Gambino Boss Frank Cali Was Gunned Down On Staten Island

In a stunning development, the likes of which have not been seen since 1985, Francesco (Frank) Cali, the reputed acting boss of the Gambino crime family, was gunned down outside his home on Staten Island on Wednesday night, according to a senior police official and widespread media reports.

The police said they received a report about the grizzly shooting outside 25 Hilltop Terrace in the Todt Hill section of Staten Island around 9:20 p.m. There was also a report of a blue pickup truck leaving the scene around the time of shooting.

The Daily News quoted a witness as saying “There were like six shots, and then there were three more. The man (Cali) was on the ground face-up. His head was by his SUV, and the truck was open.”

As per a BBC report: Witnesses said Cali's killer also “ran him over before fleeing the scene. Family members were seen to rush into the street and sit crying next to his body.”

Some reports say he was run over by the blue vehicle before he was shot.

Who killed Cali? We asked sources.

"Wow," said one. "Who knows. Wouldn't it be insane if it was Gene (Gene Gotti, John's brother)? Maybe a renegade other crew like Albanians or something. In front of his home? Unreal."

"Pissed on someone’s Rice Krispies one too many times?" said another. "Let’s see who steps up and takes the reins. That’ll answer some questions. (Referring to all the shots) that's a message being sent, don’t ya think?"

Cali was pronounced dead at Staten Island University Hospital. One day after alleged Bonanno boss Mikey Nose Mancuso got out of a halfway house...

Shooting him outside his home when his wife and children were inside is a sign of blatant disrespect.

A neighbor, Salvatore, said that he heard a burst of about seven gunshots shortly after 9 p.m.

“I just heard the pow-pow-pow-pow-pow,” he said, adding that he had rushed to his window but did not see anything. The shots were all the same volume, as if fired from the same gun, he told the New York Times, which noted that two other neighbors who declined to give their names corroborated Salvatore’s descriptions.

The Gambino family was once the nation’s largest and most influential, until John Gotti and succeeding bosses were convicted in the 1990s for murder and racketeering. The notorious "Dapper Don" had assumed power by orchestrating the December 1985 hit on former Gambino boss Paul Castellano in front of Sparks Steak House in midtown Manhattan.

Gotti was convicted of racketeering and murder in 1992; he died of cancer in prison in 2002, at the age of 61. His son, former lead decision maker on a ruling panel John A. Gotti, aka Junior Gotti, was put on trial by the Feds three times, with each trial ending in a mistrial. Then in 2013, he was stabbed outside a CVS in Syosset, N.Y. He survived.

And last year, his film with John Travolta about his father, the Gambino boss, went down in flames and a boatload of bad reviews. There's no word yet on whether Junior will survive the flop, however.

The Cali assassination happened on the same day that Joseph Cammarano Jr., the reputed acting boss of the Bonanno crime family, and his consiglieri were acquitted at trial, and about one week after Carmine Persico, alleged longtime boss of the Colombo crime family, died in prison at age 85.

A number of mob associates have been killed in the past year, a surprising uptick.

On Sunday, an associate of the Patriarca crime family was killed in what may have been retaliation for robbing a Gambino crime family associate in 2010.

In October, Sylvester Zottola, 71, a reputed associate of the Bonanno crime family was shot and killed as he waited in his S.U.V. to pick up an order at the drive-through window of a McDonald’s in the Bronx.

Just three months earlier, Mr. Zottola’s son, Salvatore Zottola, was ambushed by a gunman and left for dead on a leafy street outside his family’s Throgs Neck compound. He survived.

"There's a dynamic there," Scars said. "Would Gene and Johnny [Carneglia, who got 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.

On Staten Island, Todt Hill is known for its mafia history. Castellano, who was the last Gambino boss to be assassinated, owned a home on Benedict Road. A home on nearby Longfellow Road served as the filming location of the Corleone compound in “The Godfather.”

By early Thursday morning on Staten Island, the police had strung yellow tape across the street leading to Cali’s home, a large red-brick, two-story colonial style house whose front door stood open.

Prashant Ranyal, 39, who lives in the neighborhood, said he was shaken by the killing. “Whenever you see nice areas you feel like it’s peaceful,” he added. “When something like this happens you definitely have a second thought about it.”

Salvatore, the other neighbor, said he had lived in his house for 12 years and did not know any of his neighbors, which struck him as unusual. “Nobody talks to nobody around here; it’s crazy,” he said. “People kind of keep to themselves. They like their privacy.”

He described the street where the shooting happened as quiet and full of old homes. “Dead street,’’ he said. “Dead quiet all the time.”

In April 2015, we interviewed former Gambino capo Michael (Mikie Scars) DiLeonardo about Cali, who had allegedly been promoted to boss around that time.

Some reports claimed Cali stepped down from power in recent years. That seems unlikely considering he was shot and killed in a gangland hit that will make national news and put the mob back where it despised being: in the limelight of the mass media. If he wasn't in power, why bother killing him?

'If Cali is street boss, "the Gambino family is where it's supposed to be," DiLeonardo told me back in 2015, "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 also was known, was born in New York (in March 1965) and was 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... Jackie Nose, left, Peter Gotti, right.

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.

Tall Pete, who once wore a ponytail, and Frank Cali, with hand on chest. 

Cali had an abundance of leadership qualities.

If anyone can put a crime family on solid footing in America in 2015, it was Cali, who was 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.

"He's gonna die in prison," so there's respect there for that simple fact. Also, having an imprisoned official boss seems to have been a tradition 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 who died last week and the Bonanno's Michael "Mikey Nose" Mancuso who got out of a halfway house one day prior to Cali's murder.)

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

One Gotti, however, could be a potentially major variable awaiting Cali and the Gambinos. Gene Gotti was released on Sept. 14, 2018.

"There's a dynamic there," Scars said. "Would Gene and Johnny [Carneglia, who got  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.

One of Cali's talents was his ability not to upset apple carts. He was a master at forging alliances and cutting fair deals. He also was 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 said 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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Nicky Corozzo

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 principles 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.