Frank Cali, Shrewd Sicilian, Helms Gambinos, Says Mikie Scars

Frank Cali had ascended to the role of street boss of the Gambino crime family, though now it appears that, yet again, there's uncertainty.

Francesco Paolo Augusto Cali in mugshot
Who's the boss? Frank Cali, maybe.
Whether he's street boss or not, one thing seems clear: Francesco Paolo Augusto Calì would bring the New York-based crime family, one of the fabled five, back where it belongs: in the grip of a shrewd Sicilian who likely will strengthen its ranks and magnify its fortunes.

Domenico (Italian Dom) Cefalu is Sicilian, but in terms of boss material, there are more suitable candidates, according to Michael "Mikie Scars" DiLeonardo, with whom we spoke for this story.

His rise would also have an historical significance. It brings the Gambinos, once the largest and most powerful Mafia family in the country, full circle.

If Cali is street boss, "the Gambino family is where it's supposed to be," DiLeonardo told me, "back in the hands of Sicilians. If you look to the beginning, it started out Sicilian" and remained so until 1951, when Vincent Mangano disappeared from the face of the earth by Albert Anastasia, who took over. "In 1957, the Calabrian is dead.

Then you have Carl [Gambino] and then Paul [Castellano] until December of 1985, when John Gotti, the Neapolitan, takes over. He's gone in 1990 -- and now it's back to being Sicilian.

"Franky Boy," as he's known, was born in New York (in March 1965) and is as American as a slice of pizza. (If Cali speaks in any accent, it's Brooklynese.) His father, Augusto Cesare, is a native of Palermo and ran Arcobaleno Italiano Inc., a record and video store, on 18th Avenue.

Frank's father was never indicted and is considered a citizen, though an FBI file dating back to 1986 describes how he was questioned as part of the Pizza Connection probe. According to investigators, he was partners with Domenico Adamita, a known associate of Gaetano Badalamenti, once described by federal authorities as the ‘boss of bosses’ of the Sicilian Mafia and the ringleader of the billion-dollar drug smuggling operation known as the Pizza Connection.

Franky Boy married Pietro Inzerillo's sister Rosaria (called "Roseanne"), who is related to the Inzerillo crime family, based in Passo di Rigano. "Tall Peter" and Rosemary were both born in New York City, according to Mikie Scars.

"Tall Pete," said DiLeonardo, using Pietro's nickname, "is of the bloodline of the Inzerillos of Sicily."

John Gotti, Peter Gotti with Jackie D'Amico
John Gotti... Jackie Nose enjoyed prestige
from being seen in pictures and on television opening doors for Gotti. 
He's reaching for a door knob right now....

He noted that back in the 1990s, Tall Pete once wore a mustache and had long hair that he'd pull into a ponytail. "Get rid of that," DiLeonardo told him. He did.

Yes, the family was (or is still) run by the Sicilian Domenico "Italian Dom" Cefalù, but he isn't a good fit, according to DiLeonardo. Reports describe Cefalu as tired, lacking in vision and not known to be a major revenue generator.

"He's a tough guy, he's a standup guy but he's not for that position.If this change in leadership is being made, Franky [Cali] and Lorenzo Mannino would be much more suitable for those positions," he added.

Mannino, who was once part of a five-man hit team lead by Sammy the Bull Gravano, spent years in prison for narcotics trafficking. He was once described as a "rising star" in the family. Mannino accompanied John Gambino to Philadelphia with a handful of other Gambinos to meet with then-boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi. The so-called LaGriglia meeting was one of dozens tape recorded by "Nicky Skins" Stefanelli for the FBI during a two-year period beginning in 2009. Stefanelli committed suicide.

Mannino also set what must be an historical precedent in that he was mentioned by name by President Barack Obama at the ceremony commemorating James Comey's rise to FBI director in October 2013.

Comey is "the prosecutor who helped bring down the Gambinos," said the President.

During his prosecution of the Gambino case, "one of the defendants was an alleged hit man named Lorenzo. And during the trial, Jim won an award from the New York City Bar Association. When the court convened the next morning... a note was passed down from the defendant’s table... to Jim, and it read: “Dear Jim, congratulations on your award. No one deserves it more than you. You’re a true professional. Sincerely, Lorenzo.”

