Mafia Inc.: The Long, Bloody Reign of Canada's Sicilian Clan - André Cédilot, André Noël (2011)
Chapter 18. COLLAPSE
NICOLÒ RIZZUTO, IN PRISON since the November 22, 2006, culmination of Operation Colisée, had to be hospitalized for respiratory and urinary problems in April of the following year. Fourteen years earlier, he had claimed a prostate condition as an excuse to secure his release from prison in Venezuela. Rather conveniently, he had ailments that seemed to flare up whenever he was incarcerated. Prison authorities took the Mafia patriarch under heavy escort to Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, where doctors put him through a battery of tests. He spent two weeks in a private room on the third floor of the hospital on Côte-Sainte-Catherine Road, in the city’s Côte-des-Neiges district. SQ officers stood guard round the clock for the duration of his stay.
Rizzuto was then returned to the Centre de détention de Montréal, formerly known as Bordeaux Prison. The aging facility, built before the First World War, had not welcomed such a notorious Mafia figurehead since Joe Bonanno’s 1964 visit, when he’d attempted to immigrate to Canada. Bordeaux’s inmates had given “Joe Bananas” a hero’s welcome, and old Nick, too, was treated with all the respect due his underworld rank. “On the first day, when he arrived in the wing, there were convicts who just froze,” one guard recalled. “You could tell he wasn’t like the other inmates, that he had the respect of the prison population.” Like a bar patron paying for a round for everybody, Nick bought several items from the canteen and distributed them among his companions.
He may not have felt all that disoriented in his new surroundings. The huge prison, with its six spoke-like wings radiating outward from a central block topped by a dome, was on the shore of the Rivière des Prairies in the borough of Ahuntsic-Cartierville, barely five kilometres from Rizzuto’s home on Antoine-Berthelet Avenue. And his cell was in the same wing as that of Paolo Renda and several other organized crime figures, mostly outlaw bikers and street gang members, all awaiting trial too. Mario Brouillette, a member of the Trois-Rivières Hells Angels, watched out for Old Nick at Bordeaux. The two enjoyed conversing in Spanish, a language the biker had learned on his many trips to the Dominican Republic, and that the Mafioso had assimilated during his extended stays in Venezuela. Both men shared an interest in criminal activity, naturally, and business. Brouillette exemplified the new generation of criminal bikers who fancied themselves captains of industry. He had gone into business with one Marc Saulnier, a man without a criminal record who ran a lucrative concrete formwork company in Lavaltrie, about fifty kilometres northeast of Montreal.
Rizzuto’s Consenza cronies Rocco Sollecito and Francesco Arcadi were also at Bordeaux but in another wing. Old Nick slowly got used to the tedium of life inside: eating, sleeping, watching TV. There were limited opportunities for leisure pursuits, but he did find a few fellow prisoners to play cards with. At night, he sometimes had trouble finding his way back to his cell, stopping in front of the wrong one every now and then—until another inmate fashioned a handmade Italian flag and facetiously stuck it above Rizzuto’s door.
The old don was fairly confident he would win early release. The Colisée investigators had accumulated damning proof against the Sicilian clan’s other dominant figures, most notably Arcadi and his enforcers Francesco Del Balso and Lorenzo Giordano, but discussions with his lawyers had convinced Rizzuto that the evidence against him was more tenuous.
On September 18, 2008, guards escorted him down the tunnel linking the prison to the Gouin Judicial Services Centre, a courthouse that had been built especially for the so-called megatrial of several of the more than one hundred bikers arrested in the Operation Springtime 2001 crackdown. Clad in a light-coloured cardigan that accentuated his age, Rizzuto simply nodded when Justice Jean-Pierre Bonin of the Court of Québec asked if he wished to plead guilty to two charges: possession of the proceeds of crime and concealment of the proceeds of crime for the benefit of a criminal organization.
