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Oldfather jailed for racketeering

A 93-year-old gangster who struggled to stay awake at his racketeering trial has been convicted for extorting money from New York strip clubs and a pizzeria.

A jury in Brooklyn federal court found John "Sonny" Franzese - the reputed underboss of the Colombo organised crime family and one-time acquaintance of Frank Sinatra - and three co-defendants guilty on its fifth day of deliberations on Wednesday.

Franzese, who had been out on bail, was jailed after the verdict was announced. Prosecutors say he faces up to 20 years in prison.

At his trial, prosecutors used his son, also called John, 50, a former Colombo associate-turned paid informant, to help convince jurors that his father's frail appearance was deceiving. Franzese senior briefly dozed off on the first of his son's three days on the witness stand.

"I'm not talking about my father as a man," his son told the court. "I'm talking about the life he chose. This life absorbs you. You only see one way."

Mr Franzese said he tried to follow in the footsteps of his father, who used him to pass messages to other mobsters. But after developing a crack cocaine addiction, he said he sought "to make up for what I had done in my life" by becoming a government co-operator.

The jury also heard secretly recorded conversations of the elder Franzese coaching his son and a Colombo captain on how to handle an extortion victim: "If he don't give it to you, leave him on the floor."

Defence lawyer Richard Lind said his client, dubbed the "Nod Father" by the Daily News, had not been a threat since "the age of Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson and maybe the age of George Washington".

In his heyday, Franzese was a regular at the Copacabana nightclub, where he mixed with Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. He also had a stake in the classic porn film Deep Throat.

Franzese was convicted in 1967 in 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 the city's five Italian crime families.

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