Plastic cups cover shell casings found by police following the Cali shooting.
New York Daily News photo.
Update, March 16, 2019: A suspect in the shooting of Francesco Cali was arrested early this morning. Anthony Comello, 24, of Staten Island, was taken into custody at 2 a.m. in the town of Brick, Ocean County, New Jersey. Police say Comello has no known connection with organized crime. He and Cali reportedly quarreled over Comello's attentions to a female member of Cali's family. Police stated that fingerprints matching those on a Comello rifle permit were found on a license plate knocked loose from Cali's Cadillac Escalade in the vehicle collision that drew Cali from the safety of his home on March 13.
The reputed boss of New York's Gambino Crime Family was shot to death Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in the street outside his Staten Island home, according to newspaper and broadcast reports.
Shortly after nine o'clock that night, emergency dispatchers received a 9-1-1 call from No. 25 Hilltop Terrace off Four Corners Road in the Todt Hill section. Fire department medics and police responded. They found Francesco "Franky Boy" Cali, 53, had suffered multiple gunshot wounds.
They rushed Cali to the North Campus of Staten Island University Hospital, about a mile and a half away at Seaview and Mason Avenues. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
According to published accounts, no one in the generally quiet residential neighborhood saw the shooting. Several residents reported hearing a series of six or seven gunshots just after nine o'clock. One resident said those were followed by a pause and then several more shots.
According to an early report in the New York Daily News, a Cali family member stated that Cali was run over by a pickup truck before he was shot. This report was found to be incorrect. It may have been based on Cali's body being found behind and slightly beneath his own SUV, parked at the road.
A blue pickup truck was observed leaving the area immediately after the shooting. Police checked surveillance video of Staten Island's bridges but did not see the pickup leaving the island.
Cali's wife and children were home at the time of the shooting. The home - a two-story red-brick Colonial-style structure - sits close to Hilltop Terrace. It is separated from the street by a small front yard consisting of several trees, a semicircle stone-paved driveway and a patch of shrubs. (Built in 1970, the home was last purchased in 2007 for $1.225 million. Extensive renovations were done to the home and the property at that time.) The residence is reportedly held in the name of Cali's wife, Rosaria Inzerillo.
On Thursday, police said they executed a search warrant at the Cali home and obtained surveillance video that showed the shooting. According to reports by SILive and the New York Daily News, the gunman drew Cali from his home by driving into Cali's SUV.
Cali emerged from the home and could be seen conversing with the driver who collided with his car. About a minute into the conversation, the man drew a handgun and fired twelve times. At least six of those shots struck the Gambino boss as he tried to shield himself behind and then under his SUV.
Police vaguely described the gunman as a male between twenty-five and forty years of age. Investigators said they are "keeping an eye on" other recent developments that could be related to the Gambino organization and the killing of Cali.
Long suspected of underworld involvement, Cali's importance to Mafia organizations on both sides of the Atlantic first became apparent to authorities on October 21, 2005. On that date, electronic surveillance overheard Palermo, Sicily, Mafioso Gianni Nicchi talking to his district chief Antonino Rotolo about Cali in the U.S.: "He's our friend, and he is everything over there."
Authorities found that Cali had risen quickly in the Gambino Crime Family and was then a powerful capodecina based in Brooklyn. Under the reign of the Gottis, Cali had been used as an ambassador to the Mafia in Palermo. Cali became close to the Inzerillo clan of Palermo's Passo di Rigano district and was also known to have contacts within the 'Ndrangheta criminal society of Calabria, in the south of Italy's mainland.
The FBI learned more about Cali's underworld career from Frank Fappiano and Michael DiLeonardo (brothers-in-law and members of the Gambino Family). DiLeonardo recalled Cali from spring 1994, when DiLeonardo had recently been appointed capodecina and Cali was just a crime family associate.