Four weeks later, he was sentenced to four years in prison. Since he was entitled to double credit for time spent in custody pending trial, however—and that time happened to be two years—he was released the same day. Still, the conviction was hailed as a victory for anti-Mafia investigators: for the first time in his life, Nicolò Rizzuto had admitted in a court of law that he belonged to a criminal organization. The aging patriarch—he was then eighty-four—soon let it be known to his entourage that he no longer wished to occupy a leadership position in the Mafia. His sentence included a three-year probation; the slightest misstep would likely land him back in jail. Paolo Renda, then aged sixty-nine, entered a plea of guilty to the same charges, as well as another related to a handgun and one of two hunting rifles found at his home on Antoine-Berthelet at the time of his arrest. He would be paroled in February 2010. Rocco Sollecito, age sixty, was sentenced to eight years. Arcadi, fifty-four, Giordano, forty-five, and Del Balso, thirty-eight, were handed much stiffer sentences of fifteen years each. The “young ones” were understandably embittered to see the three senior members of the Consenza “board of directors” get off far more lightly.
Hours after the sentences were pronounced, the clan’s senior lawyer, Loris Cavaliere, arrived at the Montreal headquarters of the RCMP on Dorchester Boulevard in Westmount, carrying a briefcase containing approximately two million dollars cash in various denominations to pay the fines that the court had levied. Later, at Bordeaux, old Nick retrieved his personal effects and put them in a green plastic garbage bag, bid his fellow inmates and the guards goodbye, and headed for the prison exit where he was met by Cavaliere. The lawyer took the garbage bag and drove the old man home.
In the event that Rizzuto and the others accused had decided not to plead guilty, the prosecution had made arrangements to hear expert testimony from an Italian brigadier-general, Angelilo Pellegrini, who had studied the evidence gathered during Operation Colisée and would have attested to the similarities between the Rizzuto organization’s modus operandi and that of traditional Mafia clans in Sicily. Pellegrini was “prepared to describe those criminal organizations in Italy, define what a man of honour is to these organizations, describe the activities of a Mafia family, the role of a boss, and to testify about a certain type of vocabulary they use. The same terms were used by the organization in Montreal,” explained Alexandre Dalmau, one of the Crown prosecutors.
At Nicolò Rizzuto’s bail hearing back in August 2007, another expert witness, Michel Fortin, an RCMP officer and member of the CFSEU, had explained that the Sicilian clan ran the same kinds of rackets as the Cotroni outfit of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. For example, both outfits earned considerable sums by deploying coercive debt-collection tactics—sometimes on behalf of legitimate businesses. Along with the other members of the CFSEU, Fortin was loath to engage in any grandstanding: Operation Colisée had inflicted grave wounds to the Montreal Mafia, he said, but the beast wouldn’t die that easily.
While his father had been whiling away the time at Bordeaux playing cards, Vito Rizzuto waited, despondent, at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. On May 4, 2007, he was led, under heavy guard, into a newly renovated wood-panelled hearing room of the nearby U.S. District Court building. Of the twenty-seven Bonanno family members arrested in 2003 and 2004, he was the last to appear in court. All the others had already pleaded guilty or been found guilty. Vito was the only Canadian citizen among the defendants.
Vito walked into the hearing wearing his prison-issue attire: a blue cotton T-shirt, khaki pants and canvas sneakers. The baggy clothing emphasized the fact that he had lost weight and muscle tone during his three years behind bars. Gone was the slicked-back look: Vito’s salt-and-pepper hair was now cut short. The deposed don appeared pale and shuffled like a beaten man. It had been a long time since his feet had trod the manicured grass of a golf course. He sat down in the defendant’s box, beside his principal defence lawyer, John W. Mitchell, and looked up with dark eyes at the presiding judge, Nicholas Garaufis. Two federal marshals stood close by.
