Last month esteemed writer and author Jerry Capeci reported that Gambino crime family godfather Domenico Cefalù had been replaced by his underboss, the savvy and highly respected mobster Franky Boy Cali. For many years Frank Cali has been tipped as the future of the crime family, well regarded by his criminal peers in America and he also maintains close ties to the Italian Mafia’s. Capeci’s story set off a chain reaction in the world media with many publications reporting that Franky Boy was the new godfather. This is the second time in as many years that Cali has been hailed as the new Gambino boss by the American media.
However, should Capeci’s story be accepted at face value as so many mob watchers seem prepared to do? I love Jerry Capeci’s books and stories on the Mafia, he’s truly the godfather of mob writing, but it does seem that there is little credence to be attached to the rumour that Cefalù has stepped down. Capeci admitted in a follow up piece that it was a single source who informed him that Cali had ascended recently to the top position. He also stated in his Gangland News column the following week that three other sources had refuted this source’s version of events and that Domenico Cefalù remained the head of the crime family. For now let’s take a closer look at the dynamic duo of Cefalù and Cali, the most formidable pair to run the criminal outfit since the days of Don Carlo Gambino and his feared underboss Neil Dellacroce.
The 68-year old Domenico Cefalù is a native Sicilian born in the capital Palermo in 1947. Like so many aspiring Mafioso, Cefalù made the move to America to earn his fortune in the burgeoning heroin trade. The Sicilian Mafia dominated heroin-trafficking routes to North America in the 60s, 70s and 1980’s. Cefalù settled on Brooklyn’s 18th Avenue in the mob dominated section of Bensonhurst. He then made the acquaintance of powerful members of the Gambino crime family. Nicknamed “Italian Dom”, “Greaseball”,”Dom from 18th Ave” and “Quiet Dom” due to his understated and low-key style, Cefalù racked up a prison sentence for drug-trafficking in the early 1980s.
After making his bones and proving that he was a “stand-up guy” during his drug-trafficking trial, Cefalù was proposed for membership of the Gambino crime family by influential capo-regime Pasquale Conte. Cefalù was inducted into the family by flamboyant mob boss John Gotti in either late 1990 or early 1991 and he became a soldier in Pasquale Conte’s crew. Conte was another Sicilian-born mobster who had made his fortune in America but he fell afoul of John Gotti in 1994 after accepting a plea bargain in the murder trial of a Gambino soldier. Gotti was said to be enraged at Conte’s decision to plead out, which involved admitting the Mafia’s existence, and ruled that the mob capo was now out of the picture. He promoted Domenico Cefalù to takeover Conte’s old crew.
Quiet Dom was called to testify against Pasquale Conte at his trial but the tight-lipped Mafioso refused to talk and received a 3-year prison sentence for his trouble. Despite the three year bit, Cefalù largely avoided the disastrous fallout from the end of Gotti’s reign, after the talkative crime boss was finally caught on wiretap discussing mafia business and murders. Cefalù understated and low-key manner served him well during the turbulent years that followed Gotti’s imprisonment. He navigated the choppy waters of the early late 1990’s and early 2000’s emerging as a genuine mob powerhouse.
Cefalù was appointed as the underboss of the family in 2005 by former Gotti flunkey and acting boss Jackie D’Amico in an acknowledgement of the rising power of the Sicilian wing of the crime family. Italian Dom was caught up in the famous “Operation Old Bridge” investigation that saw Mafiosi on both sides of the Atlantic arrested. The case involved murder, drug-trafficking and a whole host of other mob related crimes that generated big headlines. Cefalù was picked up for his part in an extortion scheme targeting the trucking industry. He pled guilty to the charges and received a two-year sentence, being released in the winter of 2009 and stating that he was intending to go straight and work in a bakery!
