By MS | January 12, 2020
“A Mob in the Making”
“We’re normal people just trying to live a normal life.”
John’s sister, Joanne, in a 1984 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer
The Gambino Family faction known as the “Cherry Hill Gambinos” didn’t start out in Cherry Hill.
After arriving in the U.S. in the late 1950s and early 1960s, John and his immediate family members settled in Brooklyn. But in 1972, John’s parents, sister, and both his brothers packed up their bags and moved to Delran, New Jersey.
John had purchased homes for them there for $100,oo0 each. He paid in cash.
He also stayed behind in Brooklyn.
A suburb of Philadelphia, Delran is an idyllic little town, full of parks and restaurants, tree-lined streets, and green, open spaces – it’s the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Cherry Hill is a short, eight-minute drive away, and Brooklyn is only a one-and-a-half-hour drive away.
It’s also only an hour away from Atlantic City.
At the time, Atlantic City, which had seen better days, was considering legalizing casino gambling in an effort to revitalize the city. It was a big deal that genrated excitement but also a lot of dread for its residents.
Officials knew that it had the potential of becoming an “open city” for organized crime – an arrangment between Families to divvy up the action.
Whether that was the reason why John sent his family there, in an attempt to position themselves if the referendum passed, is anyone’s guess.
He might have just wanted to a offer a delicious pie to the residents of South Jersey, Philadelphia, and the surrounding areas.
However, according to a 1978 Courier-Post article, an unidentified SCI (New Jersey State Commission of Investigation) source told the newspaper that he believed the Gambinos didn’t come to South Jersey because of Atlantic City but “because of pizza parlors and business opportunities.”
The source added that pizza parlors were a good way to launder cash, and as the world discovered during the 1980s “Pizza Connection” case – a great way to facilitate narcotics smuggling.
As a curious side note, the SCI source also told the newspaper that he believed Carlo Gambino had been smuggling in Sicilians illegally not only as a way to make money (via payments to get to this country and cheap labor), but also to “help build an army” against any challenges that could arise from the other New York Families.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
By the time John’s family arrived in Delran, their childhood friends Domenico and Emanuele Adamita were already living nearby.
And many other relatives and friends began moving into the area soon after, including several alleged members of John’s “South Jersey” crew.
After the Gambinos were settled, the brothers opened up a number of pizzerias including Father and Sons Pizza, King of Pizza, and Liberty Pizza in Philadelphia, Sal’s Pizza in Delran, and Piancone’s Pizza Palaces in South Amboy, NJ.
The brothers also owned a King of Pizza in Dover Delaware (along with the Executive Lounge nightclub adjacent to it) and Luciana’s Pizza in Landover, Maryland.
Many of these were not only owned by John, his brothers, and father (or a combination), but also with other relatives including Emmanuel (Matty) Gambino, Antonino (Nino) Inzerillo, Erasmo Gambino, Pietro Inzerillo, and others.
They had also established additional businesses as well, including construction and contracting firms.
With a Little Help From My Friends
Oone day in June 1976, Joe Gambino inquired about a vacant property on Haddonfield Rd., across from Garden State Park Racetrack, in Cherry Hill. He wanted to tranform the former Steak and Brew into a restaurant/nightclub called Valentino’s Supper Club.
Along with him that day was Augustine (Guzzy Gibbons) Mazzio – an alleged “capo” in Philadelphia’s Bruno crime Family.
It was going to cost a less less than $6,000,000 to get the club up and running, but it was still a lot of money.
Joe couldn’t do it alone, so he got a little help from his friends and family.
The Gambinos’ Father and Son Pizza Corp., loaned money for the purchase. John invested $50,000 of his own money and borrowed another $40,000 from a bank in Cherry Hill.
And deep in the shadows was another investor – Raymond (Long John) Martorano, who gave Joe $10,000 through his vending machine business, John’s Wholesale Distributors – courtesy of Angelo Bruno.
It should be noted that Bruno was a “commissioned salesman” in Martorano’s company. It should also be noted that Matorano was a notorious meth dealer. who did his business despite the “Docile Don’s” ban on drug dealing.
On November 2, 1976, New Jersey voters approved a referendum to legalize gambling, but limited it to the boardwalk of Atlantic City.
A few days later, as Valentino’s was preparing to open, Gambino boss Paul Castellano and Bruno decided to check out the new club.
While they might have enjoyed the plush decor and delicious food, the real reason for their meeting was to discuss Atlantic City and whether or not the Gambino Family would be able to stake a claim in Bruno’s territory.
Bruno gave his blessing the following Easter Sunday when he invited Joe and Rosario to his home.