Like so many other Bonanno members brought to trial, Vito had agreed to admit his guilt in exchange for a lighter sentence. And as often happens when a plea deal is reached between parties, the hearing that Friday morning began with a boring litany of legalese. The judge and lawyers wanted to be sure the accused properly understood what was at stake. They went over the indictment in detail. Under amendments that had been made to the RICO Act, Rizzuto could have faced life imprisonment. Judge Garaufis, however, reminded the court that since the murder of three renegade Bonanno capos had taken place in 1981, he had no choice but to sentence the accused according to the provisions that had been in force at the time. The maximum sentence was therefore twenty years in prison, plus a $250,000 fine.
Rizzuto kept his head lowered, looking up only when he had to answer Garaufis’s questions. During occasional short, hushed exchanges with his attorney, his expression grew livelier but only hinted at his former characteristic bravado.
“Mr. Rizzuto, how old are you?” Judge Garaufis asked.
“Sixty-one, Your Honour.”
“How long did you go to school?”
“Until ninth grade.”
Garaufis asked other questions about Rizzuto’s level of education and marital status.
“Your principal language is English?” he wanted to know.
“I would say yes,” Vito replied. “But I also speak Italian, French and Spanish.”
The judge then addressed defence attorney Mitchell. “Mr. Mitchell, have you had any difficulty communicating with your client in English?” he asked.
“Very well … Mr. Rizzuto, whatever decision you make today, I must have assurances that it is being made knowingly … Do you have any health problems?”
“Yes,” Vito said. “I had an X-ray and the doctors told me I have a spot on one lung. I’m supposed to go for a scan, but it hasn’t been done yet.”
“When was the diagnosis made?”
“Two months ago.”
“The delay seems normal. Is your mind clear?”
“Yes, Your Honour,” Vito said.
Garaufis pressed his point. He wanted to be certain Rizzuto understood the consequences of pleading guilty to the racketeering charge of conspiracy to commit murder for a criminal organization, stemming from the triple slaying that had taken place twenty-six years earlier almost to the day. Under the terms of the plea deal, he would be sentenced to ten years in prison and fined $250,000. The prison term would be followed by three years’ probation. Once satisfied, the judge asked, “Okay, Mr. Rizzuto. How do you plead to the charge?”
“Guilty,” Vito replied. Then he put on glasses and, in a hoarse voice, read aloud his allocution, a brief statement in which he admitted, in vague terms, having taken part in the three murders. Then he formally filed the five-page document with the court.
“Between February 1, 1981, and May 5, 1981,” it reads, “I conspired with others to conduct the affairs of an association, in fact, enterprise through a pattern of racketeering.” It continued, “Specifically, on May 5, 1981, acting with others in Brooklyn, New York, I committed the racketeering acts of conspiracy to murder and the murder of Alphonse Indelicato, Philip Giaccone and Dominick Trinchera.”
While Rizzuto read his statement, district attorney Greg Andres studied Garaufis’s face. He immediately understood that the judge was not happy. Andres had pleaded more than a hundred cases involving members of the Bonanno organization (and others in that family had even put out a contract on him). Several of those trials had been presided by Garaufis. The prosecutor had learned to interpret the judge’s slightest facial expressions. He rose and explained the legal foundations of the agreement that had been reached between the prosecution and the defence.
“The association [in which Rizzuto was a member], in fact, was the Bonanno/Massino organized crime family of La Cosa Nostra,” Andres said. Had there been a trial, the district attorney went on, he would have entered evidence to support his assertion in the form of surveillance reports and all manner of expert scientific testimony, including forensic examination of the remains of the three victims. He would have called police investigators as well as mob informants to the stand. Joe Massino, the turncoat Bonanno family boss, and his brother-in-law Salvatore Vitale would have been the star witnesses.
“Your Honour, I understand that you wish to know the evidence surrounding the murders, but I would say once again that it is the same evidence introduced at the trial of Joseph Massino,” Andres emphasized. “More than that, Your Honour, we are in a position to prove that Mr. Rizzuto has maintained links with the Bonanno family all this time and, moreover, that he is an active member of that family.”
