Gambino crime family boss Francesco Cali was gunned down in front of his Staten Island home on Wednesday night—moments after the suspect deliberately backed a pickup truck into Cali's SUV to get him to come outside, police said.
It was the kind of crime New York City hasn’t seen in decades: the head of one of the five mob families rubbed out on his home turf in the most brutal fashion.
The triggerman left 16 holes in Cali’s body, and investigators recovered a dozen shell casings at the scene, a senior NYPD official told The Daily Beast.
Police on Thursday were searching for a pickup truck that fled the bloody scene and believe the vehicle has significant damage, NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said during press conference Thursday afternoon, adding that the suspect is believed to around 25-40 years.
No arrests have been made, and it was not clear if authorities had a lead on who might have whacked Cali, who had been boss of the Gambinos since 2015 and who had very close ties to the Sicilian Mafia. The FBI is investigating the murder, according to a federal law enforcement official.
“It remains a very active homicide investigation at this point,” Shea said. Cali’s past investigations with federal investigators are “focal point of the investigation as of right now.”
Cali, 53, was nabbed in a massive 2008 federal takedown of Gambino crime figures for an extortion scheme connected to a failed bid to build a NASCAR track on Staten Island. He pleaded guilty and served 16 months.
The brazen and brutal hit recalled mob wars of years past and also evoked the assassination of another Gambino boss, Paul Castellano, who was gunned down outside Sparks Steak House on Manhattan in 1985.
While police have not determined exactly what led Cali out of his house, Shea said the accident appears to be “quite possibly” done intentionally to get Cali to come out of his come, Shea said.
Authorities executed a search warrant at Cali's tony brick home on Hilltop Terrace in Staten Island's Todt Hill neighborhood and video evidence recovered from Cali’s home shows a pickup truck forcefully back into Cali’s Cadillac Escalade.
Cali was in the house with family at the time, Shea said. The video shows him exit his home and engage in a conversation with the suspect. About one minute into the conversation, the man pulls out a gun and fires 12 shots from a 9mm handgun. At least six of those bullets hit Cali.
The video shows “muzzle flash” which indicates one person shooting at another, Shea said.
A law enforcement official who has seen the video told The Daily Beast that the pickup truck’s impact detached the license plate from Cali’s Escalade. The gunman handed the license plate to Cali, who turned around to put it in the Escalade’s trunk, and was then shot.
During 911 calls, witnesses reported seeing Cali being run over by the suspect, but those reports seem to be inaccurate at this point, Shea said, adding that despite witness accounts it looks like his body came to rest under the vehicle but he wasn't run over.
Cali was pronounced dead at Staten Island University Hospital.
His death came the same week as two major mob developments: the death of former Colombo boss Carmine “The Snake” Persico and the surprise acquittal of the reputed boss and consigliere of the Bonanno family, Joseph Cammarano Jr. and John Zancocchio, who claimed they were victims of ethnic profiling.
Cali is the son of Sicilian parents but grew up in Brooklyn. He became a made member of the Gambino family in the late 1990s and quickly climbed the ranks to become a capo before he hit 40, according to court documents.
He was part of a crew headed by Jackie “The Nose” D’Amico, who later became acting boss of the family and promoted him to capo. He served as underboss to Domenico Cefalu and then took over the operation about four years ago.
With deep mob ties in Italy, authorities described him as an ambassador of sorts to Sicilian mobsters.
“In Cali’s crew, he has many members and associates who were born in Italy, and Cali is seen as a man of influence and power by organized crime members in Italy,” prosecutors said at a 2008 bail hearing.
His wife, Rosario, is related to Sicily’s notorious Inzerillo crime clan and is the niece of Gambino capo John Gambino.
His home is in a neighborhood with a mob history—a two-minute drive from where Castellano lived, in an ostentatious mansion dubbed the White House, before he was whacked on orders of John Gotti.
Castellano was replaced as boss by Gotti—the so-called Dapper Don who died in prison in 2002. Gotti’s brother, Gene, was released from prison after 29 years just five months ago.
— Tracy Connor contributed to this story.