Reputed Gambino crime boss Francesco “Frank” Cali — shot to death Wednesday night — was apparently drawn out of his Staten Island home by a staged car accident before his assassin killed him with a 9-mm handgun, officials said.
Cali, 53, was shot six times in the torso at about 9:17 p.m. Wednesday outside his residence in the Todt Hill section of the borough as he argued for about a minute with a man involved in the collision, police said. Members of Cali's family were in the house at the time of the shooting, officials said. He was pronounced dead at Staten Island University Hospital.
The assailant, described as a man between 25 and 30 years old, fired a total of 12 times, NYPD chief of detectives Dermot Shea told reporters during a briefing on the killing Thursday. Shea said a pickup truck backed into Cali’s vehicle, prompting him to emerge from his house.
A car was also seen pulling away from the crime scene but Shea wasn’t certain if that vehicle was related to the staged crash. Detectives have video surveillance evidence from the scene, Shea said, and obtained a search warrant to gather materials from Cali’s house. Cops are checking license plate readers and were doing an extensive wide-area search for videos to locate the truck, the NYPD chief said.
Asked if Cali’s family was cooperating in the probe, Shea answered with a terse “no comment.”
Law enforcement officials and organized crime experts said Cali, born in the United States but of Sicilian heritage, was part of the Sicilian faction of the Gambino crime family that had taken over the reins of the group following years of instability after the 2002 death of boss John Gotti in prison.
“Needless to say, the potential organized crime angle to this story is of the utmost importance to the NYPD,” Shea said.
But the chief cautioned reporters against jumping to any conclusions about a motive for Cali’s killing, even with his reputed historic ties to organized crime.
“Certainly we are exploring whether his prior or current life has connections to the incident last night,” Shea said. “It also could have nothing to do with it. … We are ruling nothing out at this stage.”
Cali’s criminal record was rather sparse. He plead guilty to a single federal charge of extortion conspiracy in 2008 and served 16 months in prison.
Shea said detectives were also looking into recent past mob-related killings, such as the Bronx killing last year of Sylvester Zottola, a reputed Bonanno crime family associate, at a McDonald’s drive-through, to see if there was a link. Police were also looking into any possible connection with the October 2018 killing of reputed loanshark Vincent Zito. On Thursday, federal officials in Brooklyn announced the arrest of a reputed Gambino crime family associate in connection with the Zito killing.
It was the first major assassination of ruling member of a New York crime family since the December 1985 murder of Gambino boss Paul Castellano and his driver Thomas Bilotti outside Sparks Steak House in Manhattan.
Some sources, none of whom wanted to be identified, said the killing of the low-key Cali likely wasn’t a sanctioned organized crime hit because of the brash, public way it was done outside the high-ranking victim’s home with his family inside.
“The mob hit would have more sophistication at that level,” said one former FBI organized crime expert.
Traditional mobsters also know a killing in aid of racketeering carries a draconian life sentence, said former FBI supervisory special agent Bruce Mouw.