obligated to share what the lord has done in our lives and that is what i do and if you ask the question i will answer you um you know people n no one really has a problem with the life of christ they believe he existed um no one really has a problem with his crucifixion they think he was crucified and there is a lot of external verification of that from the writings of others at that time people have a problem with the resurrection and I can kind of understand that but to me it's the same group of writers who wrote about his life who wrote about his death and wrote about his resurrection and the transformation that I saw in the lives of the people who witnessed the resurrection really convinced I, in a great way, you do not do what they did if you do not do what they did if Jesus was a myth for them that sounded very very strong to me because I understand that in a great way my life experience tells me you do not risk your life for something that's a myth if you are and it might be a myth but if you really believe it then it's really believable to you and so um and i can dig into this because i i've read a lot after that made me believe that historically the bible it was accurate and then the work that has been done in my life and in the lives of others leads me to believe and i will tell you this i have to say this my mother in law Law died of cancer and she died in 2001 i think and she lived with us and he she was taking her for her chemo treatments and probably had her on 30 different pills and things because she was looking for all the homeopathic ways to try to help. her on her diet medication and so on, she started rejecting all of that and, um, my wife was very upset because she was very close to her mother and also her six brothers and sisters, so I put her in the car one morning and actually I was scolding her I was taking her to ucla where she was receiving her treatments and I said mother what are you doing? i told her we are trying to help you are refusing all these meds your kids are so upset cami is crying every night and you know when i say this if it gives me the chills i was sitting in the passenger seat and she turned to me and i'm not kidding He had this kind of angelic look on his face and he just told me, Michael, I'm going home, I'm ready to go. and knowing how that woman lived her life and understanding how real the Lord was to her, it was a real thing, it was the final proof that I needed that she died two weeks later and to me, God was a horrible being if he really existed. at the time he was real and i understood how she lived it, it just cemented things for me and it has only gotten stronger since then you know i tell people this and again i say it because you asked me you know of one of the things i'm sure you've heard this about the sins of the father befalling the sons befall the sons and that's in the old testament bible that's true sometimes and my prayer every night is lord don't let that get them pass on to my kids whatever i did in my life keep it confined with me and its a prayer that i pray faithfully and always say this even if that happened god has honored that in my life i have seven wonderful kids and you know they have been great , but even if that happened, he might be angry with God. i could walk away for a certain amount of time i don't know what i would do because i would feel so hurt but i can never stop believing because to me the evidence is too strong and to me it's all about evidence and to me it's just too powerful that's how i live and how i always say i have to lose if god doesn't exist and when you're dead you're dead well you're dead anyway so you've got nothing to lose if you try live your life according to um you know a truth you think is good and if Jesus was something, he was good, no one can deny that, I mean his teachings were solid and all good, so respecting them is a win-win situation. me there's nothing to lose you treat people the right way um and things seem to work out in your life so i kind of live by that and i firmly believe that thank you very much i think we have to end there alright but thank you very much michael for coming to what I think has been probably one of the most interesting and insightful speaker events I've seen here well thank you and I uh you know me I really enjoy being around you young people I mean you really are the future I know it's kind of cliché but you know the fact that you fill the room and you've asked so many great questions I really appreciate that I've asked uh I understand Bernie Sanders is coming.
I wish I could be here to discuss it, um or Bill Maher. to discuss as well, but really this has been a privilege and an honor and I appreciate it very much and I wish you all the best, keep up the good work, if I could add to that I have to say I'm very impressed. the people in your country are so respectful and courteous, i mean that's what we've experienced, i mean am i right baby, i mean it's not always like that in the states but of course you know we can deal with that there but you've been so hospitable and and this is a great place it's made it to the top of my list so thank you all london is amazing i see where new york came from it came from london thats great thanks just a quick reminder that this week um its quite a busy week here we have uh tomorrow we have katie hopkins he will be here uh which will be very interesting to come please come and challenge her uh cause i cant do that for my account so i need numbers strength and numbers uh wednesday we have sigma the dj duo that will be very different but very good too and then thursday we have an immortality debate and then friday night we have piers morgan uh that another one will be here interesting so come to all or any of those if you can but otherwise thanks for coming
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