THE BRONX — When 71-year-old Sylvester Zottola ended up dead in a bullet-riddled car, as he waited for coffee at a McDonald’s drive-thru in the Bronx Oct. 4, it might have looked like a traditional mob hit.
But when police arrested a suspect just about a week later, he wasn’t your typical wise guy from La Cosa Nostra.
Bushawn Shelton, charged with conspiracy to commit murder for hire, is an alleged member of the “Bloods” gang.
“They used not their own, but some ‘cut outs’ from another ethnic group,’” observed Anthony DeStefano, longtime crime reporter for “Newsday” and the author of eight books on organized crime.
Still, no one is exactly sure who “they” are.
There have been reports that Zottola was targeted by Albanian gangsters eager to take over his turf in the vending machine/ “Joker Poker” industry.
On July 12, Zottola’s 41-year-old son, Salvatore, had survived an attempted hit outside his lavish home in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx.
The suspect who was firing shots from a passenger seat window, in what started as a drive-by shooting, appeared to be African-American.
“The way the guy was shooting, it wasn’t professional,” said a retired NYPD undercover who once infiltrated the Lucchese and Bonanno crime families. “That wasn’t a hit from the mob.”
The NYPD undercover used to go by the name “Vincent Spinelli” and he remembered a time when he would frequent mafia-controlled strip clubs three days a week.
“The girls would be all over us,” the former cop said. “Lap dances. You’d kind of position them so they weren’t rubbing up where you gun is, where your body wire is.”
Anthony DeStefano noted the way mobsters do business now has changed radically since the days of “Dapper Don,” John Gotti.
“Frankly, they’ve been decimated by the federal authorities,” DeStefano said of the five crime families. “They’re ruled by committees of street bosses, and I think everyone is trying to lay low.”
There’s been a move into internet gambling, and old-time mob activities like loan sharking still persist.
“That’s the mob’s bread and butter, anything gambling related,” the retired undercover told PIX11. “A lot of the gambling is done online and even overseas in Costa Rica.”
When a 77-year-old reputed loan shark was killed in his Sheepshead Bay home later in October, taking bullets to the head, some wondered whether New York was on the verge of a mob war.
Both the undercover and DeStefano said “no.”
“If there’s a mob war, the mob doesn’t make money,” the ex-cop said. “If there’s a mob war, the FBI is on you. The NYPD is on you.”
“This is not the mob of John Gotti in the late 80s,” the veteran detective said.