For decades the FBI largely ignored Carlo Gambino but after local cops busted a meeting among the nation's Mafia leaders on November 14, 1957 in upstate Apalachin, NY, the G-men finally decided to take a closer look at the hook-nosed gangster according to Bureau files.
By early 1962 the FBI had understood the importance of Gambino on the nine-member Mafia Commission which governed the 26 crime families throughout the United States, and a May 29, 1962 memo reflects the investigative priority he was given by the New York Field Office:
It is imperative that every effort be made to establish highly confidential coverage of Gambino in view of his position as a "Commission" member and his obvious importance as a top leader in the criminal organization controlled by the "Commission." Considerable information has been developed recently indicating that Gambino is of key importance at the top level in the organized crime underworld in this country as an arbitrator and consultant. [Redacted] Because of Gambino's key position on the "Commission" it is of utmost importance that we obtain the desired coverage of his activities, enabling us to stay currently informed on his contacts with some of the most important racket figures in this country.
Gambino was born on August 24, 1902 in Palermo, Sicily, and entered the United States on December 23, 1931 Norfolk, VA "as a stowaway aboard the S.S. Vincenzo Florio." Although Gambino was off the FBI's radar screen until the Apalachin Meeting bust, the mobster had not gone unnoticed by other federal law enforcement agencies during the 1930s and 1940s.
A December 23, 1957 FBI report quotes from the files of the Alcohol Tax Unit within the U.S. Treasury Department including an 11/16/34 memo which claimed:
Since the coming of Prohibition, there has been in the City of New York and vicinity and extending into the State of New Jersey a notorious, daring group of bootleggers known as the GAMBINO outfit. The principal members of this outfit are: CARLO GAMBINO; his brother PAUL GAMBINO; and their cousin ANTHONY GAMBINO.
Even after the repeal of Prohibition Gambino allegedly continued in the black market for alcohol, and according to ATU reports cited by the FBI the mobster failed to pay millions in taxes on his product.
Carlo and his brother Paul also were known to the Bureau of Narcotics within the U.S. Treasury Department as far back as the mid-1940s, and a March 13, 1958 FBI report quotes a Narcotics Bureau supervisor who testified before the New York State Joint Legislative Committee on January 9, 1958 that "the GAMBINOS were reported to exercise control of the narcotics smuggling activities between the Mafia element in Palermo and the United States on behalf of SALVATORE LUCIANO."
The FBI's early investigation into Gambino focused on his infiltration of the legitimate economy -- he allegedly had hidden interests in companies involving the garment, paper, food and waste industries among others -- and his front as a "labor consultant" with S.G.S. Associates which helped out real estate developers and owners with their union problems during the 1950s and 1960s. Included within the Bureau's file is a clipping of an April 17, 1965 article "Business Leaders Used Mafia Firm" by Charles Grutzner from The New York Times which states:
Among the clients and former clients are Wellington Associates, owners of the Chrysler Building and the largest acquirers of real estate in the metropolitan area in recent years; William J. Levitt, most of whose massive building operations have been with non-union labor; Flower and Fifth Avenue Hospitals, Howard Clothes, Bond Clothes, and the Concord Hotel at Lake Kiamesha, N.Y.
The article estimated that S.G.S. Associates earned $500,000 a year in billings although its clients claimed ignorance of the Gambino tie:
Several S.G.S. clients, who confirmed that they had been questioned by F.B.I. agents recently, said they had been unaware that the G. in the firm name stood for Gambino. They said they had ended their contracts, or were about to do so, after learning of the Mafia connection.
Among the unions in which Carlo Gambino allegedly had influence was the International Longshoremen's Association.
A great deal of the FBI's material on Carlo Gambino concerned his personal life which the G-men acquired from informants, surveillance and bugs.
