Carlo’s Cousins: The Shadowy Sicilian Connection-Part 3

By MS | January 19, 2020

The Sicilian Connection

Rosario Gambino with Angelo Bruno at Valentino’s

“”Thank God for the American system of justice.”

Joe Gambino after he was acqutted for tax evasion in 1985

After their failed attempt to open a restaurant/nightclub in their brother’s honor and being thrown in the middle of all the pizza and cheese war drama, things got worse for Joe and Rosario.

On Tuesday, March 18, while enjoying an evening at Valentino’s. federal agents arrested the two brothers on charges of conspiracy to smuggle 91 pounds of heroin into the U.S. from Milan, Italy.

Joe (front right) and Rosario (back left) being escorted into court for their bail hearing.

The crackdown was a combined effort between the FBI and the Italian police and other arrests were made that night.

At Cafe Valentino in Brooklyn, police arrested Phil Rizzuto during a card game. Not only was Rizzuto the day manager at John’s cafe, but he also worked at Tiffany’s Pizza which was owned by Emanuele Adamita.

Domenico, Emanuele, and Antonio Adamita were arrested in Italy.

Italian police seized heroin at Antonio’s home which had been packaged in containers and placed in a cardboard box destined for Centro Nastri Italian Distributors on 18th Avenue in Brooklyn.

According to authorities, the drugs had an estimated street value between $70 and $120 million.

Originally, Judge John F. Gerry had set Joe and Rosario’s bail at $3 million each based on a recommendation from a judge in Brooklyn after prosecutors told him that without a high bail the Gambino brothers might attempt to flee the country.

Rosario and Joe after their arrest.

However, when Joe and Rosario appeared at their bail hearing on March 20, Judge Gerry changed his mind and reduced their bail to $250,000 each, saying, “On one hand, these brothers are suspected of having committed a terribly serious crime. On the other hand, they have roots in the community.”

Prosecutors were none too happy and argued that Joe and Rosario should be required to pay the full bail because they were “the principal movers (of heroin) in the United States.”

Judge Gerry didn’t see it that way.

Joe and Rosario were freed after posting $25,000 each (10 percent of their original bail).

All defendants were to be tried in both Italy and the U.S. at a later date.

A few days later, there was a new chapter in their saga.

Days of Our Lives – Joe and Rosario Edition

On the evening of Friday, March 21, two days after Joe and Rosario were arrested, and one day after they were released on bail, Angelo Bruno, the boss of the Bruno crime Family in Philadelphia, was murdered.

Angelo Bruno’s murder made headlines.

He had been sitting in his car outside his home when he was killed by a shotgun blast to the back of the head.

Almost immediately, Joe and Rosario were thrown into a new soap opera.

Newspapers started reporting information given to them by anonymous law enforcement sources that Joe and Rosario were involved in the murder.

One report said that Bruno had learned about the smuggling operation in late 1979 while in Milan with Nicodemo Scarfo and then tipped police.

Newspapers also tried to link Bruno’s appearance at the SCI offices in Trenton the Friday morning of his murder to the Gambinos as well.

Bruno was being represented by Sal Aveno at that meeting, the same attorney who was representing Joe in the smuggling case.

However, Michael Siavage, executive director of the SCI, dismissed that rumor, saying that, “If SCI testimony had anything to do with it, he would have been killed three years ago.”

But the SCI never revealed why Bruno was at the SCI offices that day in the first place.

Joe and Rosario at Angelo Bruno’s funeral.

The following year, in 1981, John Stanfa, who was Bruno’s driver that fateful day in March, was picked up by police in Maryland.

He had fled after being charged with perjury for refusing to testify about Bruno’s murder and was missing for nearly a year.

The car Stanfa was driving was owned by AW Aspin which listed as their corporate officers, John, Joe, and Rosario Gambino, as well as four other relatives.

Stanfa had also worked at Luciana’s Pizza in Landover, which was also owned by the Gambino brothers.

The Gambino brothers were never implicated in Bruno’s murder and the rumors were just that – rumors.

And it wouldn’t be the last time law enforcement tried to link the Gambino brothers to some dastardly deeds, either.

Even though a drug trial was looming ahead, Joe and Rosario forged ahead and continued to do what they did best – running successful businesses.

Moving Ahead

In July 1980, Joe decided he wanted to reinvent Valentino’s Supper Club to attract a more mature crowd. He closed it temporarily to do some remodeling as well as create a new menu and a new name for it.

Joe Gambino

At the same time, Rosario opened a new disco called The Late Show. The club didn’t sell alcohol which made it a popular spot for the 15 to 18 year old crowd who didn’t have many places to hang out in CHerry Hill.

Valentino’s repoened in late September 1980 as the New York, New York. It offered a new Italian Continental menu featuring such items as Veal rollatini ala New York, New York, steak and lobster, as well as a variety of pastas.

It got great reviews and became almost as popular as Valentino’s.

For the Late Show, however, it wasn’t as rosy.

