By Chuck Strouse
By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Allie Conti
By Chris Joseph
By Kyle Swenson
Christopher J. Gambino may not be a Mafioso, but he certainly looks the part: six-foot-one, with black hair graying at the temples and a gold chain dangling around his neck. He also has the requisite qualifications: the team of bodyguards, the background in trash collection, the criminal history, the mysterious stream of income and, of course, the infamous last name.
Gambino has written a novel about growing up in the Mafia which, if things go according to plan, will be made into a big-budget film, with shooting to begin in South Florida this June. He and his wife, Evelina, run Gambino Apparel, a clothing company whose flagship product is jeans with "bullet holes" in them. The slogan: "It's a crime not to wear them."
But ask him straight-up if he has any connection to the Mafia and he looks away and chuckles. "Mafia?" he asks in a heavy New York accent. "What Mafia?"
In the 1950s, a mobster named Carlo Gambino became the namesake of an organized-crime ring, or a Mafia "family" one of five such rings that held incredible power throughout New York City and, eventually, other parts of the country. In the 1980s, the Gambino crime syndicate gained notoriety when it was run by a flamboyant boss named John Gotti.
Back then, a Mafia connection was a powerful, intimidating thing. Members engaged in activities from betting and theft to assault, armed robbery, kidnapping, and murder. Association with such activity was either used for protection or else vociferously denied. These days, it can be a commodity as well. One need look only as far as a bookstore shelf or a Blockbuster aisle to see how the criminal system has been exploited and glamorized.
The nation is as Mafia-mad as it has ever been, and Christopher J. Gambino clearly stands to ride the phenomenon all the way to the bank.
The name alone conjures up Hollywood-sized ideas about organized crime, and the would-be author/clothing magnate could profit bigtime off that simple association though affiliates of the Gambino crime family have consistently accused him of being a phony whose name may not even be Gambino. He wouldn't be the first a man named Michael Pellegrino once passed himself off as a member of the Gambino crime family and got a $500,000 advance for a tell-all book (until he was exposed as a fraud and sued by Simon and Schuster). There's even a music group called the Gambino Family it's made up of black rappers.
In Christopher J. Gambino's case, a proven link to the Mob could invite attention from men with badges; a disproven one might jeopardize his burgeoning empire.
Gambino knows what you're thinking: "You pick up a book and go, 'Wow, this is by a Gambino!' Obviously you associate that with the Gambino crime family: 'Wow, holy shit, how does this particular guy know so much shit?' Obviously, he's got some type of knowledge or he's a hell of a fuckin' writer."
Exactly. So which is it?
The late-afternoon sun glints off a sleek black limousine as it pulls up to the Palm Beach County Convention Center on a Friday evening in April. Christopher J. Gambino has arrived. He is accompanied by a posse of friends/assistants all male, all but one dressed in black from head to toe. One of them, 38-year-old Justin Lordi, says they travel by limo all the time, "by necessity." Clean-shaven, with an easy smile, he's wearing khaki pants and a matching shirt.
"He's allowed he's the consigliere," Gambino says with a wink.
Gambino cuts an imposing figure as he strides through the lobby, chest out, confident. His black ensemble is complemented by a gold necklace bearing a rectangular charm that says "My Only Son." A couple of bracelets drip from his arms; his fingers glitter with rings. When he smiles, though, he looks downright boyish for 43.
Gambino is here tonight for a boxing match called the Friday the 13th Massacre. He has come at the request of friend Jeff Gibson, the promoter. Even Gambino isn't sure what the plan is; when he arrives and is escorted to front-row seats, Gibson informs him that he'll be called up into the ring at some point and be joined by 25 women who have come "from all over the country" to audition as models for Gambino jeans ("The Gambino Hit Squad models") and to vie for a part in the movie. Gambino will be asked to say a few words.
Is he prepared for that? The spotlight? Improvisational speeches? "If you mean, do I have experience with the FBI shining a spotlight in my face?" he grunts. "Yeah, I have a lot of experience with that."
