Tracking The Mob In Cherry Hill

Posted: July 20, 1986

As far back as 1945, when a gang of armed men burst into the former Casablanca nightclub and turned the place upside down in search of the reputed racketeer, Marco Reginelli, the area now known as Cherry Hill appealed to mobsters.

The history of the township includes episodes of mob violence that seem to come right out of gangster movies.

There was the time in 1965 when real estate developer Frank Adamucci was gunned down in the lobby of the Rickshaw Inn as customers milled about. And there was the unsolved murder in 1972 of a clerk at the Country Squire Motel - also believed by police to be a mob hit.

Whether organized crime still thrives in the township, though, is a matter of debate.

In 1983, President Reagan formed a commission to study the patterns of organized crime in this country, and in April, the panel released its findings.

In a brief reference, the report said the Cherry Hill area continued to be a center of activity for the Sicilian Mafia, or La Cosa Nostra, meaning, loosely translated from Italian, our thing.

The mention of Cherry Hill refers not only to the township, but also to the area surrounding it. Cherry Hill is but a portion of the mob scene in the area, which includes the home of a reputed mob leader in Pennsauken, a restaurant in Voorhees hit by a suspected mob-related arson, alleged mob residences in Delran and purported hangouts in Gloucester Township.

However, because members of the Gambino crime family (Until 1976, Carlo Gambino was the reputed head of the family, the largest of New York City's five organized-crime families, and was believed to be the model for the main character in The Godfather) lived in Cherry Hill Township during the 1970s and 1980s, the township gained a reputation as a center of mob activity.

That reputation, and the fact that it has persisted, irks Richard Tomlinson. He says Cherry Hill is no longer a center for the mob.

Tomlinson should know.

Since the early 1970s, when members of the Gambino crime family began to settle in Cherry Hill, Tomlinson has tracked the movements of mob figures in the township.

He has sat outside their homes late at night and inspected their bodies in the morgue. He has memorized the names of their children and wives, the colors and models of their cars.

Tomlinson is an investigator for the Cherry Hill Township Police Department's Special Investigations Unit - the only suburban police unit in South Jersey formed primarily to investigate organized crime.

Cherry Hill police got into the business by necessity.

Since the days when Reginelli reputedly controlled the numbers rackets in South Jersey, the township occasionally has been home to mob figures. And although the mobsters were no doubt reluctant to bring their violent activities to their doorsteps, some of it naturally came with the territory. With the Gambino crime family in the 1970s came a sharp increase in mob- related violence. The township Police Department found itself handicapped.

In 1972, the Special Investigations Unit was set up. Between 1978 and 1983, when mob-related violence was at its peak, it was Tomlinson who was called to investigate suspicious fires at some local pizza parlors suspected of being connected to the mob or to help identify a corpse stuffed into a car trunk.

Recently, with local leaders of the Gambino crime family dead, living elsewhere or serving time in jail, things are slower for the investigator, he said. But Cherry Hill has not rid itself of the threat of organized crime.

"It's like General Motors - if two or three of the directors die, that doesn't mean the company is going to fold," said Lt. Arthur Saul, an investigator for the Delran Police Department who has studied the activities of the Gambino crime family. "The things that attracted (the Gambinos) are still here."

Tomlinson basically agreed. "We've reduced (the Gambinos') influence here," he said. "But there's always somebody around to fill (their) shoes."


Tomlinson's office seems far removed from the violent world of mob crime - unless one looks on the wall behind his desk. There is a gruesome photograph of Salvatore Testa, whose body was found on a roadside in Gloucester Township on Sept. 14, 1984. Testa, 28, of Philadelphia, was a close ally of Nicodemo ''Little Nicky" Scarfo, the reputed head of organized crime in Philadelphia and Atlantic City.

Fourteen years ago, Tomlinson, now 42, was a detective for the township police department before he was appointed to start the organized-crime unit. His interest in the subject had already been sparked by a series of unexplained murders.

For instance, William Baglivo, 42, of Camden, a clerk at the Country Squire Motel on Route 70, was found shot to death in the motel's rear office on July 29, 1972. Tomlinson said an investigation revealed that Baglivo owed a considerable amount of money to mob loan sharks.

