Former New York mob boss slated to speak at MU

Wednesday, March 19, 2008 | 9:23 p.m. CDT; updated 5:13 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

This story has been edited to reflect the correct date of the speech, which is April 2.

COLUMBIA — After spending eight years in prison, former mob boss Michael Franzese says he has broken away from a life of crime and is now sharing his life-changing story with the masses.

Franzese will be speaking at 7 p.m. April 2 in MU’s Conservation Auditorium. The bulk of his $4,600 speaking fee is being paid for by the MU athletics department and the department of student activities, which is a branch of the department of student life. He is being paid $3,000 for the speeches; the rest will cover his travel expenses.

Franzese will be giving two addresses. An e-mail sent to MU faculty members Wednesday billed the public address as the real story of a mobster. A signing of his latest book, “Blood Covenant,” is supposed to follow.

Joan Masters of MU’s Wellness Resource Center said the public address also would touch on the perils of gambling.

The second address is aimed at athletes and will focus on the potential for athletes to get caught up in gambling problems.

Chad Moller, MU athletics department spokesman, said that address is not open to the public.

MU athletics is paying $3,500 for Franzese’s visit, which includes a $500 grant from the NCAA. Student activities, which is funded by student fees, is paying $1,000, and the MU Wellness Resource Center is picking up the remaining $100.

“It is a good way to get someone in high profile to come talk to the kids,” Moller said. “It is a way to further educate our students on this issue.”

Franzese will appear with his managing partner, Robert Michaels, who is a former police detective.

Michaels said Fortune Magazine ranked Franzese as one of the top 50 mafia bosses before he “retired” and went to prison in the late 1980s.

According to his official biography, Franzese was making more money than anyone in organized crime since Al Capone.

“He was a nondiscriminating mobster. He was involved in profiting from contracting unions, gas tax scams and gambling,” Michaels said. “He was indicted five times and never convicted.”

But when Franzese met his future wife, a 19-year-old dancer, he decided he needed to change his life and get out of organized crime to be with her, Michaels said. With the government still after him, Michaels said Franzese decided to plead guilty and take the consequences. Michaels said Franzese never testified against other members of the mafia and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

While in the mob, Franzese was involved in many gambling schemes and many involved athletes, Michaels said. Franzese saw firsthand what came out of athletic gambling and the dangers that athletes can be in when they can’t pay.

“Franzese tells them if they are engaged in gambling, athletes are risking eligibility, compromising their school’s program and also their sport,” Michaels said.

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