Mafia Inc.: The Long, Bloody Reign of Canada's Sicilian Clan - André Cédilot, André Noël (2011)
Chapter 13. MAFIA INC.
DESPITE HIS ORGANIZATION’S setbacks in Ontario, as the clock ticked over into a new century Vito Rizzuto remained a picture of easygoing confidence. Whatever troubles he was facing, they seemed not to affect him. He stood head and shoulders above most underworld figures in Montreal, literally and figuratively, his svelte frame contrasting favourably with the corpulent form of many a Mafioso and plenty of criminal bikers. Though generally diffident, he clearly enjoyed conversation—provided, of course, that he trusted the person to whom he was speaking. When annoyed, however, he might easily adopt a gaze as glacially hostile as the steel barrel of a revolver and speak in a sepulchral tone such that one had to listen carefully to catch everything he said. All in all, though, the image he projected was one of calm and efficiency.
The days following his fifty-fifth birthday, in February 2001, found him in a rare talkative mood. Then at the height of his power, holding court at La Cantina, the Saint-Laurent Boulevard restaurant owned by his friend Federico del Peschio, Vito spoke with pride about the wealth his family had accumulated since arriving in Montreal in 1954. He told his dozen or so tablemates how he had come to Canada the same year as Senator Pietro Rizzuto, who like him was a native of Cattolica Eraclea, Sicily. They belonged to two very different branches of the Rizzuto family tree and were thus only distantly related. However, Vito clearly viewed himself as being on the same level as the Liberal Senator, who had died three years earlier. In fact, he said, among the residents of their hometown, his family had an even more prestigious reputation than did Pietro Rizzuto’s. Ever the night owl, Vito followed up that meal, which had been washed down with plenty of wine, with more drinks at a bar downtown.
He adhered to his morning routine, rarely rising before ten or eleven. His wife, Giovanna, would check stock prices on the computer, while Vito began his day with a scan of the latest items posted to ganglandnews.com, a site devoted to the U.S. Mafia run by veteran crime reporter Jerry Capeci, author of the best-selling Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia. Vito was hardly an Internet whiz, but he was curious to see what Capeci had to say about the Bonannos of New York.
Since taking over as boss, Joe Massino had stopped the crime family’s downward slide and disciplined its troops. Only a few years before, his outfit had been seen as the ugly duckling among New York’s criminal organizations, but by the 2000s, it had become the most dynamic of the Five Families. The Bonannos had even regained their seat on the Commission. FBI investigations were starting to take their toll, however, with arrests and indictments constantly making the news. On November 8, 1999, Montreal’s La Presse had reported that the FBI suspected Vito Rizzuto of involvement in the three capos massacre, perpetrated eighteen years earlier on Massino’s orders. Rizzuto had believed that the Americans would never amass sufficient evidence to bring formal charges against him. He was wrong.
Vito usually spent Thursdays at the Consenza Social Club, a café wedged between a cheese shop and a tanning salon in a small strip mall on Saint-Léonard’s Jarry Street. Officially, the place was open to anyone, but an unfamiliar customer could expect to be greeted with an icy silence from the regulars, their dark stares immediately sending the message that the stranger would be best to sample the espresso at another establishment. Cosenza is one of the provinces of Calabria, on the toe of the Italian boot. Even with the spelling mistake, it was an odd name for the headquarters of Montreal’s Sicilian Mafia. Regardless, Vito and his father, Nicolò, felt comfortable there. If they felt nostalgic, they could cast a glance at the picture of Cattolica Eraclea pinned to one wall. “The Cos,” as regulars referred to it, was where Vito would go to meet his lieutenants, like Francesco Arcadi, and seek advice from his father or from Paolo Renda, considered the family’s consigliere.
Every business manager has to learn to live with stress. The postulate is all the more imperative when the business is crime. At any time, the head office of Mafia Inc. could become the target of adversaries looking to pick a fight. Vito could ill afford to ignore such risks that came with the territory. He was to be reminded of this on Friday, July 13, 2001.
That day, officers with the SQ arrested two gangsters who were headed for the Consenza, intent on kidnapping Francesco Arcadi and another customer, forty-two-year-old Frank Martorana, whose specialty was rolling back vehicle odometers. Such abductions, of course, were not especially atypical in criminal circles, but there was an unusual aspect to this case: the man who had ordered the kidnapping of the Rizzuto associates was none other than Christian Deschênes, who had been a close collaborator of Vito’s for many years. In friendlier days, the Montreal godfather had attended the baptism of one of Deschênes’s sons. He had also helped him import tonnes of hashish.
Deschênes, aged forty-four and a resident of Lorraine, a suburb north of Montreal, was eager to recover $800,000 that Arcadi and Martorana had owed him for a decade. His partner in the kidnapping plot was a cousin of his spouse: Denis-Rolland Girouard, aged fifty, from the ski resort town of Saint-Sauveur, in the Laurentians.
Deschênes had served a lengthy prison term following the 1992 seizure of almost four thousand kilos of Colombian cocaine on an abandoned runway deep in Quebec’s boreal forest north of Montreal (see Chapter 7). By all accounts, he had behaved well during his years in jail. A psychologist who assessed him noted that he was of above-average intelligence and displayed advanced capacity for introspection. The National Parole Board, meanwhile, opined that Deschênes seemed to have “turned a corner in his criminal life” and took him at his word when he said he planned to walk the straight and narrow.
As soon as he was transferred to a halfway house in October 2000, Deschênes began thinking about putting together enough money to buy, import and resell another cargo of drugs. Four months later, on a sunny February afternoon, he orchestrated a spectacular heist at the Marché Central de Montréal, a huge shopping centre located just north of the Metropolitan Autoroute. He and four accomplices studied the movements of an armoured truck belonging to the Secur company. When the two Secur guards entered a Costco store by the rear door, on their way to pick up the weekend cash receipts, the robbers blocked the door with a stolen pickup truck, then proceeded to force the armoured truck open by running it with a tractor-trailer cab. They helped themselves to $1.1 million, then set fire to the pickup and the transport truck, and fled in a Dodge Caravan minivan, abandoning it after a few minutes and setting that vehicle ablaze too. Deschênes deposited his share of the spoils, $200,000, in a bank in the Bahamas.
