BROOKLYN (PIX11) — Former Bloods gang leader Bushawn Shelton choked back tears Thursday as he apologized for having Bronx businessman Sylvester Zottola killed at a McDonald’s drive-thru in 2018–and for trying to murder his oldest son.
Federal judge Hector Gonzalez later sentenced Shelton to 37 years in prison as part of a plea bargain deal.
Federal prosecutors said at trial that Sylvester Zottola, 71, was a friend and associate of jailed mob boss Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano.
“I’m truly sorry for all the pain, trauma and damage I’ve caused your family,” Bushawn Shelton said, looking straight at Salvatore Zottola, who survived a different 2018 shooting outside his family’s home that left him with extensive nerve damage.
Salvatore Zottola’s younger brother, Anthony, had hired Bushawn Shelton to kill both his father and Salvatore, hoping to gain control of a $45 million real estate empire. Prosecutors estimate that Anthony Zottola paid Shelton about $200,000 in cash and offered the Bloods member home renovation assistance.
Extensive text messages and photographs tied Shelton to the plot.
In one text, Shelton wrote to an associate:
“My Mafia guy usually throw me a stack to beat up an old guy.”
“You’re not sorry,” Salvatore Zottola said during a victim impact statement, staring straight at Shelton. “Everybody thought they weren’t going to get caught.”
Salvatore Zottola noted that his nerve damage prevents him from picking up his children without pain.
“I’m alive today because you missed my heart by an inch with the bullet,” Zottola said, speaking of the July 2018 shooting, when he was hit five times and eluded death by rolling on the ground, as a hired gunman tried to finish him off, unsuccessfully.
Sylvester and Salvatore Zottola were targeted by more than 20 Bloods members recruited in the murder-for-hire plot, who followed him for more than a year before gunman Himen Ross fatally shot the father at the McDonald’s drive-thru. The killers started attaching a GPS device to Sylvester Zottola’s burgundy Acura so that they could track his movements.
Although Shelton had a criminal record before the murder-for-hire case, he had been wearing a shirt and tie daily—working as a job recruiter—and doing Bloods business on the side.
His defense attorney said he was a well-read man who was now on a spiritual journey.
“There’s a vast difference between the quality of the man and the harm that was done,” defense attorney Susan Markus said.
The lawyer nearly cried as she recounted the conditions at the notorious Metropolitan Detention Center, where Shelton has been housed.
“It is a living death,” Markus said. “He has been assaulted brutally twice. Both times have been attempts on his life.”
Yet Sylvester Zottola’s only daughter, Deborah, scoffed at Shelton’s tale of woe.
“Assaulted in prison?” she remarked. “What about all of my father’s assaults and my brother’s?”
Deborah Zottola noted her mother died when she and her brothers were young, so her father had to raise his children alone.
“I was his number one girl,” Deborah Zottola said, “and he will forever be the center of my world.”
She added the entire Zottola family had been broken apart by the murder of her father and the wounding of her brother, Salvatore.
She told Bushawn Shelton, “I will pray that maybe you can turn to the Lord for forgiveness.”
Salvatore Zottola cried when he told the court, “He was more than just my father. He was my best friend.”
When Shelton apologized for the murder and attempted murder, he also turned to his wife and young son in court to say he was sorry for all the lost time.
He referenced his difficult upbringing and a
promise he and his wife had made to each other about the children they would have.
“We were going to stop the cycle,” Shelton said, “and make sure they don’t come up like us.”
Under the plea deal, Shelton could have faced a maximum of 40 years in prison.
The Probation Department recommended 35 years. It seemed the judge went for a compromise.
“I cannot turn a blind eye to the other evidence,” Judge Gonzalez said, “the constant flow of text messages. There’s no question the defendant orchestrated this conspiracy.”
The judge said he believed the plot was motivated by greed.
“After the fatal shooting, your text messages show a sense of what I would characterize as excitement,” Judge Gonzalez said to Shelton.
The judge acknowledged that Shelton’s guilty plea allowed for a more streamlined trial against Anthony Zottola and shooter Himen Ross, who both received life in prison without parole.
The judge sentenced Shelton to 37 years and noted some of his property had been seized through government forfeiture.
Shelton requested an assignment to a federal prison near South Carolina, where his grandmother and his family are moving.
The U.S. Attorney’s office told PIX11 News Shelton would have to serve more than 80% of his 37-year sentence and could be released early for good behavior.
“He should have got life,” Salvatore Zottola said outside court. “My father’s a good man. He would have done anything for anyone.”