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Bronx man convicted of murder-for-hire for ordering hits on his father and brother

<i>Gregg Vigliotti/The New York Times/Redux</i><br/>Anthony Zottola was convicted Wednesday for the killing of Sylvester Zottola. The latter was fatally shot at this McDonald's drive-thru in October 2018.
Gregg Vigliotti/The New York Times/Redux
Anthony Zottola was convicted Wednesday for the killing of Sylvester Zottola. The latter was fatally shot at this McDonald's drive-thru in October 2018.

By Eric Levenson and Kiely Westhoff, CNN

A 44-year-old man was convicted of murder-for-hire and conspiracy for ordering hits on his Mafia-associated father and his brother in the Bronx, New York, in a case as notable for its barbarity as for its multiple bungling murder attempts.

Anthony Zottola was convicted in federal court Wednesday for the killing of 71-year-old Sylvester Zottola, who was fatally shot as he waited for a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s drive-thru in October 2018, the US Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Sylvester Zottola held a residential real estate portfolio valued at tens of millions of dollars, and prosecutors said Anthony Zottola plotted to kill his father and brother to take control of the business.

The fatal shooting was the third attempt on Sylvester Zottola’s life as part of the scheme. In November 2017, he was menaced at gunpoint by a masked person, and in December 2017, three men invaded his home, struck him on the head with a gun, stabbed him and slashed his throat. Yet he survived.

“Over the course of more than a year, the elderly victim, Sylvester Zottola, was stalked, beaten, and stabbed, never knowing who orchestrated the attacks,” US Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement. “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.”

Zottola’s attorney placed blame for the attacks on the Bloods gang and said they plan to appeal.

“We are extremely disappointed with the jury’s verdict,” defense attorney Henry E. Mazurek said. “Anthony Zottola loved his father and always put family first. He never intended harm upon anyone. A violent street gang preyed upon Anthony and his family and caused their tragic ruin. We will appeal this verdict to prevent Anthony from becoming another victim of the Bloods gang. He is not guilty of these violent crimes.”

In addition, the defendant’s brother, Salvatore Zottola, was shot in the head, chest and hand in front of his home in July 2018, authorities said. He survived and testified at the trial.

Himen Ross, 36, who carried out the shooting, was also found guilty at trial, while a third defendant, Alfred Lopez, was acquitted of all charges, the US Attorney’s Office said. Five other defendants also previously pleaded guilty in the case, the office said.

An attorney for Lopez praised the jury’s decision. “Mr. Lopez was pleased by the verdict and he would like to thank the jury for their thoughtful deliberations,” attorney John Burke said.

Anthony Zottola was arrested in June 2019 and accused of plotting with the Bloods gang in the shootings, prosecutors said.

In the fatal killing, a tracking device had been placed on Sylvester Zottola’s car that allowed Ross to track him to the McDonalds ahead of the fatal shooting. Afterward, Ross texted about the killing to Bushawn Shelton — a co-conspirator who has pleaded guilty — and Shelton then texted the news to Anthony Zottola, saying, “Can we party today or tomorrow?”

Zottola texted back to assure money would be arriving soon, according to prosecutors. “I have the cases of water in a day or so,” he wrote. A photo recovered from Shelton’s phone shows a cardboard box of bottled water and over $200,000 in currency bands, authorities said.

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