John "Sonny" Franzese, the reputed underboss of the Colombo crime family who currently is out on bail awaiting a federal racketeering trial, has been hit with new charges alleging he shook down the Hustler and Penthouse strip clubs as reported by John Marzulli for the Daily News:
Franzese, who has been around long enough to have seen Frank Sinatra play the Copa, offered the skin clubs protection from other crime crews, prosecutors said. And he gave the scheme the personal touch, coming to the flesh palaces with his goons to see the girls and have the little people pay homage, the indictment charges. When the manager at the Penthouse Executive Club refused to comp Franzese's drink bill, he got a lesson in senior-citizen clout. One of the henchmen threatened to throw him down the stairs, "asking whether he could come up with a way to get rid of the bill before his head hit the ground," prosecutors said in court papers. The same thug threatened to choke a manager at the Hustler club after he refused to let the old man drink for free. "The manager apologized to Franzese and kissed his hand," prosecutors wrote. "The next time he and Franzese visited the club, the manager put them at the best table."
The Colombo crime family has been involved in the smut rackets -- massage parlors, porn distribution, sex clubs -- and Franzese allegedly did business with reputed Genovese member Matty Ianniello who was a dominant player in the gay bar industry from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. An October 8, 1967 article ("Mafia Increasing Investments in Business on L.I.") by Charles Grutzner from the New York Times states: '"Franzese is reported to have a concealed stake in several bars, motels and cocktail lounges, including places patronized by homosexuals. A sideline in the operation of such spots is the blackmailing of wealthy or prominent patrons." Steve Ostrow, the owner of the infamous Continental Baths at 230 West 74th Street in the Hotel Ansonia, alleges in his 2007 memoir Live at the Continental: The Inside Story of the World-Famous Continental Baths that the Colombo family provided his gay bathhouse with protection from rival mob families after he agreed to install its vending machines on the premises.
Joseph Colombo was shot by Jerome Johnson, a black mob wannabe, during a rally of the Italian American Coalition at Columbus Circle on June 28, 1971. Following the shooting Colombo remained in a coma for nearly seven years until he finally expired. Many theories abound on the motivation for the hit, and perhaps it was the result of the violent war at the time between the Colombo and Gambino crime families for control over the Times Square massage parlors and strip joints. The shooter, Jerome Johnson, was attempting to become involved with the porn rackets through his friend Gambino associate Mike Umbers, and maybe Johnson was told that the price of admission for a piece of the action was the murder of Colombo.