Mafia Inc.: The Long, Bloody Reign of Canada's Sicilian Clan - André Cédilot, André Noël (2011)
Chapter 17. TENTACLES
IN SEPTEMBER 2008, the leaders of the Rizzuto clan arrested nearly two years earlier pleaded guilty, and so the prosecutors’ massive document summarizing the evidence gathered by Operation Colisée finally became public. At a hefty four hundred pages, it was teeming with previously unknown, and often surprising, information.
In one sample of electronic surveillance, Francesco Del Balso is heard calling a building contractor in the Quebec City region. Del Balso had heard that the contractor had been hired to lay ceramic tile in a large building under construction in the Greater Montreal Area.
“You’ve been doing some ceramic work in Montreal?” Del Balso asked in the same cavernous voice that he used to threaten hapless gamblers who failed to pay amounts owed to his online sports betting outfit.
“Yeah,” the contractor replied.
“We’d like for you not to come here any more to do work.”
“Who is this?”
“Enough already with the ‘who is this,’ okay!” hissed Del Balso, his tone more threatening. “Because the next time, you won’t leave here, okay? You’ve been warned. It’s over. Okay?”
It was just one example among many.
When they had installed their hidden microphones and cameras in the Consenza Social Club and the Bar Laennec, and tapped the phone lines of the Rizzuto clan’s top men, the RCMP investigators expected to hear talk of drug transactions, bookmaking, loansharking and money laundering. There must have been a few raised eyebrows, however, as they began to grasp the scale of the Montreal Mafia’s involvement in another traditional activity of organized crime groups. Not only were members of the Sicilian clan running a profitable extortion racket, but they were also seeking to influence businessmen who were above suspicion. This was doubtless the investigators’ most worrisome discovery. It told them that the “octopus” believed it was unassailable, so much so that it could spread its tentacles beyond its usual waters: it boldly threatened people who had nothing to do with organized crime and was attempting to infiltrate their businesses.
No fewer than six hundred businesses in Saint-Léonard and the other boroughs in east-end Montreal, the vast majority of them run by Italians, paid a pizzo to the Montreal Mafia. During testimony given in Italy in 2010, recorded by a Télévision de Radio-Canada news crew, Sergeant Lorie McDougall of the RCMP stated that the Mafia controlled a significant portion of the construction industry in southern Quebec. He added that several building contractors had to pay their own pizzo as well, in the form of a commission equivalent to 5 percent of the contract value.
If Francesco Del Balso had taken an interest in ceramics, his boss Francesco Arcadi—increasingly seen as the heir apparent to the clan leadership since the arrest of Vito Rizzuto—turned out to have a penchant for coffee. He was heard telling his cronies that “the coffee problem was settled” with a particular restaurant on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, but that others had to be brought into line: they were stubbornly buying the wrong brand of ground coffee.
“We’ll send a message from Jarry,” Arcadi announced (meaning the Consenza, which was located at 4891 Jarry Street East).
“Yeah, I’ll go see the guy; he’ll get the message quick,” another Mafioso, Antonio (Tony) Vanelli, agreed.
The boss told him to be clear: “You tell him you do this and that … And after, you tell him that you can be in his bar for twenty-four hours a day. As soon as you see a different package of coffee, you tell them I’ll break down the whole place.”
Clearly, the Consenza gang was promoting an Italian coffee brand. Lorenzo Giordano got involved and forced somebody named Rick to buy that brand and no other. These mobsters proffered no idle threats; they acted on them. Three goons strolled into a restaurant in South Shore Boucherville, took seats at the counter, lit cigarettes, and each ordered a coffee. After barely sipping at the brew, they called the barista over and asked to speak to the manager. The manager appeared. “Your coffee’s disgusting,” one of the tasters said, rolling his shoulders threateningly. “Like juice from a dirty sock. You don’t feel like selling good stuff?”
“I don’t choose the brand,” the manager ventured. “The owner does.”
“You call him. You tell him to come here right away. We have some coffee to sell him.”
Reached by telephone, the owner said he wasn’t going anywhere. The visitors upset their cups, trashed the restaurant and beat up the manager. RCMP officers learned of the incident as they listened in on a phone call made to the Consenza three hours later. An acquaintance of Arcadi’s, apparently acting as an intermediary for the Boucherville restaurant owner, wanted to know if the Calabrian mobster knew the three men who had just wrecked his establishment, as well as the brand of coffee they were “promoting,” Moka d’Oro.
“They’re friends of ours,” Arcadi explained, and asked that a clear message be sent to the restaurateur: he had to switch brands and buy nothing but Moka d’Oro. On its website, the coffee roaster described itself as “a leader in the coffee industry for over forty years” and advertised Moka d’Oro as “Il Caffè dell’Amore”—the coffee of love.
Police officers recovered the cups and cigarette butts left in the restaurant by the trio of enforcers, and took saliva samples for analysis. One DNA sample came back from the lab with a match for Leonardo Vanelli, son of Tony Vanelli. According to the prosecution’s court document, the company that distributed Moka d’Oro at the time was linked to Vanelli and Nicodemo Cotroni, son of the late Frank Cotroni. The distributor was located in a building in Montreal North that belonged to Vanelli and Cotroni. Vanelli was an influential member of the Cotroni clan; years earlier, he had been convicted of murdering a drug dealer who had been operating without the Mafia’s say-so.
The relevant section of the court document summarizing the evidence gathered during Operation Colisée reads like a treatise on extortion. In January 2004, Francesco Arcadi called Francesco Del Balso to a meeting at the Consenza. He told him Zio Colà (Nicolò Rizzuto) wanted him to call the owner of a small machinery company in Rivière-des-Prairies that owed six thousand dollars to a firm specialized in precision machining. Hundreds of similar disputes flared up every day in various industries, but in this case, the supplier thought he could settle the matter faster by asking his friends at the Consenza to help out, rather than entrusting the task to lawyers. Among the senior members of the clan, Del Balso was the man who normally inherited such jobs: over the years, he had perfected the art of “talking” to debtors. He picked up the phone and called the contractor in question, in east-end Montreal:
“You ordered some stuff, some precision hardware?”
“Any idea when you plan to pay the bill?”
“Who is this?”
“The guy that’s going to make you eat out of a straw for six months if you don’t go pay him.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You hear me? I know you have on tape, don’t worry about it. Just go pay the bill, okay? And I’m not going to come and tell you again. The next time I break your head. Okay?”
“Is this a joke or what?” the contractor asked with a laugh.
“You fucking clown, don’t laugh at me,” Del Balso said, losing his temper. “You understand? Go pay the bill!”
Del Balso hung up the phone. Two hours later, he called back.
“So, the bill, you gonna pay?”
“I don’t want anything to do with you guys,” the contractor replied curtly, in a brazen, and obviously unwise, display of impatience.
