Bronx underworld led to Zottola slaying, lawyer claims

The Bronx mob underworld that Sylvester “Sally Daz” Zottola has moved into led to his killing at a McDonald’s drive-thru in 2018 – not a murderous plot by his own son, a lawyer for the younger Zottola argued Friday.

In his closing argument, attorney Henry Mazurek said the murder could have been the work of Albanians elbowing Sylvester in the Bronx — or of gangbanger Bushawn Shelton acting alone to bolster his reputation in the criminal underworld.

Mazurek is representing Anthony Zottola, who is accused of orchestrating the assassination of his father and an attempted beating of his brother Salvatore. Prosecutors allege that Anthony hired Shelton, a leader of the Bloods gang, who tapped two other assassins to wipe out Sylvester.

In his closing remarks, Mazurek highlighted the elder Zottola’s connection to organized crime, claiming he used money from an illegal slot machine and a “joker poker” racket to build a $45 million real estate empire in the Bronx.

Aftermath of Zottola's shooting
Sylvester Zottola was gunned down in a McDonald’s drive-thru in the Bronx in 2018.

During the trial, Salvatore testified his father collected money from illegal slot machines in bars, restaurants and “number holes” in the Bronx — and the Bonanno family boss, Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano, and a Lucchese crime family mobster, protection money as part of the racket paid .

“Sylvester Zottola knew that one day his whole life might come home to sleep there,” Mazurek told jurors, adding that Sally Daz was raising his sons in a “secret world” where gangsters were idolized.

Mazurek then filed evidence showing an Albanian mobster had taken over one of his slot machine locations – a move apparently approved by Basciano.

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“Thugs smell cash and go after it,” he said. “This is street.”

Anton Zottola
Prosecutors allege that Anthony Zottola hired Bloods leader Bushawn Shelton to murder his father.

Around the same time in the months before Sylvester’s murder, Shelton had taken control of his 30-strong Bloods set and wanted to raise his profile by engaging in robberies and violent crime, Mazurek claimed.

The Bloods leader met Anthony in the Bronx through another criminal – and then focused on the wealthy Italian family as a target to rob and kill, the lawyer argued.

“The gang wanted to do what they wanted to do,” Mazurek said of Shelton’s crew. “Shelton’s goal was to destroy Anthony’s family.”

He added that it was not known if Shelton found “Albanians or other Italians” who paid him money for the attack and repeated attacks on Sylvester and Salvatore.

Sylvester Zotola
Sylvester Zottola paid protection money to members of two crime families until his death in 2018.

But Assistant US Attorney Kayla Bensing accused Mazurek of trying to distract the jury from overwhelming evidence proving the guilt of Anthony and his two co-defendants.

“It’s the perfect cover story,” she said.

“He’s calling the victim a gangster in this case to distract you,” Bensing said, adding that Mazurek claimed “that family pulled it on.”

Bensing pointed to Sylvester and Salvatore’s alleged communications with both the NYPD and the FBI when they were being hunted by would-be assassins for months in 2018.

“This is not a family that shy away from law enforcement,” she said.

The prosecutor asked the jury to look at the thousands of pages of evidence in the case, none of which shows Sylvester had an argument with anyone else in organized crime.

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Scene of the Zottola murder
Prosecutors called the story of Anthony Zottola’s defense attorney the perfect cover for the crime.
Christopher Sadowski

“It’s painfully clear who was at the helm, who pushed this forward,” she said.

Key evidence, Bensing said, includes thousands of text messages Anthony exchanged with Shelton that appear to show how the duo planned the attacks in encrypted language, including messages sent minutes after Sylvester was shot down.

Mazurek told the jury they could not vote to convict his client based solely on the texts — a point Bensing blasted in her rebuttal.

“You won’t hear that from the judge,” she told the jury. “The lyrics aren’t just evidence of the crime, they are the crime. The lyrics are conspiracy in action.”