“You’re asking me to hand the defendant a sentence ten years less than the maximum, but you are telling me nothing about what Vito Rizzuto did,” Garaufis intoned. “At this point, all I know is that he’s admitted to doing something!” he said, glaring at both lawyers.
“There are several defendants in this case who have admitted their guilt or been found guilty,” the judge went on. “But they weren’t content to simply tell me they were involved in the crimes they were accused of. Why should I accept a specific sentence when I don’t know what he did? Frankly, it’s not enough. So tell me what he did. Do you know what he did? I want to know his exact role.”
Mitchell rose and said, “Your Honour, the accused admits in his allocution to have committed a crime of racketeering. In fact, he participated in the murder conspiracy. More precisely, he participated in the murders of the three individuals.”
“I’m being asked to sanction an agreement that I am not obligated to sign, is that right?” the judge said, growing more irritated.
“I understand …,” Vito’s lawyer began, then faltered.
“In that case, I want to know what he did. This is not some game; I’m the judge and it’s unacceptable. Was he the driver? Was he one of the shooters? I’ve spent weeks listening to people explain what happened in this murder case. But I still don’t know what the defendant who is here today did. Why should I accept his plea and accept a ten-year sentence when he could be sentenced to twenty years? People have gone to jail for the rest of their lives … because of their involvement in these murders. If he’s got something more to tell me, I’d like to hear it before I accept this plea.”
Caught unawares, Mitchell asked for a short recess to speak with his client, who was clearly alarmed by the turn of events. Seated in the area normally reserved for the jury, a half-dozen Canadian and U.S. journalists watched as Mitchell and Andres conferred in low tones. Then the defence attorney and Vito retired to a small room adjacent to the courtroom.
An irate Garaufis left the room as well. He returned ten minutes later, as did the defendant and his attorney.
“So, where are we now?” he asked curtly.
“Well … I was one of the guys who was to participate in this,” Rizzuto said. “My job was to say, ‘It’s a holdup,’ … so everybody [including the three rebel captains] would stand still. This moment the other people [those waiting in the closet with him] came in and they started shooting.”
“You were armed?” the judge inquired.
“I was armed.”
Rizzuto said nothing more. He did not say whether he himself had fired his weapon and, oddly, Garaufis never asked him. At an earlier trial in 2004, Salvatore Vitale had testified that Rizzuto was the lead gunman, also mentioning that he was with two other hit men brought in from Montreal. Neither of them had ever been formally identified (other than as “Emanuele” and “the old-timer”), much less charged. “I seen Vito shoot. I don’t know who he hit,” Good-Looking Sal had said. Garaufis did not ask Rizzuto to comment on that earlier testimony.
He then asked Rizzuto whether he was a member of a criminal organization; the defendant admitted that he was.
The hearing was adjourned. Rizzuto was escorted back to his cell, secure in the knowledge that he would only have to serve out half of the ten-year sentence. U.S. prison authorities had decided that the incarceration clock had started running on January 20, 2004, the date of Vito’s arrest in Montreal. On top of that, under U.S. law, the time he had spent in prison awaiting trial had earned him a reduction of nearly 15 percent of the overall prison term. Depending on whether he is also awarded credit for good behaviour, Inmate No. 04307748 could therefore be freed in the spring of 2012, at age sixty-six.
In Italy, an accused who wishes to reach a deal with the prosecution must agree to become a pentito. This rule serves two purposes: the police gather valuable information, and the defendant’s underworld reputation is sullied forever. Vito Rizzuto and his associates did not have to suffer that ignominy (unless they voluntarily turned state’s evidence) because no such provision exists in Canada or the United States.
Rizzuto was back in the Brooklyn hearing room three weeks later, on May 25, for his final sentencing. Judge Garaufis said that he was unenthusiastically assenting to the jail term of only ten years as recommended by the prosecuting and defence attorneys.