That amount was apparently insufficient, however, because he planned a second venture, this time to recover the $800,000 that Francesco Arcadi and Frank Martorana owed him. Unbeknownst to Deschênes, his accomplice Girouard was relaying his every move to Montreal police, who in turn were passing the information on to the SQ. Deschênes and Girouard planned to stroll into the Consenza, waving guns, and force Arcadi and Martorana to get into their car. Then they were going to lock them in a steel cage in the basement of a house in Saint-Liguori, near Joliette, seventy kilometres northeast of Montreal. Deschênes was determined to shoot any Consenza customers who might stand in their way, including Vito Rizzuto: “If Rizzuto’s there and he steps in, I’m gonna take him down too,” he warned.
When the SQ officers realized that Deschênes and Girouard were headed for the tiny café on Jarry Street, they feared that the kidnap attempt might go awry and end in violence. They stopped the men and searched their vehicle but found nothing. Subsequent searches were more rewarding. At Deschênes’s girlfriend’s house in Lorraine, they seized an AK-47 automatic rifle, two nine-millimetre pistols, a .357 Magnum, two bulletproof vests, ammunition and walkie-talkies. Shortly thereafter, in the rear of a garage in Saint-Léonard, they found another cache of weapons, including nine sticks of dynamite and five machine guns.
Vito found out about the plot, but he had better things to worry about. Summers are brief in Quebec, and his priority was to get in as many games of golf as he could. He would hit the links of the most prestigious clubs, including Le Mirage, a thirty-six-hole complex some thirty kilometres north of Montreal owned by singer Céline Dion and her impresario husband, René Angélil.
Evenings were a time to dine in the finest restaurants. Most ordinary patrons would suffer heart palpitations upon seeing the bill in these establishments, but Vito was no ordinary patron. More often than not, the meals, accompanied of course by plenty of good wines, were offered gratis. The restaurant management knew that, like a baron in feudal times, Vito Rizzuto had the power to confer wealth on persons who won his favour—and, conversely, condemn those unlucky enough to lose it. Thus the gift of an especially fine bottling was a negligible price to pay for habitués of the baron’s court who sought to climb the ladder of Mafia Inc. or take out insurance against some untoward, unforeseen event. Furthermore, Vito covertly owned, in whole or in part, many of the establishments where he ate and drank—and in such cases, of course, he never saw a bill.
In the spring of the following year, one such evening of wining and dining ended rather badly for Vito. Early in the morning of May 30, 2002, after emptying several glasses with friends, he settled in for the drive home, behind the wheel of the blue Jeep Grand Cherokee that he had been driving for the past two years. At around a quarter to four, he headed west on De Maisonneuve Boulevard, where he apparently began zigzagging within his lane. At least, that was how the police officer who pulled him over described it. When Rizzuto rolled the window down, his breath smelled strongly of alcohol. The officer took him in to the station. His speech slurred, Vito stated that he was “a businessman” and refused to submit to a Breathalyzer test. He was released on a promise to appear in Montreal Municipal Court to answer charges of impaired driving.
The police noted that the Jeep was registered in Ontario—more precisely, a database search revealed, to a company called OMG Media Group, based in Vaughan.
The municipal court hearing was delayed twice and finally went ahead on February 12, 2003. Journalists with La Presse learned of the charge well before Rizzuto was due to appear, did some digging on OMG and reported their findings in the newspaper. The affair had suddenly taken a curious turn and soon erupted into a scandal. Vito being charged with impaired driving was a relatively trivial story; however, his links with OMG were anything but. The firm had signed contracts with several cities, including Montreal, sometimes through the sorts of circuitous routes that smacked of a Mafia effort to infiltrate the licit economy and curry favour with municipal bodies.
OMG Media Group’s pitch to city administrations promised a win-win solution: municipalities could recycle newspapers and beverage containers that too often wound up as sidewalk litter, and gain a new revenue stream in the process. The idea was to install combination garbage and recycling bins along busy arteries. The receptacles, made of plastic in Quebec and stainless steel in Ontario, had three compartments: one for garbage, one for recyclable bottles and cans, and one for newspapers. OMG offered a turnkey solution that included the sale, installation and maintenance of the bins, as well as pickup of their contents and transportation to sorting centres. These operations were to be financed by the sale of advertising space on the sides of the bins. The municipalities stood to gain in several ways: their employees would no longer have to pick up discarded newspapers from streets; part of the advertising space would be made available to them to display public service messages; and OMG would pay them a monthly royalty fee out of the ad revenues.
OMG, which was initially named Olifas Marketing Group, was founded in 1996 by Salvatore Oliveti, who lived in Woodbridge. He was a familiar sight in the Toronto suburb, where he had once hosted an Italian-language community television show. Giancarlo Serpe, who had been closely linked to Mafia associate Enio “Pegleg” Mora until the latter’s murder in Vaughan in 1996, sat on the company’s board of directors with Oliveti and his wife. According to police, Serpe was the last person to have seen Mora alive. Another OMG employee was Frank Campoli. He was a cousin to Vito Rizzuto’s wife and had attended the 1995 wedding of their son Nick Jr. During the trial following the Penway affair—the stock swindle involving the mining company—Campoli had been described as Vito’s man in Ontario. The two men had been photographed in the company of Juan Ramón Fernández, who had been heard on wiretaps telling anyone who would listen that he also had a stake in OMG.
In 1997, OMG signed its first contract, with the city of Etobicoke (later amalgamated with Toronto). It soon had others with Ontario cities including Ottawa, Hamilton, London, Markham, Windsor and St. Catharines, as well as with universities and school boards. OMG also made plans to expand into Italy, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean. The New York City Department of Education awarded it a contract to install 2,700 bins on its property.
In 1999, Salvatore Oliveti opened a branch of the company in Montreal with Michael Strizzi, a friend of Vito Rizzuto. The firm initially set up shop in Saint-Léonard before moving to LaSalle, a suburb in southwest Montreal. Strizzi also ran another company called Techno-Select, which specialized in hydrocarbon recycling. According to a statement by one of OMG’S Montreal executives, the company approached “relations” at Montreal’s city hall.