Repeated investigations and arrests had weakened the top-level of the Gambino crime family with Gotti’s lacklustre successors struggling to restore the ailing fortunes of the once powerful organisation. In 2011, Domenico Cefalù looked to change all this when he was nominated by the captains to become the new boss of the family. His appointment was seen as a return to the old-school values of Don Carlo Gambino and undoubtedly Cefalù’s style contrasted sharply with the brash and ineffectual reign of John Gotti and that of his beleaguered heirs. The Sicilian faction had now ascended to the highest level, in what was still one of the top Mafia crime families in America, and after Cefalù took control of the crime family he lead it back into the shadows for a much needed period of respite from law-enforcement scrutiny. Frank Cali, a highly regarded and relatively young member of the Sicilian faction’s 18th Avenue crew, was installed as his underboss. A new era had dawned on the Gambino crime family.
Francesco Paolo Augusto Cali was born on March 26 1965 in Brooklyn. His father Augusto and mother Agata were both born in Palermo and moved to New York City seeking their fortune. The father opened up a video store in the mob-infested neighbourhood of Bensonhurst and although ostensibly a law-abiding citizen he in fact maintained friendships with powerful Sicilian drug-traffickers, it is possible Augusto was a “Man of Honour” of the Sicilian Mafia. Francesco, who became known in the neighbourhood as Franky Boy, worked in his father store as a teenager but also made the acquaintance of neighbourhood wise-guys like Jackie D’Amico.
Frank Boy didn’t come up the hard way in the Mob, i.e via carrying out menial tasks and murders but rather was respected by his peers for his status as an earner. He and D’Amico made a fortune from a phone card scam that was popular with mobsters in the early 90s. He was proposed for membership in the Gambino crime family by Jackie D’Amico, who was impressed with his subordinates understated style and money-making capacity. Cali was “made” in 1997 and became a soldier in the Gambino’s powerful 18th Avenue crew, which was considered to be the home of the family’s “Zip” or Sicilian faction.
The newly minted Mafia soldier made a sound career move when he married a Mafia princess by the name of Rosaria Inzerillo, she was related to some of the most powerful drug-traffickers the Sicilian Mafia had ever produced and was also a niece of powerful Sicilian capo-regime John Gambino. Rosaria was the daughter of a Sicilian mobster named Pietro Inzerillo who owned a popular restaurant in Bensonhurst where she also worked. The Inzerillo-Gambino clans had been amongst the most influential and richest “Men of Honour” in the Sicilian Mafia until an upstart clan from Corleone launched a brutal takeover of Cosa Nostra in the early 1980s and killed Palermo godfather Salvatore Inzerillo along with hundreds of others.
The survivors of the Inzerillo-Gambino clans found refuge with their distant relations within the Gambino crime family in New York City. John Gambino was a member of the infamous Cherry Hill trio, the youngest of three brothers who wholesaled heroin in the New Jersey area and were brought down in the Pizza Connection investigation. John later hit the heights in the Gambino crime family rising to become a captain under John Gotti and more recently serving as consigliere. John Gambino was the key liaison between the American and Sicilian Mafia’s, who co-operated closely in the international drug trade. Franky Boy’s marriage to Rosaria cemented his position within a complex network of marriage alliances and familial ties amongst the Gambino family’s Sicilian faction.
After his mentor Jackie D’Amico was promoted to the position of acting boss in 2003, Frankie Boy became the new captain of the 18th Avenue crew. He operated a string of legitimate businesses which he either registered in his own name or his wife’s. Haskell International Trading Inc, Two Brothers Produce Express ltd, Citrus Fruits Wholesale and Bontel USA Corp all belonged to Cali, they were either wholesale food companies or construction businesses but the F.B.I believed them to be front’s for his drug-trafficking activities which he was said to be entangled in with his Inzerillo relations.
Cali’s importance in the American Mob hierarchy was apparent when two Sicilian Mafiosi, Nicolo Mandala and Gianni Nicchi, travelled to New York City in 2003. Nicchi in particular was a rising star within Cosa Nostra and was tipped as a future boss of bosses. Mandala and Nicchi were in New York to broker new partnerships in the drug trade but also to discuss the fallout from the Inzerillo’s decision to return to Palermo. The Inzerillo situation was causing a lot of problems back home as many of the Palermo clans who had allied with the Corleonesi in the 1980 war worried that the Inzerillo’s would seek revenge for their murdered rivals.
