Franzese was involved in a number of financial schemes during his prime. According to Mafia lore, Franzese was a big spender and a regular at the Copacabana nightclub, where he hobnobbed with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.
The mob boss also once had a stake in the classic porn film "Deep Throat." He made most of his money through extortion and loan sharking. Law enforcement officials suspect Franzese has killed or ordered the slaying of some 50 people.
“He’s one of a kind,” said Robert Lewicki, a retired FBI agent. “There’s never been a guy like Sonny. There will never be another guy like Sonny, the last of a dying breed.”
Franzese was convicted in 1967 of a bank robbery, sent to prison and paroled in the late 1970s. Though never convicted of another crime, authorities say he rose to second in command of the Colombos, one of New York's five Italian crime families.
The mobster’s family claimed he never took part in the bank robberies.
“My father was who he was in my former life, but he was no bank robber,” Michael Franzese, the mob leader’s son said. “He was absolutely framed.”
Franzese was sentenced to 50 years for the bank robbery charge. He was offered a reduction if he lent out any information but the mobster did not. He ended up getting parole but went back to prison. The mobster has received parole up to six times but was sent back to prison after every one.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.