Francesco Cali was enjoying an evening with his family Wednesday when the 53-year-old heard a crash in front of his Staten Island home. As Cali emerged to investigate, he saw a truck pinned up against his Cadillac SUV in the driveway of his humble two room townhouse. Witnesses say Cali and the driver started shouting at each other, and then a shot rang out. Then another. 12 shots in total pierced the air, followed by the sound of a vehicle peeling away. When neighbors walked over to the driveway, they found the man known in mob circles as”Franky Boy” lying motionless under his car. After being shot several times, police think Cali tried to escape his killer by hiding under his Cadillac, but surveillance camera footage shows the assassin continued to pursue Cali and methodically fire at him with a 9mm, hitting him nine or ten times.
It was an act of overkill meant to send a message, say authorities, who believe the crash was a ruse to lure Cali, the boss of the Gambino crime family, from his home. The killing came just a week after the death of Colombo mob boss Carmine “The Snake” Persico and just hours after two bosses from another NYC crime family were acquitted on federal racketeering charges, beating a case brought by attorneys with the powerful Southern District of New York.
In that case a jury deliberated for about a day before deciding to acquit the two reputed mobsters — Joseph “Joe C” Cammarano Jr., the well healed acting boss of the Bonanno crime family, and his reputed consigliere John “Porky” Zancocchio. Photos of the two men, who their own attorney said looked like they had “stepped out of a central casting in a mob movie” showed them smiling while leaving the courthouse, beating charges of loansharking, drug dealing and violent extortions.
Alleged Bonnano Crime Family boss Joseph Cammarano and his alleged lieutenant acquitted on all counts in racketeering trial. https://t.co/cMPDJEVTbu
— The Tornado News (@TheTornadoNews) March 14, 2019
The high profile murder in Staten Island and the release of two longtime mob associates has police worried about the resurgence of La Cosa Nostra, a global crime syndicate that had ruled not just New York, but New Jersey, Philadelphia, Chicago and much of the midwest and Las Vegas for most of the last century.
“We thought those days were over,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday in a press conference addressing the Staton Island killing. “I guess old habits die hard.”
There’s also questions swirling about who will run the Colombo crime family following the death of Persico at 85, who police say had controlled the organization from prison for a number of years. Dubbed “The Last Godfather” of the 1960s and 1970s era mob, Persico spent the final years of his life in a wheel chair fighting kidney and heart disease. The warden at his prison had recommended Perisco for early release, but prison officials thought he was too dangerous, citing his long history of ordering hits from behind bars. In 1987 Persico ordered the murder of a well known New York prosecutor, but the brothers who took the job botched the killing, hitting the man’s father instead. Persico’s lieutenant Joel Cacace tried to clean up the mess by having the hit men killed, prosecutors say, and then murdering the men hired to kill the hitmen. Even stranger, Cacace ended up marrying the widow of one of the original hitman.
Today Cacace is believed to be trying to hold onto his control of the Colombo family and police worry that the high profile murder of Cali on Wednesday, coupled with a longstanding feud between former Gambino boss John Gotti and Persico, could set off a new war in the mob.
“If this is still the Mafia, that guy’s got to get killed that did the shooting,” former Gambino mobster Edward Alite, 56, told USA Today. Alite, who confessed to involvement in several murders and cooperated with authorities for a reduced jail sentence, said “anybody who was associated with this murder, whether it was mob related or not” was in serious danger and that inevitably, “a couple of guys got to get killed now.”
Cali’s is the first boss to be murdered since Gambino boss Paul Castelano was shot and killed in front of the Manhattan’s Sparks steakhouse in 1984, a hit supposedly planned and orchestrated by Gotti to take control of the mafia family created by Salvatore “Toto” D’Aquila and Carlos Gambino. Gotti was convicted of murder in 1992 and died in prison ten years later. Over the next two decades, police methodically jailed Gotti’s relatives, sending Gotti’s son John Jr to prison in 1999 along with two of Gotti’s brothers in 2002 and 2004, filing 60 indictments against the family. Tired of the chaos and scrutiny, the family opted to pass control over to a Sicilian faction, first handing the reins in 2011 to Domenico Cefalu, a 64-year-old ex-con who lived with his mother, and then later to Cali. Looking to avoid the flash and violence of the Gotti era, Cali liked to operate off the radar, shunning Italian social clubs and Manhattan mob hangouts for a quieter life in Staten Island’s Todt Hill neighborhood, refocusing his criminal efforts on drug trafficking,
“(Cali) was a mobster, pure and pure,” former FBI agent Bruce Mouw told USA Today. “He was Sicilian, very smooth, a moneymaker and a good businessman, so he’s smarter than your average mobster. But you can dress him up, buy him a nice house in Staten Island, he’s still a mobster.”
Cali’s murder now has police looking at another of John Gotti’s brothers, Gene Gotti, who was released from prison after a 29-year sentence for heroin dealing. Authorities are reportedly looking into whether Gene played a part in the Cali hit, “probing whether (the killing) was part of a brewing American-vs.-Sicilian power struggle — with Gene Gotti looking to claw back control for the red, white and blue faction of the syndicate from Cali, the son of Sicilians with close ties to his homeland,” the Post reported.
"…cops were probing whether it was part of a brewing American-vs.-Sicilian power struggle — with Gene Gotti looking to claw back control… from Cali, the son of Sicilians with close ties to his homeland, sources say." https://t.co/AH8ypEMiut
— katie honan (@katie_honan) March 15, 2019
If so, “there’s going to be an all-out war,” one source told the newspaper. “The Sicilians are not going to sit back and let that happen.”
Also released with Gotti earlier this year was John Carneglia, 74, charged with drug dealing and suspected of being the gunman who famously killed Castellano. Unlike the 1985 murder, done on a busy Manhattan street, Cali’s murder seemed much more personal.
“This was in front of his family, in his house. You don’t usually see this. There were other places this could’ve happened,” retired chief of detectives Robert Boyce said at the scene Thursday according to the Post.
Cali’s murder was allegedly caught on camera and the images that emerge from the killing will likely provide further clues about who orchestrated the hit and whether a new violent era of mob reprisals is coming.