The City of Montreal issued a call for tenders; seven firms responded. OMG was not the lowest bidder, but for reasons unknown, the winning firm was unable to honour the terms of the contract. The municipal administration then began using language suggesting a public-sanitation disaster was imminent: apparently, there was a sudden, critical need to place bins emblazoned with advertising on city sidewalks. An official municipal document described “the urgent need to purchase bins to improve the cleanliness of Montreal’s business districts and its thoroughfares.”
The police department warned the city administration of the possible links between OMG and the Mafia. When asked about this later, Mayor Pierre Bourque said he could not recall having heard that caution. For his part, Jean Fortier, president of the city’s executive committee and, in that capacity, the most important figure in the administration after the mayor, got wind of the same allegations, but from another source—more precisely, the winning bidder that had decided to withdraw.
Fortier asked for a closed-door meeting of the executive committee. Bureaucrats left the room, and Fortier announced, “I think we’re about to award a contract to a firm with Mafia links.” Laughter erupted in the room. Fortier had no proof to support his claim; his colleagues gently accused him of placing too much faith in idle gossip. The contract was signed, and the bins began to appear on city streets. Guzzo Cinemas, a movie theatre chain belonging to the family of the same name, was one of the few private-sector customers in the Montreal area to use the new advertising medium. Meanwhile, La Presse journalists had left messages at the home of Vito Rizzuto and the office of his lawyer Loris Cavaliere, but the godfather did not return their calls. The reporters wanted to know more about his links with OMG. A frustrated Rizzuto let his irritation show during a dinner at La Cantina. “They should leave me alone!” he said to Federico del Peschio, the restaurant’s owner. La Presse sports columnist Réjean Tremblay happened to be dining there with friends, and del Peschio introduced him to Vito.
“Why are the reporters making such a big deal out of this?” Rizzuto complained to Tremblay. “I mean, I have the right to eat three meals a day just like anyone else!”
OMG president Salvatore Oliveti protested vehemently when La Presse published an article about his company’s ties to Rizzuto. He swore that he was not acquainted with Vito. He said he had met him at a function organized by his former community TV employer. But what about the fact that Rizzuto had been driving a Jeep registered to the company? he was asked. Oliveti explained that the vehicle had been loaned to Michael Strizzi, director of OMG’S Quebec wing. He reckoned that Strizzi had in turn lent the Jeep to Vito. “I really think this is all about me being Italian and speaking with a big accent,” he told a Toronto reporter.
The chairman of Toronto’s public works committee, Brad Duguid, retorted that the ethnic background of OMG’S executives was no concern of his. He was worried about links to the Mafia and called for a police investigation. “If presented with facts that suggest any company we’re doing business with has connections to organized crime, we are going to do all that we can to sever our relationships with those companies,” he said.
Salvatore Oliveti took that threat seriously. As a preventive measure, he fired Strizzi, the company’s Quebec director, for having lent Vito Rizzuto the Jeep. The ostentatious gesture was clearly aimed at dispelling allegations of the company’s links to the Mafia boss. Several people at Montreal City Hall seemed to buy it. No senior municipal bureaucrat was willing to comment. Pierre Bourque’s successor as mayor, Gérald Tremblay, was similarly tight-lipped, calling for the city’s legal affairs department to conduct verifications. The contract remained in effect.
In the end, reality always trumps illusion. OMG, it turned out, was blatantly unconcerned with cleanliness and had little intention of paying the promised royalties to the City of Montreal. City councillors remarked that the company was not placing new bins in the authorized locations and was neglecting to maintain the existing ones; moreover, collection of recyclables from the bins was a slapdash operation. Four years after the contract was signed, the borough of Ville-Marie, which encompasses downtown Montreal, had been paid a mere $5,000 in royalties, rather than the expected $170,000. The city was forced to face facts and ask its partner to remove the bins. OMG, or what was left of it, was sold to a Mexican company and changed its name.
In the meantime, police continued their investigation, and tax inspectors soon joined the fray. Thanks to electronic surveillance that picked up Juan Ramón Fernández telling people he held shares in OMG, the claim came back to haunt him in court. During Fernández’s 2004 trial for trafficking and conspiring to murder Big Gus Alevizos, the federal prosecutor told the court that Fernández was an OMG shareholder.
During another wiretapped conversation, Frank Campoli was heard telling Fernández that he could borrow one of OMG’S trucks to transport a large cargo of tiles. One day, when Fernández’s girlfriend complained that they were running short of money, he told her, “Don’t worry, we won’t starve. Don’t worry about it. There’s the OMG coming through.” Then, two months later, Fernández was overheard telling a mob associate: “We’re just working on other things. We had Spanish people from me, from Spain, for the OMG thing and if it goes through there, well, there’s a lotta, lotta, lotta money there for me in there.”
In February 2010, the Canada Revenue Agency filed documents in the Tax Court of Canada alleging that Vito Rizzuto’s wife and their three children had owned shares in OMG in the amount of $1.6 million. Within three weeks of La Presse’s revelations of the company’s links to the Mafia godfather, the Rizzutos had sold their 10,500 shares to Salvatore Oliveti—the same Salvatore Oliveti who had sworn that he didn’t know Vito and had indignantly accused observers of racism when they had cast doubt on that claim.
The documents filed in tax court stated that four members of the Rizzuto family had each claimed $419,000 in proceeds from that sale, and the Canada Revenue Agency wanted its share. The four members of the family were Vito’s wife, Giovanna, and their three children: Nick Jr., the eldest, as well as Leonardo and Libertina, both lawyers.
