Gambino Genes

What's in a Mafia name?

Wittenberns downplayed the e-mail, dismissing it as "a silly thing." Gambino, though, felt otherwise.

At first, Gambino called Wittenberns "a sweet, straight guy" and claimed the two were "very, very good friends." But informed about Wittenberns' e-mail, Gambino said: "I'm very disappointed... I think it's childish on Roger's part. I'm not a violent person, and the idea that anybody would throw my name around, like 'Guess who I know...' it reflects on me — him being a moron."

Gambino was so angry that he immediately called his attorney to see "if Travis and I could sue his ass for [making inflammatory statements] and make him suffer."

Christopher J. Gambino: author, fashion designer, wine distributor. So where did he get the material for his book?
Jacqueline Carini
Christopher J. Gambino: author, fashion designer, wine distributor. So where did he get the material for his book?
Jacqueline Carini

Whatever the relationship between the two men, Gambino's reaction suggested a world in which alliances change without warning and the punishment for betrayal — however slight — comes swiftly.

"The Gambino family does operate in South Florida," FBI spokesperson Judy Orihuela writes in an e-mail. In fact, all five families think of this turf as their office. "It is considered open territory." The Mafia still engages in traditional criminal activities, she says: "Illegal gambling and loan sharking are still the bread and butter. Betting on sporting events is big business. However, they have branched out into white collar crime — stock fraud, boiler rooms, health care fraud, staged accidents." Recent high-profile operators include Ronald "Ronnie One-Arm" Trucchio, Tony-Pep Trentacosta, and Anthony "Fat Freddy" Massaro. Orihuela won't comment on Christopher Gambino.

Jerry Capeci, who wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia and maintains the website, is probably the nation's foremost writer on organized crime. He says that the so-called Gambino "family" has never included "more than a handful of guys with the surname Gambino. At the moment, off the top of my head, I can think of three made guys [that are living] — Tommy [Carlo's son] and two others." And Christopher is not one of them.

Capeci says that the Mafia's power has diminished but that "gangsters in 2007 do the same things they've done throughout the 20th Century — they scheme, they plan, they plot, they kill, they use whatever methods they need to make money for themselves and members of their group." He adds, "It's not something that this guy [Christopher] has ever been part of."

Michael Rosen, a New York lawyer who has represented Tommy Gambino, remembers hearing about Christopher ten years ago, when his book came out. He does not mince words: "Is he still around, that impostor? I heard he folded, that his store closed. Well, I'm not happy if he's playing on a name that he has no right to play on. Did someone give him $50 so he could cut a few more pairs of jeans?" Christopher "has absolutely, positively no connection to my clients whatsoever, at any time, and any representation to that effect would be misrepresentation."

As for his thoughts about bullet-hole jeans and "wiseguy" T-shirts, Rosen says: "I think it's insidious, and if this is what he needs to make a living — it's a free country. Well, that's what they keep telling us. If he does violate my clients' rights, there are courts of law that will address it."

But if his name really is Gambino, doesn't he have a right to use it? "I don't know if that is his real name, and if it is his real name, I guess he's entitled to use it, but he can't pass off any connection to clients of mine — that would be a fraud."

Actually, Christopher Gambino does not claim to be related to any of Rosen's clients. In fact, all of his ancestors seem to have the first name "No" and the middle name "Comment."

What is the name of the uncle who raised you?

"No comment."

Who did you base the character of Sonny on in the book?

"No comment."

How are you related to the major players in the Gambino crime family?

"I won't even answer a question like that. No comment on that subject."

Sitting in his boutique — situated next to a nail salon and a pizza parlor in a Deerfield Beach shopping plaza — on a sunny afternoon, Gambino is relaxed and ready for questions. Fire away. Shoot.

You said earlier that your dad died when you were 13. What was his name?


Did he have a nickname — "The Eliminator" or something?

"Nooo," he shakes his head. "You're watching The Sopranos too much. Hollywood portrays the wiseguy — they glamorize the wiseguy."

Of course they do. That's what we all want to see.

"You think The Sopranos is really what they do? They hang out in suits and all act like that? Real wiseguys don't do that."

How did your dad die?

"My dad was shot."

Did they ever find his killers?

"Mmmm... not sure."

What did he do for a living?

"Honest to God, I really don't know. Didn't you read the book? I had no idea what he did."

So you're not related to Carlo or Thomas or John Gotti or any of those guys?

"Listen, people who know that name, who know people who know people in New York — they basically would keep very quiet, and the people that think that they know, they'll talk more. Listen, I'm known in California. I'm known in New York. People know who I am."

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