By LB | January 8, 2020
“Mr. Kelly, I’ve done a lot of things in my life, and you don’t need to know.”
John Gambino to his Boston-based lawyer Paul Kelly, who represented him during his extradition hearing in 2006.
Carlo Gambino’s crime Family was infused with blood relatives, but none were more mysterious and shadowy than the Cherry Hill Gambinos.
Headed by Carlo’s cousin John, the savvy and charismatic Sicilian had one foot in the U.S. and the other in Italy and became the monumental bridge for drug trafficking between the two countries.
Don Carlo and the rest of La Cosa Nostra might have put a “ban” on that type of “infamnia”, but it was a lucrative business that made billions for the Families.
And John was at the top of that lucrative totem pole.
Giovanni (John) Gambino was born on August 22, 1940 in Palermo, Sicily. He was the first in his immediate family to arrive in the U.S. and came to the country illegally. In 1958, he was arrested as an illegal alien and deported.
A short time later, he returned to the U.S. and married his cousin (also a Gambino), who was an American citizen. John, himself, became a U.S. citizen in 1964.
John’s father was Tommaso Gambino who owned a butcher shop in Italy and was a first cousin to Don Carlo. When Tommaso came to the U.S. in 1964, he settled in Brooklyn with his wife (she was a Spatola).
Tommaso was also a close friend and associate of Tommaso Buscetta, a member of the Badalamenti Family of the Sicilian Mafia who made headlines when he turned against his Family and the rest of the Sicilian Mafia in the highly-publicized “Pizza Connection” case in the 1980s.
John had two brothers, Giuseppe (Joe) and Rosario (Sal), who would become his main confidants and lieutenants for his activities in Cherry Hill. He also had a sister, Giovanna (Joanne) who would marry Erasmo Gambino – another close associate and “solider” in John’s Cherry Hill crew.
When John first arrived in the U.S., he resided in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
In 1972, his brothers, father, and sister had moved to Delran, NJ where the brothers set up base as the Cherry Hill Gambinos.
John stayed behind in Brooklyn.
Later, he lived in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and also owned a home in Milford, Pa., near John Gotti’s estate.
According to law enforcement, John was a “man of honor” in the Sicilian Mafia, affiliated with the Inzerillo-Gambino-Spatola-DiMaggio clan (aka Passo di Rigano Family) and was inducted into the Gambino Family in 1976 under Paul Castellano.
In 1986, he was promoted to capo by John Gotti and was put in charge of the Family’s Sicilian Faction, which had previously been headed by Antonino (Nino) Inzerillo. John also became boss of 18th Ave.
However, according to LCNBios, Gravano testified that after Inzerillo’s murder in 1981, John was transferred to James (Jimmy Brown) Failla’s crew. Later, John was transferred to Tommy Billoti’s crew and stayed there until he and Castellano were murdered in 1985.
In 1983, New Jersey police had identified Failla as a “capo” in the North Jersey/Fort Lee crew. It had also identified both John and Inzerillo as “capos” of the South Jersey crew.
No matter what crew John was in, he was still the man pulling the strings in the big business of drug trafficking.
John Gambino was a major player in narcotics trafficking along with his brothers and many other relatives. Police believed he was the man behind the scenes, directing and supervising his brothers’ dealings in Cherry Hill.
Although narcotics trafficking was John’s main business, he was also involved in illegal gambling, loansharking, and the construction business, among many others in the U.S. and abroad.
He was also in charge of the Festa di Santa Rosalia on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst.
In 1966, he and Joe opened a meat market in Brooklyn called G&J Meat Market where their father, Tommaso, also worked. The market was later renamed San Juan Meat Market.
Tommaso also operated The Italian Village Restaurant in Queens.
Around the same time in 1966, John opened Cafe Valentino on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst.
It’s unclear if it was the same building which housed Caffe Giardino on 18th Avenue, which he later jointly owned with Joe. The original name of Caffe Giardino was Cafe Milano.
Either way, Caffe Giardino became John’s main base of operations and would later be the site of his law enforcement headaches in the late 1980s.
At one point, the FBI called the Caffe Giardino the “Pentagon” of the U.S.-Sicilian drug trade.
In 1971, he bought a cattle breeding station in the state of Barinas, Venezuela.
In fact, he was listed on the board of directors for many corporations in Venezuela through his association with the Cuntrera brothers.
And these corporations listed many other high-profile members of the Mafia underworld who were allegedly involved in drug trafficking.
In 1972, John formed Father and Sons Pizza Corp., in Pennsylvania and opened three shops in Philadelphia with both his brothers and his father.
Joe and Rosario would later open additional pizza joints and restaurants throughout the south New Jersey and Philadelphia areas.
According to an L’Espresso article published in 1984, John, himself, actually owned an estimated 240 pizzerias throughout the United States that brought in nearly $200,000,000-a-year in legitimate profits.
And he had many other businesses in NJ in partnership with his brothers and other members of his family.
Towards the middle of 1975, he formed G & G Concrete in Brooklyn with Anthony Genovese.
When legal problems starting mounting in the 80s, the company moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey. Since G & G shared their profits with the Genovese Family, it made it easier to move into the Genovese-controlled Hudson River waterfront.
But the move didn’t help much.
U.S. District Attorney Rudy Giuliani had already started investigating the company after it was revealed to be mob-controlled during the Commission Trial of 1986.
When it moved across the river, New Jersey State Police started their own investigations. Genovese was being probed by New Jersey police around 1988 soon after the company had completed a 34-story condo complex at Newport in Jersey City.
John wasn’t mentioned, but perhaps it was because he had bigger problems brewing.
In an interesting side note, mob rat Frank (Frankie Fapp) Fappiano testified during Peter Gotti’s 2004 conspiracy trial that G & G Concrete had made $22 million helping build the Metropolitan Detention Center in the early 1990s.
G & G was dissolved in September 1995, according to the New York Department of State – not long after John was sent to jail.
John was also linked by DEA officials to G & G Tile Co., which was located on 18th Avenue in Brooklyn. It was only a few doors down from Cafe Valentino and close to his concrete business.
Later, court documents revealed he owned the building. John also owned two other properties nearby (one of these might have been Cafe Valentino).
G & G Tile Co., had closed in 1980 after a huge amount of heroin had been seized at that location. Law enforcement considered it a a major center for receiving heroin shipments from Italy.
This was part of the “Sicilian Connection” case of that time (not to be confused with the more infamous “Pizza Connection” case of the late 1980s).
John was suspected but never implicated in either case, but his good friend Salvatore Catalano was for the “Pizza Connection”.
And we mustn’t forget John’s involvement in the Michele Sindona affair of 1979, the year before things started to unravel slightly for the U.S.-Sicilian drug trade.
Or his ties to his father’s good friend Tommaso Buscetta (pre-informant days), who would surprisingly come into play when the cards fell for John in the 90s.
There’s an old idiom that says, “blood is thicker than water”. For Italians, it’s a saying that’s taken very seriously.
But when you’re a “made” man in the Mafia, you have a new blood family that might not include those that you share a bloodline with.
However, for John, he had the best of both worlds. And there was no one closer to him than his two brothers, Joe and Rosario.
NEXT: The Brothers Gambino and A Network of Friends
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