Monday, June 22, 2009

Ex-Mafia fixer, mob rat, Mike Franzese offer of help the sport could not refuse

Michael Franzese claims little insight into the secretive detective work of the tennis authorities as they continue to clean up the sport but the ex-New York mafia boss, a former match-fixer in US sport, has worked on the Association of Tennis Professional's education programme to warn players of the dangers of gambling, and has no doubt that fixing goes on
I was asked back in 2006 to address the players," he said, talking to The Independent at the recent Play the Game conference in Coventry. "I've had a lot of consultation with the ATP. They're concerned about the problem and they are as proactive as they can be. People would be naive to think that gambling, fixing and attempted fixing isn't happening in tennis. Players told me stories of being approached. It's happened. It still does.
"After I spoke [to the players] I got emails and telephone calls, they confided in me. I spoke via an interpreter to some Russians. I don't know how much attention they were paying but [another player] said to me they were the ones that needed to because they're the most guilty. That's exactly what I was told." --

Franzese, 58, is the son of the notorious John "Sonny" Franzese, a key figure for years in the Colombo family, one of New York's five Mob clans. Sonny was a ruthless hitman, and has spent 32 years in prison since 1970. Now 92 and out on bail, he is the oldest parolee in the US.
Michael followed in father's footsteps in his twenties and made hundreds of millions of dollars, primarily from bootlegging, racketeering and tax scams, with a healthy sideline in match-fixing, mainly on NBA basketball games and NFL football.
"We'd prey on athletes' weaknesses," he said. "We'd find a player who gambled, extend him credit until he's far out of his depth – hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then we'd offer an easy way to repay. It was all about shaving points."
In US sports betting, the most popular gamble is "the spread". Franzese and his bookies would target players in teams that were strong favourites, and simply "request" the winning margin was lower than expected. In such details huge profits lay.
His extraordinary life story took a twist after an eight-year prison term and after falling in love with a girl (now his wife of many years) who wanted him to go straight. He left the Mafia, and lived to tell the tale by never grassing. He had a contract on his head, however, and still does.
"I was in that life for 17 years so I took a lot of precautions when I left it behind me, although I never co-operated [with the police], and never entered a witness protection programme. When I was in jail, they kept me in lockdown. I was in the hole for three years, they wouldn't let me out on the yard for my own safety. It was tough for years after I came out, effectively on the run for our safety."
How is he still alive? "I outlasted just about everybody in my life [who'd want me dead]. They're either dead or in prison for the rest of their lives. And I didn't testify against anyone."
The NBA and NFL have used Franzese's services to warn athletes about corruption for many years. He makes a living from public speaking and writing, and his latest book I'll Make You an Offer You Can't Refuse: Insider Business Tips from a Former Mob Boss is out now.