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A Mafia heir and a close friend of slain Gambino crime boss Frank Cali has paid tribute to the mobster after he was gunned down outside his family home.
Giovanni Gambino told DailyMail.com that 53-year-old ‘Franky Boy’ was a constant feature in the New York charity scene and was someone he looked up to growing up.
The head of the notorious family was shot and killed in a hail of bullets and then run over in Staten Island, New York, on Wednesday night in a slaying that shattered a 30-year peace between the Five Families in the Big Apple and could lead to more bloodshed.
Cops could be looking into whether the hit was linked to Gene Gotti, a reputed gangster and the brother of John Gotti who was released from prison just six months ago following a 29-year term for heroin dealing.
The NYPD is also investigating the possibility Cali was lured from his home by the gunman, who then fled in a blue pickup, and are probing whether the hit was carried out by a lone wolf or ordered by factions in the Sicilian Costra Nostra,
Giovanni said Cali was one of the figures he looked to when he was growing up in the notorious family and said he always ‘showed class’.
The Gambino scion also warned that there could soon be retribution by a rival gangster because Cali was considered one of the ‘good’ guys.
‘He was the good wise guy that went after bad wise guys’, Giovanni told DailyMailcom. ‘The wise guy that showed class. He was the one that had the ‘it’ factor, growing up with my friends. We all looked up to him. He gave a great impression.’
‘Nobody gets away with anything . Especially killing a good man,’ he added.
Giovanni’s cousin Carlo founded the Gambino crime family in 1957 when he immigrated from Italy and his father Francesco ‘Ciccio’ Gambino was a leading captain in the syndicate.
Francesco died in federal prison in 2012 while serving a 30-year sentence for racketeering and trafficking heroin from Sicily to the United States. Giovanni was raised by his mother and other members of the crime family while they were under the leadership of the likes of John Gotti and Domenico Cefalu.
Cali maintained a ‘low-key’ lifestyle, was a good friend to his family and always supported his passion to become a writer, Giovanni says. Cali is the basis for the protagonist in his novel, The Prince of Omerta.
Cali’s murder on Wednesday night was the first hit on a Mafia boss since John Gotti arranged the assassination of then-Gambino head Paul Castellano in 1985.
Cali was shot six times and run over by a blue pickup truck outside his redbrick house in the upmarket Todt Hill neigborhood of Staten Island. Police are now hunting the killer.
Sources told the New York Daily News on Thursday that cops were eyeing ties to Gene Gotti, who may have orchestrated the hit to get back some the clout in the family business.
The source admitted the claims could be ‘total speculation’, but is ‘something to look out for’.
The NYPD are scouring through surveillance footage on bridges off Staten Island to try and track the getaway vehicle.
The New York Post has also reported that he may have been lured outside his home when the killer smashed the pickup into his car in the driveway.
Photos from the scene show cops towing away a late-model silver Cadillac Escalade SUV.
It was covered in hand prints caused by crime scene technicians dusting for DNA.
Neighbors have described the terrifying hail of bullets they heard from inside their homes.
Many were watching TV when the chaos unfolded in the normally quiet neighborhood.
It is understood Cali’s distraught family members ran outside after the shots were fired.
One man collapsed in front of the home crying: ‘Papa! Papa!’ as a woman shouted into her phone: ‘Why doesn’t the ambulance come? He’s not breathing!’
No arrests have been made and an investigation is ongoing as police search for a blue pickup truck that fled the gruesome scene.
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 violence.
This week, prosecutors in Brooklyn announced a case against a long-time Gambino associate accused of killing a suspected loanshark affiliated with the Lucchese crime family.
Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said on Thursday 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.
Shea said the mob boss emerged from his home around 9:15 p.m. after the gunman backed his pickup into Cali’s Cadillac SUV, damaging it. ‘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.
ederal 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 shot to death in New York City was Gambino don ‘Big Paul’ Castellano, assassinated on Gotti’s direction while getting out of a black limousine outside a high-end midtown 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, said Thursday that Cali is part of a Siclian faction now in control of the Gambino family. Capeci said 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. ‘There are exceptions, but that’s not the case with his guy.’
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, a short walk from ball fields, a country club and a day camp.
Gotti, with his expensive double-breasted suits and overcoats and silvery swept-back hair, became known as the Dapper Don, his smiling face all over the tabloids. As prosecutors tried and failed to bring him down, he came to be called the Teflon Don.
In 1992, Gotti was convicted in Castellano’s murder and a multitude of other crimes. He was sentenced to life in prison and died of cancer in 2002.
On Wednesday, hours before Cali was killed, the reputed boss and consigliere of the Bonanno crime family were acquitted in a Brooklyn racketeering and extortion case. In October, reputed Bonanno associate Sylvester Zottola was fatally shot while waiting for a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s drive-thru in the Bronx.
Last week, the longtime boss of the Colombo crime family, 85-year-old Carmine ‘the Snake’ Persico, died at a North Carolina hospital near the federal prison where he had been serving what was effectively a life sentence. Persico was convicted in a 1986 case overseen by then-U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Cali’s only mob-related criminal conviction came a decade ago, when he pleaded guilty in an extortion scheme involving a failed attempt to build a NASCAR track on Staten Island. He was sentenced to 16 months behind bars and was released in 2009.
In that case, authorities intercepted conversations shedding light on his quiet underworld command. At a 2008 bail, a prosecutor said Cali was seen ‘as a man of influence and power by organized crime members in Italy.’
One of Cali’s neighbors, 58-old-year Salvatore, told the New York Times he heard a burst of about seven gunshots. ‘I just heard the pow-pow-pow-pow-pow,’ he said, adding, ‘You never know who your neighbors are’.
And one resident, Prashant Ranyal, 39, who lives blocks from the scene, told the New York Post: ‘I’ve seen the [mob] movies . . . but I’ve never seen any activity that we feel at all that there’s something strange about this area.’
Cali, who is married to John Gambino’s niece, served on the family’s ruling panel for several years before being promoted to acting boss in 2015, replacing Domenico Cefalu, also known as ‘Greaseball’.
The organization reportedly focused its efforts on heroin and Oxycontin trafficking under his leadership.
Among law enforcement officials, Cali was known as a ‘real quiet old-school boss’ – one police source told the New York Post.
He was considered to be a foil of John Gotti because ‘no one ever sees him’.
Cali only had one criminal conviction, having spent 16 months for a 2008 federal extortion charge in connection with a failed bit to build a NASCAR race track in Staten Island.
The hit on Cali has come amid a resurgence in mob activity.
In October, Sylvester Zottola, 71 – an associate of the Bonnano crime family – was gunned down at a Bronx McDonald’s drive-thru.
Giovanni’s cousin Carlo, the head of the Cosa Nostra during the 1970s, was arrested for orchestrating a multi-million dollar bank heist before he died of a heart attack in 1976.
Giovanni thinks the FBI has a long history of corruption, especially when it comes to members of his Italian community, and their strategies should be under more of a microscope.
He recently called President Trump to pardon his father Francesco, claiming fired FBI Director James Comey, who was responsible for taking down his father, treated his family unfairly.
Giovanni decided to shun the mafioso lifestyle and instead went into the pizzeria business.