NEW YORK — On a quiet night in March, a mob leader was executed in New York City for the first time since 1985. The body of Francesco Cali, a reputed boss of the Gambino crime family, lay crumpled outside his Staten Island home, pierced by at least six bullets.
Hours later, two soldiers in the Gambino family talked on the phone. One of them, Vincent Fiore, said he had just read a “short article” about the “news,” according to prosecutors.
No tears were shed for their fallen leader. The murder was “a good thing,” Fiore, 57, said on the call. The vacuum at the top meant that Andrew Campos, described by authorities as the Gambino captain who ran Fiore’s crew, was poised to gain more power.
Cali’s death was just the beginning of surprises to come for the Gambino family.
Last week, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn charged Fiore and 11 others in a sprawling racketeering scheme linked to the Gambinos, once the country’s preeminent organized crime dynasty. The charges stemmed from a yearslong investigation involving wiretapped calls, physical surveillance and even listening devices installed inside an office where mob associates worked.
As part of the case, the government released a court filing that offered an extremely rare glimpse at the reactions inside a Mafia family to the murder of their boss — a curious mix of mourning and jockeying for power. The case showed that life in the mob can be just as petty as life in a corporate cubicle.
“Mob guys are the biggest gossips in the world,” said James J. Hunt, the former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s office in New York. “You think they’re tough guys, but they’re all looking out for themselves. The only way they get promoted is by a guy dying or going to jail.”
While Fiore initially plotted how Cali’s death would help him and his faction, he adopted a different tone when calling his own ex-wife a few days later, prosecutors said. He warmly referred to Cali as “Frankie” and seemed to mourn the boss as a man who “was loved.” He speculated about the killer’s motive, saying he had watched the surveillance tape from Cali’s home that captured the murder.
Vincent Fiore appeared ambitious, court documents showed, eager to reveal his connections to other gangs and organized crime families. About two weeks after Cali’s death, Fiore bragged in another wiretapped conversation about how he could take revenge on students who had hit his son at school, a government filing said.
Fiore talked first about sending his daughter to beat the students up.
But he also had other options, he said on the call. His ex-wife’s father was a Latin King, her nephews were Bloods, and her cousin was a member of the Ching-a-Lings, the South Bronx motorcycle gang.
Vincent Fiore and the other defendants have each pleaded not guilty to the charges. A lawyer for Fiore did not respond to a request for comment.
Despite decades of declining influence in New York City, the Gambino family, led by the notoriously flashy John J. Gotti in the 1980s, is still raking in millions of dollars, according to the government. Prosecutors said they had evidence that the family had maintained its long-standing coziness with the construction industry, infiltrating high-end Manhattan properties.
The indictments accused Gambino associates of bribing a real estate executive to skim hundreds of thousands of dollars from New York City construction projects, including the XI, a luxury building with two twisting towers being built along the High Line park in West Chelsea.
At the height of their power in the 1980s and early 1990s, the Gambinos and other organized crime families had a stranglehold on New York City construction, through their control of construction unions and the concrete business.
Some of the defendants charged last week operated a carpentry company called CWC Contracting Corp., which prosecutors said paid kickbacks to real estate developers in exchange for contracts.
Despite the scramble after Cali’s death in March, the Gambino crime family continued to thrive through fraud, bribery and extortion, investigators said.
The wiretaps quoted in court papers hinted at the crime family’s capacity for violence. One of the defendants was recorded in April claiming that he had a fight in a diner and “stabbed the kid, I don’t know, 1,000 times with a fork.” Inside another defendant’s home and vehicle, agents found brass knuckles and a large knife that appeared to have blood on it.
Among the notable names in last week’s takedown were two longtime Gambino members, Andrew Campos and Richard Martino, who were once considered by Gotti to be rising stars in the Mafia, according to former officials.
“John was enamored by these guys,” said Philip Scala, a retired FBI agent who supervised the squad investigating the Gambino family. “He couldn’t believe what they were doing. These kids were making millions of dollars as entrepreneurs.”
In particular, Martino has long been viewed by mob investigators as somewhat of a white-collar crime genius, former officials said. Prosecutors have previously accused him of orchestrating the largest consumer fraud of the 1990s, which netted close to $1 billion. One part of that scheme involved a fake pornography website that lured users with the promise of a free tour and then charged their credit cards without their knowledge.
Campos, 50, and Martino, 60, each pleaded guilty in 2005 to their role in the fraud and served time in federal prison.
But as soon as they were released, the government said, they returned to the family business.
Martino is now accused of hiding his wealth from the government to avoid paying the full $9.1 million forfeiture from his earlier case.
After Martino’s release from prison in 2014, he still controlled companies that conducted millions of dollars in transactions, using intermediaries to obscure his involvement, the government alleged. This included investments in pizzerias on Long Island and in Westchester County, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Martino’s lawyer, Maurice Sercarz, said his client fully paid the required forfeiture before reporting to prison. He added, “The suggestion that Mr. Martino concealed his ownership of businesses and bank accounts to avoid this obligation ignores or misrepresents his financial circumstances.”
Campos, meanwhile, climbed the ranks to become a captain inside the Gambino family, according to prosecutors.
Henry E. Mazurek, a lawyer for Campos, said the government’s photos and surveillance footage of his client were not evidence of a crime. “The government presents a trumped-up case that substitutes old lore for actual evidence,” Mazurek said.
After searching Campos’ home in Scarsdale, New York, a wealthy suburb north of New York City, investigators found traces of a storied mob legacy. In his closet there were photos taken during his visits with Martino to see Frank Locascio, Gotti’s former consigliere, or counselor, in prison.
Locascio is serving a life sentence. He was convicted in 1992 alongside Gotti by the same U.S. attorney’s office that brought last week’s indictment. Gotti, who died in prison in 2002, was found guilty of, among other things, ordering the killing of Paul Castellano in 1985, the last time a Gambino boss was gunned down in the street.
On March 14, the day after Cali’s death, Campos drove into Manhattan around 5:50 p.m. to discuss the circumstances of the murder with Gambino family members, seemingly unaware that law enforcement was tracking his every move.
He parked near a pizzeria on the Upper East Side, according to a person familiar with the matter. As the night progressed, he met with Gambino family captains on the Upper East Side and near a church in Brooklyn. They stood in the street, chatting openly, but law enforcement officials could not hear the conversations.
Several days later, Campos and Fiore drove to Staten Island for a secret meeting. A group of about eight high-level Gambino lieutenants gathered to discuss Cali’s murder, a court filing said. In a wiretapped call the next day, Fiore complained that he had stayed out past midnight.
Fiore said on the call that a woman had been at Cali’s home the night of his death, pointing to her as a possible connection. Court papers do not reveal the woman’s identity.
Nobody within the mob family seemed to suspect the person who was charged: a 25-year-old who appeared to have no clear motive.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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