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Long-hidden FBI files reveal slain Gambino boss Frank Cali’s rise to power

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A trove of long-hidden FBI files shed light on how slain Gambino boss Frank “Franky Boy” Cali ascended from a family soldier in the 1990s to head of the powerful crime syndicate until his shocking killing in 2019.

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The heavily redacted files, obtained by The Post through a Freedom of Information Act request, offer to date perhaps the most revealing look into Cali’s rise to power — as the mafia kingpin was known as a “ghost” who kept an extremely low profile to avoid federal prosecution.

Cali — who was gunned down outside his Staten Island mansion at 53 — was arrested just once in a 2008 extortion conspiracy, despite years of being eyed by the FBI and surveilled by agents in Brooklyn, a testament to his ability to stay off the radar.

After he was shot dead by an apparent QAnon devotee in the Todt Hill neighborhood, one law enforcement official told the New York Times that Cali was the polar opposite of flashy Gambino boss, John “Dapper Don” Gotti. 

“He’s basically a ghost,” the official said. 

But according to the FBI files, Cali fell on the bureau’s radar in the spring of 1996, when he was about 30 years old, for helping to skipper a phone card fraud scheme for the Gambinos from a Park Avenue office building. 

A picture of one of the files related to the late Gambino mafia boss, Frank Cali.The redacted files give a revealing insight into Frank Cali’s rise to power as the mafia kingpin known as a “ghost.”

By November of that year, FBI agents in New York believed several Gambinos were involved in the “production and distribution of telephone travel cards” — and that they committed a number of federal crimes as part of the scheme, including money laundering, income tax violation, mail fraud and wire fraud. 

“It goes without saying that the telephone card industry is one of the most important sources of illegal income for the Gambino LCN Family,” one FBI official wrote. 

At the time, Cali was listed in the FBI file as a “proposed soldier” for the Gambino family — and the feds believed he had not yet been “made,” or taken a blood oath of loyalty to the syndicate he would later lead. 

In October 1997, FBI special agents in New York contacted the bureau’s Atlanta field office to appraise them of an apparent $94 million phone card “bust-out scheme” led by the Gambinos that targeted Georgia-based Worldcom. 

A picture of mobster Frank Cali and his associates.
An FBI agent reported in October 1997 an unidentified mark walking with Cali before going in the “Point After Sports Bar and Grill.”

A picture of mobster Frank Cali and his associates.
The FBI started to tail Gambino and his associates on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurt.

“The method was to sell as many phone cards as possible on the street by charging the best price per country and offering the best discount to the distributors,” one of the FBI reports states. “[Redacted] paid Worldcom only a small percentage of his outstanding balance throughout the ten-month scheme.” 

It adds: “Gambino members such as [redacted] Frank Cali and others lined their pockets with millions in cash from the aforementioned scheme.”

Cali, along with Gambino members John D’Amico and Joseph Watts, allegedly created a company called CNC to distribute the phone cards, flooding the market with the cards that would later be billed by Worldcom.

“Due to the flood of cards, the debt owed to Worldcom grew exponentially. In the beginning, CNC paid their debt and was considered trustworthy by Worldcom. However, CNC did not continue to pay their debt,” a March 7, 1997, FBI document states.

A picture of Frank Cali walking into court to an arraignment in NYC.The mobster was one of 53 men accused by the federal government of organized crime involvement in the Gambino mafia family.
William Farrington

Around that time, the feds appeared to take an increased interest in Cali, according to the documents.

They began tailing him in Brooklyn, photographing him with associates on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst, and interviewing confidential sources about the Gambino soldier. 

In one October 1997 report, an FBI agent recorded doing a “spot check” on a location on 18th Avenue between 72nd and 75th Streets in Bensonhurst, according to the files. The agent recorded an unidentified mark walking with Cali before entering the “Point After Sports Bar and Grill.”

In July of that year, an agent drew up a report titled, “Surveillance of Frank Cali on 18th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY,” which included photographs of Cali and several other people as they visited Tony’s Luncheonette in the neighborhood.

A picture of police at the scene of the crime where mafia boss Frank Cali was gunned down.
Cali was arrested once in 2008 and pleaded guilty to extortion conspiracy, and was sentenced to 16 months in jail.
Gregory P. Mango

A picture of police at the scene of the crime where mafia boss Frank Cali was gunned down.
Cali was gunned down outside his Staten Island mansion in 2019 and shot dead by an apparent QAnon conspiracy theorist.
Seth Gottfried

The FBI also listed him as a “recently made member in the Gambino Family” in a March 1997 communication. 

A federal grand jury related to Cali was convened in 1998 in the Eastern District of New York, but charges against him were never brought, the documents show.

Federal charges for a phone card scam were later filed against John Gotti Jr., the reputed leader of the Gambino family at the time, but later dropped by prosecutors. 

“I was a victim. I lost a lot of money on that deal,” Junior told The Post at the time. 

After his one arrest in 2008, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn highlighted Cali’s involvement in the phone card scheme in arguing he be locked up pending trial. 

At a detention hearing, prosecutor Joey Lipton told the judge Cali — who had risen to the rank of captain at the time — had been a successful criminal because of his ability to hide from the spotlight. 

“Cali, like other members of the family, has sworn a blood oath to the organization to commit criminal activity,” Lipton said. “Cali has been successful in fulfilling that oath, in large part because he’s been careful.”

Lipton also alleged Cali had significant ties to mafia members in Italy, telling the judge that a number of people in his crew at the time had been born in the old country.

Lipton said investigators recorded two Italian mafiosos speaking about Cali in Palermo.

“He’s everything over there,” one of the Italian made men said to the other, Lipton said at the hearing.

In the 2008 case, Cali pleaded guilty to extortion conspiracy and was sentenced to 16 months in prison. 

A picture of one of the files related to the late Gambino mafia boss, Frank Cali.
According to documents, the feds took great interest in Cali after the distribution of phone cards in 1997.

A picture of one of the files related to the late Gambino mafia boss, Frank Cali.
“It goes without saying that the telephone card industry is one of the most important sources of illegal income for the Gambino LCN Family,” one FBI official wrote. 

After his release, he continued his meteoric rise in the family, reportedly rising to the boss in 2015 after the acting don Domenico Cefalu stepped down. 

Cali’s hidden image exploded into international headlines when he was shot and killed outside of his home in March 2019. 

The alleged gunman, Anthony Comello, an apparent QAnon conspiracy theorist, lured Cali outside of his home in Todt Hill on March 13, 2019 by crashing into the mobster’s parked car, police said at the time.

After a brief conversation between the two, Comello allegedly shot Cali multiple times in the chest, fatally wounding him.

After a number of bizarre court appearances – including one where he scrawled the letter “Q” on his hand – Comello was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial in 2020.

A spokesperson for the Staten Island District Attorney’s office said in an email Wednesday that they could not provide any information about the case.


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