BROOKLYN (PIX11) — A federal jury Wednesday convicted Anthony Zottola Sr. in the murder-for-hire plot that left his father, Sylvester, dead at a McDonald’s drive-thru in October 2018 and nearly killed his brother, Salvatore, in a shooting earlier that year.
The jury also convicted Bloods gang member Himen Ross as the shooter but found the alleged getaway driver, Alfred Lopez, not guilty on all counts.
Lopez wiped tears from his eyes and hugged his defense attorneys after the verdict was read. Ross remained stoic, while Zottola looked resigned to the jury’s decision.
PIX11 News caught up with Lopez when he left the courthouse a free man, more than two hours after the verdict.
Although Lopez said he was “surprised” by the decision, he added “I did my legal research and I was confident. I had hope the whole time.”
Lopez had spent more than three years in jail since his 2019 arrest and said he wanted to visit his mother and then get a job.
Prosecutors said Lopez drove the Ford Fusion used to transport the shooter, Himen Ross, in the McDonald’s hit, but jury members made it clear with their notes during deliberations that they had reservations about his involvement in the plot.
The murder victim, Sylvester Zottola, was the father of three adult children. Prosecutors said he used to rent video and gambling machines to entertainment spots in the city and had connections to jailed Bonanno crime family boss, Vincent Basciano.
His daughter and older son, Salvatore, didn’t like the talk about their dad’s alleged mob ties.
“Just remember my father is a good man, not a good fella,” Debbie Zottola said outside court. “A wise man, not a wise guy.”
Salvatore Zottola, who was seriously wounded by five gunshots outside his family’s waterfront home in July 2018, wanted people to remember, “My father was a good man.”
When asked if it was difficult to watch his brother getting convicted of murder conspiracy against his own family, Salvatore Zottola responded, “It’s never easy,” and walked away.
Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, noted, “Over the course of more than a year, the elderly victim, Salvatore Zottola, was stalked, beaten, and stabbed, never knowing who orchestrated the attacks.” Peace continued, “it was his own son, who was so determined to control the family’s lucrative real estate business that he hired a gang of hit men to murder his father. For sentencing his father to a violent death, Anthony Zottola and his co-defendant will spend the rest of their lives in prison where they belong as a result of today’s verdict.”
The jury began deliberating on Friday.
Prosecutors presented hundreds of exhibits in the month-long trial, including alleged text messages between Anthony Zottola, Sr. and Bloods leader, Bushawn “Shelz” Shelton.
They charge Anthony Zottola, now 44, gave up to $200,000 in cash and housing renovations to Shelton to get the murder plots against his father and brother completed.
Salvatore Zottola survived multiple gunshot wounds on July 11, 2018, outside the family’s expansive, waterfront estate in Locust Point, the Bronx.
His father, Sylvester — 71 — survived a stabbing and assault in December 2017, along with other attempts on his life, before he was killed at the McDonald’s drive-thru on Oct. 4, 2018.
Prosecutors showed a cell phone picture at trial of water bottles in a box, with thousands of dollars in cash stuffed between them. They said the payment was delivered to Shelton the day after Sylvester Zottola was killed.
Salvatore Zottola testified against his brother at trial.
The prosecution also used a couple of Bloods defendants on the stand who had made deals with the government to cooperate. Defense attorneys skewered them during cross-examination.
Anthony Zottola’s wife testified this week that her husband genuinely grieved his father’s death.
Anthony Zottola, Sr. was arrested by the FBI on June 17, 2019, right after Father’s Day. He thanked the agents for waiting until the holiday was over — and for waiting until after his children’s birthdays.