Pietro (Tall Pete) Inzerillo walks with Frank Cali
Tall Pete, who once wore a ponytail, and Frank Cali, with hand on chest.

The thing is, the event never happened, according to Mannino's defense attorney, Charles Carnesi.  “He never wrote the letter,” Carnesi, who defended Mannino during a lengthy 1993 trial that ended in a hung jury, told Jerry Capeci. “It didn’t happen. Although I personally agree with the sentiments expressed in it.”

Cali and Previous Gambino Bosses
Cali has an abundance of leadership qualities.

If anyone can put a crime family on solid footing in America in 2015, it's Cali, who is known far and wide on the street for being a fair negotiator.

Cali was made in January 1997, according to "a very reliable FBI source" who added that he was placed in Jackie "Nose" D'Amico's crew.

As for "official boss" Peter Gotti, who is 75 and in an Ohio-based federal prison, he isn't a factor anymore, though DiLeonardo believes Cali won't do anything to upset whatever apple cart was put in place.

"Peter, once he was pinched, became irrelevant," DiLeonardo said. He was semi-relevant when he was on the street. "No one respected him as a boss," DiLeonardo said. Still, Cali likely will continue with whatever arrangement the Gambinos have had with Peter Gotti.

br />

"He's gonna die in prison," so there's respect there for that simple fact. Also, having an imprisoned official boss seems to be a tradition these days in New York's Cosa Nostra, with the bosses of four of the five families in prison. (Aside from Gotti, the Luchese's Vittorio "Vic" Amuso, the Colombo's Carmine Persico and the Bonanno's Michael "Mikey Nose" Mancuso are currently imprisoned, all serving life sentences save for Mancuso, who is due out in March 2019.)

"Would they go to war with the Gambinos?" It's possible, Scars says, but unlikely.

As for the previous string of Gambino bosses and acting bosses, DiLeonardo noted that the members grew to "resent and hate John [Senior]. They were sick of Junior with his arrogance. And they thought Peter was an imbecile." 

Arnold "Zeke" Squitieri held power while on the street but stayed far out of the limelight, probably too far. "The whole time he was underboss, I never met him formally as underboss," Mikie Scars said, adding that Zeke had done nothing of note but deal junk and work for Gotti. "He was a John Gotti loyalist for sure."

Zeke kept a low profile as acting boss. Greg
DePalma often complained to "Jack Falcone"
about having to meet with "Number One."

One Gotti, however, could be a potentially major variable awaiting Cali and the Gambinos. Gene Gotti is due to be released on Sept. 14, 2018. He is currently in Pollock FCI.

"There's a dynamic there," Scars said. "Would Gene and Johnny [Carneglia, who is due out one month earlier than Gene] put a crew together" and start making moves on the street? It's possible, DiLeonardo said. "Would they go to war with the Gambinos?" It's possible, Scars says, adding however it's not likely.

"Frank will probably meet with Genie and feel him out, keep him as a captain. Genie did a lot of years in prison. Too many, John should have let those guys plea out," DiLeonardo said. There's no truth to reports that Gene Gotti was broken down from skipper by the family for dealing in drugs, according to DiLeonardo.

DiLeonardo believes, however, that more than likely Gene Gotti will collect what's his and stay in his own orbit, outside of the Gambino crime family.

Also, the Gambino brothers may have some residual animosity for the crime family named for their distant relative, Carlo Gambino, who rose to the pinnacle of organized crime in America, dying in his bed with all his wealth and still retaining the official boss position. This would stem from John Gotti Senior breaking down John Gambino from captain to soldier, while the wily drug-dealing Sicilian was in prison. The reason for the jailhouse demotion had nothing to do with Gambino being sentenced for drug dealing. Rather, it was the result of John Gotti Senior learning that the Gambino brothers had minted a much larger fortune from their drug business than Gotti had ever known. The Gambino brothers were paying, but apparently not a large enough slice, at least in Senior's view, so he broke Gambino down in rank.

Later, when Peter Gotti was on the street overseeing the family's operations, Leonard "Lenny" DiMaria and Nicholas "Little Nicky" Corozzo spoke with him about promoting John Gambino back to capo. Peter Gotti apparently wanted a consensus before making the call. We know he at least consulted with DiLeonardo, who told him that he should indeed reinstate Gambino as captain: "It is the right thing to do," Michael agreed.