“Today marks the final chapter in the sad story of the execution of three people some twenty-six years ago in the pursuit of power and money,” he said. “It has been the subject of books, multiple prosecutions and at least one motion picture. Despite such efforts to glamorize these incidents … it is apparent to the court that such a sordid and cynical act deserves only our scorn and condemnation. It is with reluctance that I am pronouncing this prison sentence. Participation in a triple murder is punishable by a minimum twenty years in prison. But the justice system has its advantages …”
The matter of the fine remained. Rizzuto and his lawyers presented financial statements that claimed he was in the red, but the judge was skeptical. According to his lawyers, Vito had assets worth $471,000 but debts of $475,300. He held one-third of the shares in Renda Construction, worth $468,000, but did not own much more than that, they asserted. He had supposedly contracted debts with family members to defray his legal expenses. According to the statements, he owed $103,000 to his youngest son, Leonardo; $92,000 to his daughter, Libertina (sometimes called Bettina); and $280,000 to his mother, Libertina.
His net worth was therefore “close to zero,” said John Mitchell, who was accompanied that day by a second attorney representing Vito, David Schoen.
Greg Andres’s reaction was withering: “His net worth is absurdly and conveniently equal to his liabilities,” he noted. “Like everyone in the mob, his relatives hold all the assets.”
If Rizzuto’s assets had been in the United States, they could have been audited and accounted for, Andres added. The U.S. government believed Rizzuto had “substantial assets in Canada,” he said, while acknowledging the evidence was in part anecdotal.
“He lives in a house worth a lot of money,” the district attorney ventured, adding that the accused had previously evaded payment of income tax and been forced to pay $400,000 to the Canada Revenue Agency, which was proof of his wealth.
The judge in turn derided Vito’s pretensions to poverty and once again displayed his irritation at having agreed to a jail term that, in his opinion, was far too short. As a result, he decided to impose the maximum fine permitted under the law, U.S.$250,000, and gave Vito three months in which to pay it.
“The court is not convinced that the information provided regarding his liabilities can be considered reliable,” he declared. “We have a businessman from Canada here who doesn’t own his own home? His only asset is a share of this company [Renda Construction]? It’s not much to show for thirty years in business, and I’m not convinced that the representations are complete or accurate.”
Rizzuto’s lawyers then attempted to persuade the judge to allow their client to pay the fine in instalments, over several years, protesting Andres’s suggestion that Rizzuto’s shares in Renda Construction serve to guarantee payment of the fine. This was too much for Garaufis, who unloaded on the defence lawyers.
“I want those shares, otherwise I’m going to review the case! I’m not going to play this game with you. He has shares worth a substantial amount. But apparently all his other assets are secret.”
After the hearing, Schoen, the second defence attorney, complained to reporters that his client was the only one of the twenty-seven co-accused ordered to pay a fine. Vito’s youngest son, thirty-seven-year-old Leonardo Rizzuto, said he was relieved, however, and pleased that the judge had recommended that his father serve his time at the Ray Brook medium-security correctional facility in northern New York State, just a two-hour drive from Montreal. It meant Leonardo and other family members would be able to visit him easily.
“It’s very important to him,” said Leonardo, himself a lawyer, during a brief interview with a reporter. “He has five grandchildren and it’s very important for him to be able to see them often.”
Vito got off very lightly. Especially given the fact—which emerged later—that he had admitted his crime in full during a trip to the Dominican Republic in 2003, a year before his arrest. The confession was surreptitiously recorded by Dominican police. They provided the tape to Canadian investigators, but in the end, it wound up gathering dust on a shelf. That recording would have made an extremely persuasive trial exhibit, but to this day it has never been used.
By January 2003, the Canadian godfather had been making an annual golf pilgrimage to the Dominican Republic for at least ten years. That month, he flew to the tiny Caribbean country with several cronies, including Francesco Arcadi and Joe Di Maulo, the influential Calabrian Mafioso.
The small group settled in at Casa de Campo, the famous seaside resort that includes three outstanding golf courses, including Diente de Perro (Teeth of the Dog), long rated as one of the world’s best. Vito and Arcadi shared a room overlooking one of the courses. At the request of the RCMP, Dominican police planted bugs in their room as well as in Di Maulo’s.