On July 13, 2002, a month and a half after his impaired-driving arrest, Vito Rizzuto strode through the imposing front doors of the Notre-Dame Basilica in Old Montreal, joining a throng of some three hundred people for a wedding. The city’s most famous church faces Place d’Armes, a pretty square surrounded by tall office buildings. It provides an open space from which camera lenses can be trained on the forecourt of the church with no obstructions. Conscientious attendance at religious ceremonies seems to be hard-wired into Mafia members’ DNA. Perhaps such scrupulous observance is undertaken in hopes of winning some redemption for their transgressions. Be that as it may, this fervour is joyfully welcomed by members of law enforcement, not to mention by priests, to whom the Mafiosi tend to pay generous tithes. On this day, well-camouflaged police photographers clicked away both in front of the church and, later, near the Sheraton Hotel in Laval, where the reception was held. Besides photos of Vito and his father, Nicolò, the police got some good shots of Paolo Renda, the family consigliere, and Agostino Cuntrera, who had served time for his part in the murder of Paolo Violi. The esteemed guests had gathered to celebrate the marriage of Emanuele Ragusa’s son, Pat, to Elena Tortorici, whose family hailed from Cattolica Eraclea, Sicily.
Emanuele Ragusa was in attendance but took pains to avoid the photographers he knew would be there, remaining outside in his limousine. Why should the father of the groom not want to be seen and admired at his son’s side on this auspicious occasion? The problem was that Ragusa was not allowed to be anywhere near the church, much less in a banquet hall with known members of an organized crime group. He was serving a prison term for drug trafficking and had obtained temporary parole, but under the terms of that release, he was supposed to remain in his home. His truancy would mean serious trouble for him—and would also lead him to make some ingenuous statements about the Mafia.
Then aged sixty-two, Ragusa was a pillar of Montreal’s Sicilian Mafia. Born on October 20, 1939, in Cattolica Eraclea, he crossed the Atlantic at age nineteen and lived in New York before settling in Montreal. As a young man, he often vacationed in his native Sicily. “It’s so beautiful,” he said years later, emotionally, during one of his National Parole Board hearings. “But most of all, my father and mother were over there.” That filial affection would soon be accompanied by romantic love for a young girl. Like Vito Rizzuto’s wife, the object of Emanuele’s affections was a Cammalleri. She was named Angela and was just sixteen when he married her. Emanuele’s sister, meanwhile, married a man named Sciascia, from the same family as Gerlando “George from Canada” Sciascia, who was murdered in 1999.
The name Emanuele Ragusa first surfaced in criminal investigations in the early 1970s, long before that of Vito Rizzuto became widely known. Although he officially reported to Calabrians Vic Cotroni and Paolo Violi, Ragusa was very much a part of the Montreal Mafia’s Sicilian faction. He played a pivotal role in the French Connection in the city. Later, when that famous heroin trafficking ring was dismantled and the Sicilian labs took over the refining of morphine base, Ragusa became one of their favoured clients. One of his partners, a major-league heroin smuggler, was investigated by the carabinieri in Sicily and eventually arrested. Subsequent to that man’s trial, Ragusa was convicted in absentia by an Italian court.
By the 1980s, Ragusa was popping up on Italian authorities’ radar with increasing frequency. He visited Giuseppe Cuffaro, a money launderer for the Cuntrera-Caruanas, and lent his cellphone to Alfonso Caruana, who for a number of years was the head of that clan. Ragusa was also on the long list of Mafiosi targeted by Judge Giovanni Falcone at the Palermo Maxi Trial. Italian authorities requested his extradition from the Canadian government. The charge was Mafia associations, but this was not a crime in Canada, and the request was denied.
In August 1994, Ragusa was arrested and charged for drug trafficking as part of Operation Compote, the “reverse sting” that revolved around the RCMP’s undercover currency exchange counter in downtown Montreal. He was released on bail pending his trial, which meant he could attend the June 30, 1995, wedding of his daughter Eleonora to Vito Rizzuto’s eldest son, Nicolò Rizzuto Jr. Guests at the ceremony at Le Centre Sheraton in Montreal included Vito, of course, and Agostino Cuntrera, but also Domenico Manno, one of the three men who served time for the murder of Paolo Violi; Francesco Arcadi, Vito’s Calabrian lieutenant; Frank Campoli, who would later be involved in the OMG recycling bin advertising affair and who was a cousin, by marriage, of Vito’s wife; and Oreste Pagano, the unfortunate accomplice of Alfonso Caruana and eventual police informant. In short, a fair number of the “usual suspects.” Another of Ragusa’s daughters, Antonia, had married Luigi Vella, a drug trafficker and cousin of Alfonso Caruana. In the Ragusa family, sons and daughters exclusively married daughters and sons of Sicilian families, all from the province of Agrigento, and preferably from Cattolica Eraclea: Cammalleris, Sciascias, Vellas, Rizzutos, Tortoricis …
With his trial following his arrest in the RCMP currency exchange sting still pending, Ragusa, along with eleven others, was arrested as the result of a further narcotics investigation. The probe, conducted by the SQ, New York State Police and the U.S. DEA, led to the seizure of seventy-five kilos of cocaine in New York. Ragusa’s accomplice this time was Stephan (Steve) Zbikowski, a Quebec mining engineer who ran a company that did business—not all of it above board—in Venezuela.
Ragusa’s involvement in the first drug trafficking case (brought to light by the currency exchange sting) led to him being convicted and sentenced to a twelve-year jail term in 1996. While he was imprisoned, the U.S. government demanded his extradition in relation to another trafficking case. But someone in the Canadian government decided that the U.S. evidence was unfounded, and the Americans’ extradition request was rejected—just as the Italians’ had been. Clearly, Canada was a great place to live if you were an international criminal. Taking advantage of the recently legislated policy of early release after one-sixth of time served for non-violent offenders, he left prison just two years after his incarceration.