The rest of the posse looks straight out of central casting for The Sopranos. There's Lin, a friend/security guard who describes himself as "just a big kid" who will nonetheless "rip out your heart and feed it to you" if you cross him. Friend/bodyguard Brian keeps quiet; his biceps seem to do enough talking. There's Jay, the newly appointed chief financial officer of Gambino Holdings, short, with glasses and a scent of cigarette smoke. Jay even has a couple of minions of his own, wearing black Gambino Apparel T-shirts emblazoned with the words Soldier and Made Man. Each of these guys acts subservient to Gambino, fetching bottled water (Gambino neither drinks nor smokes) or carrying boxes as directed. In fact, when asked casual questions about himself, Jay cuts off the conversation. "This is the Chris show," he says, "not the Jay show."
"Chris is a good boy," Giurleo says, sitting regally at ringside, legs crossed, hands in his lap. "When you've got a name like Gambino, people think a lot of things."
"If you're Italian and you have a family, you're automatically a Mafioso," Lordi leans over and chimes in. "It isn't true. We just keep the ones we love very close."
"We're never going to tell you where the bodies are!" Giurleo laughs.
Their association is totally innocent, they say. They just get together to help with the fashion line. "Can you imagine us all sitting around the table, gluing crystals onto jeans?" Lordi asks. "We'd be there going, 'Boy, if these were diamonds!' It was like arts and crafts!" That sends them all into a laughing fit. "We either take you out or we take you out to eat." More laughter.
The boxing match is getting ready to start. The lights dim; a crowd has filled the cavernous room. Gambino's crew checks out the ring girls; it's hard not to, since they're sashaying across the ring in high heels, rallying the audience, their butt cheeks hanging out of spandex hot pants.
"Ah, she's too short."
"Gotta be at least five-nine."
"I don't like tattoos."
"How fast can she work a shovel?" Ha ha ha ha! they all laugh.
Giurleo shakes his head, his eyes glued to an offending derriere. "I think that is so demeaning to women," he says, deadpan.
Somehow the talk turns to smart girls.
"Chelsea Clinton?" Lordi says. "Ugh. You'd kidnap her? Now, if we talk about the Bush twins I could see maybe putting them in the trunk."
While the conversation rolls merrily on, full of double-entendres and tantalizing crime references, Gambino has been getting up and down: greeting people who wave haltingly from $100 ringside seats, joining Gibson to make seemingly important introductions. Now he's working his thumbs furiously as he sends text messages on both his cell phone and Sidekick. Check it out he holds up the phone. The Barbi twins, Playboy models turned animal rights activists, are texting him. He's working with them to cross-promote their book and has befriended Shane Barbi's husband, Ken Wahl, star of the Mafia-themed TV show Wiseguy.
Gambino also claims to be friends with Jeb Bush and says Pope Benedict blessed his marriage. In recent months, he says, he has been approached by People magazine, Maxim, Vanity Fair ("I didn't even know what it was. They want to put me on the cover"), MTV ("They want me to do a cameo in a reality show"), and As Is ("It's a magazine that's all gangsters 50 Cent and those guys. I'm going to be the first white guy on the cover.").
All the attention is gratifying, but people ask him stupid questions. "'Did you ever kill anybody?' Come on. 'Do you know John Gotti?' I won't even talk about him."
"I'll tell you one thing," Giurleo offers, taking on a serious, measured tone like Marlon Brando doing Don Vito Corleone. "Our lives are not all they're cracked up to be. People read about the glamour and glitz, but you're either in it for good or you die."
The boxing gets under way. Gambino's crew hollers and cheers; they're sitting so close, they get sprinkled with sweat from the athletes. After a couple of amateur rounds, Gambino has still not been called up to the ring. But he has to split and get to Miami, where his wife is preparing for a big fashion show tomorrow. Before leaving, he sets up a table near the convention hall entrance and autographs a few books.
It's true everyone wants to know a Gambino. In just a few minutes, he is approached by a stream of models, one of the aspiring boxers, and even a uniformed cop, all eager to be photographed with Gambino.
