Governor Rod Blagojevich vs. Former Governor George Romney: Insights from a Mafia Conversion Story

I was in Chicago yesterday, and I was there the week before – yes, I admit that I have been there several times and have a few friends there. But for the record, any alleged communications, meetings, monetary transactions, or exchange of favors with Rod Blagojevich, the recently arrested Governor of Illinois, did not occur, or, even if they did occur somehow, they were inconsequential and without my direct knowledge. There is practically nothing between us. I essentially do not know the man and can barely pronounce his name. I am shocked that he was allegedly trying to sell Obama’s seat in the Senate for personal gain. Any bids that may have been made in my name were not placed by me, I assure you. If any money changed hands, I’m trying to get it back – you can bet on that.

The whole fiasco in Illinois right now is a painful reminder of how deep and long-lasting corruption can be. Many people may fall if the current investigation is pursued vigorously.

News of the Blagojevich disaster came the day after I watched an amazing DVD that touches upon past political corruption in a neighboring Midwest state, Michigan. It also provides an impressive witness to the integrity of the former governor of that state, LDS-member George Romney, Governor Mitt Romney’s father. The video I refer to is “Mario’s Conviction – One Man’s Journey from Mafia to Mormon.” Outstanding! This tells the true story of a man in the Mafia, Mario Facione, who eventually found the joy of Christianity and intellectually satisfying answers to his questions about life and religion through two LDS missionaries – missionaries he initially thought were secret FBI agents.

This beautifully crafted documentary includes interviews with Mario, his wife, the two missionaries who taught him, the bishop and stake president who dealt with him as a new member (still part of the Mafia for a short while after he joined, before he realized he couldn’t serve two rather different masters), a police leader who was dealing with some of Mario’s crimes at the time, and others. Plus there’s a lot of historical background about Mafia figures and their dealings, and many key settings shown that bring the story to live

My delight with this beautiful video and the touching but troubling story of Mario Facione is not unduly biased by any alleged connections I may or may not have with the producer of this DVD who happens to be Dave Lindsay, owner of a leading video production studio, Avalanche Studios in Salt Lake City and an extremely cool guy. While he does have the same last name, allegations of any personal connections I may have with my brother may be based on little more than hearsay and common parentage.

This really is a thought provoking video. Mario’s comments on political corruption in Michigan are amazing. I was especially intrigued by the story that involved former Governor George Romney.

When Mario decided to truly repent and follow Christ, he put his life on the line. Not just because he was leaving, but because he felt a need to tell his leader why. They arranged to meet in an old warehouse, where Mario knew he might well be killed. He met, told the boss that he was leaving, and that he had become a Mormon and wanted to live a new life. “You do what you have to do,” he told the boss. But instead of having his cronies kill Mario, the boss smiled and said, “I know these people.” He let Mario go – they ruined him financially and in other ways, but they let him live. For years, Mario was troubled by the statement of his former boss. Did he mean that the Mormons were secretly allies of the Mafia? Were Mormon leaders in on the scheme as well?

His answer came when he later met George Romney at an event and asked him if he knew his former Mafia boss. Romney was irritated when he heard the boss’s name (Tony Zarelli, I think) and took Mario outside to talk. Mario explained who he was and how he knew that crook. Romney then explained how he knew the guy. When he was elected, defeating an opponent favored by certain businessmen, the Mafia was caught off guard and troubled. A small group came into his office on false pretenses, led by Mario’s boss, bringing a metal briefcase. They explained they were hoping for a little cooperation on a few issues, and opened it up to show $one million in cash (adjusted for hyperinflation, that will be about $5 billion in 2012). Romney got angry and threw them out, and resisted several other efforts they made to reach him and to compromise him. Normal Mafia tactics – money, women, blackmail – didn’t work with Romney, a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Facione knew they respected him, in spite of the trouble he caused, for having real integrity. “Do you realize that your integrity saved my life?” he asked Brother Romney. “That really wasn’t my intention at the time,” was the reply.