At the same time, Joe and Rosario began to court politicians and local officials, welcoming them to the club and contributing to their campaigns.
Valentino’s was a hit, and all was happy in Cherry Hill…at least for a time.
A Gambino by Any Other Name…is Still a Gambino
Shortly after the opening of Valentino’s, Domenico Adamita opened Casanova’s Ristorante in Atlantic City. Later, law enforcement alleged that the Gambino brothers had a hidden interest in the club.
Law enforcement was becoming extremely suspicious of the Sicilian immigrants who were able to establish so many successful businesses in such a short amount of time.
In fact, law enforcement was getting suspicious about everything – including the possibility that “organized crime” had already infiltrated Atlantic City. And they were particularly interested in the Gambino brothers of Cherry Hill and their associates.
So, in August of 1977, the SCI held hearings in Trenton and subpoenaed Joe, Rosario, Dominick and Emanuele Adamita, Matty Gambino – and even Angelo Bruno and others to dig a little deeper.
Questions were asked and answers were given but none to the satisfaction of the commission.
Bruno was questioned about his cigarette machines and whether or not he had one in Valentino’s and Casanova’s. He did.
Domenico Adamita was questioned about whether or not the Gambino brothers had a hidden interest in the club. He denied it. The Gambinos denied it. But the commission insisted that the club had been purchased with “laundered money” belonging to the Gambinos.
Joe told the commission that the only involvement he had in Casanova’s was giving his good friend “advice”.
Somehow, the Commission construed that to mean letting Bruno put in cigarette machines at his club as “insurance”.
Soon after the hearing, the State Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control revoked the club’s liquor license.
It stayed open for a short time, but an Italian restaurant and nightclub wasn’t going to last long if it couldn’t offer patrons wine and spirits to enjoy with their dinner and dancing. It closed shortly thereafter.
Matty Gambino was questioned about his quest to purchase a hotel in Atlantic City.
Apparently, he and a business associate of Bruno’s nephew Michael Grasso, named Robert Skalsky, expressed interest in buying the Shelbourne Hotel. But they needed an additional investor.
They approached a man by the name of Mel Richman, who was the president of a Philadelphia public relations firm, after reading about him in the newspaper.
Matty testifed that he had read that the company did $25,000,000-a year worth of business and felt he was “an appropriate person to approach about it because it (seemed) like he was a wealthy gentleman.”
Unfortunately, Gambino decided to give Richman a false name, calling himself “Matty DeNardo” because he thought if he gave his true name, the deal would fall through.
The deal fell through anyway – after Richman later learned Gambino’s true name.
The Gambino brothers’ drama wasn’t just centered around the SCI hearings, it was everywhere around them.
In 1978, Michael Siavage, executive director of the SCI, told a New Jersey newspaper that he believed the Gambino brothers and their associates “were a mob in the making.”
He attributed this to the fact that they were successful businessmen.
“Their business growth is remarkable for young guys who came from Sicily with nothing,” he told the newspaper.
He didn’t mean it in a complimentary way.
Siavage and Justin Dintino, chief of intelligence and special services for the New Jersey State Police, believed the Gambino brothers were basically bullying their way to the top – and doing a bunch of illegal stuff in between.
They and other law enforcement officials suspected the brothers were responsible for dozens of arsons at pizza parlors in and around Delran – which they claimed didn’t start happening until the Gambino brothers arrived there in 1972.
They even claimed that the brothers were trying to muscle in on other pizzerias the brothers didn’t own, in an attempt to corner the market.
But none of those claims were ever substantiated, and John, Sal, and Rosario were never prosecuted.
Joe had been a victim of arson himself when his King of Pizza and Executive Lounge Disco in Dover, Del., burned in 1977.
Still, law enforcement was intent that the brothers were involved somehow, some way.
There were even rumors going around at the time about a cheese war happening between Eagle Cheese (Bonnano Family) and Ferro Cheese (Gambino Family) which some believed was the true cause of the fires.
One pizza parlor owner said, “If they don’t buy the right cheese, there’s a fire. If they don’t buy from the right Families, there’s a fire.”
And of course, the Gambino brothers were thrown right in the thick of it.
Despite all the drama, Joe and Rosario wanted to do something special for their brother.
In 1978, they bought a piece of property which had formerly housed the Old Rustic Tavern – which had, coincidentally, burned down.
Joe and Rosario planned to open a new restaurant and name it the Don Giovanni Supper Club, in honor of their older brother.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t secure financing and the restaurant was never built.
That same year, Joe and Rosario decided pull up stakes from Delran and move a little bit south – to Cherry Hill.
Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn, John was about to start an international adventure.
NEXT: “741, Frankfurt. Saturday.”
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