"Oh, man," Gambino says after being snapped shaking the officer's hand. "I bet you never thought you'd see that!" His friends can't stop laughing.
Does the cop even realize who he's talking to?
"Yeah, he's a Gambino," the cop says. "He has a book out or something? Aw, come on, he's good now; he's clean. Hey, can you e-mail me that picture?"
In 1997, Gambino self-published a novel called My Only Son.It's the story of a character named Vinny Denucci whose father is Mafia boss Sonny Denucci. As much a coming-of-age novel as it is a thriller, the story follows Vinny from age 13, when he first starts to comprehend that his father is involved in criminal activity, to his mid-20s, when he's a bona fide killer and has taken over the Mafia syndicate. Throughout the book, Vinny struggles to reconcile his own morality with his father's violent expectations.
The book contains a standard disclaimer: "This is a work of fiction... Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, locales, or actual incidents, is entirely coincidental." But a MySpace page for My Only Son says, "He who has traveled could only have created a compelling style story of this genre." And the dedication page of the book reads, "This is dedicated to the memories of the past: however painful, they did serve a purpose."
Although the book is written primarily in the third person, it sometimes curiously slips into first. Gambino admits that he wrote the book using I and we and, during editing, changed the I's to "Vinny" and the we's to "Vinny and Sonny." Apparently, he missed a few.
"I know Vinny like the back of my hand," Gambino says expansively, hinting that he modeled the character on himself. The character of Sonny appears to be a composite of his father who died when Chris was 13 and the uncle who raised him after his father's death. But who those men are exactly and how they might have inside knowledge of the Mafia, he says he can't divulge. When pressed, he says he drew inspiration from an uncle named Joe who served time. Later, Gambino says the character might be based on a person who in real life is called Sonny.
No mainstream publication has reviewed My Only Son, but Gambino deserves if not a literary award at least some props. Like its characters, the book has few pretensions and moves along at a breezy clip. The plot includes enough murderous scenes and backstabbing mobsters to keep pages flipping. Although some of the scenes are melodramatic (on the day he gets out of prison, Vinny holds back tears when he looks at a photo of his mother) and some of the dialogue forced ("Well, that settles it. We are going whoring tonight"), readers willing to suspend their disbelief (and forgive grammatical errors) should be impressed by the author's earnestness. Writing a book requires discipline from anyone, never mind a first-time author with no college degree.
Vinny's emotions give the story its verisimilitude. Through him, we learn that the wiseguy can be vulnerable, scared, sympathetic. For example, in a scene in which his father forces him to shoot a deer, there's a convincing ruthlessness to Sonny's rough guidance of his son. "I wanted you to see how living things bleed to death," Sonny tells Vinny. "I wanted you to see how flesh splatters when it is shot. This is a lesson for you to remember and remember well."
"That really happened," Gambino says.
Other scenes like the description of Mafia induction rituals or details about the daily routine of picking up and dropping off money seem to provide glimpses into Mob life. In his author's note, Gambino hints that the book might hold "the solutions to some of New York's unexplained crimes."
The glimmer of authenticity is part of the reason that My Only Son is currently in development with Suzanne DeLaurentiis Productions, with the screenplay by Gambino himself. DeLaurentiis' most ambitious project to date was last year's Mafia-themed movie called 10th & Wolf,whose cast included Giovanni Ribisi, Dennis Hopper, and Tommy Lee. Juliette Harris, speaking on behalf of the producer, said that DeLaurentiis plans to turn Gambino's book into a motion picture.
"This is not going to be a little independent film," Harris says. She concedes that talks with stars can falter and that distribution problems can derail even the most ambitious plans, but her expectation is that Gambino's story will be coming soon to a theater near you. No, she isn't at liberty to disclose possible actors DeLaurentiis is talking to, but she says, "This is going to be a big-budget film with big names attached."
Gambino, ever ready to hype his story, adds: "There's no doubt in my mind this thing is gonna do a hundred million dollars."
He's in a hurry, he says. "I want it shot this year because I want it released next year. I want to be at the Oscars in 2009."