During 2006 court testimony, DiLeonardo pointed out Cali in a surveillance video: "This is Frank Cali, associate at the time. He later on gets straightened out with Jackie D'Amico." DiLeonardo explained that being "straightened out" meant being formally inducted as a Mafia member. D'Amico handled crime family operations for the Gottis following the life imprisonment of boss John J. Gotti.
Cali paid a price for his new notoriety. Early in 2008, Cali and dozens of underworld figures were arrested as a result of the federal Operation Old Bridge. Cali pleaded guilty to extortion conspiracy - relating to his attempt to force payments from a trucker working at a proposed NASCAR racetrack in Staten Island. He served sixteen months in prison and was released in 2009.
After the Gotti faction was removed from power, largely through a series of successful prosecutions aided by informants, the crime family was ruled for several years by a panel of bosses. In 2011, Sicilian native Domenico Cefalu was given the title of boss. His reign marked a return to power of the crime family's Sicilian faction (and relatives of former boss Carlo Gambino, for whom the organization was named.) Cali served in an underboss role for Cefalu.
Under Cefalu and Cali, the Gambino organization made increased use of Sicilian immigrant criminals and of its relationship with the Sicilian underworld. According to law enforcement sources, the organization became a major player in international heroin trafficking and traded also in prescription narcotics, such as oxycodone. It continued to generate income through traditional gambling, loan sharking, construction and labor rackets.
Members of the Inzerillo clan, who earlier fled a Sicilian gang war, returned to Palermo and reclaimed their rackets territory. Cali, an Inzerillo in-law (Cali's wife since 2001 also is niece to Giovanni Gambino, a relative of the late Carlo Gambino), benefited both from the increased power of the Inzerillos in Palermo and the resurrection of the Sicilian faction in the Gambino Family.
There were rumors of Cali taking over for the retiring Cefalu in 2013 and again in 2015. Authorities believe the change in leadership occurred in 2015.
Some in the press are speculating that the killing of Francesco Cali is the result of a new phase of an old factional struggle within the large but deeply divided Gambino Crime Family. Through its history, the crime family has changed leaders as often through murder as through peaceful transfer of power.
The underworld organization's competing factions became evident a short time after the 1928 assassination of early boss Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila. Manfredi "Al" Mineo assumed control of the crime family with the blessings of then-boss of bosses Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. The combined Masseria-Mineo strength kept the organization's sub-leaders and members in line for a time. After the 1930 murder of Mineo, however, new conservative Sicilian leadership behind Frank "Ciccio" Scalise of the Bronx took power and pulled away from Masseria.
The old-line Sicilians retained control, but changed leadership to Vincent Mangano, when the Castellammarese War against Masseria concluded a year later. Mangano ruled for two decades but had trouble with a non-Sicilian faction led by Albert Anastasia, a native of Calabria. The regime of Mangano and his brother Philip was ended in 1951. Philip was found murdered. Vincent Mangano simply disappeared. Anastasia reportedly admitted to his colleagues that he was responsible for the deaths of the Manganos but claimed self defense, as they were planning to move against him.
Anastasia became boss. The Sicilian faction champion, Carlo Gambino, served as underboss. Anastasia's murder in fall of 1957, restored the Sicilians to power. Gambino stepped in as the new top man. He quickly suppressed a rebellion led by Anastasia loyalist Armand Rava and then made Rava ally Aniello Dellacroce his underboss. Gambino groomed his brother-in-law Paul Castellano as his successor, offending the out-of-power Dellacroce faction.
A crime family civil war could have been triggered by Castellano's move into the boss role in 1976, but Dellacroce restrained his followers. (Like Francesco Cali, Castellano was a resident of Todt Hill, Staten Island.) Upon Dellacroce's death late in 1985, the Castellano opposition united behind John J. Gotti. Gotti set up the assassination of the boss in Manhattan on Dec. 16, 1985, and secured for himself the leadership of the crime family.
