Sonny Franzese Goes Down for the Count

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At 11:45 A.M., shortly after the jury found him and three pals guilty of racketeering and extortion charges, John "Sonny" Franzese, 93, slid his belt out of his pants. The alleged underboss of the Colombo crime family then leaned back in his chair and reached into his pockets. First the wallet came out of the back pocket, then a handful of coins from the left front. An inch-thick wad of bruised business cards fastened by a rubber band emerged from the front right. He passed these items to his attorney, Richard Lind.

This is how wiseguys prepare for prison where these things are either unnecessary or not allowed. Sonny Franzese, last of New York's Mafia legends, knows better than most how it is done. He was convicted of bank robberies back in the 1960s -- a case that most people who look at it closely believe was a frame-up - and sentenced to 50 years. Paroled, he managed to get himself sent back inside five times because he couldn't stop visiting with old friends, most of them convicted felons on the "do not associate" list. On this conviction, Franzese faces 20 years, though it's a life sentence regardless.

The jury in Brooklyn federal court took most of four days to make up their minds, giving Franzese and his co-defendants a small measure of hope. This allowed Sonny to see the Fourth of July fireworks one more time over the weekend. The toughest evidence, however, came from their own words which were duly recorded by Franzese's son, John Jr., who wore a wire on his own father for the FBI.

"They had all the tapes. What were they going to say? That everyone lied?" asked Tina Franzese, 75, separated wife of Sonny, and mother of John, after learning of her husband's conviction.

Sonny Franzese wore a bright blue and white-striped tee-shirt and olive slacks for his last day in the free world. Down the table from him, his friend, Joseph DiGorga, 70, wore his usual dapper jacket and tie. DiGorga, whose business was strip joints, was convicted of shaking down the Hustler's and Penthouse strip clubs in the city. DiGorga was asked during the trial how he was doing. "How am I doing?" he answered. "I am sitting in a chair, waiting for them to lock me up. That's how I'm doing."

In court this morning, DiGorga waited for his lawyer, Raymond Colon, to finish his losing argument to District Judge Brian Cogan that he should be allowed to stay out of jail pending sentencing. Then DiGorga loosened his tie, and pulled it off. He folded it neatly three times and slid it over to his lawyer, along with his billfold. He checked his jacket breast pockets to see if he had forgotten anything.

Chris Curanovic, 29, didn't have to worry about emptying his pockets since he has been held in federal custody for a year since he was first charged. A lower East Side bar owner testified at the trial how Curanovic had tried to pin his hand to his desk with a screwdriver in pursuit of shakedown payments for Franzese.

Alone of the defendants, John "Johnny Cap" Capolino, 42, a Franzese relative, was allowed to remain free on bond until his sentencing. "That was a crucifixion in there," he said outside as he lit up a cigarette. "That's what that was."

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