Vito had no inkling that he might be under surveillance while so far from Canada. When investigators listened to the recordings, they were stunned to hear him confide in Arcadi regarding his role in the three captains massacre twenty-two years earlier. He told him how he had burst from the closet, gun in hand, and started shooting. “There was blood all over the place,” he said.
Rizzuto spoke in Italian. The recording was hard to understand, so much so that RCMP investigators thought it might not be usable. They did not have it translated until after Vito’s Brooklyn guilty plea. Besides Arcadi and Di Maulo, the other men accompanying Vito on the golf trip included Paolo Renda, Domenico Chimienti, Giuseppe Triassi and Vincenzo Spagnolo. The Mounties had all of them in their sights. Renda, as the Rizzuto clan’s consigliere, was a prime target of Operation Colisée. Chimienti was suspected of laundering money for the organization but was never charged.
The Sicilian-born Triassi was Vito’s representative at the Casino de Montréal. He specialized in loansharking, charging 10 percent interest for three days to gamblers who contracted debts with him.
Vincenzo Spagnolo was another of Vito’s friends. Back in 1988, he had offered to post one million dollars bail for Vito after the seizure of thirty-two tonnes of hashish in Sept-Îles. The judge had refused. Spagnolo spent his days at Buffet Roma, a banquet hall in Saint-Léonard that was sometimes used for political party fundraisers. It was also a hangout for Mafia higher-ups. After he left the Consenza for the day, old Nicolò Rizzuto often stopped by the Roma before going home. When he spoke to Spagnolo on the phone, he would almost always ask him how business was going, as if the banquet hall belonged to him.
Judge Nicholas Garaufis’s gracious recommendation notwithstanding, Vito was not sent to the Ray Brook facility in Upstate New York, but to a federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, more than three thousand kilometres from Montreal. Before long, he sank into depression. As soon as he could, he telephoned his wife. Giovanna was finding their separation progressively more difficult to bear; she told him she was having trouble sleeping and was taking barbiturates and sedatives. Vito advised her to be wary of abusing them. He also regularly phoned his mother, Libertina, and his sister, Maria, to keep up with family news as well as what was going on in Montreal.
For an inmate in a U.S. prison, life is about as Spartan as it gets. Vito had little choice but to get used to it, after living much of his adult existence in the lap of luxury, golfing on the finest courses, dining in chic restaurants and enjoying VIP treatment everywhere he went. He could do little more than reminisce about the small pleasures of life as a free man: relaxing under a masseuse’s nimble fingers, or receiving manicures and skin care sessions at a spa boutique in the Galeries d’Anjou shopping centre in east-end Montreal. Thursday dinners at home with his wife, children and grandchildren, a sacred family ritual, were now no more than distant memories.
Six months after he was interned, Rizzuto penned a pathetic plea to Judge Garaufis, begging for early release, in 2010 rather than 2012.
“May all be well for you at this time,” the letter began. “As Your Honor is aware, my name is Vito Rizzuto, the defendant.” In his opinion, he had been the victim of an error. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons had abolished parole in 1987, replacing it with a rule whereby the best an inmate can hope for is a shorter term in exchange for good behaviour. Vito claimed that since he had committed his crime in 1981, when the old parole regulations were still in effect, he should be eligible for early release. “Should I be contacting the wrong office in an effort to have this error correct [sic], I apologize,” he continued. “However, I am not from the U.S. and am only made aware of this incorrect calculation recently.”
Judge Garaufis replied. In similarly cordial terms, he rebuffed Inmate No. 04307748’s request: “I suggest that you consult with your attorney regarding this case and that you follow the appropriate administrative and judicial procedures.”