Ragusa was transferred to a halfway house and did odd jobs a few hours a day at the Mission Bon Accueil, a homeless shelter in Saint-Henri, a working-class neighbourhood in southwest Montreal. The idea was for him to gain an awareness of how tough things were for some less fortunate members of society. This “therapy” failed miserably. One day, supervisors searched his bag and found that he had stolen two steaks from the shelter’s kitchen. They asked Ragusa not to return to the shelter and reported him. He was immediately called before the National Parole Board. “When I saw the steaks in the kitchen, I couldn’t resist,” he pathetically explained to the commissioners. “It had been so long since I’d eaten steak.” He admitted that he had “taken advantage of the situation.” “It wasn’t a good idea,” he mumbled, like a child being scolded by his parents. He was barely more loquacious when asked to describe his values. “I love my wife, my son and my two daughters,” he answered. “And I’ve always worked, my whole life!” He said he had managed a construction company, but it had gone bankrupt. And what values have you instilled in your children, given that your two daughters are married to Mafiosi? one of the commissioners wanted to know. “It’s their decision,” Ragusa answered. “They go well together. Listen, I’ve been here since 1958 and I’ve always lived with Italians.” His release was annulled; the parole board commissioners ordered that he remain in prison.
In 2000, Ragusa made a request for day parole so that he could attend the baptism of his grandson, born to his daughter Eleonora and Nick Rizzuto Jr. The request was denied, precisely because Vito was expected to attend the ceremony. Two years later, Ragusa made a similar request but conveniently neglected to mention that he was planning to attend his son’s, Pat’s, wedding at the Notre-Dame Basilica, as well as the sumptuous reception to follow at the Sheraton in Laval. He assured the prison authorities that he simply wished to visit with family members and would remain in his home.
Of course, police noticed Ragusa in front of the church, sitting in a limousine with tinted windows, and realized he had violated the terms of his parole. But, they wondered, had he simply decided to put in a quick appearance before quietly returning home? They went to his house later that night and knocked on the door, but no one answered. Back at the prison, Ragusa admitted that he had lied when he had requested his weekend pass.
A repentant Ragusa said he had feared that officials would refuse to let him see his son on his wedding day, just as they had prevented him from attending his grandson’s baptism. “I was afraid they’d say no again. I acted improperly. It was poor judgment, and I won’t do it again.” He insisted that he had not been to the church or the reception, which seemed unlikely since police had evidence to the contrary. “I stayed at my place. All I wanted was to get a picture with my son on his wedding day. Because I was at home alone, my wife even left the reception to come and bring me some food.” The old Mafioso swore he hadn’t fraternized with any criminals that night. It was a blatant lie, and he remained incarcerated.
Ragusa was granted a new hearing before National Parole Board commissioners in February 2003. The panel had taken the time to consult a thick file on him. The word “Mafia” appeared at least once on every page. Italy had requested his extradition for Mafia associations, in vain. The RCMP described him as an influential figure in Montreal’s Sicilian clan. But what is the Mafia? one of the commissioners wanted to know. Usually, whether they are in Sicily, the United States or Canada, Mafiosi insist that no such organization exists, that it is a whimsical construct of journalists starved for copy—or police who, starved for evidence, arrest unfortunate upstanding citizens. Even amongst themselves, Mafiosi never employ the term. At most, they will refer to “Cosa Nostra” (this thing of ours).
“I don’t believe there’s any such thing as the Mafia,” Bonanno boss Joe Massino once told a curious reporter. “A bunch of Italian guys go out to eat together, and they call it the Mafia.” Parole board commissioners Renaud Dutil and Pierre Cadieux probably expected a similar answer from Ragusa. To their surprise, he did not deny the existence of the Mafia. His candour stunned everyone, including his lawyer, Ginette Gravel. “In Italy, I think, the Mafia is an organization … a good organization,” Ragusa explained. “Anyone can be called a Mafioso. It comes from Sicily. Here, it’s paesani all from the same village, maybe fifteen or twenty people.”
In the end, a man who was candid enough to admit he had stolen two steaks because he was drooling over them, and ingenuous enough to admit he had deceived prison authorities because he wanted to attend his son’s wedding, was naive enough to admit that the Mafia really existed. And in the same breath, he confirmed that in Montreal, that organization was built around a core of some twenty “men of honour” who came from the same small town, Cattolica Eraclea, as well as other nearby towns in the Sicilian province of Agrigento, like Siculiana.
Other Sicilians were part of the Montreal Mafia, as well as Calabrians such as Francesco Arcadi, but the hard core was indeed made up of paesani from Cattolica Eraclea and Siculiana. Outside that extremely rarefied inner circle were some four to five hundred associates, most of whom were of Italian origin.
The overwhelming majority of Montrealers, Torontonians and New Yorkers of Italian heritage have nothing to do with the Mafia, and they quite rightly bristle whenever their fellow citizens automatically associate the words “Italian” and “Mafia.” At the same time, those who truly are Mafia members tend to play the racism card to their advantage: “See!” they declaim when they make headlines: “They call us Mafiosi simply because we’re Italian!”
Ragusa took exactly that tack with the parole board commissioners. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter: wherever you are, in Montreal or elsewhere, whether you’re Sicilian or Italian, in people’s minds, you’re in the Mafia,” he told them. Then, in a bewildering ballet, alternating between admission and denial, he added: “From now on, the Mafia, it’s over. My crimes, over. I want to live with my wife and my grandchildren.”
Very well, the commissioners replied, but what of your relations with Vito Rizzuto? Ragusa said that he had never met him before their children Eleonora and Nicolò had started seeing each other. The statement was difficult for anyone to believe, to say the least. “I know that he comes from Cattolica Eraclea also, but I’ve never met him in thirty years,” Ragusa insisted. “Now I know him: he’s the father of my son-in-law Nicky Rizzuto.”
Noting the commissioners’ doubtful stares, Ragusa qualified his statement: “I moved in the circles associated with the Rizzuto clan,” he admitted. “But I’ve never had any dealings with him. The Mafia, it’s clans.”
“Vito Rizzuto is indeed the godfather of the Mafia in Canada, is he not?” one of the commissioners ventured.
Ragusa answered with the slightest of smiles.
“And what about your relations with your other son-in-law, Luigi Vella, who is also in prison for drug trafficking?” the commissioner asked.
“That’s another group,” the prisoner answered. “He’s not with me.”
“How do you explain the fact that you have not been extradited to Italy?” he was asked, even though the question would have been more appropriate if posed to senior Canadian government officials.
“These are crimes by association,” Ragusa offered. “They are considered crimes in Italy but not here.”
