Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Carlo Gambino: American Gangster
Gambino was born in the town of Caccamo, near Palermo, Sicily. He was born to a family that belonged to the “Honored Society”. The Honored Society was slightly more complicated than the Black Hand of America, which was often confused with the American Mafia. The Black Hand, much like the pre-1920s Mafia, was a highly disorganized version of the real European Mafia. Once Benito Mussolini chased a great deal of real mafiosi out of Italy, Italian-Americans such as Gambino benefited from the new, better-organized Mafia. Gambino began carrying out murder orders for new Mob bosses in his teens. In 1921, at the age of 19, he became a “made man” and was inducted into Cosa Nostra. He was later known as an “original.” He was the brother-in-law of Sicilian Gambino crime family mobster Paul Castellano.
Gambino also became involved with the “Young Turks“, a group of Americanized Italian and Jewish mobsters in New York which included Charles “Lucky” Luciano (one of the most notable mob bosses in American history) and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, to name a couple of many. The crew became involved in robbery, thefts, and illegal gambling. But with their new partner, Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein, they turned to bootlegging during prohibition in the early 1920s. Gambino also made a sizable profit during World War II by bribing Office of Price Administration (OPA) officials for ration stamps, which he then sold on the black market.
By 1926, Luciano was considered to be a powerful gangster on the rise. Luciano's immediate superior, Giuseppe “Joe The Boss” Masseria was coming into conflict with Salvatore Maranzano, a recent arrival from Palermo who was born in Castellammare del Golfo. When Maranzano arrived in New York in 1925, his access to money and manpower led him to become involved in extortion and gambling operations that directly competed with Masseria. On October 10th, 1928, Joe Masseria eliminated D'Aquila, his top rival for the coveted title of “Boss of Bosses.” However, Masseria still had to deal with the powerful and influential Maranzano and his Castellammarese Clan. Gambino was thrown right into the line of fire.
The Castellammarese War raged on between the Masseria and Maranzano factions for almost four years. This internal war devastated the Prohibition-era operations and street rackets that the five New York families controlled along with the Irish and Jewish crime groups. The war cut into gang profits and in some cases completely destroyed the underworld rackets of crime family members.
In 1931, after the killings of Masseria and Maranzano, Luciano created The Commission, which was supposed to avoid big conflicts like the Castellammarese War. The charter members were Luciano, Joe Bonanno, Joe Profaci, Tommy Gagliano and Mangano.
Gambino married his first cousin, Catherine Castellano, in 1932, at age 30. They raised three sons and a daughter. Gambino became a major earner in the Mangano family. His activities included loansharking, illegal gambling and protection money from area merchants. Despite this, Gambino was low-key by inclination. He lived in a modest, well-kept row house in Brooklyn. The only real evidence of vanity was his license plate on his Buick, CG1.
Gambino quickly expanded his rackets all over the country. New Gambino rackets were created in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, San Francisco and Las Vegas. Gambino also, to regain complete control of Manhattan, took over the New York Longshoremen Union, where more than 90% of all New York City's ports were controlled. It was a great time, when the money rolled in from every Gambino racket in the U.S. and worked its way up to become America's most powerful crime family. Gambino also made his own family policy: “Deal and Die.” This was Gambino's message to every Gambino family member; heroin and cocaine were highly lucrative, but were dangerous, and would also attract attention. The punishment for dealing drugs, in Gambino style, was death.
In 1960s, the Gambino family had 500 (other sources have 700 or 800) soldiers, within 30 crews making the family a $500,000,000-a-year-enterprise. In 1962, his eldest son Thomas Gambino married the daughter of fellow mob boss Gaetano Lucchese, the new head of the Gagliano crime family, whom Gambino would become close to as a partner, friend, and relative. More than 1,000 people, relatives, friends, and “friends of ours“, (amico nostro) were present during the wedding-ceremony. It has been rumored that Gambino personally gave Lucchese $30,000 as a “welcome gift” that same day. As repayment, Lucchese cut his friend into the airport rackets that were under Lucchese control, especially at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where all unions, management, and security were controlled by Lucchese himself. After Joe Bonanno was forced into retirement by The Commission, Vito Genovese died of a heart attack, and Tommy Lucchese died of a brain tumor, Gambino's status and power on The Commission was elevated almost immediately. While the Mafia had abolished the title of “boss of bosses“, Gambino's position afforded him the powers such a title would have carried, as he was now the boss of the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful crime family in the country and was the head of The Commission, a position only Luciano had held before Gambino.
