The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Frank Cali, Gambino crime boss, killed in front of Staten Island home

Frank Cali, shown here in 2008, was reportedly shot six times in the chest outside of his home. (Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News, via Getty Images) (New York Daily News/Getty Images)

Frank Cali, the reputed boss of the Gambino crime family whose deep ties to the Sicilian Mafia made him a figure of influence and power in both New York and Italy, was fatally shot outside his home in Staten Island on Wednesday night, police told The Washington Post.

At around 9:15 p.m. Wednesday, Cali, 53, was in front of his red-brick colonial style home in the Todt Hill neighborhood, when he was approached by a blue pickup truck. Known as “Franky Boy,” the Gambino boss was reportedly shot six times in the chest. Police said that a suspect sped off in the truck.

In a statement to The Post, an official with the New York Police Department’s 122nd Precinct, which covers Staten Island, said authorities responded to a 911 call of an assault involving Cali at 9:17 p.m. The address given on Hilltop Terrace near Four Corners Road, located by the Richmond County Country Club, matched Cali’s address, according to public records.

“Upon arrival, officers found a 53-year-old male with multiple gunshot wounds to the torso,” police said to The Post. “EMS also responded to the scene and transported the victim to Staten Island University North, where he was pronounced deceased.”

NYPD officials held a press briefing Thursday afternoon but cautioned that the investigation was in “preliminary” stages and did not offer a motive or suspect.

“Certainly Mr. Cali’s prior dealings — he has been arrested prior by the feds — are a focal point at this point of the investigation but nothing is being ruled out,” NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said.

Shea said that “Francisco, otherwise known as Frank Cali, exits his residence […] has a conversation with an individual where approximately 12 shots are fired with at least six striking the victim causing a demise.” He later said that video footage showed the incident.

“Whether it was an altercation or a conversation, that remains to be seen,” Shea said of the footage. “But he has a conversation with an individual in front of that residence, and that individual at some point in time, its only about a minute into it, pulls out a firearm and shots are fired.”

Shea said the suspect was believed to be a man aged 25 to 40.

Police were in the process of reviewing video surveillance footage from the scene and piecing together witness statements. While it was not clear why Cali went outside his house in the first place, Shea said “what prompted him is part of what we’re trying to discern now.”

Shea allowed that there was a car accident in front of Cali’s residence, and police believe that his car was struck. When asked by a reporter about whether the accident could have been an attempt to get Cali outside, Rhea allowed that it was “quite possible that was part of a plan,” though he again emphasized that the information was not definitive.

Reports of sobbing, panic and fear from witnesses late Wednesday provided a window into the chaotic, swift violence that unfolded in a quiet neighborhood long known for its mob history.

A neighbor told the New York Times that he heard a series of gunshots from what he believed to be a single gun.

“I just heard the pow-pow-pow-pow-pow,” he said to the Times.

Cali’s death marks the first time in about 34 years that a crime family boss was fatally shot in New York City. The previous instance was in 1985, when Paul Castellano, another Gambino crime boss, was assassinated under the orders of John Gotti outside Manhattan’s Sparks Steak House. As the Daily News reported, Cali lived only a half-mile away from Castellano’s home.

Once described as “the rising star of the American mafia,” Cali was an influential figure who surrounded himself with many Italian-born associates. He gained the trust of Jackie “The Nose” D’Amico, an acting boss who promoted him to capo before the age of 40.

Cali’s ascension within the Gambino crime family, once considered one of the most significant criminal organizations in the U.S., came years after federal prosecutors sent its top leaders to prison, crippling its national and global reach. One of those prosecutors, Rudolph W. Giuliani, currently the attorney for President Trump, used the 1986 indictment of the heads of the five crime families to help launch his successful campaign for mayor of New York years later.

As a leader, Cali was reportedly considerably less flashy than the ebullient Gotti, another Gambino boss, and was described by the New York Post as “a real quiet old-school boss.” Cali’s influence reportedly stemmed from his family connections with the Inzerillo crime family in Palermo, Sicily.

“Cali is seen as a man of influence and power by organized crime members in Italy,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joey Lipton said during a bail hearing in 2008.

Lipton went on to quote an intercepted conversation from an Italian mobster, who described Cali as “a friend of ours.”

“He is everything over there,” the mobster allegedly said, referring to Cali’s stature in New York, according to the Daily News.

Federal authorities recognized Cali’s sense of stability and attempted to stop his meteoric rise. In what would be his only mob-related criminal conviction, Cali pleaded guilty to conspiring to extort money in 2008, stemming from a failed bid to build a NASCAR track on Staten Island years earlier. He was released after completing a 16-month prison sentence. Upon his release, the Justice Department ordered that Cali not come in contact with his uncle, John Gambino, if it was not approved ahead of time by his probation officer. (Gambino died at 77 of natural causes in 2017.)

In 2015, Cali was reportedly elevated to acting boss of the Gambino crime family, succeeding Domenico Cefalu, according to the Daily News. During his run with the family, Cali was looked at as a unifying leader, concentrating on enhancing the organization’s role in the OxyContin and heroin trade, the New York Post reported.

The death in Todt Hill came on the same day that Bonanno crime family boss Joseph Cammarano Jr., and his consigliere, John Zancocchio, were acquitted in federal court of charges of racketeering and conspiracy to commit extortion.

More from Morning Mix:

He escaped jail, got arrested again, then vanished in a stolen police car. Now the hunt is on.

Beto O’Rourke landed on Vanity Fair’s cover. The picture recalls an infamous failed candidate.

How a 1937 mafia hit led to a wrongful conviction and inspired Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom to halt the death penalty