Why Carlo Gambino Allegedly Planned to "Consolidate" New York's Five Families

Carlo Gambino, the Gambino crime family boss whom the FBI identified as the "boss of bosses" of the entire American Mafia, was cuffed and hauled to court in March 1970.

Carlo Gambino
Gambino was arrested in 1970 by the FBI.

He'd been driving with his wife, Catherine, when the couple was pulled over at 14th Ave. and 48th Street in Brooklyn. Gambino was "bagged by federal agents... on charges of masterminding a daring plot to pull off a multimillion-dollar armored car robbery," the Daily News reported in a story originally published on Tuesday, March 24, 1970, written by Edward Kirkman and Harry Schlegel.

The agents first brought Gambino to FBI headquarters at 201 E. 69th St. for questioning. Next, he was taken to Federal Court in Foley Square for the arraignment. Gambino's specific charge was conspiracy to violate a federal statute against the interstate transportation of stolen goods.

We next learn that Gambino allegedly was already sitting on $3 million to $5 million in illicit earnings from armored car heists. In fact, "the suave, 67-year-old Gambino was also making plans to stage a $25 million foray at the offices of the U.S. Trucking Co. at 66 Murray St."

The Fed's had gathered the info from a snitch in Boston. John J. Kelley, then 55, a Boston armored car heist expert, "broke down after his arrest in another case (the previous May) and named Gambino as the kingpin in the alleged conspiracy."

Kelley at the time of Gambino's arraignment, was being held in protective custody in Boston. (Note: George Anastasia, the great mob writer, has described the Boston Mafia as being the only crime family in greater disarray than the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra -- which says a lot.)

In court Gambino faced U.S. Commissioner Earl N. Bishopp. "Gambino was impassive as special prosecutor Daniel P. Hollman asked for $100,000 bail." But as the prosecutor read the complaint, the noted impassiveness melted away by Gambino's apparent vitriol. His face "brightened" and he evinced amusement, breaking into a "broad grin at the mention of the $25 million conspiracy, and again when Kelley's name was read off."

Gambino's lawyer, Edward J. Ennis, then described Gambino as "an unfortunate man in ill health, devoted to his family."

Gambino, we learn, eventually flew into a rage when the judge ruled that his bail was $75,000. "I'll stay in jail," Gambino fumed. Whoever he fumed at or to, we don't know. Gambino then said: "I am innocent from this accusation. I won't put up five cents for bail."

Gambino's lawyer attempted to calm him. "You're not well enough to stay in jail," he told his client.

"I stay in jail," Gambino shouted. The seemingly off syntax could be a nod to Gambino's Sicilian accent. Or a typo.

Gambinos lawyer Ennis turned to Bishopp and asked: "Let me talk to his son, your honor."

"Don't talk to my son. I stay in jail," Gambino said.

Next, Carlo's son Thomas Gambino, "richly dressed, with an aquiline nose like his father's, stepped to the center of the room, embraced his father, and kissed him on the lips."

Some eight years prior, in 1962, Thomas Gambino had married Frances Lucchese, Gaetano "Tommy Brown" Lucchese's daughter.

Known as an innovative, if unorthodox, entrepreneur, Tommy Luchese masterfully assumed control of labor unions and trade associations, the key to dominating entire industries. The Luchese family essentially ran Manhattan's garment district, including the related trucking industry. 

The Gambino-Luchese alliance cemented relations between the two crime families. Gambino obtained vast interests from Luchese in trucking, construction and the garment industry. In return, Gambino shared JFK airport with his long time compadre in crime. 

Mere years later, Luchese was dying of brain cancer. He codified his intent that, upon death, all his interests in the garment industry were to go directly to Thomas Gambino. Thomas was married to his daughter. Makes sense, right? But we're talking about the founding fathers of the Mafia here. Nothing is as simple as it seems. Consider this: how did Carmine Tramunti, who had assumed control of the Luchese family after Luchese's 1967 death, feel about his predecessor essentially giving such massive wealth and power to Carlo Gambino (ultimately) versus his own family? And it wasn't a one time bequest; it was the fucking garment industry, including trucking.

Thomas Luchese

Well, it could be said that the Luchese family was still there, robbing JFK along with Gambino hoodlums like the swarthy young tough guy named Johnny Boy from Fulton.

And Luchese didn't die overnight. He and Gambino may well have talked about certain developments. This is interesting cause for speculation. Only that and nothing more, however. Our knowledge of the American Mafia, just like every other historical topic, is constantly evolving, or should be. If you read a newspaper, you'll know how even the most perfunctory modern day initiative can instantly yield startling revelations capable of invalidating history books overnight. Or at least creating the need for revisions. As much as we know about even a figure like Leonardo Da Vinci, we can always learn more. In 2007, for example, imaging technology brought us startling new insight into the Mona Lisa. (I recommend Walter Isaacson's new Leonardo Da Vinci.)

