Mafia Inc.: The Long, Bloody Reign of Canada's Sicilian Clan - André Cédilot, André Noël (2011)


“YOU HAVE NO IDEA what ‘Mafia’ means?” the president of the Commission d’enquête sur le crime organisé (CECO, the Quebec Police Commission hearings into organized crime) asked Pietro Sciara in November 1975, as part of the commission’s investigation into the criminal activities of Montreal’s Cotroni organization. “No,” Sciara replied matter-of-factly.

The Sicilian mobster made that denial despite incontrovertible evidence, provided by electronic surveillance, that he had played a crucial role some years earlier in the conflict between Paolo Violi, then the number two man in the Montreal Mafia, and one Nicolò Rizzuto. Well aware that he had incriminated himself on tape, Sciara preferred to seek the refuge of omertà, the famous code of silence. Three months later, in February 1976, he was coldly gunned down as he left a movie theatre. The Mafioso had paid with his life for failing to support his Sicilian compatriots.

It was thanks to the televised CECO hearings that people in Quebec and the rest of Canada first learned about Sicilian Mafiosi—men like Nicolò Rizzuto, Domenico Manno, Giuseppe LoPresti and Leonardo Caruana. Quebecers knew, of course, how the Cotroni brothers, Vincenzo and Frank, had ruled the Montreal underworld for decades; their deeds often made the front pages. Testimonies at the CECO, however, revealed that the Montreal “family” in fact comprised not one but two distinct clans: the Calabrians, led by Vincenzo “Vic” Cotroni, who were from Italy’s mainland, and the Sicilians, who had emigrated from the towns of Siculiana and Cattolica Eraclea, in the province of Agrigento. They had come to Canada between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s, and their organization had branches in South America and the United States.

No criminal charges were laid as a result of the CECO investigation. But its explosive revelations were devastating for the Calabrian clan; the police wiretaps and bugs had brought to light the serious rifts between Montreal’s Calabrian and Sicilian Mafiosi. The resulting strife would lead to a bloody denouement, with a series of settlings of accounts that culminated in January 1978 with the dramatic execution of Paolo Violi. A changing of the guard had taken place within the Montreal Mafia, heralding a new era: the reign of the Rizzuto family.

The structure and operations of organized criminal activity in Montreal have changed a great deal since the 1940s, a time when the city teemed with brothels, gambling houses and dives, under the complacent eyes of the municipal authorities. Beginning in the 1950s, American mobsters moved in and took over the action. With Carmine Galante, an influential member of the infamous Bonanno family of New York, at its helm, the Montreal Mafia truly began to organize. They stepped up their “supervision” of the gambling joints and institutionalized that protection racket in every nightclub and restaurant. When the American gangsters began to focus specifically on heroin trafficking, Galante seized the strategic importance of Montreal: it was close to New York, with extensive port facilities that made it a perfect hub linking Europe with the major cities of the Eastern Seaboard. The Cotroni clan, already well entrenched, would serve as the bridgehead between the drug producers of Corsica and Marseilles and the huge market of users in New York, making Montreal one of the world’s most important waypoints for narcotics at the time. But the Sicilians in the shadow of the Cotroni clan, including Nicolò Rizzuto and the members of the Cuntrera-Caruana family, also grasped the magnitude of this lucrative racket—and they were not about to sit by and let the Calabrians keep the biggest piece of the action to themselves.

After the turmoil of the 1970s and a period of forced exile in Venezuela, the Rizzutos, father Nicolò and son Vito, returned to Montreal in the early 1980s. From then on, under their command, the Montreal Mafia began a radical, unforeseen expansion. Under the aegis of Vito Rizzuto, with the benefit of his father’s experience and advice, criminal activity in the city was organized like a business. Before long, large-scale drug trafficking would propel the Sicilian organization to the top of the underworld pyramid and a leading role on the mob scene in Canada and around the world. Wielding charisma and possessed of considerable skills as a mediator, Vito Rizzuto quickly won the unanimous backing of those around him and the respect of the bosses of other local criminal organizations. He surrounded himself with informed advisers and criminals, and the organization achieved complete control over its territory.

Men come and go, but institutions and their structures abide. This has been the key to the strength and renown of Cosa Nostra for more than a century—and it is doubtless true of the Rizzuto organization. Deploying its organizational model inspired by the Sicilian crime families, over the years the family implemented a system of alliances among the dozen or so clans making up the Montreal Mafia, and in so doing has consolidated its authority and made police infiltration difficult.

The Rizzuto organization comprises three tiers of authority. At the top is what might be termed the senior executive: the Mannos, Rendas and Rizzutos, linked by blood ties as well as marriage. The family’s broad criminal strategies are mapped out at this level. Marital connections also extend to the second level of the organization: the lieutenants, some of whose children are married to those of the top-level bosses. From this level, all criminal operations are coordinated and carried out. The third level comprises a wide array of associates, not necessarily all of Italian origin, but who have expertise in a particular sphere of activity, either criminal or legal. Lawyers, financiers and front men of all stripes place their know-how in the service of the organization, helping it launder the staggering amounts of money generated by criminal activities.

It is the story of Vito Rizzuto and members of his family that journalists André Cédilot and André Noël recount in these pages. They chronicle the family’s beginnings as country wardens in the Sicilian town of their birth, through to their arrival in Canada and their rise within the ranks of the Canadian Mafia. And finally they chronicle the family’s decline, beginning in 2004 with the arrest of Vito Rizzuto, and continuing through the historic police roundup of November 22, 2006, which heralded the end of the Rizzuto family’s dynastic rule over the Montreal underworld.

Pierre de Champlain,
author of Mobsters, Gangsters and Men of Honour:
Cracking the Mafia Code