NEW YORK — The reputed boss of New York’s Gambino crime family was shot to death in front of his home by a gunman who may have staged a car accident to lure him outside, dying a virtual unknown compared with his swaggering 1980s-era predecessor, John Gotti.
Police said Thursday they were reviewing surveillance-camera video of the attack on Francesco “Franky Boy” Cali, 53, who was gunned down Wednesday night at his red-brick colonial-style house in a quiet Staten Island neighbourhood. The assailant sped off in a pickup truck, police said. No immediate arrests were made.
The motive for the attack was under investigation, police said. Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said it was still an open question whether it was a mob hit.
Aggressive federal prosecutions in the past 25 years decimated the ranks of New York’s five Mafia families. The cases resulted in long prison terms for their bosses — Gotti included — and encouraged their successors to keep a lower profile.
But the new generation still engages in old-school crimes — loansharking, gambling, extortion — that can make enemies and spark bloodshed.
Shea said there has been a slight uptick in alleged mob-related violence in New York within the last year. But he said it is too soon to say whether that had anything to do with Cali’s slaying.
The mobster emerged from his home around 9:15 p.m. after the gunman backed his pickup into Cali’s Cadillac SUV, damaging it, according to police. “With what we know at this point in time, it’s quite possible that was part of a plan,” Shea said.
Video showed the assailant pulling a 9 mm handgun and opening fire on Cali about a minute after they started talking, according to Shea. At least 12 shots were fired. After getting shot several times, Cali tried to crawl under his SUV to hide, Shea said.
Federal prosecutors referred to Cali in court filings in recent years as the underboss of the Mafia’s Gambino family, once one of the most powerful and feared crime organizations in the country. News accounts since 2015 said he had ascended to the top spot.
The last Mafia boss to be rubbed out in New York City was Gambino don “Big Paul” Castellano, assassinated at Gotti’s direction while getting out of a black limousine outside a high-end Manhattan steakhouse in 1985. Gotti then took control of the family.
“We thought those days were over,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said of Cali’s slaying. “Very surprising, but I guess old habits die hard.”
Jerry Capeci, a mob expert who writes for the ganglandnews.com website, cautioned that the killing “doesn’t have the feel” of a Mafia-sanctioned hit.
“Frank Cali was a pretty likable guy, and also this is not a way the mob would kill one of their own,” he said, arguing that the Mafia would frown on killing someone in front of his home. He also said there was some uncertainty about whether Cali was the boss or underboss.
Cali kept a much lower profile than Gotti and was killed in far less spectacular fashion than Castellano. He was shot on a tree-lined street in one of New York City’s less-glamorous outer boroughs.