Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Carlo Gambino: American Gangster

He was “Don” Carlo Gambino, born on August 24th, 1902 and died on October 15th, 1976. He was a Sicilian mobster, notable for being Boss of the Gambino crime family, which is still named after him. After the 1957 Apalachin Convention he unexpectedly seized control of the commission of the American Mafia. Gambino was known for being low-key and secretive. He served 22 months in prison (1938–39), and lived to the age of 74, when he died of a heart attack in bed. He had two brothers, Gaspare Gambino, who later married and was never involved with the Mafia, and Paolo Gambino who, on the other hand, had a big role in his brother's family.


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 entered the United States as an illegal immigrant on a shipping boat. He ate nothing but anchovies and wine during the month long trip and joined his cousins, the Castellanos, in New York City. There he joined a crime family headed by Salvatore “Tata” D’Aquila, one of the larger crime families in the city. Gambino's uncle, Giuseppe Castellano, also joined the D'Aquila family around this time.

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.

Masseria demanded absolute loyalty and obedience from the other criminals in his area, and killed anyone who gave him less than that on the spot. In 1930, Masseria demanded a $10,000 tribute from Maranzano's then boss, Nicola “Cola” Schiro, and supposedly got it. Schiro fled New York in fear, leaving Maranzano as the new leader. By 1931, a series of killings in New York involving Castellammarese clan members and associates caused Maranzano and his family to declare war against Joe Masseria and his allies. D'Aquila's family, now headed by Alfred Mineo, sided with Masseria. In addition to Gambino, other prominent members of this family included Luciano associates Albert “The Mad Executioner” Anastasia, and Frank Scalice.

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.

Several Young Turks on both sides started realizing that if the war did not stop soon, the Italian crime families could be left on the fringe of New York's criminal underworld while the Jewish and Irish crime bosses became dominant. Additionally, they felt that Masseria, Maranzano and other old-school mafiosi, whom they derisively called “Mustache Petes”, were too greedy to see the riches that could be had by working with non-Italians. With this in mind, Gambino and the other Young Turks decided to end the Castellammarese War and form a national syndicate. On April 15th, 1931,Masseria was gunned down at Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant in Coney Island by Luciano associates Anastasia, Adonis, Genovese, and Siegel. Maranzano then named himself capo di tutti capi (boss of bosses). In the major reorganization of the New York Mafia that resulted, Vincent Mangano took over the Mineo family, with Anastasia as his underboss and Gambino as a capo. They kept these posts after Maranzano was fatally stabbed and shot on September 10th, 1931.


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.

In the early 1960s, Gambino slowly moved against the prominent Anastasia loyalists, headed by caporegime Armand “Tommy” Rava. With Joseph Biondo as a solid underboss, Joseph Riccobono as Gambino's own consigliere, and with his top caporegimes, Aniello Dellacroce, Paul Castellano, Carmine Lombardozzi, Joseph Armone and Carmine Fatico, the remaining Anastasia loyalists could never make a move.

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.

In February 1962, the Gallo brothers kidnapped a number of prominent members of the Profaci family including underboss Joseph Magliocco and capo Joe Colombo. In return for their release, the brothers demanded changes in the way profits were divided between crews, and at first Profaci appeared to agree, following negotiations between the captors and Profaci's consigliere, Charles Locicero, but Profaci was simply biding his time before taking revenge on the Gallos. Gallo crew member Joseph “Joe Jelly” Gioelli was murdered by Profaci's men in September, and an attempt on Larry Gallo's life was interrupted by policemen in a Brooklyn bar. The brothers set about attacking Profaci's men wherever they saw them as all-out war erupted between the two factions. Plus, Gambino and Lucchese was putting pressure on the other bosses to convince Profaci of stepping down from his title and family, but on June 6th, 1962, Profaci lost his battle against cancer. He was replaced as boss of the family by Joseph Magliocco, a man very much in the Profaci mould, much to the family. That's why Gambino and Lucchese gave their support to the Gallo crew, where Joseph Bonanno, the longtime “Don” of the Bonanno crime family, gave his support to Magliocco and the Profacis.

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.

After Magliocco's death, Bonanno had few allies left. Many members felt he was too power hungry, and one, a boss from Florida, Santo Trafficante Jr., once said in anger, “He's planting flags all over the world!” Some members of his family also thought he spent too much time away from New York, and more in Canada and Tucson, where he had business interests. The Commission members decided that he no longer deserved leadership over his family and replaced him with a caporegime in his family, Gaspar DiGregorio. Bonanno, however, would not accept this result, breaking the family into two groups, the one led by DiGregorio, and the other headed by Bonanno and his son, Salvatore. Newspapers referred to it as “The Banana Split.”


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.

Even though Cosa Nostra members show utmost respect to their superiors, there have been cases of members disrespecting and/or humiliating another made man. An especially notorious case is that of Carmine “Mimi” Scialo - a feared and respected soldier of The Colombo Family who had control over the vast area of Coney Island. When under the influence of alcohol, Scialo would become very arrogant, loud and disrespectful. One day in October 1974, Scialo was at a popular Italian restaurant, he spotted Carlo Gambino and began to harass him, insulting Gambino in front of others. Gambino stayed calm, as he always was, didn't retaliate and didn't say a word. Scialo's body was found not long after at Otto's Social Club in South Brooklyn encased in the cement floor.

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.



Source: Wikipedia

This work is released under CC 3.0 BY-SA - Creative Commons

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