By outward appearances the mob boss did not live extravagantly. He owned a modest home in Brooklyn, and perhaps his only indulgence was a waterfront property in Massapequa which he purchased from Ettore Zappi -- a trusted capo who ran Gambino's extensive porn empire and lived next door -- for use on the weekends during the summer. At the Long Island home he kept a 1964 20-foot Glasspas and a 1958 55-foot Wheeler cabin crusier at the dock, and "it is also reported that GAMBINO uses a converted Coast Guard cutter" but "this information could not be verified." Although Gambino lived relatively modestly he was a very rich man. He stashed jewels and cash in safety deposit boxes at multiple banks throughout New York City, and was said to have the capacity to raise $10 million on a moment's notice.
In 1932 Carlo Gambino married alleged first cousin Catherine Castellano who was the sister of Gambino's successor Paul Castellano, and apparently the historic incident of some blood marriages in Carlo Gambino's lineage prompted Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy during a November 4, 1963 visit to the New York field office to "express an interest" on the subject and the supposed "resulting imbeciles and morons that have come from such close intermarriage." The FBI compiled a family tree on Carlo Gambino in an FBI November 13, 1963 report, and the Bureau notes "that hoodlums in referring to the Gambino family ('Cosa Nostra' family) sometimes call them 'degenerates' and it is believed that this terminology may have come about through this close intermarriage within various members of the family." (The FBI files on Thomas "Tommy Ryan" Eboli indicate that the Genovese acting boss never could stand Gambino, and an informant told the FBI in the early 1960s that Eboli characterized the Gambino crime family as "full of degenerates" after learning one of its soldiers was whacked for having an affair with his mother-in-law.)
The FBI planted a bug in the long-married couple's hotel room during their March 1962 vacation to Miami, FL where they stayed at the Golden Gate, and Carlo gloated about his days at the track and Catherine complained about the Jews. Apparently Mrs. Gambino had an anti-Semitic streak: "She also stated that there were too many Jews there and she says she feels these Jews drink too much. She stated that she feels she is better than they are." As the wife of a bootlegger Mrs. Gambino apparently missed the irony in complaining about "these Jews" who "drink too much" but, of course, self-delusion is the first refuge of a mob wife.
The marriage sounded thoroughly loveless with endless bickering based on the FBI eavesdropping of the Gambino hotel room. Carlo on one occasion called Catherine a "shrew" with "a sharp tongue," and on another occasion cursed at her and "then told his wife that she talked too much and if she did not shut up, he would cut her tongue off."
In its nearly 20-year investigation into Carlo Gambino the FBI was only able to build a single case against the mob boss, and on March 23, 1970 arrested the so-called "boss of bosses" for his alleged role in conspiring to rob $6 million from an armored truck. Of course, the case never was prosecuted. Manhattan federal judge Marvin Frankel took sympathy upon the aging gangster, and indefinitely stayed the case.
Carlo Gambino had been conveniently saved from justice by his bad heart on numerous occasions. The mob boss had been a target for deportation by the INS since the 1957 Apalachin Meeting, and his ticker always flared up right before he was due to appear before immigration hearings or court proceedings on the matter. On May 13, 1969 an FBI agent approached Gambino at a lower Manhattan eatery on Walker Street in the city's then textile manufacturing district as the mob boss was having breakfast -- a grapefruit, English Muffin and coffee -- and while counting out the 30 pills he had to take daily for his degenerate heart repeatedly said "I'm a sick, sick, very sick man."
The old coot finally died at the age of 74 on October 15, 1976 at his Long Island home. An October 19, 1976 memo from the New York Field Office to the FBI Director provided the final details on the passing of Carlo Gambino from this world into the next one:
CARLO GAMBINO died of heart disease 10/15/76 at 34 Club Drive, Massapequa, LI, NY (not verified by death certificate). GAMBINO waked at Cusimano and Russo Funeral Home, 10/16-17/76. Funeral services held 10 AM 10/18/76 at Our Lady of Grace Church, Ave. W and E. 4th St., Brooklyn, NY. Burial services followed at the Cloisters, St. John's Cemetery, Queens, NY.
It's ironic that Gambino received a funeral mass given that he probably would have rolled dice for Christ's clothing if present at the Crucifixion.