Having a Mob Boss's Skill Set
One of Cali's talents is his ability not to upset apple carts. He's a master at forging alliances and cutting fair deals. He's also a sharp businessman who came up on his own, not having anyone within the mob to assist him.

"Frank got where he is because of Frank," DiLeonardo said. "He got himself up.He had doors open for him because of the way he conducted himself." 

Law enforcement sources say Cali's rise would not be surprising. They call him old school in that he doesn't talk on the phone and only meets with those with whom he's very close. However, apparently he let into his inner circle a confidential informant (CI), according to FBI documents.

"Mikie Scars" enjoys wine and a cigar while on a recent vacation.

Cali is named as a major Mafia figure in an investigation regarding "the continuing strengthening of ties in US territory - in particular with members of the Inzerillo-Gambino American mafia family. These ties are likely to be related to illicit trafficking across the Atlantic between the new generations of the American and Sicilian Cosa Nostra."

A November 2007 report by Palermo's Antimafia District Attorney's Office, which referenced and included extracts from FBI documents, noted:
"The gathering of evidence in police operations codenamed 'Grande mandamento' ('Big District') and 'Gothà' have underlined connections between the American Mafia and the Sicilian Mafia."
The key families under the spotlight were both the Gambino crime family and the Sicilian Inzerillo Mafia clan, which was nearly exterminated in a Mafia war sparked by the Corleonesi.

In 2003-2004, the Inzerillo-Gambino alliance involved a "complex dispute" regarding the return of Inzerillo Cosa Nostra family members to Palermo from the U.S. Law enforcement also believed narcotics trafficking was on the agenda.

The report documents "trips to the USA carried out by numerous mafia members from Palermo between the end of 2003 and the beginning of 2004..."

A confidential informant mentioned but not named in FBI documents was close to Cali during the investigation. He detailed for the feds some of Cali's moves in and out of Palermo.

Sammy Bull Creates Vacuum
Cali rose to prominence, as did many others, following the flipping of Sammy the Bull Gravano, who put away around 100 gangsters, many from the Gambino family, creating a huge vacuum on the street.

Specifically, it was a decision that John Gotti made that ultimately created Cali's path. In September of 1992, capo John Gambino hightailed it out of New York with his brother. They both faced heroin smuggling charges and had disappeared, though they were caught not long after.

But with Gambino gone, Gotti needed a new overseer on 18th Avenue, a Gambino stronghold in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. DiLeonardo and John "Jackie Nose" D'Amico were put in charge.

When a Sammy the Bull flips, an entire generation of Mafiosi
moves up, which may have a detrimental impact on a crime family if those who rise are too inexperienced.
Likewise, "stars" get their break sooner.

Eighteenth Avenue, specifically from 75th Street on down, though not exactly enemy territory, wasn't overly friendly either, as DiLeonardo related it. The area was rife with Sicilians, some of whom were made members of the Gambino family. An assortment of them, however, belonged to the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, mainly the Inzerillo family who'd fled the murderous Toto Riina and his Corleonesi. Dual memberships were not allowed. Those seeking to be made in America needed to be "released" from their Sicilian crime family. 

As DiLeonardo lived in Bensonhurst near 18th Avenue, he was the face of the Gotti administration. (Jackie Nose, mainly a Manhattan gangster, probably didn't know Bath Beach from Brighton Beach -- and wouldn't even be able to locate Brooklyn, meaning the entire borough, if given a map to consult, Mikie Scars said. "I used to call him Christopher Columbus," Mikie Scars said.)

"Jackie knows nothing about the men in my area and the goings on,” Scars said. "He thinks 18th Avenue is new-found territory." Still, DiLeonardo has some fond memories of his former partner. "Jackie was a very personable guy. He can talk to you for 12 hours over coffee."

He added: "I was very loyal to Jack, more than he knows. That’s a story for another day."

Among other things, DiLeonardo found himself dealing with the issues of the Sicilian mobsters on 18th Avenue. He used Cali as his go-between. Both DiLeonardo and D'Amico quickly realized Cali was different than the other offspring of imprisoned Sicilian gangsters.

"Frank understood the concept of Cosa Nostra better than the sons of John and Joe Gambino, by far," DiLeonardo said. Cali eventually raised his profile by serving as a skillful go-between for the Sicilians and the Italian-American Gambino administration.