That much was true, but Ragusa was clearly being cagey. The parole board decided he should remain in prison. The most important question of all was never even asked, likely because the commissioners didn’t know enough of the story to ask it: Was Emanuele Ragusa the same “Emanuele” who had taken part in the massacre of the three Bonanno capos in 1981, along with Vito Rizzuto and the man referred to only as “the old-timer”?
A U.S. police report based on the confessions of Salvatore Vitale states that Ragusa was one of the triggermen. In the many accounts of the triple slaying, his presence in the social club is described in no uncertain terms, although his name is sometimes misspelled. In his book Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires, The New York Times journalist Selwyn Raab states that “Emanuel Raguso” was there: “Four were assigned as shooters, armed with a sawed-off shotgun, pistols, and a submachine gun,” he wrote. “Three were Canadian Zips: Vito Rizzuto, Emanuel Raguso and a gangster who Vitale and Massino knew only by his nickname, ‘the old man’ … The plan called for Rizzuto and Raguso to mow down the intended victims, if possible by lining them against a wall.”
In his book Iced: The Story of Organized Crime in Canada, Stephen Schneider goes into similar detail, explaining that Joe Massino and Salvatore Vitale had used gunmen from Canada so that others present that night would not be able to identify them: “Among the imported hit men was Rizzuto, another suspected member of the Montreal mob named Emanuele Ragusa, and a silver-haired man simply referred to as the ‘old timer’ (whose identity was never revealed but who possibly was an associate of Nick Rizzuto’s) … On Massino’s orders, Rizzuto and Ragusa were the lead gunmen, while Vitale and the ‘old timer’ guarded the exits.”
Ragusa was never charged or even investigated in connection with the murders. He was released in 2004 after serving two-thirds of his sentence for drug trafficking.
Vito Rizzuto’s fate would be altogether different.
An oft-quoted tenet of chaos theory holds that the beating of a butterfly’s wing can trigger a chain of events that ultimately leads to a tornado halfway around the world. The fall of Vito Rizzuto would be similarly set in motion by the work of two young forensic accountants thanklessly slaving away in the United States. Much like those that brought down the most well-known figure of Cosa Nostra, Al Capone, the Montreal godfather’s troubles began with an income tax investigation. It was conducted some seven hundred kilometres away and, at first, had nothing to do with him. Yet the toppling of a single tax evader eventually led to the across-the-board collapse of the Bonanno crime family, and among the last victims of that vast network of falling dominoes was Vito Rizzuto.
In late 1998, FBI special agent Jeffrey Sallet, aged twenty-nine and blessed with an unusually accurate memory, enthusiastically joined a probe into Bonanno family boss Joe Massino. He was a member of the bureau’s Squad C-10 in New York City and was joined the following year by twenty-six-year-old Kimberly McCaffrey, a former medal-winning gymnast and a workaholic investigator. The young woman was hard to miss; she stood barely over five feet tall and had jet-black hair. “The wise guys can lie and cheat but bank records don’t change,” their boss Jack Stubing, a veteran renowned for his single-mindedness, was fond of saying. Stubing assigned his two young charges the task of poring over the bank statements and income tax returns of Bonanno family higher-ups.
From 1996 to 2001, Joseph “Big Joey” Massino and his wife, Josephine (Josie), had declared gross annual income amounts varying between $373,000 and $590,000. Year after year, they claimed that large portions of those gains were lottery winnings. Such frequent luck seemed unlikely, to say the least. But proving that the claims were fraudulent would be a difficult task. In addition to the lottery earnings, the Massinos’ tax returns, as well as those of Salvatore “Good-Looking Sal” Vitale and his wife, listed income from several parking lot businesses.
Sallet and McCaffrey discovered cheques signed by Massino’s and Vitale’s wives made out to one Barry Weinberg; the payments were for their stakes in the parking lot enterprise. The wife of a Bonanno captain, Richard Cantarella, was also a shareholder in companies that ran parking lots. The two forensic accountants scrutinized Weinberg’s transactions. At their suggestion, meanwhile, other C-10 agents began tailing him. They soon reported that Weinberg was meeting frequently with Cantarella and his Mafiosi bodyguards.
At first glance, it seemed unnatural for these two individuals to be consorting with each other. One was a businessman looking for a little spice in his life; the other was a murderer whose nasty past deeds had included plotting the murder of his uncle for delaying his induction into the Mafia.
Raised in a Jewish family in Brooklyn, Barry Weinberg was a parking lot manager. He had earned good money in that trade by buying leases on lots, which he then sold to third parties at a profit. The business was lucrative enough, but it didn’t make for a particularly sexy calling card. Weinberg was convinced that hanging around with the Mafia would make him more attractive to women. Since his youth, he had been fascinated by tales of gangsters and their exciting, dangerous lives. Now he was drawn to them like the proverbial moth to a flame. He had nothing of the stuff of a criminal and certainly didn’t want to bear the risks of the trade—like being shot or ending up in jail—but he was convinced he could benefit from the heat of the underworld without getting his wings singed.
The opportunity presented itself in the form of Richard Cantarella.
Cantarella, while still in his teens, had been shown the ropes of the Mafia by his uncle and had proven to be an excellent learner. Barely into adulthood, he bribed a municipal bureaucrat to secure authorization to operate newsstands and snack bars at the Staten Island ferry terminals—and then used them as a cover for illegal betting. His uncle, Al Walker Embarrato, got him a no-show job as a distribution assistant with the tabloid New York Post. It was a union position that paid eight hundred dollars a week, but he gave three hundred of that to another man to do the work for him. Eventually, Cantarella’s uncle Al took a dislike to him; he thought he was doing too much business with a soldier in the Gambino family, and opposed the young man being made a member of the Bonanno family.
Cantarella thought about killing his uncle, a solution he was comfortable with—he had been the driver for a hit squad that murdered his cousin Tony Mirra, a Bonanno family soldier who had committed the unpardonable sin of associating with FBI agent Joe Pistone, alias Donnie Brasco. And four years later, when he feared his newsstand racket would be exposed, he killed the city bureaucrat he had bribed to win the contract. Joe Massino resolved the conflict between uncle and nephew by inducting Cantarella.
