TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) — The man charged with killing the reputed boss of the Gambino crime family wrote pro-Donald Trump slogans on his hand and flashed them to journalists before a court hearing Monday.
Anthony Comello, 24, was arrested Saturday in New Jersey in the death of Francesco “Franky Boy” Cali last week in front of his Staten Island home.
While waiting for a court hearing to begin in Toms River, New Jersey, in which he agreed to be extradited to New York, Comello held up his left hand.
On it were scrawled pro-Trump slogans including “MAGA Forever,” an abbreviation of Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” It also read “United We Stand MAGA” and “Patriots In Charge.” In the center of his palm he had drawn a large circle. It was not immediately clear why he had done so.
Comello’s lawyer, Brian Neary, would not discuss the writing on his client’s hand, nor would he say whether Comello maintains his innocence. Asked by reporters after the hearing what was on Comello’s hand, Neary replied, “Handcuffs.”
He referred all other questions to Comello’s Manhattan lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, who said in an emailed statement his client has been placed in protective custody due to “serious threats” that had been made against him, but gave no details of them. Ocean County officials could not immediately be reached after hours on Monday.
“Mr. Comello’s family and friends simply cannot believe what they have been told,” Gottlieb said. “There is something very wrong here and we will get to the truth about what happened as quickly as possible.”
The statement did not address the writing on Comello’s hand, and a lawyer from Gottlieb’s firm declined to comment further Monday evening.
Comello sat with a slight smile in the jury box of the courtroom Monday afternoon as dozens of reporters and photographers filed into the room. When they were in place, Comello held up his left hand to display the writings as the click and whirr of camera lenses filled the room with sound.
During the hearing, Comello did not speak other than to say, “Yes, sir” to the judge to respond to several procedural questions.
Cali, 53, was shot to death last Wednesday by a gunman who may have crashed his truck into Cali’s car to lure him outside. Police said Cali was shot 10 times.
Federal prosecutors referred to Cali in court filings in 2014 as the underboss of the Mafia’s Gambino family, once one of the country’s most powerful crime organizations. News accounts since 2015 said Cali had ascended to the top spot, though he was never charged with leading the gang. His only mob-related conviction came a decade ago, when he was sentenced to 16 months in prison in an extortion scheme involving a failed attempt to build a NASCAR track on Staten Island. He was released in 2009 and hasn’t been in legal trouble since then.
Police have not yet said whether they believe Cali’s murder was a mob hit or whether he was killed for some other motive.
The last Mafia boss to be rubbed out in New York City was Gambino don “Big Paul” Castellano, who was assassinated in 1985.
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