A 24-year-old Staten Island man who was taken into police custody on Saturday in connection with the fatal shooting of the reputed boss of the Gambino crime family faces murder charges, according to court records and officials.
The brazen shooting of the boss, Francesco Cali, in front of his home in the Todt Hill section of Staten Island on Wednesday shocked residents and longtime observers of the Mafia alike, and fueled speculation that New York City was seeing the return of open mob conflict that last erupted decades ago.
Several officials, however, said on Saturday that preliminary information suggested that the killing of Mr. Cali, 53, was not related to organized crime. One official cautioned that the inquiry was still in its early stages.
The last time a high-ranking Mafia figure like Mr. Cali was murdered was in 1985, when the Gambino chief Paul Castellano was assassinated in front of a high-end Manhattan steakhouse on the orders of John J. Gotti. The hit led to Mr. Gotti’s ascent to the head of the Gambino organization and touched off years of instability and internecine conflict.
The man the police said was involved in Mr. Cali’s death, Anthony Comello, was taken into custody in Brick Township, N.J., on Saturday morning, according to multiple sources. He was being held in the Ocean County Jail at the request of the New York Police Department, according to a jail official.
The identification and apprehension of Mr. Comello did little to clarify the motive behind the shooting.
“Was he acting alone?” Dermot F. Shea, the Police Department’s chief of detectives, said at a news conference on Saturday. “Was he acting for other people? What was the motive? I simply, standing here in front of you, do not have all the answers.”
After initially speaking with detectives on Saturday morning, Mr. Comello retained a lawyer and refused to give further statements.
Court records showed that murder and related charges were filed against Mr. Comello and that a case had been docketed. The case appeared in the New York State court system’s computerized database.
Two law enforcement officials said Mr. Comello had no criminal history but had nonetheless come to the attention of law enforcement before.
Sometime in recent years, his strange behavior in a federal courthouse led the United States Marshals Service to briefly take him into custody and ask the Police Department’s Intelligence Division to check its records to determine if he had any history of terroristic threats. Neither of the officials had any details about the specific nature of his behavior, but both said no such history could be found.
Around 9:17 p.m. on Wednesday, a pickup truck driven by Mr. Comello backed into Mr. Cali’s parked Cadillac Escalade, damaging it. He then walked up to the door of Mr. Cali’s Hilltop Terrace home and rang the bell, where law enforcement sources said his face was caught on video.
Mr. Cali and Mr. Comello spoke for roughly a minute, in a conversation also recorded by surveillance cameras and reviewed by investigators. The footage showed that Mr. Comello, dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and a baseball cap, bent down and picked up a license plate that had fallen off the Escalade. Fingerprints from the license plate were recovered, according to Chief Shea, but it was unclear what the forensic evidence revealed.
Mr. Cali took the license plate and walked back to his car, where he placed it in the rear. At that moment, the gunman pulled out a 9-millimeter pistol and fired 12 times, officials said. Mr. Cali was shot multiple times, resulting in 10 bullet wounds, Chief Shea said.
The truck Mr. Comello drove was recovered on Saturday morning in New Jersey. The handgun used to kill Mr. Cali has not been found.