Robert Perrino, superintendent of deliveries for the New York Post, was a Bonanno family associate. When police began investigating the paper’s bogus employment racket, he anticipated becoming a suspect but made it known that he wasn’t about to take the fall for others. Sal Vitale told Cantarella that Perrino was a liability and would have to be removed. A short time later, Perrino vanished. His body would not be found until eleven years later, beneath a concrete slab in a Staten Island repair garage.
Mafiosi love to saddle their peers with nicknames, most often derisory ones. Richard Cantarella’s was Shellackhead, owing to his penchant for exceptionally greasy pomades. His meeting with Barry Weinberg was providential. Weinberg showed him how to get rich running parking lots: the secret was to charge customers sales tax but neglect to declare it. It was simple enough to implement, because motorists picking up their vehicles always paid cash. Armed with Weinberg’s advice, Shellackhead went into business, adding a personal touch: he dispatched goons to persuade competing parking lot owners to pay a kickback, or they would be forced to close down. His wife and son invested in the business. Eager to please his superiors, Cantarella gave Joey Massino and Sal Vitale a piece of the action as well. This earned him a rapid rise through the Bonanno family ranks. He was made a captain, and he became one of Massino’s close confidants. The boss let him in on plenty of family secrets—including the story of how he had ordered the massacre of the three renegade captains in 1981 and had the job done by Vito Rizzuto, Emanuele Ragusa and an “old-timer” who had also come from Canada.
At the same time, Weinberg was making the most of his association with this new gangster friend. His competitors began to fear him, which allowed him to broaden his business. He drove a Rolls-Royce, a Bentley or a Mercedes, whichever struck his fancy, and was in the habit of carrying up to sixty thousand dollars in cash. Cantarella noted that flashy excess and quite rightly believed he had a lot to do with it. He demanded tribute money. One day, he punched Weinberg in the face for complaining about him to other mobsters. “You owe me for everything,” Cantarella hissed at him after throwing him to the sidewalk. Cantarella then milked more than $800,000 from his unfortunate partner. Another Bonanno captain, Frank Coppa, partnered with Weinberg in the parking lot racket and extorted more than $85,000 from him.
Agents Sallet and McCaffrey spent a year dissecting Weinberg’s income tax returns, bank account statements and accounting paperwork. Their intuitions had served them well: they found he had neglected to report fourteen million dollars in income and defrauded the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to the tune of one million dollars. On the morning of January 9, 2001, Weinberg was at the wheel of a brand new ninety-thousand-dollar Mercedes when a police officer pulled him over for a traffic violation. He was immediately led to an unmarked van; waiting inside were Sallet and McCaffrey. They gave him a choice: go directly to prison for tax fraud or wear a recording device that would surreptitiously capture his conversations with Cantarella. He had fifteen minutes to make up his mind.
Barry Weinberg’s life as a Mafia groupie was over. It took him less than the allotted quarter-hour to agree to collaborate with the authorities. He was invited to make a full confession the same day—he was told, in fact, that he had to reveal everything, otherwise prosecutors would refuse to make a deal. Weinberg had a lot to say, not only about his own crimes, but about the actions of Shellackhead Cantarella and Frank Coppa, as well as secrets they had shared. He also told them about another Mafia hanger-on, Augustino Scozzari. Before long, Sallet and McCaffrey recruited Scozzari as an informer as well.
Weinberg and Scozzari went on to record more than a hundred incriminating conversations they had with Cantarella and his crew. Finally, in October 2002, Sallet and McCaffrey knocked on the door of Shellackhead’s house, a cozy little mansion worth more than two million dollars. He was arrested and indicted on racketeering and murder charges. By compiling and comparing information, the two young FBI agents had amassed enough evidence to charge Cantarella with conspiracy in the murder of Robert Perrino, the Bonanno family’s inside man at the New York Post, committed a decade earlier. They also arrested Cantarella’s wife and son for aiding and abetting in instances of fraud, breaking and entering, and kidnapping.
Twenty other Bonanno family members and associates were also indicted. Among them was Frank Coppa. The captain, who had previously counted Cantarella among his crew, had already been in jail for the past four months, serving a five-year term for securities fraud. He had begun this second stint behind bars by bursting into tears in front of fellow inmates. It was a sign of psychological fragility that had made him a laughing stock among his entourage—and which the FBI hoped to exploit. The sixty-one-year-old Coppa knew what this third series of criminal charges meant: if found guilty, he would end his days in prison. A month later, he did what no Bonanno member had dared do since the founding of the family some seventy years earlier: he agreed to turn state’s evidence. “I didn’t want to do no more time,” he told the police and prosecutors. In exchange for a reduced sentence, he provided investigators with the initial ammunition they would need to bust Massino, Vitale, Cantarella and several other mobsters whose crimes he had been privy to.
Coppa had been present at the murder of Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano in 1981. Napolitano was the capo who had unwittingly allowed FBI undercover agent Joe Pistone, alias Donnie Brasco, to infiltrate his crew and spy on the Bonanno family for years. When Joe Massino learned that Brasco was FBI, he ordered Sonny Black killed. Coppa was there in the house on Staten Island when Frank “Curly” Lino pushed Sonny Black down the basement stairs, where he knelt and prepared to die (see Chapter 1). Massino had waited outside; Coppa had seen everything.
He revealed to police that Cantarella told him he had helped Salvatore Vitale do away with New York Post superintendent of deliveries Robert Perrino. Cantarella also admitted to having led his cousin Tony Mirra to the site of his execution. At that point, things began to move very quickly.
When Cantarella learned that Coppa had become a rat, he knew that his former captain’s testimony likely meant supplementary murder charges would be brought against him. A month after Coppa’s defection, Cantarella, his wife and his son also agreed to collaborate with authorities. Agents Kim McCaffrey and Jeff Sallet now had enough evidence to go after the biggest fish of all.
