Throughout the late 70s and into early 1980, Joe and Rosario Gambino of the infamous Cherry Hill Gambinos had endured numerous rumors related to their alleged involvement in various nefarious activities.
In January 1981, just two months before Joe was set to go to trial, anonymous DEA sources started a blockbuster rumor about the Gambino brothers.
On October 24, 1980, after leaving a Philadelphia port, a U.S. cargo ship by the name of S.S. Poet vanished in the high seas. It was headed to Egypt with a 13,000-ton shipment of corn. This happened towards the end of the U.S.-Iran hostage crisis where 52 American diplomats and citizens had been held hostage in Iran since November 1979.
When the S.S. Poet couldn’t be found after a massive search at sea, DEA officials “leaked” information exclusively to the New Jersey Courier Post that the 522-foot cargo ship had been hijacked by the Gambino brothers (along with two well-known Middle Eastern drug smugglers) in an attempt to smuggle Middle Eastern heroin out of Iran back to the U.S.
The information released included classified cables between Scotland Yard and various U.S. federal agencies alleging that Joe and Rosario were the “suspected masterminds” of the hijacking plot which was conceived as a way to replace the Gambino brothers’ heroin that had been seized in Milan, Italy earlier in 1980.
When questioned by the newspaper about the validity of the high seas piracy, an NTSB spokesman said, “Incredible? Yes. Impossible? No. It’s as good a conclusion as any of us has.” However, the day after the information was leaked, DEA officials went into overdrive claiming that the investigation had been closed in December 1980 after their “London source” had been found “unreliable”.
A few days later, the DEA spokesman changed his story, telling news media that the investigation wasn’t actually closed until January 19, 1981, the day after the story was leaked to the Courier Post.
The spokesman declined to provide any further details, and the incident and accusations were never brought up again.
By the way, the S.S. Poet was believed to have been lost at sea during a massive storm in its path that generated winds between 35 and 50 knots and waves 12 to 22 feet high. 34 men lost their lives on October 25, 1980.