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