Harris says that Gambino's script was chosen for development by DeLaurentiis because of its "real authenticity and insight." She cites "his family, his firsthand knowledge." But certainly, part of the allure, she acknowledges, is the screenwriter's name: "It doesn't get much bigger than the Gambino family."
Inside a warehouse-style building in Miami's Wynwood District, breezy white curtains drape from the high ceiling to the concrete floor; behind them, workers have set up a catwalk. A hum builds as hundreds of people mill around booths to peep at jewelry and accessories on display. Stylish women in high heels click-clack across the room; men who wear hair gel sidle up to the bar. Designers beckon anyone with a press badge: "Would you like to see my collection?" For the lucky participants, deals will be made and careers will get launched. This is what Miami Fashion Week looks like.
Backstage, a petite blond with Rapunzel-like tresses quietly prepares the garments for 25 models who are about to show off her clothing line. Around her, makeup artists furiously brush girls' cheeks; event organizers yell into their walkie-talkies. Evelina Gambino, about to launch her first fashion show ever, is remarkably calm.
Christopher Gambino recalls how he met his wife: "About five years ago, I was advertising for models, and I was dealing with a bunch of European agencies. And I pulled up her picture and said, 'Would you get me this girl?' And I got her e-mail and phone number, and we had a conversation, and that was it after that. She was overseas I had her fly here to meet me. She stepped off the plane, and I took one look at her and said, 'God, I only asked for a model and... oh my God '" He looks gratefully toward heaven. "She's absolutely beautiful, and she's a very sweet, caring person."
In a Romanian accent, Evi explains her vision: "My inspiration is just to be sexy, elegant, something that is not revealing too much skin. Decent." What she designs depends on what materials she finds and likes, but her collection is a mix of "daily casual, sexy, hats and dresses, nice jackets and skirts, and mostly jeans."
Ah, yes, the bullet-hole jeans. Basically, they're stretch jeans with small holes "bullet holes" in the legs. Each hole is circled by a ring of Swarovski crystals.
"Long story short, I have a daughter," Christopher explains. "She had jeans at the house. I have a friend who owned a gun range. One day, I says, 'I got this crazy idea.' I put the jeans up on the pole there and shot some bullet holes in them. I put up a couple-page website, put some crystals on them. Next thing I know, I've got this jean thing going on." Gambino says that in addition to his brick-and-mortar Deerfield Beach store, boutiques in Plantation, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Japan all sell them. A website, www.gambinojapan.com, advertises a Gambino Jeans store in Tokyo.
A pair of tall, curvy girls is walking around the show wearing them.
"I love them they're extremely comfortable," one says.
"They're gangster," the other says.
The jeans are Christopher Gambino's creation, but everything else is Evi's: sweatsuits with the company's Sicilian dagger logo, tiny denim skirts, a wrap dress. Halter-tops have the word Gambino appliquéd in crystals. A baby line, Bambino Gambino, is in the works. That should come in handy Evi is four months pregnant.
A bodyguard is dispatched backstage to keep an eye on Evi while she dresses her models. The rest of Gambino's friends and family linger near a table, where he is signing books and giving away samples of Gambino brand wine, a new venture. Gambino olive oil is on the way next.
Backstage, Evi waits patiently for her moment. Almost every seat in the audience has been filled. Some 40 photographers are stacked on top of one another at the end of the runway.
The lights go down. A model steps onto the catwalk. She's wearing a fedora, a necktie, suspenders, and a pair of the bullet-hole jeans. Just before she breaks into a strut, she holds her fingers and thumb out in the shape of a gun and aims them up at the ceiling. The sound of gunshots blasts from the speakers POW! POW! POW!
Christopher J. Gambino used to have a friend named Roger Wittenberns. His website, www.rogerwittenberns.com, says Wittenberns is a "dynamic leader, successful entrepreneur, steadfast friend, and beloved father" who "resides with his children in a spectacular homestead in beautiful Fort Lauderdale, Florida." He "enjoys offshore racing in his 47' INXS race boat," and he "enjoys touring the country in his 1999 Lamborghini Diablo." Wittenberns has so much disposable income that in 2002, he spent $27,900 to buy a purple Mustang once owned by Eminem so that it could sit in the garage for four years. It was a gift for his daughter Courtney, then just 12 years old. (Once she got a driver's license, she traded up to a Mercedes and put the Mustang up for sale for $45,000.)
