He suffered from various health conditions and the exact cause of death is still uncertain. The 77-year-old mobster was born in Palermo, Sicily and became a made member of the Gambino family back in 1975. He would rise through the ranks of the mafia becoming a captain and the head of the Cosa Nostra families Sicilian faction known as the Cherry Hill Gambinos. His family was Sicilian Mafiosi who came to New York back in 1964 and were related to former boss Carlo Gambino. John along with his brothers Joseph Gambino and Rosario Gambino used their ties in Sicily to become prolific narcotics traffickers according to authorities.
The Gambinos formed a transatlantic drug operation with a consortium of drug traffickers from the Sicilian Mafia including the Inzerillo clan despite the mob families ban on drug dealing. Former Italian magistrate Giovanni Falcone was assigned back in 1980 to investigate drug trafficking and he estimated the Inzerillo-Gambino-Spatola network was smuggling more than $600 million worth into the United States per year by the late 1970s. By the 1980s the network had become a target for authorities both in Italy and the United States. The arrest of an Italian banker who handled the lucrative proceeds from the drug operation for the mafia lead to an indictment of the Inzerillo-Spatola-Gambino network.
John was convicted of drug trafficking in Palermo and sentenced to six and a half years behind bars in 1980. But he would remain a free man after the United States refused to agree with the Italians request for extradition. Charges were filed against the Gambino brothers in relation to a New Jersey drug case in 1984 which resulted in Rosario being convicted and sentenced to 45 years in prison but John and Joe were acquitted. But the Italian and US law enforcement continued their crackdown on the Gambino-Inzerillo network with Operation Iron Tower in 1988. Prosecutors charged over 200 defendants from the U.S. and Italy with drug trafficking charges including Joe Gambino. John was able to escape charges but was noted in a court affidavit as the current leader of the Brooklyn based Sicilian faction of the Gambino family.
In the next few years, the Joe and John faced various indictments in the U.S. because of their ties to organized crime and drug trafficking. The feds with the help of mafia turncoats Sammy Gravano from the NY mafia and Francesco Marino Mannoia from the Italian mafia charged the brothers with narcotics and racketeering violations. After a failed attempt to flee the country while out on bail both Joe and John agreed to plead guilty to racketeering charges stemming from activity which had taken place between 1975 and 1992 and were both sent to prison. John was released from prison in 2005 after surviving a stroke, heart attacks, and open-heart surgery. He would become a member of a Gambino family ruling panel in 2008 along with fellow wiseguys Daniel Marino and Bartolomeo Vernace after the feds decapitated the families hierarchy with Operation Old Bridge.
A new leadership group which includes his nephew Francesco “Frank” Calì has taken control but he continued to be a highly respected senior member of the family although it was unclear how involved he actually was of late due to his health problems.