A goon was then dispatched to the company to meet the owner in person. He was ordered to “go in and beat the guy,” but got lost while searching for the company warehouse in the Rivière-des-Prairies industrial park. The dispute later came up in a discussion at the Consenza between Nicolò Rizzuto, Francesco Arcadi, Paolo Renda and Lorenzo Giordano. They concluded that it might be better to negotiate further: “We’ll see how he’ll fix it up; if he accepts it, the deal which he wants to make,” Giordano was heard saying.
All manner of corrupt contractors went to the clan to force debtors to pay, or to avoid having to pay their own debts. Del Balso would take down details about his victims and then send enforcers to deliver his messages. One friend asked him for help in erasing a $148,000 debt from his line of credit. “The guy wears braces!” Del Balso said gleefully, referring to the president of the indebted company. “We’re gonna send two guys; make them break his face!” Upon further investigation, the RCMP confirmed that the company president indeed wore braces on his teeth. The court document does not specify how this particular dispute was settled.
It does, however, go into substantial detail regarding the unfortunate Mafia dealings of Montreal businessman John Xanthoudakis. The founder of Norshield Financial Group, a hedge-fund company involved in a major scandal, Xanthoudakis had transferred several investors’ funds into tax havens. When some of them wanted to recover their money, they ran into all sorts of difficulties. The financier made repeated promises that the funds would be accessible soon, but the investors soon grew restless and impatient. One of them was the animated film production company Cinar (which was embroiled in problems of its own, including accusations of fraudulent use of federal tax credits, and would eventually be found guilty of copyright violation for having plagiarized scripts and character designs by a creator/writer named Claude Robinson). Cinar took Norshield to court in a bid to recover approximately $120 million. Norshield went into receivership, and the investors were out $472 million: their money had vanished. A report filed in Ontario Superior Court stated there was little chance they would ever see it again.
Among the alarmed investors were members and associates of the Rizzuto clan, who had entrusted Xanthoudakis with at least five million dollars.
Just before noon on November 25, 2005, Francesco Del Balso picked up the phone. It was his friend Cosimo Chimienti, owner of Intermarché Lagoria, which operated three grocery stores in northeast Montreal. Chimienti himself claimed to have invested $300,000 with Norshield, and he wanted his money back. He gave the Rizzutos’ “head bailiff,” Del Balso, the phone number of Xanthoudakis’s former partner Vincent Casola. Del Balso arranged for an appointment that very afternoon at a law firm at Place Ville Marie, an office building in the heart of downtown Montreal.
Del Balso took an elevator to the law offices with Lorenzo Giordano and a henchman—a hulking, iron-fisted fellow by the name of Carlos Narvaez Orellana. When they arrived, they were ushered into a conference room normally used for board meetings. Xanthoudakis explained to the trio that he would gladly refund their money if he could, but the Norshield funds were unfortunately frozen in overseas accounts. He apologized. His visitors were unmoved. A signal was given, and Orellana administered a severe beating to the financier as a satisfied Giordano and Del Balso looked on.
The three men left the law offices and got back in the elevator. Del Balso filed his report with Chimienti: “The guy was pissing blood over there,” he said, adding that if Xanthoudakis hadn’t got the message, he didn’t know what else he could do. Then he called Casola, who was elsewhere in Place Ville Marie, and asked him to meet him in the lobby. Casola called back three minutes later.
“Don’t come,” he said. “We’re gonna bring Xanthoudakis down to see a doctor and have him patched up. He’s gonna need ten or twelve stitches. What the hell did your guy hit him with?”
“With his fist,” Del Balso said drily.
“He’s fucking bleeding all kinds over there on the boardroom floor. The lawyers are gonna send you a bill. Xanthoudakis can’t leave the way he is. He’s gonna wait until 5 P.M. to go to the hospital. For now we’re putting compresses on his face,” Casola explained.
“When’s he gonna bring the money?” Del Balso asked.
“He told me to tell you to call him when he gets out of the hospital.”
“Tell him to bring me that cheque,” Del Balso insisted.
“He says he doesn’t have any money left. People aren’t giving him time to finish liquidating,” Casola said.
Several more of the clan’s associates wanted their due as well and were counting on Del Balso to get Xanthoudakis to pay up. To prove he was telling the truth about the money, Xanthoudakis invited Del Balso to come and watch him submit to a polygraph test. Del Balso went, and left the session angrier than ever. “The Greek was hooked up to a lie detector,” he told Rocco Sollecito during a conversation at the Consenza. “He said he didn’t steal the money and he’s gonna pay eventually. I told him to go get the fucking money. I should’ve told him to unhook the wires otherwise I’m gonna strangle him with ’em.”
Xanthoudakis pressed charges. Del Balso, Giordano and Orellana were arrested on March 8, 2006, and released on promises to appear in court to face assault charges. A week later, Del Balso was at the Consenza. Francesco Arcadi, Paolo Renda and Nick Rizzuto wanted to know where things stood with Xanthoudakis. Del Balso was hesitant now, because of the charges pending against him.
“I wanna take care of it, but it’s just—”
“Yes, but not this way,” Renda said, cutting him off. “I’m sorry, you have to tell me ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ ”
Fearing for his safety, Xanthoudakis withdrew the charges. An investigative report by La Presse’s Francis Vailles revealed that the financier had previously managed investments for Vito Rizzuto’s wife and son-in-law, through another firm, Mount Real, which Xanthoudakis had founded with a long-time business associate, Lino Matteo. Domenico Arcuri, son of a veteran mobster in the Sicilian faction, had also entrusted assets to Mount Real. The firm’s operations were halted by Quebec’s securities regulator (the Autorité des marchés financiers), and it declared bankruptcy a few months later, in December 2005. As a result, the vast majority of the 1,600 investors lost the bulk of their money—$130 million in all. Police believe, however, that the Mafiosi among them succeeded in recovering a sizable portion of their investments through intimidation.
In the fall of 2005, Del Balso and his crew employed the same brutal tactics to recover monies invested through Magdi Garas Samaan, a Rivière-des-Prairies businessman. About four hundred members of Montreal’s Italian community, including a number of Mafia members, had entrusted their savings to Samaan’s firm, Services Financiers Rdp. Samaan had promised them a 30 percent return in just six months on speculative investments in commodities including sugar, gold and diamonds. The promised yields, however, were not materializing.
