An execution looked like a Mafia vendetta. But the man’s son planned the hit, feds say

In front of hundreds of mourners packed into the pews at St. Theresa of the Infant Jesus in the Bronx, Anthony Zottola Sr. made a solemn pledge to his dead father.

“I will do my part to never let my brother or my sister or my mother down,” he said at the October 2018 memorial service, the New York Daily News reported, “or especially you.”

Five days earlier, his dad, Sylvester Zottola, 71, had been coldly executed while waiting for a coffee in a McDonald’s drive-through: three bullets in the shoulder, one in the chest, and one in the head. The Oct. 4, 2018, slaying capped off a terrifying year for his family. Sylvester had already survived a December 2017 attack when intruders burst into his house, stabbed him and slashed his throat. In July 2018, another son, Salvatore, was shot repeatedly in the head, torso and hand in front of his home, but also miraculously survived.

The source of all the bloodshed seemed obvious: Sylvester Zottola was reputed to have deep mob ties. The specifics of this vendetta were hazy — an old score with the Bonanno crime family? A newer Albanian ring throwing around its weight? — but the violence seemed a clear “echo” of “mob days past,” the New York Times wrote.

Or was it? As federal agents followed a trail of cash and coded texts, they say it led them back to a surprising mastermind: Anthony Zottola.

In fact, Sylvester’s son paid members of the Bloods gang with nicknames including “Taliban” and “Scary” to murder his father and brother, federal prosecutors now allege. In texts, the conspirators even described “filming” a “final scene” — with Sylvester as “the actor” and the killer as “the director.”

On Tuesday, prosecutors charged Anthony Zottola and nine other men with plotting Sylvester’s murder and planning the shooting of Salvatore. They haven’t yet revealed a motive.

Did you drink the water. Was it the right one

“There is apparently no love lost between Mr. Zottola and his family members, so much so he allegedly hired members of the Bloods gang to kill his brother and father,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney Jr. said in a statement. “After several botched attempts on both mens’ lives, sadly his father did not survive the last attack.”

It wasn’t clear on Tuesday whether Anthony Zottola had an attorney.

Before his death, the elder Zottola had sketched out a colourful career in close contact with some of New York’s more infamous latter-day mobsters. His day job was maintaining electronic gambling machines in New Jersey hubs linked to the Bonanno and Lucchese crime families, the Times reported.

Also known as “Sally Daz,” according to court documents cited by the Times, Sylvester Zottola reputedly grew tight with Vincent Basciano, a.k.a. “Vinny Gorgeous,” who briefly led the Bonanno syndicate before landing a life sentence in federal prison. Salvatore also joined the family business in the early ’90s, the Times reported.

But in recent years, the mob’s grip on power has loosened after years of racketeering cases, bloody infighting and powerful new players from Russia and Albania muscling in. The days of colourfully named capos bleeding out on Little Italy street corners is long past. And Zottola’s gambling-machine maintenance company has been dormant for years, according to the Times.

I was able to water the plants and get some of them squared away.

It’s why the mysterious outburst of violence against the mafia-linked family drew such heated interest. The first attempt on Sylvester’s life came on Nov. 26, 2017, prosecutors say, when a masked gunman threatened him. On Dec. 27, 2017, home invaders slashed his neck and left him punctured with stab wounds and beaten over the head with a gun.

Then, on July 11, 2018, at around 6:30 a.m. in Throgs Neck, a waterfront neighbourhood in the Bronx, Salvatore Zottola was ambushed on the street. Surveillance video captured a masked gunman pumping bullets into him as he desperately rolled across the pavement behind a minivan.

Last October, a gunman shot Sylvester five times outside a Bronx McDonald’s, killing him on the spot.

As reporters chased down Sylvester’s decades-old ties to mobsters, a cooperating witness led investigators in another direction. Bushawn Shelton, a 34-year-old leader in the Bloods known as “Shelz,” had offered him money to help in a murder plot against Sylvester, the witness said, according to federal court documents. When the feds raided Shelton’s Brooklyn apartment, the Times reported, they found $45,000 in cash and firearms.

Shelton was charged in October in connection with Sylvester’s murder and the attempt on Salvatore’s life. But the feds didn’t reveal the alleged source of his deadly contract until Tuesday.

It was Anthony Zottola who hired the Bloods leader, prosecutors say. Shelton then allegedly farmed out the assassinations to members of his gang. Shortly after Sylvester was fatally shot, they say, one of Shelton’s associates texted him: “Done.” Shelton then messaged Anthony Zottola to ask “Can we party today or ?”

After they agreed on a time to meet, prosecutors say, Zottola told Shelton, “I have the cases of water in a day or so” — code, they allege, for payment for the hit. In fact, Shelton’s phone had photos of a box full of bottled water and $200,000 in cash.

“Did you drink the water. Was it the right one,” Anthony texted Shelton on Oct. 7, three days after Sylvester’s murder, prosecutors say.

“Definitely was the right one thanks,” Shelton allegedly responded. “I was able to water the plants and get some of them squared away.”

The 10 men face numerous felony charges, including a murder-for-hire conspiracy, unlawful use and possession of a firearm and causing death through the use of a firearm. No hearing dates have been set yet in federal court.

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