In a trial that is rapidly turning into a mob family soap opera, ex-hoodlum John Franzese Jr. testified Wednesday that he decided to become an informant and tape his father, reputed Colombo family underboss John "Sonny" Franzese, because he needed a way to turn his life around.
"I thought it was the right thing to do," said Franzese, 50, a reformed cocaine addict who grew up in Roslyn in the 1970s, as his 93-year-old father clutched a cane and watched intently from the defense table. "I thought it was a chance to make up for what I had done in my life."
The father, a big-name mob guy since the days when hoods hobnobbed with the likes of Frank Sinatra, limped out for frequent bathroom breaks while his son - a large metal cross dangling on his chest - walked prosecutors through secretly recorded tapes that caught his dad plotting to extort strip joints and discussing political arrangements for a club in Babylon.
The testimony in federal court in Brooklyn, however, took a backseat to the drama outside. Cristina Capobianco Franzese, of Selden, defended her son's betrayal of her estranged husband, while brother Michael Franzese - himself an ex-mobster who has become a minister - condemned the testimony against blood and sympathized with his father.
"The family's taking it hard," said Michael Franzese. "I feel worst for my father. He always had a soft spot for his kids, so this is hard, very, very hard."
But Cristina Franzese leaped to her son's defense, describing her 52-year marriage as a disaster for her children, in which mobster father Sonny cheated on her and put gangland burdens on young sons who didn't want them while he spent more than half of his adult life in prison.
John Franzese Jr., on the witness stand, said that growing up in Roslyn, he had lots of money - a new car every year, an "exorbitant" wardrobe of clothes, and a reputation as the richest kid in school. He said at 18 he began hanging out at gang social clubs and his father started using him to ferry messages.
"I'm really on my son's side because he did not have a life," his mother said, describing him as a "very compassionate" person who graduated from St. John's with top honors before getting hooked on drugs - a habit she said that did not keep his father from exposing him to bars and drug dealers.
He had to turn on the "terrible life" of his father to find inner "peace," she said.
"I'm not testifying against Dad," he told her. "I love Dad. I'm testifying against our life and our lifestyle."
Christina Franzese, 75, took her own potshots at her husband, calling him a cheapskate and philanderer. She voiced one note of sympathy: "I wouldn't like to see anyone die in prison."
Sonny Franzese, Joseph DiGorga of Oceanside and two others are charged in the racketeering conspiracy.