Some consider Cali's murder a sign that the Sicilians, in power through the past eight years, may once again be forced out.
While some sources point to Sicily as Cali's birthplace (perhaps confusing him with Cefalu), public records indicate that Cali was born Francesco Paolo Augusto Cali in New York City on March 16, 1965. He was raised in Brooklyn.
His father Augusto, recalled as proprietor of a video store on Eighteenth Avenue in Bensonhurst, reportedly maintained a clean record. He was questioned by the FBI in 1986 as part of the Pizza Connection investigation but faced no charges.
In addition to the home at Todt Hill, Francesco Cali was also associated with the 7306 Eighteen Avenue address in Bensonhurst. That address sits in an old Sicilian neighborhood, perhaps the same one where Augusto ran his business. Currently, a large number of business signs in the area feature Asian writing. But a Sicilian presence is still evident. Three private Sicilian social clubs sit on the same block with 7306 Eighteenth Avenue: Società figli di Ragusa (No. 7308), Sciacca Social Club (no. 7316) and U.S. Vizzinese Association (no. 7320).
- "25 Hilltop Ter," Zillow, zillow.com.
- "25 Hilltop Terrace," Realtor.com.
- "Francesco Cali, a man with reported mob ties, shot and killed in New York City," USA Today, usatoday.com, March 14, 2019.
- "Reputed Gambino crime boss Frank Cali shot dead in front of Staten Island home," CBS-2 New York, newyork.cbslocal.com, March 13, 2019.
- Bolzoni, Attilio, "Franky Boy, the invisible boss who wanted to have Palermo back," Rome La Repubblica, repubblica.it.
- Burke, Kerry, and John Annese with Rocco Parascandola, "Gambino Crime Family boss Frank Cali shot and killed outside Staten Island home: sources," New York Daily News, nydailynews.com, March 13, 2019.
- Celona, Larry, and Amanda Woods, "NYPD identifies suspect in slaying of Gambino crime boss Frank Cali," New York Post, nypost.com, March 16, 2019.
- Celona, Larry, and Ben Feuerherd, "Gambino crime family boss Frank Cali shot dead outside Staten Island home," New York Post, nypost.com, March 13, 2019.
- Celona, Larry, and Bruce Golding, "Gene Gotti's release from prison has mob on edge," New York Post, nypost.com, Sept. 17, 2018.
- Cornell, Irene, "Report: Gambino Crime Family picks Domenico Cefalu as new boss," CBS-2 New York, newyork.cbslocal.com, July 29, 2011.
- Dienst, Jonathan, Marc Santia and Michael George, "Gambino Crime Family leader shot dead outside home: sources," NBC-4 New York, nbcnewyork.com, March 13, 2019.
- Egan-Chin, Debbie, "Frank Cali, 2008," New York Daily News, nydailynews.com.
- Lawson, Kyle, "How killer lured Staten Island mob boss Francesco Cali out of home for fatal ambush," SILive, silive.com, March 14, 2019.
- Michael DiLeonardo Testimony, United States v. John A. Gotti, Jr., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Feb. 22, 2006, mafiahistory.us.
- Murphy, Mary, "Gambino Crime Family boss fatally shot at Staten Island home," WPIX-11, pix11.com, March 13, 2019.
- Ray, Esha, and Rocco Parascandola with Jillian Jorgensen, "Slain Gambino crime boss Frank Cali possibly lured outside by fake car crash staged by killer," New York Daily News, nydailynews.com, March 14, 2019.
- New York City Marriage License Index, license no. 1853, June 3, 2001, Ancestry.com.
- Weiss, Murray, "Mob pick for Gambino godfather turns down the job," DNAinfo New York, dnainfo.com, July 18, 2013.
- Winston, Ali, Nate Schweber, Jacey Fortin and Liam Stack, "Man said to be Gambino boss is killed on Staten Island," New York Times, nytimes.com, March 14, 2019, p. 22.