Del Balso was out to recover $2.5 million and took the usual threatening approach. Samaan’s nerves were obviously none too solid: on November 29, he tried to drown himself. “He was floating on the water,” a neighbour told Del Balso, which only ramped the mobster’s unease up a notch. Samaan had been supposed to pay him an initial instalment of fifty thousand dollars. On December 19, Del Balso considered forcing Samaan to go before a notary and mortgage his four-million-dollar home on the shore of the Rivière des Prairies. The next day, Samaan took a room at the Motel Florence, in South Shore Brossard. Five days later, on Christmas Day, he had not left the room. The motel owner knocked on the door. There was no answer. He called the Longueuil police. When officers arrived, they found Samaan lying on the floor dead, flasks of liquor and empty pill bottles at his side. The coroner ruled his death a suicide. Samaan hadn’t left a note, but his wife said he had taken his own life because of the mounting pressure from the Mafia.
The day Samaan dropped out of sight, one of Del Balso’s men had made the rounds of local hotels trying to locate him, to no avail. At that point, Del Balso began pressuring Samaan’s wife—who had power of attorney—to get his hands on Samaan’s properties. He succeeded: “The house is done,” he told Francesco Arcadi and Paolo Renda in a conversation at the Consenza on December 22. Del Balso then asked Malts Financing, a firm based in Laval, to do the paperwork. The next day—two days before Longueuil police found his body—Malts registered a mortgage on Samaan’s main residence. In early January, two other buildings owned by the financier were mortgaged, one by Malts and the other by Domenico Arcuri.
The RCMP already had Malts in its sights, believing it to be a front company for money laundering, achieved through several kinds of transactions, including mortgage loans. In 2004 and 2005, drug trafficker Giuseppe Torre had been one of its directors. His cousin Carlo Sciaraffa, who had no criminal record but was known to be connected with the Mafia, was one of the firm’s three owners. Malts operated an office in Laval and specialized in property seizures, loans bearing as much as 46.9 percent interest, and large cash transactions. It had previously handled the acquisition of a luxury villa in Acapulco in the name of Torre’s and Del Balso’s spouses. The property had cost Can$352,000, and payment was made in cash. The three-bedroom villa was perched on a mountainside and featured a patio and pool, as well as an apartment for the housekeepers.
Malts Financing was closely connected to a pair of grocery stores, Intermarché Bellerose, in Laval, and Intermarché Saint-Michel, in Montreal North. Malts and the two grocery stores were held by the same group of shareholders. Del Balso was among the administrators of Intermarché Bellerose. Between November 2005 and August 2006, $2.1 million in cash was withdrawn from a Malts account at Scotiabank for transfer to the grocery store, which seemed to have an insatiable need for hundred-dollar banknotes. According to the RCMP, five hundred of them wound up at the Bar Laennec, but police were unable to determine the purpose of the money transfers.
Del Balso, who in his true line of business as a mob enforcer used the Bar Laennec as his headquarters, used a third store, Intermarché Lagoria, as the source of his income in tax returns. In February 2006, he asked Cosimo Chimienti, president of the chain of grocery stores, to fill out a Record of Employment form for him so that he could apply for employment insurance benefits for one year. Chimienti seemed quite amused by the request. “I’m serious,” said Del Balso. “I want the forms.”
Twenty minutes later, Carlo Sciaraffa, the owner of Intermarché Bellerose, called Del Balso to tell him he would be receiving his weekly paycheque a bit late, and apologized. “It’s going to be next week,” he said. Del Balso told him he would be bringing him six times $1,200: in other words, he was paying Intermarché cash in return for official paycheques proving that he worked for the grocery store. Three days later, Sciaraffa told him his cheque was ready, along with his T4 slip (an employee’s annual income statement used for tax purposes). Del Balso then told him he would stop by to pick them up and then go see Chimienti. The dealings resulted in some friendly conversations picked up on tape:
“They [Intermarché] will pay you for one year, minimum,” Sciaraffa told Del Balso. “Because it’s more than a year that you have been with us.”
“Four years, my friend,” Del Balso corrected him.
“Okay, no problem.”
Del Balso made a lot of money in cash, and that was a problem. A problem that he solved in part by washing the money through people who weren’t involved in organized crime. His drug trafficking, illegal online gambling and extortion rackets were bringing in thousands of twenty- and hundred-dollar bills all the time. He could funnel some of them back into the licit economy by gambling at the Casino de Montréal, but he knew he couldn’t spend more than ten thousand dollars cash per day there without his name being communicated to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, an agency that reports to the federal finance minister on suspicious transactions linked to money laundering, funding of terrorist groups and other security threats.
Del Balso busted that ten-thousand-dollar limit one night in December 2005. He was photographed by security cameras at the casino in the company of three high-rolling businessmen: George Dayan, David Bitton and Ariel Hassan, all well known in Montreal fashion and real estate circles. Del Balso passed rolls of cash to the trio, who then bought chips. Del Balso would then play some of the chips on the tables himself and give the rest to the others, who placed bets for him. Del Balso repeated the ruse several times before casino security officials approached him and informed him he was done betting for the night.
The three entrepreneurs accompanying Del Balso that night weren’t just anybody. Dayan was the driving force behind the revitalization of Chabanel Street, in Montreal’s north end, having enlisted the backing of the City of Montreal to redevelop the industrial area, historically home to the city’s garment trade, and rebrand it as an “international fashion district.” His company, Dayan Group, partnered with PSP Investments, an agency with an “arms-length” relationship to the federal government that manages the pension plans of Canadian public sector employees, to buy and renovate the medium-rise buildings on Chabanel Street west of Saint-Laurent Boulevard. Fashion designer Bitton was the president of Buffalo International, which sold clothing under the popular Buffalo Jeans brand (he would sell the company a year later to a Los Angeles-based company for an estimated $120 million). Hassan was an administrator and shareholder of Importations Rallye. Located in the Dayan Group building on Chabanel Street, it specialized in importing and selling fashion accessories such as sunglasses, socks and handbags under the Private Member label.
Flouting the thou-shalt-not-bet ban he had just been issued, Del Balso promptly flipped Dayan $1,500 in twenty-dollar bills. Dayan bought chips and split them with Hassan and Bitton. Del Balso, a roulette fiend, told them how to bet. He gave another wad of cash to Dayan, which the latter passed to Hassan. Hassan put the bills into his jacket pocket and soon went to buy several thousand-dollar chips. Later in the evening, Del Balso discreetly slipped a five-thousand-dollar chip to Bitton, who laid it on the table for him. On ten or so occasions, Del Balso also gave chips to a woman so she could place bets too.
All of those surreptitious exchanges were captured by the dozens of cameras at the casino. Each day, after reviewing their tapes, the casino’s investigative team prepared a report of suspicious transactions (a déclaration d’opérations douteuses). The RCMP used warrants to obtain copies of the reports concerning Del Balso’s group and summarized their evidence in another document introduced at trial. When reporters for La Presse attempted to gather the three businessmen’s versions of the story for an article, they were unable to reach Bitton and Hassan, but obtained an interview with Dayan in his Chabanel Street office.