With the Gallos out of the way, Magliocco was able to consolidate his position and concentrate on the business of running the family's affairs. However, Joe Bonanno hatched a plot to murder the heads of the other three families, which Magliocco decided to go along with. The assassinations went to Profaci capo, Joseph Colombo, who realized that the plot would never amount to anything, and warned Gambino about Magliocco and Bonanno's conspiracy against the Commission. Bonanno and Magliocco were called to face the judgement of the Commission. While Bonanno went into hiding, Magliocco faced up to his crimes. Understanding that he had been following Bonanno's lead, he was let off with a $50,000 fine, and forced to retire as the head of the family, being replaced by Joseph Colombo. One month later, Magliocco died of high blood pressure, but Gambino had other plans for Bonanno.
Since Bonanno refused to give up his position, the other Commission members felt it was time for drastic action. Gambino was the one who would give the order to have Bonanno killed, but took pity on him and decided to give Bonanno one last chance to retire while he had his life. In October 1964, Bonanno was kidnapped by Buffalo crime family members, Peter and Antonino Magaddino. According to Bonanno, he was held captive in upstate New York by his cousin, Stefano “Steve The Undertaker” Magaddino. Supposedly Magaddino represented the Commission and Gambino, and told his cousin that he “took up too much space in the air“, a Sicilian proverb for arrogance. After much talk, Bonanno was released and the Commission members believed he would finally retire and relinquish his power.
Eventually, DiGregorio promised a peace meeting on whatever territory Salvatore wanted. It was an ambush. DiGregorio's men opened fire with rifles and automatic weapons on Salvatore and his associates, who were armed only with pistols. The police estimated that over 500 shots were fired but remarkably, no one was hurt. The war went on for another two more years. The Commission originally thought they could win, but when Joseph Bonanno returned, their hopes were dashed. Bonanno sent out a message to his enemies, saying that for every Bonanno loyalist killed, he would retaliate by hitting a caporegime from the other side. The Bonanno loyalists were starting to see victory, but when Bonanno suffered a heart attack, he decided that he and his son would retire to Tucson, leaving his broken family to another capo, Paul Sciacca, who had replaced DiGregorio. Gambino stood as the victorious and most powerful mob boss in the US. Having the reputation of Gambino's “mercy“, made him even more respectable in front of the Commission.
Gambino was seen at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas on August 2nd, 1967, where he is supposed to have met Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. (The famed Rat Pack). They were excellent singers, and the mob, and Gambino in particular, lived for their music. Gambino allegedly gave each of them $10,000 after performing at the Desert Inn, while Gambino was present in the VIP-lounge. Gambino also allegedly said to Castellano: “I want a picture of me and Frankie“. Sinatra of course, happily obliged and Gambino, Castellano and other mobsters got a picture with Sinatra in the middle. Sinatra would later testify about this in court, but announced that he didn't know any Carlo Gambino, but it got to a point where he had to explain why he was attending the Havana Conference in Cuba in 1946, showing up with $2,000,000 in a silver suitcase and a picture that showed Sinatra, Lucky Luciana, Meyer Lansky, Albert “The Executioner” Anastasia, and Carlo Gambino having a drink by a pool.
Gambino was also the only mob boss of the “Five Families” who attended the burial of the longtime friend “Lucky” Luciano. On January 26th, 1962, Luciano died of a heart attack at the age of 64 at Naples International Airport. He was buried in St. John’s Cemetery in Queens, 1972, more than ten years after his death because of the terms of his deportation in 1946. More than 2,000 mourners attended his funeral, where Gambino gave his own speech in memory of Luciano, his friend and companion.
In his last years, Gambino still ruled his family and the other New York families with an iron fist, while keeping a low profile both from the public and law enforcement. He had to choose who he would appoint as his successor after his departure. He chose his cousin and capo, Paul Castellano, over his underboss, Neil Dellacroce.
Gambino died of a heart attack on October 15th, 1976, while watching his beloved New York Yankees at his home. He was buried in St. John’s Cemetery, Queens in New York City, where is friend Charles Luciano was buried, and more than ten other lifetime friends. His funeral was said to have been attended by at least 2,000 people, including police officers, judges and politicians. Gambino left behind sons Thomas, Joseph and Carlo, daughter Phyllis Sinatra, and a family with a crew of 500 soldiers, after leading the Gambino crime family for 20 years, and The Commission for more than 15.
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