This story has a lot to say about the grace of Jesus Christ – the power of the Atonement of Christ to transform even hardened criminals into soft followers of the Lamb of God. The change in Mario’s life is amazing – and if Christ can do that for a former Mafia crook, now a faithful and respected temple worker filled with joy, peace, and a burning desire to follow Christ, then He can do it for you, too.

For you Book of Mormon fans who dare to apply it to our day, the video provides a fascinating glimpse into the workings of a junior “secret combination.” When you see how brazen, how widespread, and how successful the Detroit Mafia was, and when you see how effective money is in compromising people at so many levels of society, it becomes a little easier to recognize how big league secret combinations might be operating at higher levels in our country. Take what you learn from Mario Facione, and then couple that with Book of Mormon teachings on secret combinations and corrupt governments to get some new perspectives on our country and world.

The video begins with a disclaimer that might make you think that some people are being portrayed by actors or that some details are obscured. I checked with my brother – I mean, the producer of the video – and learned that they are all the real people themselves, using real names, talking about real events. I remember Dave telling me a number of months ago about all the time he had spent shooting the interviews. I’m delighted with the result. Nice job, Bro (uh, alleged Bro, that is).

This video is available at Deseret Book, where I bought an extra copy for a gift, and also at Enjoy!

Author: Jeff Lindsay

8 thoughts on “Governor Rod Blagojevich vs. Former Governor George Romney: Insights from a Mafia Conversion Story

  1. We are blessed to have Brother and Sister Facione as temple workers in our area, and he has graciously spoken several times in local firesides about his life. I’m glad that so many others are now hearing about his remarkable story.

    As for George Romney, when I moved back into the Detroit area years ago, there were still many old-timers in the stake who spoke fondly of “President Romney.” Michigan was greatly blessed to have had him as our Governor, and as a stake president.

    The beautiful Bloomfield Hills Stake Center (a unique building in the church) and the even more beautiful Temple next door stand as reminders of George Romney’s service to our community.

    1. Personally I think Facione knew he was playing with opposing underworld syndicates and would have chosen LDS any Church who would absolve the bind he was in.. don’t kid yourself that LDS was special, any Church would hide him.

  2. Thanks for the post. I’ll defintley look into buying the film. I read the book and it was fascinating! It really shows the power the gospel truly has when one will allow it. For someone like Mario to change his life required alot and that power of conversion had to be sincere. It also shows how truly patient the Lord is with each of us.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Jeff. It reminds me of a young man who attended the Asian branch where I taught years ago. He was the leader of a local gang before his conversion, and the only reason he was able to stop actively participating in their illegal activities was because they also respected the Church. Technically, he still was part of the gang, but he served as Teacher’s Quorum President while I was there.

    The Gospel really is amazing.

  4. I “met” Mario a few years ago when he agreed to join in on a chat room we set up here in Vegas when our local book club read his autobiography, From Mafia To Mormon. We were all very impressed with how direct he was about living the gospel “no matter what.” No excuses for failed home teaching and temple attendance for this guy–if it’s really important, you just do it. Imagine that! Truly inspiring.

  5. I met him at a book signing in Spanish Fork at a Seagull book end off 2004 or beginning of 2005. I wasn’t there to buy his book but after speaking to him I purchased the book and had him sign it. Nice guy.

  6. One story the mainstream media won’t report: Rezko Tie Links Obama and Blagojevich. They are telling us that Obama is clean because Blagojevich was complaining that the Obama group wasn’t offering money, just appreciation, for going their way on the appointment, and he was ticked. But why should Obama pay? All that matters is that it’s a loyal Democrat, which is pretty much a given. But those who think that Obama, who endorsed this governor in his last election, has no ties to him are delusional. Some of the most important ties are through convicted felon Tony Rezko, who helped create the political careers of both men. Doesn’t mean Obama did anything wrong, but keep your eyes open.

  7. My father invited me to read “From Mafia to Mormon” a while back, which I did, hesitantly. I was suprised by how much I enjoyed it. I appreciate now knowing a piece of the story involving Governor Romney that either wasn’t in the book, or that I’ve just forgotten about. Thanks for letting us know about the video. I may just have to check it out.

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