“Bitton and Hassan, they’re friends who I may have gone to the casino with—absolutely, clearly. I have nothing to hide about that,” he said angrily. “I don’t know Del Balso. Whether he may have been at the casino, sure, that’s also clear. Well … I know him in the sense that he’s an acquaintance; we would say hello to each other … But this is nothing more than people chatting around a gaming table and giving each other chips.”
Del Balso obviously didn’t shout his Mafia associations from the rooftops, and the casino patrons he’d met that night were unaware of them. At the same time, Del Balso did nothing to hide his true nature. Members of the clan described themselves as “Italian” or members of “the family,” but rarely, if ever, as members of “the Mafia.” Still, it was a designation, a trademark that they sought to protect and that no one was allowed to use without authorization.
On November 22, 2005, Paolo Renda was caught on tape asking Del Balso to “talk to” a real estate agent by the name of Félix Plyas. Renda apparently had a copy of a letter, addressed to a well-known businessman, that denounced Plyas for having referred to the businessman in question by name and asserting that he was linked to the Mafia. The author of the letter also said Plyas himself had claimed to have friends in “the family.”
After trying for two days, Del Balso finally reached Plyas by phone. From the sound of his voice on the police recordings, he had clearly been instructed to tone down his normally brutal manner.
“I need to see you fast; it’s important,” he said, without introducing himself.
“What about?” Plyas wanted to know.
“You said [businessman’s name] was part connected to the Mafia. You can’t do that. We don’t even know him.”
“Who is this?”
“We have to meet. Then you’ll know who I am. I’m going to show you a letter. It says you’re using our name too. We don’t want that.”
“I’m using your name?”
“Yeah. You said you have Italian friends in the Mafia.”
“Are you part of the family?” Plyas asked.
“Yes, of course I am. What, you think I’m gonna call you for a joke?” Del Balso replied, and again asked the real estate agent if he had used “their name.” Plyas said no, that wasn’t the case, but that it was true he had friends in “the family.”
“Did somebody authorize you to use our name?” Del Balso asked.
“Well … I sold two properties belonging to family members,” Plyas ventured.
Del Balso then repeated his question, asking if one of those particular “family members” had consented to Plyas using the “family name.” The summary of the electronic surveillance does not include Plyas’s reply, stating only that the two men then agreed to meet that evening. Del Balso then called the nephews of the “family member” in question to tell them the meeting would be at a pizzeria on Décarie Boulevard. “Don’t worry,” he told one of them. “I won’t get violent with the guy, I just wanna talk to him.”
The next morning, Del Balso was at the Consenza, reporting to Renda. He told the consigliere that it wasn’t the first time a letter had been sent to the Consenza by the same whistle-blower. Renda lost his temper: in his opinion, the “family member’s” nephew should have asked the letter-writer, “Why the fuck are you writing these letters to my uncle?!”
Paolo Renda was well acquainted with another businessman, Joe Sciascia, the owner of Centre de jardin Brossard, a gardening and landscaping supply retailer on Montreal’s South Shore. Joe was the nephew of the late Gerlando “George from Canada” Sciascia. In the early 1990s, Gerlando had been planning to build a house on Antoine-Berthelet Avenue, not far from where Renda, as well as Nicolò and Vito Rizzuto, lived, when he was ordered by Immigration Canada to remain in the United States.
Joe Sciascia was involved in a business dispute with cousins of his, members of the Piazza family. His mother was the sister of Giuseppe Piazza, who lived in New York. Sciascia wanted to buy cedar shrubs and other evergreens from his cousins, but the two families were haggling over prices. During the fall of 2005, Paolo Renda intervened in the conflict. He called Nick Piazza, one of Joe’s cousins, and asked him to come see him with his father, Giuseppe (the latter, as it happened, was due to travel to Montreal soon for a wedding). Renda suggested that they all meet at the Loreto funeral home, which he owned, then contacted Sciascia to set up the “peace talks” between the two families.
A month later, Paolo Renda was heard asking one of Giuseppe Piazza’s sons whether the dispute over the shrubs had been settled. Piazza said yes, it had, except for the evergreens: half of them couldn’t be sold. “We’re here to settle this business,” Renda told him. “But tell your father not to open his mouth too much. I don’t like the lack of respect. This problem has to be fixed today.” The following week, Nick Piazza informed Renda that Joe Sciascia had been to see him, and everything was settled. Sciascia later called Renda himself, telling him he had sent a gift to his house as a token of thanks for his mediation efforts.
“You people, Piazzas and Sciascias, you should try to get along,” Renda advised Sciascia. “You’re from the same family. You can keep your distance when it comes to business, but you have to keep the family ties. You should tell your parents to do the same and make peace, even with the family [the Piazzas] that’s in the States.”
Members of the Italian community were not the only beneficiaries of the Rizzuto clan’s services. Six months before his arrest, Vito Rizzuto had taken pains to help one Terry Pomerantz, president and CEO of TRAMS Property Management, recover his stolen suv, in which he had left a briefcase with valuable contents. Pomerantz was a high-profile Montreal real estate developer. He had helped build the Tropiques Nord condominium complex, next to the iconic Habitat ’67 building in the Cité du Havre waterfront district, and a twelve-storey building near the Hippodrome de Montréal, formerly the Blue Bonnets Raceway. He had also partnered with Antonio (Tony) Magi, another Montreal businessman, for the 1 Avenue du Port project, which involved the residential repurposing of a huge cold-storage facility just east of Old Montreal.
In the spring of 2003, Pomerantz bought a pearl-white Cadillac Escalade suv from John Scotti Automotive, a deluxe car dealership in Saint-Léonard. On May 28, he parked the vehicle in front of Il Grappa restaurant in Dorval. Upon leaving the restaurant, around ten o’clock that evening, he found that the Cadillac had vanished, and went to the nearest police station to report it stolen. He apparently didn’t have much faith in the ability of Montreal’s finest to recover his vehicle: at about twenty to one in the morning, he filed a similar report, this time to Vito Rizzuto.
“Listen, somebody’s stolen my Escalade; I just bought it from Scotti,” he said. “Can you help me get it back? There’s a briefcase inside, and it’s very important that I get it back.”
“Your truck, did it have a boomerang [GPS locator] on it?” Vito asked.
“Yeah, but I hadn’t activated it yet.”
“All right, I’ll see what I can do.”
Twenty minutes later, Vito called his lieutenant, Francesco Arcadi, and told him that one of his “Jewish friends” had had his brand-new white Cadillac suv stolen in the city’s west end. He mentioned the valuable briefcase and asked Arcadi to try to find the vehicle, suggesting that he enlist the “young ones” in his crew. At 1:27 A.M., Arcadi contacted one of those young ones: Francesco Del Balso. He said he already knew about the theft.