Two powerful Sicilian bosses were about to go to war over the Inzerillo problem until law-enforcement stepped in and arrested both of them. It shows the esteem that Cali was held by the Sicilian Mafia that Nicchi and Mandala spent most of their trip with Cali. Nicchi later reported back to his boss in Sicily that Franky Boy was “everything over there”. Nicchi is believed to have procured a huge shipment of cocaine from Cali during his New York trip. The Inzerillo’s were permitted to return to Palermo in the end, where they became an important link in the chain of the transatlantic drug trade, much as they had been before the Corleonesi takeover. Some of the Inzerillo’s did remain in New York including Cali’s brother-in-law and close ally Pietro “Tall Pete” Inzerillo, a soldier in the Gambino family.
Although Frank Cali operated in the shadows and had been schooled by low-key Mafiosi, his rising power in the New York Mafia began to gain him unwanted notoriety from the law. Several informants reported Cali’s rising status to their police handlers and a target was painted on his back. Like Cefalù, Cali was also caught up in the Operation “Old Bridge” investigation and indicted for his involvement in a shakedown scheme, the victim had been wearing a wire the whole time. Franky Boy seen which way the wind was blowing and avoided serious jail-time by pleading guilty, he was back on the streets by late 2009.
Cali’s status and power continued to rise in the Gambino crime family and he received another promotion in 2011 when he was anointed underboss by new godfather and fellow zip Domenico Cefalù. But Cali’s increasing notoriety again led to more unwanted scrutiny, this time from the media. 2012 saw a story break that caught on around the world stating that Cali had been appointed the new boss of the Gambino crime family. Apparently Cefalù had been shunted aside for the younger and more popular Cali. This would suggest that somehow Cefalù and Cali are fierce rivals, to the contrary the pair are said to be extremely close and have a good understanding with one another. The media erroneously stated that Cefalù was ten years older than he was and falsely added that he was at death’s door. A few weeks later more media stories emerged saying that Cali “rejected” the nomination by the Gambino captains to become the new godfather, perhaps Cali leaked this information to the media himself in what would amount to damage-control.
The low-key mobster undoubtedly didn’t need the headache or the attention of being the new boss of the Gambino crime family and was making millions from his vast interests in the Manhattan food industry, construction, loan-sharking, gambling and drug-trafficking. The 2012 media storm was the precursor to the more recent one where Cali was again named the new godfather. It is almost like the media are wishing for the 50-year old Mafioso to be the new boss of the Gambino’s. Cali is undoubtedly one of the most powerful mobsters in America today but there isn’t a lot of evidence to suggest that he has replaced the old-school and respected Cefalù, other than the word of one unknown informant on Jerry Capeci’s payroll. As I’ve pointed out too, Capeci admitted the following week that three other’s sources rejected his informant’s version of events! While some may scoff at an amateur blogger such as me calling into doubt the word of Jerry Capeci, then all I would have to say is show me the evidence that Cali is in fact the new boss. In fact there is evidence to suggest that to the contrary Cali doesn’t even desire the top spot, at a Gambino family meeting several years ago Cali reportedly stated “I don’t need the money, the headaches. I am OK with things and I am below the radar and not an attention-seeker.”
Whatever the case the Gambino family undoubtedly has at the helm its most potent leadership in many decades. The third member of the crime family’s administration is either Cali’s uncle John Gambino (rumoured to be in ill-health but a picture I seen of him recently suggests otherwise) or Lorenzo Mannino, a shrewd wise-guy from Cali’s 18th Avenue crew. No doubt the NYPD and F.B.I are desperate to bring down this formidable crime family’s administration, but the shadowy and secretive Sicilian’s will be extremely slippery adversaries. It is doubtful if they will ever be picked up talking business on a wiretap or saying anything incriminating on the telephone. Also their complex and intricate familial ties and marriage alliances makes it unlikely that they will turn on one another, like underboss Sammy Gravano did with John Gotti. As the F.B.I refocuses its resources more and more on terrorism the Gambino family appear to have the sort of leaders who can restore its ailing fortunes. Which is some turnaround from the nadir of the Gotti era. Proving one of the old maxims that one of the Mafia’s greatest capacities is for regrowth and regeneration even in the face of adversity.
By Steve Trotter