Two key dynamics had been established by the time DiLeonardo and D'Amico arrived on 18th Avenue. One was the creation of vast fortunes from drug peddling rackets. This money was used to purchase a variety of business, including bakeries and pizzerias.  The other dynamic was gambling -- the area was rife with slot machines and gambling and the degenerate gamblers who gravitate to them. In fact, the Sicilians gambled so often, ownership papers for all those bakeries and pizzerias, as well as a fleet of Lincolns and Cadillacs, regularly changed hands.

In fact, the Pizza Connection case had decimated the area of its Sicilians by the time Scars was there.

"It's scorched earth," he said of the area. "A lot of the Sicilians got arrested. We got their sons. We're monitoring them. We oversaw for the family and got 10 percent from them," Scars said.

Cali's New Generation
The new generation of mobsters, which included Cali (then an associate), went into the cafe business as well as import/export. They also owned the pizzerias and bakeries they'd inherited from their incarcerated fathers.

The Gambinos also were able to take effective control of a huge revenue generator as well: Brooklyn's feast of Santa Rosalia, Palermo's patron saint. The September feast, beginning in August, brings large numbers of visitors annually to Brooklyn's Bensonhurst section.

Mikie Scars and Jackie Nose taking control certainly improved the family's finances, but there were other factors. The section was far from being a smoothly purring machine. "The kids ran wild after their fathers went away." Because of this, DiLeonardo and D'Amico  took some of them under their wing, Cali among them.

Cali initially got closer to D'Amico, eventually driving for the mobster. DiLeonardo found himself practically raising one of the many Gambino offspring -- several of whom were named Thomas.

Scars's Tommy was nicknamed "Heavy Tommy" because he was overweight. "He  became my 'project,'" DiLeonardo said. (There also was a "Curly Tommy," a "Tommy from LA" etc.)

"We grew these kids into the life," DiLeonardo said.

Phone Cards: Opportunity, Risk
Eventually, Jackie brought Frank Cali into phone cards, where again Cali made a name for himself as an earner. More importantly, Cali also was able to show off his mediating skills when he, D'Amico and Joe Watts (who'd started the phone card operation, then brought D'Amico and Cali in) found themselves in trouble with John "Junior" Gotti when he assumed the role of final decision maker of a five-man panel running the family. On the panel were James "Jimmy Brown" Failla, Louis Vallario, D'Amico. Peter Gotti and Junior.

Junior Gotti, DiLeonardo told us, never held the acting boss title.

John Gotti sent Jackie Nose and Mikie Scars to oversee
18th Avenue. Nose, from Manhattan, couldn't find Brooklyn
on a map, according to DiLeonardo.

Watts is one of the pioneers of the phone card racket. The scam was simple. The Mafia widely distributed cheap phone cards in neighborhoods throughout New York and other big cities with large immigrant populations. Sold at prices ranging from $5 to $500, the cards offered blocks of minutes for the buyers to dial international calls at low rates. Theoretically, anyway.

Some cards actually worked for a brief time. Others only returned busy signals. The distributors would yank the operation and reappeare in another guise to flood the street with replacement cards by the time a consumer returned to complain about the card.

There was also a use for these cards by mob members and associates, among others. 

“Cards were untraceable,” said DiLeonardo, noting that they definitely provided a clear benefit to the criminal element.

The companies supplying the minutes, including AT&T and MCI, got stuck with unpaid invoices.

And mob guys like Joe Watts grew wealthier.

A typical news story about the phone card racket, from the Daily News:

Mob-linked firms including one controlled by John (Junior) Gotti have made big scores with pre-paid phone cards, court papers and law enforcement sources say. The alleged scams are being investigated by two federal grand juries. The phone-card industry is ripe for corruption, having mushroomed to an estimated $2 billion last year from $40 million in 1993, authorities say.

"It's better than drugs, because they're making so much money and the penalties are zip," a veteran organized crime investigator said in the report.

Watts, a long-time Staten Island resident with links to the Gambino crime family going back decades, had helped John Gotti Senior shoot his way to power. Because of this, Watts thought he could write his own ticket and by this time was accustomed to doing his own thing. (I referred to Watts as "a Staten Island Gambino associate" in conversation with Michael. "Resident," he corrected me.)

