Shortly after 9 p.m. emergency dispatchers received a 9-1-1 call from 25 Hilltop Terrace in the Todt Hill section. Fire department medics and police responded. They found Francesco "Franky Boy" Cali, 53, had suffered multiple gunshot wounds.
Cali was rushed 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 the New York Daily News, a Cali family member stated that Cali was run over by a pickup truck before he was shot. (This incorrect report was likely the result of Cali being found behind and slightly under his SUV, parked at the road.) A blue pickup truck was observed leaving the area immediately after the shooting. Police are investigating.
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 driveway of paving stones 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.
|Plastic cups cover shell casings found by|
police following the Cali shooting
New York Daily News photo.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
|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.
Update, Dec. 7, 2019: Anthony Comello, accused of the killing of Francesco Cali, claims he was motivated by belief in a deep-state conspiracy theory, according to a report in the New York Times. Comello reportedly believed that Cali was part of "a liberal cabal working to undermine President Trump." The defendant told his lawyer that he went to Cali's home to arrest him and turn him over to the military, but shot Cali when he resisted.
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.
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.
Cali's murder may be 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, it appears 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).
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