John Martino was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1910. In his youth he got into trouble with the police as a result of his involvement in illegal gambling.
In 1935 Martino moved to Miami. Soon afterwards he was arrested for running a lottery. During the Second World War Martino moved to Long Island and in 1943 he was arrested for loan sharking.
Over the next few years Martino learned a great deal about electronics and became a specialist in gambling machines. This included developing devices that increased the profits of casino owners.
In 1956 Martino was invited by Alan Roth to do some work in Cuba. Roth was manager of the Deauville Casino in Havana, owned by Santos Trafficante. Over the next three years Martino made a series of extended trips to the island. A fellow worker at the casino was a man called Louis McWillie, a close friend of Jack Ruby.
In the summer of 1959 Martino was once again in Cuba. While in the Deauville Casino he made critical comments about Fidel Castro, the new leader of the country. He was overheard by a Castro supporter who reported him to the authorities. On 29th July, 1959, Martino was arrested and charged with trying to help people associated with Fulgencio Batista to escape from the island. Martino was held in prison for the next three years and was not released until October, 1962. With the help of Nathaniel Weyl, the right-wing journalist, Martino produced a book about his experiences, I Was Castro's Prisoner.
Martino returned to the United States where he became involved in anti-Castro activities in Miami. Others involved with him included a former United States Ambassador, William Pawley, Gerry P. Hemming, Felipe Vidal Santiago, Eddie Bayo and Frank Sturgis.
In the winter of 1962 Eddie Bayo claimed that two officers in the Red Army based in Cuba wanted to defect to the United States. Bayo added that these men wanted to pass on details about atomic warheads and missiles that were still in Cuba despite the agreement that followed the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Bayo had originally fought with Fidel Castro against Fulgencio Batista. He disagreed with Castro's policies after he gained power and moved to Miami and helped establish Alpha 66. His story was eventually taken up by several members of the anti-Castro community. William Pawley became convinced that it was vitally important to help get these Soviet officers out of Cuba. To help this happen he contacted James Eastland, the chairman of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee about this matter.
William Pawley also contacted Ted Shackley, head of the CIA's JM WAVE station in Miami. Shackley decided to help Pawley organize what became known as Operation Tilt. He also assigned Rip Robertson, a fellow member of the CIA in Miami, to help with the operation. David Sanchez Morales, another CIA agent, also became involved in this attempt to bring out these two Soviet officers.
In June, 1963, a small group, including Martino, William Pawley, Eddie Bayo, Rip Robertson and Richard Billings, a journalist working for Life Magazine, secretly arrived in Cuba. They were unsuccessful in their attempts to find these Soviet officers and they were forced to return to Miami. Bayo remained behind and it was rumoured that he had been captured and executed. However, his death was never reported in the Cuban press.
In an article published in January, 1964, Martino claimed in had important information about the death of John F. Kennedy. He argued that in 1963 Fidel Castro had discovered an American plot to overthrow his government. It was therefore decided to retaliate by organizing the assassination of Kennedy. Martino and Nathaniel Weyl both claimed that Lee Harvey Oswald had been in Cuba in 1963 and had been recruited by Cuban intelligence to kill Kennedy.
Martino told his friend, Fred Claasen, that he was not telling the truth about the Cubans being behind the assassination of Kennedy. He admitted that he had been involved in the conspiracy by acting as a courier delivering money. He also told the same story to his wife Florence Martino.
Shortly before his death in 1975 Martino confessed to a Miami Newsday reporter, John Cummings, that he had been guilty of spreading false stories implicating Lee Harvey Oswald in the assassination. He claimed that two of the gunmen were Cuban exiles. It is believed the two men were Herminio Diaz Garcia and Virgilio Gonzalez. Cummings added: "He told me he'd been part of the assassination of Kennedy. He wasn't in Dallas pulling a trigger, but he was involved. He implied that his role was delivering money, facilitating things.... He asked me not to write it while he was alive."
Fred Claasen also told the House Select Committee on Assassinations what he knew about Martino's involvement in the case. Florence Martino at first refused to corroborate the story. However, in 1994 she told Anthony Summers that her husband said to her on the morning of 22nd November, 1963: "Flo, they're going to kill him (Kennedy). They're going to kill him when he gets to Texas."