Watts had good relations with Mikie Scars. "Joe pushed for me to get made, way back," said DiLeonardo. However, it was Paul Zaccaria who ultimately proposed him.

Watts, a shrewd, wealthy gangster, now
in prison, was a professional hitter
who had carte blanche.

Enter Nicholas "Little Nicky" Corozzo, who ran a crew in Brooklyn. Learning that Watts, D'Amico and Cali were spinning off vast fortunes from their card business, he moved to capitalize on the opportunity. "Nicky's got his guys buying all these phone cards off of Watts," DiLeonardo said.

When Nicky handed Junior his 10 percent tribute from the phone card business, he asked Junior if he'd had any idea how much Watts and his guys were themselves earning off of phone cards.

DiLeonardo said that Corozzo was in the right here. Watts was basically running wild, not turning in any money to the family's administration.

"Watts thought he had carte blanche to do anything," DiLeonardo said.

Watts was extremely shrewd. Called "The German" he was a confirmed shooter and killer. He also didn't like Junior. "Watts didn't respect him," DiLeonardo said.

Upon hearing what Nicky said about Watts, D'Amico and Cali, Junior grew furious.

Guys like Nicky Corozzo are lucky that guys like Frank
Cali tend to forget the past out of expediency.

He met with DiLeonardo to vent his anger about not getting his end of the phone card operation, Scars said. 

"Junior told me he wanted to break D'Amico from capo to soldier. He wanted to call Watts in to abuse him and he also said he wasn't going to make Frank Cali."

Michael told Junior that he would handle the situation. "I told Junior that I would go talk to Jack and Frank."

Michael asked  Cali to meet him by his Shore Road apartment. "I  told him what Nicky had told Junior about Junior not getting an end from Watts's operation."

"I told Frank that Junior was going to break Jackie, call Watts out and abuse him and that he was not going to make him, Cali."

"What should I do?" Cali, then a mere associate, asked DiLeonardo, whose reply was simple: "You gotta give him money."

Right then and there, without consulting Watts or D'Amico, Cali said, "Michael, how about I give him 25 cents a card."

"I'll bring it back to him," Mikie Scars told Frank. "I am sure he'd be happy."

Michael met with Junior Gotti and said: "You can't hold this against the kid." Noting that Watts was really the one sticking it to Junior, he said: "You can't get mad at him (meaning Cali). He didn't go back to them, he told me what he wanted to do."

Junior was pleased with Cali's offer. Cali and D'Amico from that moment were off the hook.

"I went back and told Frank and I patched it up," DiLeonardo said.

The beef between Watts (in sync with other members of the old Gotti guard) and Junior continued to escalate. Junior started up his own phone card operation and ultimately faced law enforcement's wrath.

As did others. One operation apparently tied to many Gambino mobsters was Communications Network Corp. (Conetco), which began selling cards in 1995, according to the News story. By the spring of 1996 it activated $20 million worth of cards a month. Conetco went bankrupt that year, leaving WorldCom, then the nation's No. 4 long-distance carrier, holding the bag for $94 million. And yes, this is that WorldCom, once the nation's No. 2 long-distance phone company when its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing rocked the business world in 2006. Only one month previous it offered revelations regarding the improper booking of $3.8 billion.

Junior's card case was rolled into the larger Scores indictment. The Secret Service even was able to wiretap and record Junior offering his wisdom about the phone card business to an underling:

“You never get jammed up,” Junior was recorded saying. “But if it happens we have several cards, you come right to their stores and you bring the other cards in. Pump them right in. Tell them we're having a problem with the other card, ‘Here, take this card.’ ”

Cali was on his way....

We asked Michael what advice he'd give Cali if DiLeonardo were the Gambino crime family's consigliere.

"I'd tell him just what I told John Junior after his father went away and Junior was made the final decision maker for a five-man panel then running the Gambino family.

"Keep the family happy. Let everyone eat and spread the wealth around. Stay away from murders and stay away from the drug business and we'll have good long run. There's a lot of money to be made."
Michael's grandfather often used the Sicilian saying "mangia troppo s'afugga," which translates roughly into people who eat too much tend to choke. Don't be greedy, in other words. That was one of the principals that guided Michael during his decades in the life -- and he believes that Frank must have heard that phrase often as well because it also seems to have guided Cali.

We dedicate this story to Mikie Scars' grandfather.


Post a Comment