Vito had sent his letter to the judge on October 25, 2007. That was two days after Italian authorities announced the issue of a second wave of arrest warrants targeting him and his accomplices. In 2005, the DIA had already issued warrants against Vito—then imprisoned in Quebec pending his extradition to the United States—and a number of his cronies in Montreal, Italy and other locales, alleging their attempts to muscle in on the massive Strait of Messina bridge construction contract. According to the Italian police, the Mafiosi planned to finance the work as part of a public-private consortium using dirty money. After the bridge project was shelved, the DIA’S ongoing probe had uncovered another plot.
On October 23, 2007, a series of raids and arrests took place in Italy, France and Switzerland. Bank accounts containing a total of €500 million (nearly Can$700 million at the time) were frozen, and twenty-two companies along with property and assets worth a total of US$212 million were seized. Seventeen men faced charges of being part of a mammoth money laundering operation under Vito Rizzuto’s direction.
Those arrested that day in Europe included bankers, businessmen, stockbrokers and even a man with links to Italy’s royal family. Besides Vito, the Italian warrants targeted his father, Nicolò, and the three other members of the Consenza inner circle: Paolo Renda, Rocco Sollecito and Francesco Arcadi. All were in prison in Montreal awaiting trial in the wake of the Colisée investigation.
“We believe that even from jail they are able to control the organization,” Silvia Franzè, an investigator with the DIA, said. “We blocked a lot of bank accounts and money,” she explained in an interview with Canada’s National Post. “We have seized many companies and hundreds of millions of euros all around the world because we believe that behind these companies is Vito Rizzuto.”
“From prison, they pulled the strings of their Italian colonies,” added Colonel Paolo La Forgia of the DIA.
One of Vito’s contacts was a businessman named Mariano Turrisi, founding president of a company called Made in Italy Group, which promoted Italian products worldwide. Police said that wiretaps had picked him up in conversation with Vito, and an Italian court document claimed Turrisi and an associate had travelled to Montreal in September 2005 and met with Nicolò Rizzuto Jr., Frank Campoli (Vito’s cousin by marriage) and Antonio Papalia, a co-owner of Vancouver-based Metals Research.
Turrisi was also the vice-chairman of a nascent political party founded by Prince Emanuele Filiberto, heir apparent to the House of Savoy, Italy’s former royal family. Barely a year after the end of the Second World War, Italians voted in a referendum to replace the monarchy with a republic, and the royals were expelled from the country for having colluded with Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime; male descendants were only authorized to re-enter Italy in 2002. After returning from exile, Prince Emanuele Filiberto, grandson of Italy’s last king, Umberto II, launched a political movement called Valori e Futuro (Values and Future), which Turrisi joined.
Mariano Turrisi had privileged access to Italian government officials. The head office of Made in Italy in Rome was across from the Palazzo Chigi, which housed the offices of the president, Romano Prodi, and his cabinet. When police arrested Turrisi in Rome, a search turned up a bond certificate in the amount of one billion dollars, though they suspected it was a forgery. Fake or not, the document served as surety for lines of credit that Turrisi had with Swiss and Italian banks. On December 19, 2008, a judge sentenced him to a six-year prison term.
Through Turrisi and others, Vito Rizzuto maintained “illustrious connections” in Italy and other countries. The Italian court documents alleged that he and his father wielded significant influence in his homeland and elsewhere. After moving to Canada, the Rizzutos “gave birth to a transnational society” designed to unify Italian Mafia clans and created “overseas cells,” according to a document from the anti-Mafia prosecution office in Rome. The DIAinvestigation also uncovered suspected dealings as far away as the United States and Singapore.
The organization led by Vito, the document added, aimed to “manage and control the economic activities connected to the acquisition of contracts in public works” and “commit a series of crimes—killings, international drug trafficking, extortion, frauds, smuggling, stock-market manipulation, insider trading and criminal transfer of securities.”
The Italian authorities accused the cartel of using companies listed on stock markets in Europe and North America, including one based in Vancouver, to help mount ventures connected with gold mines in Canada and Chile. Two bank employees were arrested in Switzerland.