Law enforcement officials weren’t too thrilled that the Gambino brothers were going about their business as usual. They seemed to forget that Joe and Rosario had only been accused of drug smuggling, not convicted. Still, they targeted the brothers every chance they could, especially Rosario.

The Late Show

In September 1980, only a few short months after it opened, a huge fight took place in the the parking lot of The Late Show.

Police said that the fight had ensued between several young men and over 400 people had gathered outside to cheer on the fighting. One man was stabbed, but survived.

Within weeks, the Cherry Hill Town Council revoked the club’s amusement license.

During the investigation, Camden County prosecutors discovered that Rosario had signed an agreement with local police promising not to allow alcohol on the premises even with the BYOB law that was in effect for clubs without a liquor license.

Rosario Gambino

They also discovered that Township building officials knew of the Gambino brothers’ history but gave them the necessary permits to open anyway.

One building official told the Courier-Post, “The Gambinos are a part of the scenery of Cherry Hill. They may be the Mafia, but they deserve the same treatment as anybody else from this office.”

But despite Rosario’s best efforts to regain his license, his appeals were denied, and the club was closed permanently.

Back in Brooklyn, John was quietly watching the madness unfold in Cherry Hill. He may have been concerned, but there were bigger events unfolding in his native home of Italy.

And he’d need to conjure up some of his best charasmatic magic to stop a disaster.

International Peacemaker

Who would want to travel to Italy to meet with the most ruthless mobster in history – especially when he was killing your family members left and right?

Well, according to several sources, that’s exactly what John did.

Salvatore (Toto) Riina

Toto Riina, who was the powerful head of the Corleonesi Family and the “boss of all bosses” in Sicily, had started slaying his rivals in what was called the “Second Mafia War” in that country.

Riina’s main focus was the Passo di Ragano Family, headed by John’s cousin and associate, Salvatore Inzerillo, as well as the Families headed by Inzerillo’s close allies, Stefano Bontate and Gaetano Badalamenti.

While some sources say the war started because these Families were challenging Riina’s power, other sources state it had more to do with all the money those Families were making in the drug trafficking business – profits they were not sharing with “The Beast”.

Whatever the true cause of this “Second Mafia War”, John’s family and associates in Italy were in trouble.

Riina first assasinated Bontate in April 1981. Then in May, Inzerillo was killed. What followed was a massacre with nearly 1000 men losing their lives in the bloody battle between 1981 and 1983.

Riina had also ordered the assassination of any Inzerillo who tried to flee to the U.S.

At some point, Gambino boss Paul Castellano reportedly sent John to Italy to defuse the situation.

The body of Salvatore Inzerillo after his murder in 1981.

However, it seems more likely that John went on his own – since he would have already had a better idea of the happenings there – and reported back to Castellano rather than the other way around.

But there is no information to substantiate that, and it’s also not clear when exactly John traveled to Italy.

When John arrived in Italy, he met with Riina to negotiate for the lives of his Italian friends, family, and associates.

Against all odds, his magic worked.

The Inzerillos were allowed to live, but they would be banished from Italy. They became known as the “gil Scappati” or “the runaways”.

Soon after, two Inzerillos affiliated with the Gambino Family were killed under mysterious circumstances, perhaps as a way to appease Riina.

First, Antonino (Nino) Inzerillo, the “capo” of the South Jersey crew with John and John’s brother-in-law – who also happened to live in Delran and was in business there with him – disappeared in October 1981.

According to, Castellano had ordered the hit on Nino because of the war (this was according to Gravano testimony). It was alleged that John had lured him to a delicatessen in Brooklyn where another Gambino Family member committed the murder.

Later in 2008, it was reported that Tommaso Inzerillio (a cousin of Nino’s) had lured him to the delicatessen. The plot had also allegedly involved Filippo Casamento, a Sicilian “man of honor” who was also an associate of the Bonanno Family.

(This information was revealed during the 2008 “Operation Old Bridge” case where dozens of alleged Gambino Family members and associates – including Frank Cali and Dominick Cefalu – were arrested in Italy and New York.)

Nino’s body was never found.

Pietro Inzerillo was found murdered in January 1982,

Pietro was the brother of Salvatore Inzerillo and a “soldier” in John’s crew who also happened to live across the street from Rosario,

His body was found frozen stiff in the trunk of a car owned by John’s brother-in-law, Erasmo.

Pietro had been handcuffed, shot several times in the head, and wrapped in a plastic bag. A five-dollar bill was stuffed in his mouth and a two-dollar bill was on his genitals.

The murder was never solved, though Tommaso Inzerillo and Filippo Casament were suspected in that murder as well.

Even after successfully saving his brethren and alleviating some of the pressure on his heroin empire, John didn’t have a lot of room to breathe.

But luck was on his side – at least temporarily.

NEXT: The Poet – Part 4 of Carlo’s Cousins: The Shadowy Sicilian Connection

Coming Next Week!

Read Part 1: Carlo’s Cousins: The Shadowy Sicilian Connection

Read Part 2: Carlo’s Cousins: The Shadowy Sicilian Connection

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