The Bronx mafia underworld that Sylvester “Sally Daz” Zottola moved in led to his 2018 slaying at a McDonald’s drive thru – not a murderous plot by his own son, a lawyer for the younger Zottola argued Friday.
In his closing argument, lawyer Henry Mazurek said the killing could have been the work of Albanians elbowing in on Sylvester’s turf in the Bronx — or gangbanger Bushawn Shelton acting alone in a bid to bolster his rep in the criminal underworld.
Mazurek is representing Anthony Zottola, who is accused of orchestrating the killing of his father and an attempted hit on his brother, Salvatore. Prosecutors allege Anthony hired Shelton, a Bloods gang leader, who tapped two other assassins to rub out Sylvester.
In his closing, Mazurek highlighted the elder Zottola’s connection to organized crime, claiming he used money collected from an illegal gambling machine and “joker poker” racket to build a $45 million real estate empire in the Bronx.
During the trial, Salvatore testified his father collected money from illegal gambling machines at bars, restaurants and “number holes” in the Bronx – and paid Bonanno family boss Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano and a Lucchese family mobster protection money as part of the racket.
“Sylvester Zottola knew his whole life could one day come home to roost,” Mazurek told jurors, adding that Sally Daz raised his sons in a “secret world” where mobsters were idolized.
Mazurek then raised a stipulation entered into evidence that showed an Albanian gangster had taken over one of his gambling machine locations – a move apparently OK’d by Basciano.
“Gangsters smell cash and they go after it,” he said. “This is street.”
Around the same time in the months leading up to Sylvester’s killing, Shelton had seized control of his 30-person strong Bloods set and wanted to raise his profile by pulling off robberies and violent crimes, Mazurek claimed.
The Bloods leader met Anthony in the Bronx through another criminal – then zeroed in on the monied Italian family as targets to rob and kill, the lawyer argued.
“The gang was going to do what they were going to do,” Mazurek said of Shelton’s crew. “Shelton’s goal was to do destruction to Anthony’s family.”
He added it’s unknown if Shelton found “Albanians or other Italians” to pay him money to carry out the hit and repeated attacks on Sylvester and Salvatore.
But Assistant US Attorney Kayla Bensing accused Mazurek of trying to distract the jurors from overwhelming evidence proving Anthony and his two co-defendants’ guilt.
“It is the perfect cover story,” she said.
“He’s calling the victim in this case a gangster in an attempt to distract you,” Bensing said, adding that Mazurek alleged “this family had it coming to them.”
Bensing pointed to the reputed communications of Sylvester and Salvatore with both the NYPD and FBI as they were being hunted by would-be assassins for months in 2018.
“This is not a family who shied away from law enforcement,” she said.
The prosecutor urged jurors to look at the thousands of pages of evidence in the case, none of which shows Sylvester had a beef with anyone else in organized crime.
“It’s painfully clear who was on top, who was pushing this to happen,” she said.
Key evidence, Bensing said, includes thousands of text messages Anthony exchanged with Shelton that appear to show the duo plotting the attacks in coded language, including messages sent minutes after Sylvester was gunned down.
Mazurek told jurors they cannot vote to convict his client based on the texts alone – a point Bensing blasted in her rebuttal.
“You will not hear that from the judge,” she told jurors. “The texts are not just evidence of the crime, they are the crime. The texts are conspiracy in action.”
This article was originally posted here