Reputed US mobster shot dead at Bronx McDonald's drive-through

The McDonald’s drive-through in the Bronx on Oct 4, 2018.
The McDonald’s drive-through in the Bronx on Oct 4, 2018.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - For months, Sylvester Zottola has been pursued by someone who wanted him dead.

On Thursday evening (Oct 4), as night fell outside a Bronx McDonald's, it appears that someone caught up with him.

Zottola, a reputed associate of New York's Bonanno crime family, was believed to have been waiting in his SUV to pick up his order at the drive-through window when he was shot dead.

In what a law enforcement official described as a mafia-style assassination, Zottola was shot once in the head and four times in the torso. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

His assassin fled in what the police say was a gray vehicle, and remains at large. It is the bloody conclusion to months' worth of gangland-style assaults against both Zottola, 71, and his son, Salvatore, who through the 1990s and early 2000s supplied and serviced Joker Poker machines to mob-controlled gambling hubs, according to court documents.

Less than three months ago, the younger Zottola, 41, narrowly escaped his own brush with death.

Ambushed by a gunman on a quiet neighbourhood street in the early hours of July 11, Salvadore Zottola was left for dead outside his family's Throgs Neck compound. He was shot multiple times by an unidentified assailant, but he survived.

Caught on grainy security camera footage, the sloppy hitman sped off in a getaway car. That, too, was not the first overture against the family this summer.

Sylvester Zottola was facing charges in the Bronx Criminal Court for brandishing an unlicensed gun at an unknown thug who confronted him outside his home in June. The would-be assailant vanished, and the elder Zottola was charged with criminal possession of a firearm. He was scheduled to appear in court next Tuesday.

There have been no arrests beyond Sylvester Zottola in connection with either incident, though investigators said they were looking at whether they were connected, and how the pair's Mafia ties could have put them in someone's cross-hairs.

The investigation into the incidents was passed from the Bronx district attorney's office to federal investigators this year.

Asked about the inquiry on Thursday night, the US Attorney's Office declined to comment.

A call to Salvatore Zottola's phone number was unanswered. According to court documents, Sylvester Zottola, who was known as Sally Daz, brought his son into the fold in the late 1990s.

The elder Zottola was a noted associate of Vincent J. Basciano, who led the Bonanno crime family in the early 2000s.

Sylvester Zottola opened his family's Throgs Neck compound to Basciano's girlfriend, Debra Kalb, who lived at the family's home around the turn of the century.

As Sylvester Zottola aged, so did the vitality of his mobland ties.

Basciano, who was known as Vinny Gorgeous, led the Bonanno family only briefly, before landing a life sentence in federal prison over murder and racketeering charges.

Sylvester Zottola's namesake company, DAZ Amusements, which serviced the mob's poker machines, appears to have gone defunct, and new organised crime apparatuses - namely the Armenian and Russian mobs - have moved into the more traditional consigliere turf.

In the carpark of the McDonald's on Thursday evening, bullet holes were visible in the passenger-side window of a maroon SUV.

Juan Bravo, who owns an auto body shop nearby, said he was in a paint store across the street from the McDonald's when he heard gunshots a few minutes before 5pm.

"Two minutes later it was commotion with ambulances," he said.

Bravo said he believed that a woman and a baby were in the car, but that they appeared to be unharmed.

He said video footage from his shop and from the paint store had been shared with the police.

Mario Martinez, 25, was parked across the street in his car when he heard the gunshots. He said he quickly sped off but peered over and "saw a guy slumped in his car".

Alexandra Cuatlayo, a high school senior who had planned to stop at the McDonald's on the way to her home in Claremont Village, said violence was common in the neighbourhood.

"For this area it's pretty usual," she said. "This area is really active. Around where I live, someone was shot there, too. So this area is really iffy."