At six in the morning on January 9, 2003, the two FBI agents arrested Joseph Massino at his house in Howard Beach, which he had ringed with security cameras. He was already up and had slipped into comfortable, low-cost sweatpants and a black pullover. He had not bothered to put his watch on and was carrying no money. The boss of the Bonanno family knew he was going to be arrested and would have his valuables confiscated before being shown the way to his jail cell. Trading jokes with agents Sallet and McCaffrey, he held out his hands, ready to be cuffed.
Massino’s brother-in-law Salvatore Vitale was arrested the same day and taken to the twenty-sixth floor of the FBI building in New York. McCaffrey and Sallet paid him a visit and told him the prosecution had evidence that Massino was ready to kill him because he thought he too had decided to talk to police. The news hit Sal like a roundhouse to the stomach. For months Vitale had been under the impression that Massino had sidelined him, and had often complained about his hostility toward him. He naturally assumed the agents were bluffing in the hopes of getting him to testify for the prosecution as well. But what if they were telling the truth? At any rate, they’d succeeded in instilling an oppressive doubt in his mind.
A month after their arrests on murder and racketeering charges, Massino and Vitale stood side by side in a courtroom for a preliminary hearing. The lead prosecutor, Greg Andres, explained to the judge that the two men were being held in separate prisons and there was a good reason for that: according to information Andres possessed, Massino had spoken of the possibility of “bothering” Vitale. Everyone present understood that the word was a euphemism for “killing.” Andres did not mention that his information came from reliable sources, which included Coppa and Cantarella.
Two weeks after that hearing, Vitale agreed to turn state’s evidence.
If the defection of Bonanno captain Frank Coppa was unusual, that of Sal Vitale, the boss’s lieutenant, was devastating. Vitale would be the first underboss of a New York City Mafia family to testify against his boss since February 1992, when Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano had helped to bring down Gambino family head John “The Dapper Don” Gotti. But, as long-time mob watcher Jerry Capeci wrote in The New York Sun, Vitale’s testimony would prove even more decisive than Gravano’s, because Vitale was much closer to Massino than Gravano had been to Gotti.
Good-Looking Sal Vitale would henceforth be known by a new epithet: Good-Looking Rat. Like any state’s witness bargaining for a lighter sentence, he had to confess everything. The list was long. He comprehensively recounted his own crimes as well as those committed by other members of the family that he knew of. Among other things, he admitted to having taken part in eleven murders.
Defence lawyers visited the Brooklyn prison where Joe Massino and Frank Lino were being held, and informed them of Vitale’s defection. Massino remained impassive: he had long ago prepared himself for this eventuality. Lino was devastated. Up to that point, Frank Coppa had been the only man who could implicate him in the murder of Sonny Black Napolitano. A skilled lawyer might have been able to discredit Coppa’s testimony in court and persuade a jury that he was ready to say anything to stay out of jail. But now Sal Vitale was prepared to corroborate Coppa’s version of events. Lino betrayed no sign of weakness in front of Massino, but later, he too joined the ever-growing list of defectors.
Vitale’s and Lino’s defections would hasten the fall of yet another key Mafioso. Not only could both men attest to Rizzuto’s presence at the three capos massacre in 1981, they could confirm that he had been the lead gunman. On the morning after the triple slaying, FBI cameramen had photographed Vito Rizzuto, Joe Massino, Gerlando Sciascia and a Sicilian heroin smuggler named Giovanni Ligammari (later to be found hanged in the basement of his home) leaving a motel in the Bronx. The photos had fuelled police’s suspicions but were hardly evidence of Rizzuto’s participation in the carnage the night before.
Now U.S. authorities had that evidence, in the form of sworn statements by Salvatore Vitale and Frank Lino. They began their preparations to extradite Vito Rizzuto under the RICO Act. Since that legislation did not provide for the death penalty, there would be no obstacle to securing the collaboration of the Canadian authorities.
From his cell in Brooklyn, Massino managed to get a message out to a man he trusted. He asked that man to travel to Canada and inform Vito of Vitale’s treachery. In the end, however, the mission fell to a member of the Gambino family. The meeting was held in a restaurant in a shopping centre in Longueuil, on Montreal’s South Shore. Fearing he could be arrested any day, Vito fled Canada two weeks later with his wife, Giovanna. They spent the months of March, April and May 2003 in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Their son Leonardo had driven them to Dorval Airport. Commander Mario Plante, head of organized crime investigations with the Montreal police, was nervous: he worried that the godfather of the Canadian Mafia was about to drop off the face of the earth.
Vito came back to Montreal, however. He kept the lowest of profiles and avoided the Consenza Social Club, where in more carefree times, he could be counted on to join the four other leaders of his clan: his father, Paolo Renda, Rocco Sollecito and Francesco Arcadi.
In recent years, the Hells Angels and other biker gangs had gained a reputation as Canada’s most dangerous criminal organizations. In 2003, however, “traditional (Italian-based) organized crime” reclaimed top spot on CISC’S list of national intelligence priorities; CISC cited the Mafia’s stability, discretion and connections with almost all the other organized crime groups in the country. CISC identified Vito as “the Godfather of the Italian Mafia in Montreal,” a label already employed in a Revenue Canada document.
On December 8, 2003, the man himself uncharacteristically seized an opportunity to voice his own opinions on the subject during one of his appearances in Montreal Municipal Court to answer charges of impaired driving, in connection with his arrest while driving the Jeep registered to OMG in May 2002. Montreal Gazette reporter Paul Cherry approached him during a recess and asked for his comments. The godfather accusations were “nothing more than allegations,” he said. “I deny everything they say.” Cherry then “asked how he would describe himself professionally.” Rizzuto smiled and replied, “I’m the jack of all trades.” And master of none, he was no doubt implying.
On that grey December day in 2003, Vito projected an air of insouciance, telling a crowd of reporters that he didn’t understand why he attracted so many “spectators.” Mugging for the cameras, he pulled his black coat up to hide his face and pretended to charge the journalists, joking that he felt “like a bullfighter.”
In truth, he was more like the bull. Wounded, but making a last stand. Like so many picadors, the Bonanno family defectors had jabbed their lances into his spine, and it would not be long before the matador, in the guise of the U.S. government, pointed a long, sharp sword at the space between his eyes. Vito Rizzuto had barely a month of freedom left.