Del Balso started searching. It wasn’t long before he hit pay dirt. Shortly before noon, he got word from André Laporte, a used car dealer, that the thief was prepared to sell him the Cadillac for $3,500. Del Balso told him to proceed. Fifteen minutes later, Vito informed Tony Magi, Pomerantz’s business partner, that the suv had been found, but that he didn’t yet know where it had been left.
Another series of phone calls ensued. Del Balso learned that the Cadillac had been dropped off at the corner of Saint-Jacques and Montfort Streets, near the Montréal Planetarium, and relayed the information to Vito through a third individual. Pomerantz got his luxury suv back but not the cryptic briefcase. Magi told Vito, who told Del Balso that the briefcase had to be located at all costs. Del Balso called Laporte.
“The briefcase isn’t there,” he said.
“Another guy has it,” Laporte told him. “I’ll have it tomorrow.”
“Make sure you do. The Tall Guy [Vito] is freaking out,” Del Balso said.
Finally, on June 1, Vito called Pomerantz and told him he would be leaving the briefcase for him at Il Grappa. Pomerantz thanked him, reiterating to the godfather that the briefcase was very important indeed. The summary of the electronic surveillance does not specify what made its contents so valuable. It was curious, to say the least, that a businessman should go through the head of the Mafia to recover a stolen vehicle. When reporters asked about the matter, Pomerantz refused to comment.
Three months later, Operation Colisée investigators heard the name John Scotti again. On September 24, Francesco Del Balso and Carmelo Cannistraro, who managed Del Balso’s bookmaking network, gave a blue-grey Ferrari 550 Maranello to Lorenzo Giordano as a gift. Giordano took his new toy out for a spin that very evening, although he had yet to file the registration papers under his name. He stopped at a bar, downed a bottle of grappa, then got behind the wheel again and headed along Highway 440 in Laval. As he took the exit for the Des Laurentides Boulevard, he failed to notice a small car that had stopped on the shoulder. His Ferrari collided violently with the second car, and Giordano left the scene without leaving a note. There was considerable damage.
The next morning, barely sobered up, Giordano called a trusted associate, Mike Lapolla (who would be shot dead three years later inside the Moomba Supperclub). “My wife is gonna kill me,” Giordano told him sheepishly. “Can you help me out?” Lapolla told him to relax; if there was any problem, he was prepared to take the fall and say he was responsible for the accident.
Del Balso suggested that Giordano take the Ferrari in to John Scotti, whom he described as “a master at disguising cars.” Giordano was afraid he’d be picked up if he drove the car himself. Del Balso called Scotti, told him what was going on and asked if he could repair his friend’s Ferrari. Scotti warned him that it would be best if nobody knew about the repair job, and that they should bring the car in at night.
The owner of the small car damaged at the highway intersection had called 911 after the accident. An SQ officer examined the scene and collected parts, including a bumper fragment, which he determined came from a Ferrari. He later visited Ferrari Québec, where an employee provided the details he was missing: the bumper was from a blue-grey Ferrari Maranello, and an identical model had been delivered to a leasing company the previous week.
The owner of the leasing company refused to co-operate with investigators. The SQ officer went back to Ferrari Québec and found out the number of the licence plate previously issued for the Ferrari, which in turn allowed him to trace the vehicle identification number and the name of the former owner, a numbered company belonging to Richard Krolik, another of Giordano and Del Balso’s partners in the Rizzuto clan’s bookmaking rackets. The officer went to the numbered company’s head office, where he was received by Carmelo Cannistraro, who said he had no information about the Ferrari.
Del Balso happened to arrive a few moments later. Lying through his teeth as well, he told the investigating officer that he knew nothing about the accident but added that he would “fix things.” He advised Cannistraro to call a lawyer. The next morning, a lawyer showed up at the police station—with Mike Lapolla.
Lapolla made good on his promise to Giordano. He gave a statement taking responsibility for the hit-and-run, saying he had been at the wheel of the Ferrari on the night of the accident. Intrigued, the SQ officer asked a few questions. It quickly became clear that Lapolla knew no details of the accident—not even what time it had occurred. Regardless, Lapolla was ordered to pay a fine and earned nine demerit points on his driving record.
Reached at his office by La Presse, John Scotti claimed to know nothing about the matter and categorically denied having ever spoken to Francesco Del Balso or his friends. “I don’t know these people,” he said. “I’ve never spoken to them.”
Members of the Rizzuto clan also had connections to Frank Catania, another businessman above suspicion, which can be described only as curious. He ran Construction Frank Catania et Associés, one of the biggest building contractor firms in the Montreal area. Year in year out, following above-board tendering processes, the company was awarded public works contracts worth several million dollars from the City of Montreal and several South Shore municipalities.
That Frank Catania should be seen at the Consenza café with Nick Rizzuto was cause for surprise. After viewing one particular sequence from their hidden camera videos, RCMP investigators noted the following: “At approximately 2:02 P.M. on June 15, 2004, Nicolò Rizzuto is seen entering the middle room at the Consenza. He counts a stack of money, lifts his pant leg and places the stack in one of his socks. Rizzuto does this in the presence of Francesco Catania, seated at the table having a conversation on his cellular phone. A few minutes later, Catania and Rizzuto leave.”
On November 24 of the following year, Paolo Renda called Pasquale Sciascia. Before dealing with the topic at hand—how to settle the dispute between Pasquale’s son Joe, the Brossard tree-nursery man, and the Piazza family of New York—Pasquale asked Renda if he wanted to contribute to a gift to be bought for Frank Catania. Renda answered yes, and added that not only he but all of the Consenza brain trust would be chipping in: Rocco Sollecito, Francesco Arcadi, Nick Rizzuto and his son, Vito, despite the fact that the latter was in prison waiting for word on whether he would be extradited to the United States.
Paolo Catania, who had since taken over management of the construction company from his father, Frank, explained to reporters when asked that the gift in question was given on the occasion of his father’s retirement. A party was held at the Hotel Omni in downtown Montreal, attended by at least 250 people, including “a large number of friends, paesani from the same village as my father,” he said, adding that none of the Mafia leaders had been among the guests.
With the exception of the Calabrian Francesco Arcadi, all of these men—Renda, Sollecito, the Rizzutos and Catania—were natives of Cattolica Eraclea.
The Consenza was a meeting place for immigrants to Canada who came from that Sicilian town, just as the Associazione Siculiana di Montreal had been for mobster Agostino Cuntrera and MP Alfonso Gagliano, natives of nearby Siculiana. At any rate, Frank Catania seemed to find nothing morally suspect in sitting down in a private room with a leader of the Mafia, or in receiving a retirement present from his clan.