"We found that with these kinds of murders, we were lacking intelligence about these individuals involved," said Lt. William Moffett, 37, now head of the unit.

At the time, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the New Jersey State Police and the Camden County Prosecutor's Office were in charge of organized- crime investigations. The Cherry Hill Police Department rarely participated.

"Here we were relying on outside agencies to come in and fill us in about things going on in our own town," Moffett said. "The unit was formed because we felt we should get on top of things."

Tomlinson, who measures his words carefully and talks in the dry tone of a detective who has seen it all, has gained most of his knowledge of the workings of organized crime through experience. "The real nuts and bolts of it is really participation," said his supervisor, Moffett. "It's the experience that makes the difference."

Relative to Philadelphia, New York and Atlantic City, Cherry Hill has never been a big center of mob activity. However, mob figures have occasionally set up their homes and businesses in the township.

(Many families with the same surnames as reputed mob figures but who are in no way involved in mob activities also live in the area. Law enforcement officials use the Gambino name to loosely describe a confederation of organized-crime associates and crime members - some related by blood and some named Gambino, but not all carrying that name - who followed the late Carlo Gambino or John Gotti, the reputed current head of the crime family.)

Before the 1970s, organized crime in South Jersey took directions from the Angelo Bruno crime family in Philadelphia and, before that, from Reginelli in Camden, according to law enforcement officials.

Its main activities were loan sharking, illegal gambling and labor racketeering. Mob figures had been attracted to South Jersey since the 1940s

because of its proximity to Philadelphia and major highways to New York and Atlantic City, periods of booming construction and the high number of establishments with liquor licenses, according to law-enforcement officials. No doubt, such attractions as the race track, and even the resort life at the shore, enhanced the area's appeal.

In its 407-page report, the President's Commission on Organized Crime said in April, "Among the most important new developments in our understanding of organized crime is the disclosure that an element of the Sicilian La Cosa Nostra is operating in the United States.

"The number of Sicilian La Cosa Nostra members in this country is unclear," the report said. "However, they are believed to be concentrated

mainly in the northeastern U.S., particularly in New York City and around Cherry Hill and Sayreville, N.J."

The members of the Gambino crime family belong to the Sicilian faction of the Mafia and specialize in drug trafficking, according to Tomlinson.

In the late 1970s, reputed local members of the crime family moved from Delran to Cherry Hill. They included Giuseppe and Rosario Gambino, brothers, and their brother-in-law Erasmo Gambino, all of whom settled in the Northwoods section of Cherry Hill, according to law-enforcement officials.

Reputed Bruno family member Raymond "Long John" Martorano lived only a few blocks away, and other members of the Bruno crime family reputedly lived in Cherry Hill.

Law-enforcement officials believe that the Gambinos struck a deal with the Bruno crime family to operate in South Jersey. Carlo Gambino was a close friend of Bruno's.

According to law-enforcement officials, Bruno acknowledged that he met with Carlo Gambino's successor, Paul Castellano, at the former Valentino's restaurant on Haddonfield Road in 1978 to discuss the future of the Gambino crime family in South Jersey.

The Gambinos were given free rein to absorb lucrative drug markets in South Jersey, the officials said.

Both Tomlinson and Moffett said members of the Gambino crime family were attracted to Cherry Hill for many of the same reasons that lawyers, doctors and business executives have been drawn to the area.

"They like the affluence," Moffett said. "They send their kids to Catholic schools. They are regular community members. You talk to their neighbors and they say they're great."

However, they said the Gambino crime family was also attracted to Cherry Hill because of its proximity to major highways to New York and Atlantic City, a good location for drug trafficking.

Saul, the investigator for the Delran Police Department who has studied the movements of the Gambino crime family, had other explanations. "Look at the runaway growth, the potential for labor infiltration, business protection and infiltration of (construction) labor unions," he said.

The Gambino crime family did little business in Cherry Hill itself, Tomlinson said. However, it sometimes set up pizza shops, a common mob method for laundering money, he said, although it was never proved that the Gambinos were using them for that purpose.

