Francesco "Frank" Cali (March 26, 1965 - March 13, 2019), known as "Frank" or "Franky Boy", was a reputed acting boss in the Gambino crime family. Law enforcement considered Cali to be the Gambino "ambassador to Sicilian mobsters", linking him to the Inzerillo Mafia family from Palermo.
Frank Cali was born in New York City in 1965 to Augusto and Agata Cesare, both natives of Palermo, Sicily. His father ran a household goods store in Palermo and a video store in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He had a clean police record in the United States, even though he was mentioned in the Pizza Connection investigation, when police discovered that he was a partner of Domenico Adamita, allied to Sicilian Mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti.
Frank Cali was a nephew of Sicilian mafiosi John Gambino, Joseph Gambino and Rosario Gambino, and had close ties to the once powerful Sicilian Mafia family led by Salvatore Inzerillo. Cali was also a great-nephew of Bonanno crime family mobsters Giovanni Bonventre and Vito Bonventre. Cali was also related to Gambino boss Paul Castellano.
As a little boy, Cali bonded with Gambino mobster John D'Amico, a lieutenant of Gambino boss John Gotti who operated a crew on 18th avenue in Brooklyn. As Cali entered adolescence, he began to work for D’Amico and had reputation as a top earner. In January 1997, the FBI reported to Italian authorities that Cali had been "combined" into the Gambino family. In 2005 Cali was promoted to acting capo when D'Amico became acting boss. Cali ran several import-export companies in Brooklyn, including Circus Fruits Wholesale in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn recycling of millions of dollars through food distribution. Contrary to mobster stereotypes, Cali is not known to resort to violence and is known to be a negotiator when involved in mafia disputes.
Sicilian Mafia ties
Cali also maintained ties with the Sicilian Mafia. He married Rosaria Inzerrilo, a sister of Pietro Inzerillo and a relative of Gambino associate Frank Inzerillo, a member of the Palermitan Inzerillo family. In the early 1980s, after losing the Second Mafia War against the Corleonesi of Totò Riina, the Inzerillo family was forced to flee Sicily. Cali and old Palermo boss Filippo Casamento supported the return of the Inzerillos to Palermo, according to Italian authorities.
According to the Italian Polizia di Stato (State Police), Cali is also a member of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. He was the contact for Sicilian Mafiosi who traveled to New York to meet him, do business, and update him on Sicilian affairs. "He's our friend and he is everything over there," confided Sicilian mobster Gianni Nicchi to his boss Antonio Rotolo, after a trip in 2003. Nicchi is one of the Sicilian 'men of honour' who went back and forth between Palermo and the US for drug trafficking.
In early 2003, Cali and fellow captain Leonard DiMaria began extorting 'mob taxes' from Joseph Vollero, the owner of a trucking and contracting company that was helping build a NASCAR speedway on Staten Island. Vollero was eventually forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars as tribute to John D'Amico and Gambino acting boss Nicholas Corozzo. In 2004, to avoid prison time for a cocaine conviction, Vollero began working with federal authorities as an informant. Vollero's undercover work lead to a massive indictment four years later.
On February 8, 2008, Cali and 61 other New York Cosa Nostra associates were arrested and charged with federal racketeering charges as part of Operation Old Bridge. Old Bridge terminated the drug trafficking between the Sicilian Mafia and the Gambino family. Prosecutors claimed that Cali acted as the Gambino "ambassador to the Sicilian mobsters" and as a liaison between John D'Amico and the Sicilian connections to the Inzerillo family. Cali was charged with racketeering, extortion, and conspiracy along with D'Amica and Leonard DiMaria.
On June 4, 2008, Cali pleaded guilty to conspiring to extort money from Vollaro. Cali was incarcerated at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York. On April 6, 2009, he was released from prison.
Around 2009, Cali's uncle John Gambino was elevated to the family's ruling panel, according to court papers filed in Brooklyn Federal Court. The U.S. Justice Department demanded that Cali avoid all contact with Gambino crime family, except for weddings or holiday celebrations approved in advance by Cali's probation officer.
Per a record released under Freedom of Information Act, Cali was referred by Customs and Border Protection for secondary screening at George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport upon return to the United States in 2011. He had arrived on a flight from Honduras.
In October 2012, Cali was identified by New York crime reporter Jerry Capeci as the new underboss of the Gambino crime family. Capeci has previously identified Domenico Cefalu, a member of the same Sicilian faction as Cali, as the current boss of the group. Though his status remains unclear, the promotion of both men follows a period in which John Gambino was a street boss within the Family, showing that the Sicilian group has remained dominant in recent years with leaders from multiple generations filling top positions in the organization. In July 2013, it was reported that Cali turned down the position of boss of the family.
According to law enforcement and various mob sources including Gangland Reporter Jerry Capeci, Cali was named the new acting boss of the Gambino Family replacing former acting boss Domenico Cefalu in 2015.
Death and aftermath
Cali died on March 13, 2019, at the age of 53 at Staten Island University Hospital after being shot in front of his home on Hilltop Terrace in the Todt Hill area, at about 9:20pm. This was the first murder of a New York crime boss since the 1985 assassination of Paul Castellano. Surveillance video showed a pickup truck striking Cali's parked Cadillac, a subsequent confrontation between the driver and Cali, and then the shooting. Cali had tried to evade the killer by using his vehicle as a shield. He was hit ten times with bullets from a 9mm handgun.
On March 16, a 24-year-old suspect Anthony Comello was arrested in Brick, New Jersey, by the New York Police Department and US Marshals, to face murder charges on Staten Island. On April 3, Comello was indicted and was being held in protective custody at an undisclosed New York City correctional facility. Comello pleaded not guilty on May 10, 2019.
Comello has given conflicting stories regarding his motives for killing Cali, ranging from a thwarted romantic interest in a relative of Cali's to conspiracy theories about the so-called "Deep State." On June 3, 2020, Comello was pronounced mentally unfit to stand trial and sent for further treatment.
The aftermath of Frank Cali's death was captured in contemporary physical and wiretap surveillance of other Gambino crime family members. Federal prosecutors allege that Gambino capo Andrew Campos and soldier Vincent Fiore arrived in a home on Staten Island shortly after the death of Cali. Fiore was specifically captured on wiretaps discussing the outcome of Cali's death, including how his stature would rise in the Family alongside Campos.
Operation New Connection
As a "Zip"/Sicilian member of U.S. Cosa Nostra with blood and business ties to the Old World, Cali's death caused decks to be reshuffled globally. A joint operation of U.S. and Italian law enforcement, Operation New Connection, resulted in raids of properties in the U.S. (including Philadelphia, New Jersey and Staten Island), as well as 15 individuals arrested in Sicily.
Those arrested included Thomas Gambino (the U.S.-born son of Giuseppe "Joe" Gambino), deported Gambino crime family member Rosario Gambino, along with the Siclians Tommaso Inzerillo and Francesco Inzerillo. Audio and video surveillance released by police included recordings of meetings where the division of Cali's rackets were discussed. The far-ranging operation included surveillance in the Dominican Republic where Cali is reputed to have had substantial holdings.