Catania was engaged in no criminal activity, unlike some others, who were simultaneously public works contractors and drug traffickers. They included Nello Di Rienzo, an equal shareholder with Tony Tallarita in the company Pavage Tallarita Asphalte, a start-up company based in Saint-Léonard that successfully won a number of public paving contracts. The two partners also ran Construction Rockburn, which had offices in the same building, on Du Creusot Street.
Following Operation Colisée, Di Rienzo and Tallarita were described in court as the bosses of a cell of the Rizzuto clan specializing in mass marijuana exports to the United States. The evidence stated that their crew regularly sent amounts of anywhere between eleven and twenty-seven kilograms of marijuana to Florida and Maryland. They planned to ship a hundred kilos a month, bringing in U.S.$8.2 million per year. The drugs were moved through the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve, which straddles the Quebec, Ontario and New York State borders.
Following negotiations with lawyers for several accused, the Crown agreed to withdraw charges against Tallarita. Faring less well was Nello Di Rienzo, who had taken over the drug smuggling racket previously managed by his brother Giovanni, extradited to the United States for having helped Colombian traffickers launder more than $100 million in drug money in the early 2000s. Nello pleaded guilty to charges of gangsterism and conspiracy to traffic marijuana, and received a three-year prison sentence. In June 2005, police had found a hydroponic grow-op in a commercial building adjacent to the former offices of Pavage Tallarita Asphalte, on J.-B.-Martineau Street in Saint-Léonard.
Before going into business with Tallarita in the early 2000s, Di Rienzo had co-founded Construction Ulisse, a building contractor. He testified at his bail hearing that Ulisse’s sales had jumped from $80,000 to $2.5 million within a few years. He also admitted having done work at the home of Francesco Del Balso. Di Rienzo’s wife, a hair stylist who drove a Porsche, said she was prepared to post $100,000 bail for her husband. If need be, she said, she would borrow part of the sum from her father, Nicola Speranza. Speranza was one of the owners of the Bar Laennec, the main hangout for the “young ones” in the Rizzuto clan. That wasn’t necessary: the judge refused bail for Di Rienzo.
The criminal charges didn’t stop Pavage Tallarita Asphalte from successfully bidding on major infrastructure contracts from the City of Montreal and neighbouring municipalities. The biggest of these contracts were awarded as part of a major road improvements program in 2008. The firm also did work in other municipalities on and around the Island of Montreal, including Westmount, Terrebonne, Longueuil, Town of Mount Royal, La Prairie and Salaberry-de-Valleyfield. In Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, the contract was for paving three streets and the parking lot of the local police station.
The director of public works for the City of Montreal, Robert Marcil, was in charge of all road construction projects. He declared in a December 2008 interview that there was no requirement in the Quebec Cities and Towns Act for municipalities to screen companies bidding on public contracts: “Whether owners have a criminal background or not—these are not aspects that we check,” he said. “We aren’t required to check, and we probably can’t.” Marcil was forced to resign six months later when it emerged that he had taken a trip to Italy with the owner of one of several firms that, according to the city’s auditor general, snapped up the lion’s share of public works contracts year after year.
If a senior bureaucrat at Montreal’s city hall didn’t seem particularly worried about Mafia infiltration of the licit economy, specifically the construction industry, senior police officials were openly concerned. When he was appointed RCMP commissioner in 2000, Giuliano Zaccardelli had spoken about the risk of organized crime groups “destabilizing certain aspects of … society,” and uttered the taboo word “corruption.” In the wake of Operation Colisée, investigative journalists brought to light several cases of collusion and undue influence. These involved, notably, municipal contracts and QFL-Construction, the construction wing of Quebec’s largest trade union. Those revelations set off a new round of police investigations.
In 2009, SQ Director General Richard Deschesnes said that as far as he could remember, he had never seen so many simultaneous investigations into allegations of corruption in Montreal. The SQ had already launched four. A fifth, then a sixth, followed. One of them was probing attempted extortion and corruption by Nicolò Rizzuto Jr., related to a $10.6 million contract to restore the roof of Montreal City Hall. The successful tenderer, Paul Sauvé, alleged that Nick Jr. had asked him for forty thousand dollars, an amount destined, according to Rizzuto, for two city councillors elected under the banner Union Montréal, the party of Mayor Gérald Tremblay. Sauvé’s understanding was that, in return for the bribe, he would receive assurances that his masonry company, L.M. Sauvé Construction, could continue to work on the site and be paid by the city every month, per the contract, despite the fact that L.M. Sauvé was under bankruptcy protection.
Sauvé claimed that he had refused to pay and that, as a result, no elected officials had been bribed. The two city councillors said they had never been mixed up in the incident. Sauvé had met Nicolò Rizzuto Jr. on several occasions in the company of other building contractors. Two of them are mentioned in the Operation Colisée investigative report: the electronic surveillance summary shows that they dealt directly with Vito Rizzuto when they had “problems.”
Sauvé had gone to the other contractors because, although his firm had been awarded the City Hall roof restoration contract, a variety of obstacles was keeping his company from starting work. “Everyone was in cahoots to keep me from getting up and running on the work site,” he said. At that point, he decided to ask another contractor to join him. He said he knew that particular company had all sorts of connections, in the construction industry, with politicians and with organized crime. The second contractor agreed to help, provided that Sauvé get rid of one subcontractor and hire another. “Lo and behold, everything started running smoothly,” Sauvé said. “I was able to start work. I said to myself, ‘Damn, these guys are powerful.’ I couldn’t believe it. But at the same time, I was thinking: ‘You know what? There’s going to be a price to pay. Wake up; you know you’re going to get shaken down.” I rationalized my decision by saying that’s the way things work in construction. I convinced myself that it was okay to make a deal with the devil.”
Mayor Tremblay’s office filed a complaint with the Quebec Press Council against La Presse, which had reported on the new police investigation and quoted Paul Sauvé. The mayor’s office stated that the report contained nothing more than a mishmash of unproven insinuations and allegations (in the end, the complaint was dismissed). The mayor did admit, however, that there was “a problem.” “There’s a problem in Montreal, there’s a problem in Quebec … There’s corruption in the construction industry. It is a fact,” he said.
Around the same time, François Beaudry, a retired civil servant who had worked for the Quebec Ministry of Transport, told a crew from the investigative journalism program Enquête, broadcast on Télévision de Radio-Canada, that the Italian Mafia played an “arbiter role” in the distribution of major road infrastructure contracts in the province. Beaudry claimed that a select club of contractors shared a major portion of the ministry’s contracts. Outwardly, it appeared the firms belonging to the club, known as the “Fabulous Fourteen,” were awarded the contracts because they were the lowest bidders, but in fact they had agreements to rig bids at prices far higher than the true costs, and made it clear to competitors outside their clique that they would face serious problems if they dared submit bids lower than theirs (i.e., at market rates). “The Mafia’s in control,” Beaudry said. “The Italian Montreal Mafia.” Police theorized that contractors who wanted to be in the club had to pay a commission to the Rizzuto clan. If the information was correct, they were at once victims of extortion and complicit in a system of collusion. Contractors who were not among the Fabulous Fourteen said on camera that they had indeed received threats when they had tried to submit bids.
