Gambino Crime FamilyAlthough it is difficult to put a dollar value on criminal interests, the Gambino crime family is certainly the richest and most powerful criminal organization in the United States today. Worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the family has a criminal workforce of at least 800 men, and its empire ranges from every borough of New York City to the green felt of Atlantic City and Las Vegas, to the heroin plants of Sicily and Asia, to stolen car outlets in Kuwait. Small wonder it has been labeled by one newspaper as Gambino, Inc. In his reign from 1957 to 1976 Carlo Gambino took a second-string crime family and built it into the Mafia’s jewel in the crown, far more wealthy than even the family originally ruled by Lucky Luciano, far more powerful than the Capone-descended Chicago Outfit. The original family dates to the pre-national syndicate days of Alfred Mineo and Steve Ferrigno in the 1920s when Joe the Boss Masseria controlled the Mafia. They were murdered in 1930 in a bloody ambush carried out by Joe Profaci, Nick Capuzzi, Joe Valachi and a gunman known now only as Buster from Chicago. Taking over were Vince and Phil Mangano, who became part of the modern American Mafia as constituted by Luciano. They ran an outfit limited largely to rackets in Brooklyn, the waterfront and gambling—horse betting, the numbers, the Italian lottery. The Manganos lasted until 1951 when Phil Mangano, the less important brother, was murdered by orders of underling Albert Anastasia, already infamous as the chief executioner of Murder, Inc. Vince disappeared at the same time and Anastasia simply took over. No one dared object. Anastasia, unofficially aided and advised by Frank Costello (who belonged to another family), expanded the organization greatly into new rackets, especially gambling, loan-sharking and narcotics trafficking, through the piers the mob controlled. Anastasia could only go so far, being a mad hatter who was distracted into meaningless and dangerous activities. (He’d order a citizen knocked off who recognized bank robber Willie Sutton, a criminal with no ties to the mob, simply because he hated “stoolies.”) Anastasia was also caught up in the intrigue between his friend Costello and Vito Genovese for control of the largest family, Lucky Luciano’s own organization. In 1957, Genovese deposed Costello and succeeded in having Anastasia killed with the connivance of Anastasia’s aide, Carlo Gambino. Once Gambino achieved his goal of control of the Anastasia crime family, he had no further need for Genovese, a mobster with delusions of becoming the new boss of bosses. In machinations involving the deposed Costello, the deported Luciano and Meyer Lansky, and probably others, Gambino arranged to have Genovese set up and delivered into the hands of the federal narcotics people on a framed case. Over the succeeding years, Gambino extended the power and influence of his crime family. The relatively small Mangano operation became the biggest in New York and the nation. Gambino, with the departure of Costello from the active scene, became Meyer Lansky’s most important partner in national syndicate enterprises and became recognized, as Luciano was in the 1930s, as the de facto boss of bosses. Gambino foiled the plots of Joe Bonanno to assassinate him and other crime leaders and so to become the most powerful don in the United States. In the 1970s, ill health forced Gambino’s gradual withdrawal from the public eye, although he remained the cunning kingpin right up to his death in 1976. Before he died, Gambino settled on his succession. Logically it should have been his underboss, Aniello Dellacroce, a tough killer who could prevent incursions into the family’s rights. (Indeed, Dellacroce proved to be a key man in the assassination of Carmine Galante in 1979 when the latter moved to take over the New York families.) However, Gambino believed strongly in family ties and tapped Paul Castellano, his brother-in-law, as his successor. Some dons would have so decreed and left their decision to the fates. Gambino realized that if Dellacroce went to war, he would destroy Castellano. The cunning Gambino realized too that murdering Dellacroce would solve nothing. Another would replace him and the less than-imposing Castellano would still be in the same boat. Gambino had to make Dellacroce Castellano’s life insurance policy. He accomplished that by offering Dellacroce essential control of all the family’s lucrative Manhattan activities, a sort of crime family within a crime family arrangement that Dellacroce could not refuse. To further his plans, Gambino counted on the support of Frank “Funzi” Tieri, who he had installed as the head of the old Genovese family after he arranged to have boss Tommy Eboli “clipped.” Tieri was Dellacroce’s match and could be counted on to remain loyal to Gambino after death and to be supportive of Castellano. He was, but his natural abilities inevitably overshadowed Castellano’s; without even trying, Tieri emerged as New York’s most powerful don.
In a sense, then, Paul Castellano presided over a decline of the Gambinos, but in 1981 Tieri died. Weaker leadership, or perhaps a divided one, in the Genovese family righted the Gambino fortunes, and under Castellano and Dellacroce primacy was restored. Dellacroce, suffering from cancer, made no move to depose Castellano, even though a Young Turk element, epitomized by a violent capo named John Gotti (who modeled himself after his idol, the murderous Albert Anastasia), grew constantly more dissatisfied with Castellano’s rule. However the Young Turks, out of a combination of fear and genuine affection for the old boss, dared not strike as long as Dellacroce lived. Dellacroce, like the Turks, felt that the family should get into the lucrative fields of armored car robberies, hijackings and expanded narcotics activities, while Castellano laid great stock in loan-sharking, union construction shakedowns and such relatively easy crimes as car theft. With those activities fully manned, Castellano tried to starve the Young Turks.On December 2, 1985, Dellacroce died. Paul Castellano lasted just two weeks, being assassinated along with an aide obviously being groomed as a counter to John Gotti. Within days of Castellano’s assassination, it was obvious to law enforcement people that John Gotti had officially become the new boss of the richest and most powerful crime family in America.