Wittenberns made his fortune by founding the Lady of America gyms, developing nearly 1,000 franchises, and then selling off the company to Miami-based Trivest Partners at a spectacular profit. But the restless gym entrepreneur couldn't stay in retirement long, and in 2006, he bought the Zoo Health Club on Fort Lauderdale Beach. When Wittenberns took over the gym, he inherited the staff that already worked there, including a part-time front-desk clerk named Travis Donald, who was also attending Broward Community College, studying to be a mortician. By customers' accounts, Donald was friendly and polite, even if he didn't look like the typical gym rat. He had a fondness for keeping his sunglasses on during work hours, wearing plaid pants, and dyeing his hair hot pink.
One day, Donald suggested to his boss that, hey, he had helped sell gym memberships and therefore deserved commission; Wittenberns argued that he was just a front-desk person and wasn't entitled to anything beyond his $8-an-hour pay. Donald left and did what any modern-day anti-authoritarian would do: went home and updated his website. On www.illfigure.com, he gave Wittenberns the honor of "Douchebag of the Week."
When Wittenberns saw it, he gave Donald a call. He said, "I'm going to send you something, and I want you to take a good look at it," Donald remembers him saying. Then Wittenberns e-mailed three images: a scan of the cover of Christopher Gambino's book, which shows a smoking gun; the acknowledgments page, on which Wittenberns is named; and the title page, personally autographed "To Roger" by Gambino.
Donald wondered if that was a death threat.
"Of course not," said Wittenberns, who acknowledged sending the e-mail. "Travis is a strange duck. He's a good kid all around, but I said, 'Listen, you can't wear the Army boots and do the whole skinhead routine at the front desk.' He didn't want to conform to health club attire, so we parted ways." Did he deserve a commission? "Commissions are for salespeople who actually sell memberships... not for people who walk up and down the beach and talk to people at bars. He is not owed one dime."
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."
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 ganglandnews.com, 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?
Who did you base the character of Sonny on in the book?
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."
He offers this: "[In the early '80s,] I was young and dumb and full of fun. I got involved with the wrong crowd. It cost me five years of my life in incarceration. I got in trouble under the RICO Act."
He's referring to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a 1970 legal invention that helped federal authorities put mobsters in jail. After the law was enacted, prosecutors could make a RICO argument against people who violated any two of 32 laws such as bribery, extortion, and gambling. The law also enabled prosecutors to go after criminal enterprises, meaning they could nail the high-ranking bosses who gave orders and not just the low-level individuals who carried out crimes.
"I was 17 years of age, and my best friend got caught doing some illegal activities," Gambino says. "He was facing a lot of time. He got pressured by the government. He decided to rat on everybody, and he ratted on me." The individual charges, Gambino claims, included dealing in stolen property, dealing narcotics, and bookmaking. This best friend, he says, was named Henry; there's a similar character a rat named Henry in the novel.
A thorough search of court records turns up no such RICO conviction for anyone named Christopher Gambino. (He says that's because he paid $7,000 to get it expunged unlikely, according to legal experts.)
After serving his sentence, Gambino moved to Florida, worked in sanitation, and got hurt while driving a recycling truck for the City of Deerfield Beach (all verified). It was then that he decided to write his book.
OK, but what about the years since? How did he go from making $350 a week to living in a house worth half-a-million dollars?
"I have partners in my apparel business," he says. He also cites a 10 percent interest in a construction company in Lake Worth, a 10 percent interest in a catering company in California, and residuals from his book. He says that he's received thousands of dollars over the years from film companies that have optioned his screenplay and that he once owned a chain of men's consignment shops but he can't remember the name of them.
And what about the bodyguards? What is he so scared of?