This Mafia system may well explain why road work seems to cost more in Quebec than elsewhere in the country. A comparative study conducted by Canada’s Ministry of Transport found that in 2008, it cost 37 percent more to lay a kilometre of roadway in Quebec than in the rest of Canada; the cost was 46 percent higher in urban areas and 26 percent higher in rural regions (the Quebec government has challenged these figures). Billions of dollars are at stake. In 2010, the Quebec Ministry of Transport alone was slated to award 1,800 contracts worth a total of between $2 billion and $2.5 billion.
While still in the employ of the government, Beaudry had developed contacts with a contractor who kept him regularly informed of the schemes used by the Fabulous Fourteen to circumvent sealed-bid systems, not only for Ministry of Transport contracts, but also for municipal public works. In 2003, that informer had told him in advance which companies would submit the lowest bids for ten road improvement contracts in Laval, the island suburb north of Montreal. In eight of those ten cases, his predictions proved correct.
Journalists Alain Gravel and Marie-Maude Denis of Télévision de Radio-Canada also uncovered the disturbing relations of some key senior directors of QFL-Construction, which plays a front-line role in the hiring of workers for construction sites throughout the province. Its director general, Jocelyn Dupuis, had friends in organized crime, specifically Normand Marvin “Casper” Ouimet, a full-patch member of the Hells Angels; Giovanni “Johnny” Bertolo, the painters’ union representative and drug trafficker murdered in 2005; and Raynald Desjardins, who had long been one of Vito Rizzuto’s right-hand men and, during that time, was easily the highest-profile French-speaking Quebecer in the inner circle of the Montreal Mafia. Dupuis once tried, but failed, to secure funding from the Quebec Federation of Labour’s (QFL’S) investment fund (Fonds de solidarité FTQ) for a soil-decontamination company run by Desjardins. According to Télévision de Radio-Canada, after leaving QFL-Construction, Dupuis went to work for that company.
Desjardins was out on parole by then, having done time from 1993 to 2004 for his role in a plot to import 740 kilos of cocaine in association with the Quebec City Hells Angels. When interviewed, he denied he was a business partner of his “good friend” Jocelyn Dupuis but said he hoped to become one. He added that he had turned his life around and begun a career in real estate and construction after his release from prison.
Like many other drug traffickers of his calibre, Raynald Desjardins was a multi-millionaire. He had started his own construction business. He headed the companies Desjardins & Cie, Desjardins & Company, and Investissements Lasister et Kane, which held stakes in Samara Group, a real estate developer active in east-end Montreal. Among other transactions, it had purchased plots of land from the City of Montreal for a fraction of their market value.
“For the past five years, all the money’s been in construction,” Desjardins told the newspaper. “I started out with small jobs, rebuilding damaged commercial and industrial buildings. Now I’m buying up land and hiring subcontractors to do the building.” He added that Jocelyn Dupuis had guided him through the intricacies of the construction industry: “He gave me advice on how things work. He told me how to go about getting work permits and cards; he introduced me to the APCHQ [the provincial association of residential builders]. That’s normal; he was a QFL boss, a union man, and it’s also in those guys’ interest for things to go smoothly in construction. He became a personal friend. We took vacations together with our wives on the Lower North Shore. He’ll still be my friend, no matter what.”
Desjardins acknowledged that on two occasions—at a party organized by the QFL and while at a restaurant—he had met another QFL-Construction executive, Jean Lavallée. At the height of his powers in mobland, when he was a player at the highest level of the Montreal Mafia’s international narcotrafficking networks, Vito’s right-hand man had been very rich indeed. He had made huge stock-exchange and real-estate investments. In court testimony, he once said he was the representative of Amusement Deluxe, a company based in Saint-Léonard that distributed pinball machines, coin-operated video games and billiard tables to taverns, bars and convenience stores. The police believed Amusement Deluxe to be a front company that chiefly served to disguise Desjardins’s ill-gotten gains.
It wasn’t the first time that QFL-affiliated construction unions had been mixed up with underworld figures. Many Quebecers remembered André “Dédé” Desjardins (no relation to Raynald), the former director general of the Quebec Building Trades Council and vice-president of the QFL. He was killed by a professional hit man on April 27, 2000, after having breakfast at Shawn’s restaurant in Saint-Léonard. As he left the restaurant and headed for his suv, he was cut down by rounds from a silencer-equipped semi-automatic rifle. The weapon was found next to his body. The day before, he had been seen having lunch with Maurice “Mom” Boucher.
For most of his adult life, Desjardins, Quebec’s “King of Construction,” had also been closely linked to the Italian Mafia and their cronies.
In 1974, he had been charged with incitement to violence after the clash between members of the QFL and those of Quebec’s other major labour federation, the Confederation of National Trade Unions (known by its French abbreviation, CSN), at the mammoth LG-2 hydro dam construction site in James Bay. The related vandalism caused thirty million dollars in damages. A commission of inquiry into the construction industry was set up, headed by Quebec Provincial Court Justice Robert Cliche. Desjardins was forced to resign his union position when the commission established proof of his close ties to organized crime figures, including an associate of then Mafia chieftain Vic Cotroni; the Building Trades Council was put under trusteeship.
Even as he pursued criminal activities, including loansharking, Desjardins succeeded in maintaining a degree of influence with construction unions. In 1983, the U.S. government requested his extradition to Florida for allegedly trafficking in Quaaludes, the prescription medication popular as a recreational drug in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the orchestrators of that ring was William Obront, a former money man in the Cotroni clan who, some years earlier, had been mixed up in the Expo 67 tainted meat scandal. The Canadian government did not follow up on the extradition request.
In 2006, Operation Colisée blew huge holes in the Mafia’s new power structure. The investigations by journalists and police forces in its wake stirred up plenty of old ghosts for Quebecers who remembered the Quebec Police Commission hearings into organized crime and the Cliche Commission of the 1970s. SQ director general Richard Deschesnes said he was so concerned by organized crime groups’ infiltration of the licit economy that he requested extra funding from the government of Quebec to create a special unit to look into collusion and corruption. Rather than bow to mounting public pressure to institute a new commission of inquiry, the provincial government under Premier Jean Charest accepted Deschesnes’s request, and the Escouade Marteau (“Hammer Squad”) was set up in June 2009.
Tax inspectors also redoubled their efforts, going after the company BT Céramique, among others. Located in a commercial building on Henri-Bourassa Boulevard East, valued at $1.5 million by the City of Montreal and belonging to a company controlled by Vito Rizzuto and Paolo Renda, the company specialized in the sale and installation of ceramic tile. It had been awarded several major public works contracts and had done work in a federal Justice Ministry building, at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, and at the Casino de Montréal. BT Céramique belonged to businessman Francesco Bruno and two members of his family.
