Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

September 6–13, 2001

news|underworld

Roger and Me

Rosario Gambino, beneficiary of Roger Clinton’s lobbying largesse, has local roots.

Last week The New York Times reported that former President Bill Clinton’s half-brother, Roger Clinton, lobbied parole officials to pardon convicted heroin trafficker, Rosario Gambino.

From 1996 to 1999, says the Times, Clinton made at least four visits to the parole commission’s headquarters in Chevy Chase, Md., to meet with federal officials regarding a parole for Gambino. The newspaper reported that Clinton received a Rolex watch, plane tickets to Washington, D.C., expense money and a $50,000 loan to buy a house, all of which came from Rosario’s son, Tommy Gambino.

The article identified Rosario Gambino as an associate of the Gambino crime family in New York City — a crime family that was founded by Rosario Gambino’s relative, Carlo Gambino. Rosario has denied any relation.

But to federal and state investigators in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and to law enforcement authorities in Italy, Rosario Gambino is much more than an organized crime associate.

According to Italian law enforcement, when Rosario Gambino and his brothers came from Sicily in the mid-1960s, they were already "men of honor," made members of the Sicilian Mafia.

Rosario entered the U.S. illegally in 1962 but in 1966 was granted permanent resident status. Rosario, his older brother, John, and his younger brother, Giuseppe, settled first in Delran, N.J. Later they bought homes in Cherry Hill where they lived in the same development as reputed Philadelphia mobster Raymond "Long John" Martorano.

In 1966, the Gambino brothers ran The Cafe Valentino on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. At that time, a new wave of Sicilian immigrants were settling in Brooklyn. Not far from the Gambinos, another Sicilian immigrant, Salvatore Catalano, opened the Cafe Viale. (Catalano eventually took control of the Bonanno crime family, only to be assassinated by the Italian-American faction, which resented the Sicilians’ influence and power in an American Cosa Nostra family.) The Gambino brothers and Catalano were friends and often visited one another.

When Tommaso Buscetta, a Sicilian Mafia boss from Palermo, needed to hide his ex-wife and daughter in America, Rosario Gambino took the women in. A few years later, Buscetta fled a violent mob war in Sicily and settled in Brooklyn, where he often hung out with the Gambino brothers as well as Carlo Gambino.

In 1972, Rosario and his two brothers formed Father and Son Pizza; they also ran pizza shops in Philadelphia and Camden, and, with a cousin, pizzerias as far south as Dover, Del.

In 1978, Rosario Gambino used his wife’s maiden name to lease a property at Second and Walnut streets in Old City, which he planned to turn into a restaurant/nightclub. And Rosario’s little brother, Joe, ran Valentino’s Supper Club in Cherry Hill.

The "Cherry Hill" Gambinos were close friends with Philly Cosa Nostra boss, Angelo Bruno. Police discovered that Angelo Bruno often met with New York Gambino underboss, Paul Castellano, at Valentino’s Supper Club. (Castellano eventually became boss of the Gambino crime family and ran it for 10 years until John Gotti had him assassinated December 1985.)

In 1979 Rosario Gambino played a pivotal role in the Michele Sindona story. Sindona, an international banker and money launderer, was the banker for the Vatican, the governing Christian Democratic party of Italy, the Masons and the Mafia in Sicily. At the height of his power Sindona owned six banks in four countries, an international hotel chain, a food company, 500 corporations and one of the largest international currency brokerage firms in the world. But when Sindona bought the 18th largest bank in America, Franklin National Bank of New York, he stole so much money that the bank soon crashed. Billions of dollars were lost as Sindona’s European banks collapsed the following week. Sindona was indicted in the U.S. and in Italy, and he disappeared in August 1979. His friends claimed that Sindona had been kidnapped, but Sindona flew to Sicily to meet with his "clients." Sindona was accompanied on his trip by John Gambino, Rosario’s brother. Sindona eventually returned to the United States in October. When Sindona landed at JFK Airport, Rosario Gambino met him.

At the same time, DEA agents intercepted five kilos of heroin, packed in talcum powder, on their way to the Gambino brothers. The next shipment came from Sicily inside a truckload of lemons which was driven to Milan. There, the 91 pounds of heroin were packed inside a cargo container filled with Italian pop music albums and shipped off to New York.

When the shipment reached the U.S., the police moved in on the Gambinos. In March 1980, Rosario and his brother Giuseppe were arrested in their restaurant, Valentino’s, for alleged participation in an international heroin smuggling operation after cops in Milan, Italy, confiscated 91 pounds of heroin destined for the U.S. They were eventually acquitted of those charges — but more than 60 members of the Mafia in Italy were convicted in the case.

In December 1984, Rosario Gambino and three others were convicted on drug related charges. Rosario Gambino was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

Said one New Jersey State Police investigator, "To call Rosario Gambino a mob associate is like saying John Gotti was just a street corner thug. Rosario and his brothers were some of the most important Sicilian Mafiosi to ever operate in this country."

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