Father and Son
So Tommy headed toward his father during the arraignment. The two chatted briefly, then Bishopp allowed them to disappear for a half hour and talk. When Gambino next returned, he agreed to bail.

Bishopp --note that this is the judge we're talking about here -- felt compelled to enunciate that "a man should be free if he can make bail."

We include this little scene to give a rare snapshot of Gambino in action. Based on certain intangibles, and some quite tangible details, in the article we raise two questions, though there's a lot more here to consider:

A) Why was the judge very visibly lending Gambino his support from the bench, voicing superfluous, unnecessary comments?

B) Was the entire proceeding as rehearsed as it seems, with everything, down to Gambino's "I'll stay in jail," part of the script?

The arrest took place less than a week after the Daily News ran a series on cargo thefts at Kennedy Airport. Gambino pocketed  25% of everything the mob took from there, the News reported.

The armored car heist ring commenced a year earlier when "a group of lesser Mafia members got the idea that there was a good buck to be made in hitting armored cars. But since none of them was particularly knowledgeable about armored car heists, it was decided to bring in John J. Kelley, the authorities said.

Kelley (Red Kelley, Irish Red Kelley) was an associate of the once mighty Patriarca crime family. His nicknames also included Swiss Watch, owing to the precision with which he planned jobs. (He also was known as Saint John due to his patience.)

After reconnoitering, Kelley decided that the U.S. Trucking Co. met his specifications. It was to be the group's proverbial jackpot.

He tailed one of the firm's trucks as it departed the company's downtown headquarters, rolled across the Williamsburg Bridge, and dropped off between $3 million and $5 million in new money at Chase Manhattan Bank branches in Brooklyn.

A problem arose. None of the initial conspirators knew how to deposit "new money" without attracting attention. That's where Gambino came in.

Gambino, after he was consulted about the armored car theft ring, took over, naming himself the boss, as Kelley revealed. Excellent timing, apparently Gambino was in an extremely rare mood that day -- he was talkative! Saying things to directly implicate himself. 

Gambino purportedly agreed to provide, "among other things, autos for the robbery and the means to dispose of the money," said one official.

A smooth operator, he ordered Kelley to plan the jackpot heist.

"Kelley did, the authorities said. And what he came up with was what would have turned out to be one of the biggest jobs of all time - a projected $25 million heist of the trucking company, it was charged. The company at times ha(d) that much on hand when bills totaling that amount (were) sent to them from the Federal Reserve Bank downtown, to be split up and distributed to hundreds of banks in the five boroughs."

Before execution of the plan, Kelley was arrested in Massachusetts on an armored car job. What else?

His numerous sojourns to New York drew immediate scrutiny.

Kelley "broke down, and according to federal agents, confessed to the U.S. Trucking Co. plot - aborting the whole scheme. Authorities said Kelley had been "extremely reliable and accurate in all statements and information" given to them.

"Officials did not name any of the others involved in the alleged conspiracy, but it was learned that most of them are well known mobsters and Cosa Nostra luminaries. Nationwide alarms were issued for their arrest."

Based on my informed opinion (and conversations with two inducted members of the Mafia), I believe Carlo Gambino was indeed planning a major change in the organized crime landscape, as detailed here previously.

My sources both told me that they'd heard of similar ideas about consolidating the Five Families.

One, in conversations three years ago, long before I'd read or heard of the New York Times story, revealed a remarkably similar plan. I never wrote it up because I thought: they won't believe it. (I've heard quite a few things that fall in that category.)

What stimulated that initial conversation was a discussion of the Ndrangheta's La Santa.

"We talked about doing something like that," my source said after I read to him about the secret society-within-a-secret society, a conceit designed to basically protect bosses.

La Santa is a slang expression to describe "Calabrian Mafia chiefs." Mamma santissima means "most holy mother" and refers to the Virgin Mary, the protector of the Ndrangheta, its members apparently believe. Security concerns in the early 1970s led to its creation. Membership is only known to other members. Contrary to the Ndrangheta code, it allowed bosses to establish close connections with state representatives. These connections were often established through Freemasonry, yes, the guild created in antiquity by stonemasons.

The more recent conversation, last night, offered tidbits similar to what I'd heard back in a 2014 conversation.

As for why Gambino never pulled it off, or why he never even tried (or did he?), we'll consider at length.

Yes, I note the whole concept is an allegation. Though evidence suggests there was more to it.

As for the immediate spark of the consolidation idea, Gambino getting arrested in March 1970 after a member of an armored car theft ring flipped is as good a reason as anything else.

Carlo Gambino maybe spent a single night in jail in a decades-long criminal career. What do you think?