Joseph Gambino, mafia ruler of NYC’s Garment District, dead at 83.
Joseph Gambino in 1992Don Halasy/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images
Joseph Gambino, the easy-going son of Mafia don Carlo Gambino
who became a millionaire businessman thanks to his father’s crime family clout — but who steered clear of the rest of the family business — died of natural causes last month at the age of 83.
Gambino and his older brother Thomas were longtime owners and operators of numerous Garment District trucking companies. The family’s chokehold on the trucks that filled the West Side streets where the city’s rag trade once thrived was so total that competitors who tried to park their own rigs risked flat tires — or worse — according to local officials.
Unlike Thomas, Joseph Gambino never became a made man of the Mafia. He dropped out of New York University in the 1950s and began working for Consolidated Carriers Corp. — the trucking company that would have a virtual monopoly on Garment District deliveries until October 1990, when the Gambino brothers were hit with state racketeering charges.
During a two-year investigation by the office of then-Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, Joseph Gambino told an undercover police officer who was interviewing for a job that the company had two rules for its employees: no drugs and no stealing. And if he was caught stealing, Gambino warned him, “We don’t call the police — we take care of it ourselves.”
Following an undercover probe, during which the State Police ran a sewing shop and planted a bug in the ceiling of Joseph Gambino’s office, Joseph, then 54, and brother Thomas, 61, were charged with enterprise corruption and 52 counts of larceny, extortion, coercion and restraint of trade. The charges carried prison terms of up to 25 years upon conviction.
The investigation was the launching pad for a then little-known assistant DA named Eliot Spitzer.
It was not a penny-ante case. By the end of 1989, according to evidence compiled by the DA’s office, the brothers controlled at least a dozen trucking concerns that had grossed about $70 million in the previous three years. About $50 million of that revenue came from deliveries to and from sewing shops, of which some $22 million was profit.
In November 1989, when the DA’s office had obtained enough evidence for a search warrant, the ceiling bug picked up Joseph’s opinion of what investigators would conclude when they went through Consolidated Carriers’ books and records: “They’re going to say to themselves, ‘Do you want to know something? These f–king Mafia guys really run a solid business.’”
In February 1992, after three weeks of trial, the Gambino brothers threw in the towel and walked away with a pricey — for most folks, but not for them — no-jail plea deal. They pleaded guilty to a single count of illegal restraint of trade, agreed to pay a $12 million fine and get out of Garment District trucking business forever.
The manager of the Aievoli Funeral Home in Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights, who declined to give his name, took a vow of omerta about all things pertaining to the death of Joseph Gambino. We know he is survived by his brother Thomas, 90.
This is an edited version of an article by Jerry Capeci that first appeared on ganglandnews.com.