"I'm not afraid of nobody," he says. "When I do a fashion show, an event, or a book signing, I can't keep my eyes on the crowd. Now, I'm not famous, but I'm infamous, and people get stupid."
But what if his name weren't Christopher Gambino? What if his name were... Christopher Horton?
"Huh?" Gambino asks. Court documents show that a "Christopher Joseph Horton" had his name legally changed to "Christopher Joseph Gambino" in 1988. Records also show that a Christopher Joseph Horton II had his name changed to Christopher Joseph Gambino II in 1998 and yes, our Gambino has a son named Christopher Joseph. He gives him a shoutout on the dedication page of his book.
Gambino swears that neither he nor his son ever went by the name Horton. (He says his son now lives in Staten Island but won't give out his contact information, though there's a Christopher Horton/Gambino II in prison in Moore Haven, Florida.)
"Maybe it's this other banana." Gambino points to the website of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that shows an outstanding warrant for another gentleman who goes by the name Christopher Gambino, also six-foot-one, with the middle initial J. But this guy has blond hair and hazel eyes, and he also goes by another interesting alias: Christopher Corleone.
There's a heroin trafficking charge also related to a Christopher Gambino. "This fucker's got me pissed off now," Gambino says. "I'll admit to something I did." Because of his efforts to take his company public, Gambino says, "Call the SEC! I've had to reveal everything that I've done. I have never, ever in my entire life seen one fuckin' ounce of heroin, and I don't want to be known as a heroin dealer." (A search of Securities and Exchange Commission filings turned up little financial information and none on Gambino's criminal record.)
One more thing: Is he any relation to Rosario (AKA Sal or Sonny), Giuseppe (Joe), and Giovanni (John) Gambino the brothers who, according to Capeci's Ganglandnews, were sons of Tomasso Gambino, Carlo's second cousin? It might make sense if John were Christopher's dad and Sonny and Joe were his uncles...
No, Gambino says unequivocally. "Do you know how many Gambinos there are?" he asks. Well, there are 150 in the online White Pages for Florida; for New York, listings top out at 300. "There are 1,200 in the state of Florida," Gambino asserts. "They did a survey probably about three years ago there's a World Book of Gambinos in the United States. There's 6,500."
None of this is making much sense. If Christopher's not a real Gambino, then why would he draw so much attention to himself?
"Listen, if I disrespected [the Gambino] name, you and I would not be talking right now," he points out. "We would not be having this conversation." Maybe he'd be getting cozy with a cinder block at the bottom of the Long Island Sound.
Well, then, if he is indeed a Gambino with a crime family connection, why doesn't he explain that connection and reap the benefits of authenticity?
He says that would put him in a difficult position with his family members. And besides, there's the law of omerta the Mafia code of silence. "You belong to an honored society," he says. "You keep your mouth shut, and you go to the grave with who you are.
"The less you tell people, the more mystery you are, the better it is. Real wiseguys stay quiet."
In the past few weeks, Gambino has had his book updated, copyedited, and re-printed. He took Wittenberns' name out of the acknowledgments page and replaced it with Travis Donald's even though the two have never met.
"I couldn't plan anything like this given a million years or dollars," Donald says. He's lost interest in feuding with his old boss and taken Wittenberns' picture off his website. Still, he was happy to receive his copy of My Only Son in the mail. "It was neat seeing my name on the same page as Heidi Fleiss and Frank Sinatra Jr."
Gambino suggests that Donald now turn around and e-mail Wittenberns a copy.
"Listen," he says, summing things up, "I'm a guy who allegedly had ties to organized crime and turned his life around." He goes off on a heartfelt monologue about young felons who carry that tag with them for the rest of their lives, have trouble getting jobs, and end up back in jail. "I actually truly want to be a role model for these people when they do get out," Gambino says. "I'm a convicted felon [who can show by example] that, if you put your mind to it, you can beat the system.
"People only want to know the scandals," he laments. "'Hide the bodies over here' and all that stuff. I can't understand! I'd rather tell people a good love story."
Christopher J. Gambino hopes to publish his second novel, A Passionate Kiss, sometime this summer.