The tax investigation stemmed from evidence gathered during Operation Colisée. In court documents, the Canada Revenue Agency alleged that BT Céramique received false invoices so as to avoid paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes. The documents also stated that Bruno and his partners had received advice from and benefited from lenient audits by at least two Canada Revenue Agency auditors. Bruno and the tax agency employees controlled secret Bahamian and Swiss accounts, through which more than $1.7 million had transited in less than two years.
The Swiss account had been opened following the arrest of Quebec financier Martin Tremblay, with whom the three men did business in the Bahamas. When Canada’s minister of revenue, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, disclosed details of the matter at a press conference, Tremblay was already in jail in the United States on money laundering charges. During their probe into BT Céramique’s fraudulent dealings, Canada Revenue Agency investigators also focused their attention on three large public works contractors owned by one of the most prominent construction magnates in Quebec, Antonio (Tony) Accurso. The Canada Revenue Agency alleged that Accurso paid $4.5 million to two shell companies controlled by Francesco Bruno in return for false invoices. Accurso’s three companies used the bogus bills to fraudulently reduce their revenues, the tax collections agency said in a press release.
In the spring of 2010, Francesco Bruno was charged with committing criminal acts in helping these companies evade tax payments to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars. As of the writing of this book, Accurso himself had not been charged with any crime. The Canada Revenue Agency fired the two auditors who had conspired with Bruno, and took them to court.
The investigation by the Canada Revenue Agency, assisted by the RCMP, opened up a veritable Pandora’s box that hinted at a massive network of tax fraud with any number of ramifications. Search warrants were issued and executed. One, during the summer of 2010, targeted the LaSalle offices of a consulting firm specialized in tax-credit applications, Groupe Conseil Delvex. The firm belonged to Marcello Furgiuele, brother of Adriano Furgiuele, an audit team leader in the Canada Revenue Agency’s Tax Services Office.
Adriano Furgiuele had been relieved of his duties a year earlier. The Agency suspected him of having helped falsify a tax audit on behalf of BT Céramique. The Furgiuele brothers were cousins of BT Céramique’s owner, Francesco Bruno.
Groupe Conseil Delvex had helped three of Tony Accurso’s companies—Construction Louisbourg ltée, Simard-Beaudry Construction and Hyprescon—secure sizable tax credits for research-and-development expenses. According to the search warrants, however, in many instances the expenses were fake. An email message intercepted by the RCMP, sent to Marco Accurso, Tony Accurso’s son, by Delvex owner Marcello Furgiuele, read: “I have those [development] costs and we modified them by boosting the hours to include more time for the conception phase.” That was just one example. Another email message, written by Lisa Accurso, Tony Accurso’s daughter, urged Furgiuele to request tax credits for nonexistent R&D work.
The RCMP investigation focused on other Canada Revenue Agency employees, including Antonio Girardi, another team leader, and Americo Comparelli, a financial reviewer with the Agency’s R&D tax incentive program. A search warrant alleged that Francesco Bruno, Antonio Girardi, Americo Comparelli, Adriano Furgiuele and Marcello Furgiuele were all business partners of Delvex. It went on to state that fifteen thousand dollars had been withdrawn on their behalf from one of the company’s accounts, and the five men had used part of that amount to donate two thousand dollars each to a Liberal Party of Canada fundraising campaign.
Tony Accurso sold Hyprescon. Constructions Louisbourg ltée and Simard-Beaudry Construction, two other companies that he controlled, pleaded guilty to tax evasion in December 2010. Renovations worth $1.7 million to Accurso’s luxury yacht Touch were among the expenses fraudulently claimed in order to lower the amount of tax payable by Louisbourg. Accurso had invited several prominent figures on board the thirty-six-metre vessel, described in one boating magazine as a “floating palace.”
The Chairman of the City of Montreal Executive Committee, Frank Zampino, was among those who had enjoyed the amenities of the Touch, on not one but two cruises, while negotiating a $365-million contract with a consortium co-managed by Accurso. That contract, for the installation of thousands of water meters in Montreal buildings, came under fire from the city’s auditor general and was cancelled—leading the SQ to open yet another inquiry into the City of Montreal administration.
Meanwhile, the probe into the Canada Revenue Agency employees suspected of being mixed up in the tax fraud scheme encountered some difficulties. One of the investigators, André Saint-Arnaud, the Agency’s Assistant Director of Audit, was brutally assaulted on his way out of a banquet hall in Montreal’s Little Italy a week before Christmas. As he walked toward his car with a group of colleagues after an office party, an unknown assailant beat him repeatedly and caused lacerations to his face. The reasons for the attack were never determined.
Francesco Bruno and BT Céramique pleaded guilty in turn to tax fraud. But two other co-shareholders in that company, Rodolpho Palmerino and Alfredo Magalhaes, were acquitted after the government lawyer, seeking to protect the identity of an RCMP informant, decided not to introduce any further evidence against them.
Another businessman, Guy Marc-Aurèle, who was a friend of Vito Rizzuto, also faced criminal charges of tax fraud. Marc-Aurèle had owned Place Vincent Massey in Gatineau, Quebec, which houses offices of Environment Canada, but sold the twenty-one-storey building to associates just a week before the anti-Mafia sweep of November 2006. The Canada Revenue Agency accused him of fraudulently claiming maintenance expenses of $408,788. A search warrant included transcripts of business conversations between Marc-Aurèle and Rizzuto, a year before the latter’s arrest. The two also stayed in touch after Vito’s arrest and imprisonment.
During another conversation captured in an electronic surveillance operation, Marc-Aurèle was heard telling someone that he had bought a Mercedes from Vito Rizzuto. “She’s silver with black interior, a 2004 S500, fully loaded,” he was heard saying. “Every available option. Heated seats in the front, rear, you name it.” The businessman had also supplied a BMW to Nick Rizzuto Jr. The latter had lent Marc-Aurèle a sizable sum of money, and the luxury car was a form of repayment.
Interviewed by La Presse, Marc-Aurèle implied that the tax agency was making life difficult for him because of his friendship with Vito Rizzuto. “I don’t know why Revenue Canada got a search warrant for my home,” he said. “The only reason I can think of is that Vito is an old friend. I can’t go back on that friendship.”
Operation Colisée dealt a severe blow to organized crime, not only because it led to the arrests of senior members of the Rizzuto organization, but because it exposed the clan’s ties to several outside individuals and revealed the scale of its influence on government and its infiltration of the legitimate economy. After ruling over Montreal for thirty years, the Sicilian Mafia was in disarray.