How’s this for family values?
Anthony Zottola, the son of reputed Bronx mob associate Sylvester Zottola, is looking at life in prison after being convicted of hiring a hitman to kill his father. He also had his brother, Salvatore, marked for death.
Salvatore was shot in the head, back and chest, but survived.
“Didn’t hurt as bad as I thought it would,” he later told a jury.
Sylvester Zottola, 71, wasn’t as lucky. He was gunned down one day back in October 2018, as he sat in his car in the drive-through lane of a McDonald’s. He had ordered a cup of coffee. Got a serving of hot lead instead. It was, by the prosecution’s count, at least the fourth time hired hitmen tried to take him out.
There was a drive-by shooting on a highway, a sidewalk gun battle in which a hitman’s weapon jammed but the elder Zottola managed to get off a few shots (this encounter was partially picked up on a surveillance video), and a home break-in during which Sylvester Zottola was beaten, stabbed and his throat slit.
Another attempt was called off because the getaway van the hitmen intended to use had engine trouble and the shooters had to call someone to jump-start their vehicle.
This was Goodfellas meets The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. It was a dark comedy, except someone ended up dead. A son had his father killed. Let that sink in the next time you’re pondering the nobility of the American Mafia.
Sylvester “Sally Daz” Zottola’s reputed mob connections (he was described as an associate of the Bonanno crime family) apparently stemmed from his ownership of a business that provided pool tables, jukeboxes and poker machines to bars and restaurants. Prosecutors would allege that he built a multi-million-dollar real estate empire with the cash he earned from the illegal gambling machines.
The vending machine business has long been a money-maker for the mob and a way to legitimize the activities of some major players. Angelo Bruno, the late Philadelphia mob boss who was a millionaire when he was killed in 1980, described himself as a “salesman” for John’s Wholesale Vending, a major distributor of the same products that Sally Daz sold.
And while Anthony Zottola’s lawyer argued that Sally’s demise may have been linked to his underworld dealings, prosecutors pointed to evidence and testimony that indicated the hit came from much closer to home.
Prosecutors said Anthony Zottola wanted his father and brother dead so that he could get total control of the Bronx-based real estate empire his father had built. The last straw, investigators said, was when Sylvester Zottola nixed a $27 million deal his son had set up to sell off their real estate holdings, properties that generated about $1.5 million in rental income annually.
“Over the course of more than a year…Sylvester Zottola was stalked, beaten, and stabbed, never knowing who orchestrated the attacks,” said federal prosecutor Breon Peace who heads the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn that prosecuted the case. “It was his own son.”
Michael J. Driscoll, assistant director of the FBI field office that investigated the case, pointed to the numerous botched hit attempts, and said that Anthony Zottola had multiple chances to “rethink his deadly intent…Now, instead of living off his father’s millions, his only payday will be in federal prison.”
Sylvester Zottola’s sense of family was clearly stronger than that of his son’s.
The Zottolas lived in upscale neighborhoods in the Bronx that faced Long Island Sound, according to a New York Times article published shortly after the jury delivered its verdict in October. The article pointed out that Sylvester Zottola had built “several large brick houses there with mottos carved into their facades, including ‘Our walls are built thick. Our love for each other is thicker.’”
Nice words but they apparently carried little meaning for Anthony Zottola.
The murder-for-hire he set in motion was a flat-out money grab that put the lie to the sense of family, honor and loyalty that is part of the “value system” of Cosa Nostra. The case is, in many ways, a new low in an underworld where turncoat testimony is commonplace and turning on friends and family members to avoid spending time in jail is the norm.
It is more than a little ironic that at a secretly recorded making ceremony in Philadelphia several years ago the feds heard members of the local branch of Cosa Nostra pledging their allegiance to “la Famiglia!”
Like so much else in today’s mob, they were words devoid of meaning. In fact, one of the mobsters taking the blood oath of allegiance that day was wearing a body wire and recording everything for the FBI.
The Philadelphia crime family has been racked by bloody, internecine battles that pitted family members (real blood family) against one another. There was Joe Ciancaglini, gunned down in an ambush in which his brother Michael allegedly took part. Joe was crippled after surviving multiple guns shots. Michael was later killed in a drive-by shooting set in motion by the rival faction of the mob to which his brother belonged. A third brother John Ciancaglini was left to pick sides in the deadly mob family battle.
City of Brotherly Love indeed.
This all took place a few years after Philip Leonetti, the one-time underboss to Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo, became a government informant after he, Scarfo and more than a dozen others were convicted in a sweeping racketeering case.
Leonetti was Scarfo’s nephew. His mother was Scarfo’s sister.
In an interview with ABC several years after he flipped, Leonetti acknowledged that his uncle, then serving what amounted to a life sentence in prison, was still angling to kill him.
“I guess I would never be dead enough for him,” Leonetti told ABC newsman Forrest Sawyer.
In Chicago, we’ve had “Operation Family Secrets” in which Frank Calabrese Jr. and his brother Nick, both members of a mob crew, took the witness stand to help federal authorities convict their mobster father, Frank Calabrese Sr.
In New York, there’s the infamous case of John Franzese Jr. testifying against his father, the legendary mob leader John “Sonny” Franzese, a case that landed the elder Franzese, then in his 90s, in jail for eight years. Sonny Franzese died in 2020.
If a son testifying to help the government convict a father is a staggering development, then how do you describe a son hiring a hitman to kill his father?
Shortly after Anthony Zottola was arrested federal prosecutors argued that he should not be released on bail. The authorities noted that while he had “no prior documented criminal history, his involvement in a depraved plot to kill his father and brother speaks volumes…”
They also pointed to a series of text messages between Anthony Zottola and one of the hitmen, including one in which he suggested both his father and brother be killed.
“Can we get a double header at all?’ the text message read in part. “My business is all messed up by both of them…Every day it gets harder for me.”
How’s that for “la Famiglia?”