And with the crime family's presence came more violence, Moffett said. ''The level of violence they used was greater than in the past," he said.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Cherry Hill organized-crime unit was called to investigate a number of crimes that police have linked to the Gambino crime family or its associates:

* In January 1982, the body of Pietro Inzerillo Jr., 32, was found in the trunk of a car in the parking lot of a Mount Laurel hotel. Law-enforcement officials identified Inzerillo as a Gambino crime associate. The murder was never solved.

* The body of Salvatore Sollena, 34, was found in the trunk of a car in a parking lot on the Collingswood Circle on Nov. 10, 1983. A few days later,

Matteo Sollena, 37, his brother, was found in Evesham in the trunk of a car left on the roadside. Both murders remain unsolved.

* Valentino's restaurant, owned by Giuseppe and Rosario Gambino, burned in 1982. The day before the fire, Franchin's, a disco and restaurant, located a short distance away at the Ellisburg Circle, was damaged in a fire. Franchin's owner has not been connected to the mob. Both fires were believed to be mob-related arsons, although no one was charged with the crimes.

* Rudy V's Pizza in the Ellisburg Shopping Center, owned by Rosario and Erasmo Gambino; Rocco's Pizza on Church Road; Scotto's Pizza in the Cherry Hill Mall, and Sbarro's in the Echelon Mall were all either destroyed or burned in fires between 1978 and 1983. They were all suspected arsons, and the Gambino crime family, though never charged, was believed to be involved in at least two of the fires, according to police.

* A woman was suspected of helping launder mob money through a Cherry Hill bank in 1978. With the help of information provided by the organized-crime unit's investigation, the FBI filed federal charges against the woman.

Reminders of that era still exist. Valentino's stands on Haddonfield Road, its windows boarded up. For-sale signs still stand on the lawns of some former Gambino residences.

However, the Gambino crime family is mostly gone. Rosario and Erasmo Gambino are both serving time in prison; they were convicted in October 1984 of marketing wholesale quantities of heroin in South Jersey. Giuseppe Gambino, convicted in absentia of heroin trafficking in Italy, has moved back to New York.

"Their legitimate businesses have closed," Tomlinson said. "You don't see them pursuing any others in the area."

According to Moffett, organized-crime activity in Cherry Hill has dropped significantly. "I don't know of any businesses (the mob) controls right now," he said.

Today, Tomlinson, who supervises two undercover agents, spends less time on the streets.

With the departure of the Gambino crime family, he spends more time looking into problems - drug trafficking, prostitution and illegal gambling - that may be tied to organized crime.

However, Tomlinson's job is also preventive, and, in that sense, his work on organized crime is never through.

As Saul of Delran put it: "The things that attracted the Gambinos are still here."

"Our best weapon in dealing with organized crime," Moffett said, "is to do a good, thorough investigation and background check on incoming licenses for businesses and find out who's behind the curtain."

The unit can recommend that the Township Council deny approval for a liquor license and thus prevent suspected mob figures from establishing roots in the area.

In 1978, for instance, the Township Council withdrew an amusement license for the Late Show, a Route 70 dinner club owned by Rosario Gambino, after the unit investigated Gambino's background.

The unit is hampered because, although its members often relay information to the FBI, they do not have access to many of the federal agency's files, Moffett said. It also is not free to follow a lead into other municipalities. ''Involvement in drugs is difficult for us, as a small municipal department, to control because you're talking an international operation," Tomlinson said.

The Sicilian Mafia is not the unit's only concern. Groups such as the so- called Black Mafia have also been known to operate in the area.

Tomlinson attributed to the Black Mafia the 1973 gangland-style murders of Major B. Coxson and three members of his family at their home in Cherry Hill. Coxson was a wealthy business executive and ex-convict and was reputedly killed over debts and narcotics dealings, police said at the time.

"When we talk organized crime, we're not just talking about the Black Mafia or the Gambinos," Tomlinson added. "It could be Chinese, Hispanics, anyone organized where two or three people or more get together to conspire to commit a series of crimes."

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