The men arrested in Italy included two individuals with Canadian citizenship. The first, Roberto Papalia, was picked up in Milan. He was a businessman who had been expelled from the Vancouver Stock Exchange for suspicious transactions. He had been seen with Vito Rizzuto in Zurich, Switzerland, in the mid-1990s (see Chapter 10). Roberto Papalia and his twin brother, Antonio, co-owner of Metals Research, owned a small gold mine on Texada Island, in British Columbia. In their teens, both Papalias had gone to St. Pius X Secondary School in Montreal with Vito.
The second Canadian was Felice Italiano, a resident of the Montreal borough of LaSalle. Police arrested him in Rome as he was preparing to fly back to Montreal with his wife. He was in Italy on a business trip, representing his company Ital-Peaux, an animal-hide export firm based in Sainte-Julie, a suburban town on Montreal’s South Shore. Italiano had previously been linked to one of the biggest drug busts in Canada. He was arrested in 1994 along with brothers Gerald and Richard Matticks, of Montreal’s West End Gang, following the discovery of twenty-six tonnes of hashish in the Port of Montreal. Charges against Italiano and his alleged accomplices were later withdrawn after the presiding trial judge ruled that the SQ had fabricated part of the evidence.
Businessman Beniamino Zappia, born in Cattolica Eraclea and described by the DIA as “the right arm of the Rizzutos in Italy,” was also arrested in Milan, where he had been living for several years. Along with many others, he had opened several Swiss bank accounts on behalf of the Rizzuto clan. This was the same Zappia whom hidden RCMP cameras and microphones had filmed and recorded on multiple occasions at the Consenza, including in May 2005, when Rocco Sollecito explained to him how the five leaders divided up the proceeds of the clan’s criminal operations.
The investigation that led to this wave of arrests and searches was an outgrowth of the probe into the Strait of Messina bridge funding plot, which had been launched on the basis of information transmitted to Italian police by the RCMP. A partial transcription of electronic surveillance conducted during operations Cicéron and Colisée had been handed over to DIA officers, who then mounted their own operation. The surveillance included long-distance phone conversations between Vito and money launderers in Europe and Asia.
Investigations begat other investigations. The Italian anti-Mafia sleuths must have felt like cats rolling a giant ball of yarn around, unravelling strands of evidence bit by bit. Several of them eventually led to Cattolica Eraclea, the Rizzutos’ hometown, where in November 2008, police seized properties belonging to Beniamino Zappia. They also confiscated the house, car, bank accounts and stock portfolio of a local wine merchant suspected of being in league with the Rizzuto family, and who had previously sought election to the legislature of Agrigento province.
Then, before dawn on November 27, 2009, some eighty police officers massed in the rocky hills near Cattolica Eraclea. They covered their faces with hoods, put on vests bearing the DIA insignia, then surrounded the village and marched in silence through its narrow streets, on their way to nab their suspects while they slept. The arrests, dubbed Operation Minoa, sought to wipe out the Rizzuto clan’s ongoing influence in the town and, by extension, throughout Sicily and the rest of Italy.
Antonio Calderella, a DIA captain, explained in an interview with the National Post several months later that “Operation Minoa originated from the prosecutor’s office of Palermo, which requested investigations into Vito Rizzuto, and was designed to shed light on the possible involvement of the Italian-Canadian Mafia in illegal activities in the province of Agrigento.” Those activities included money laundering as well as other crimes. “The investigation also highlighted the close proximity of leading members of the Canadian criminal clique, who originally come from this town,” Calderella said.
The clan’s man in Cattolica Eraclea was Domenico Terrasi, who kept in regular contact with his compatriot Beniamino Zappia in Milan. Terrasi owned a construction company and held sway over business and economic activity in the surrounding area. One day, angry that he had not been awarded a contract to repair local streets and roads, Terrasi summoned the father-in-law of the municipal bureaucrat who oversaw public works in the town and commune.
“Fuck!” he erupted, unaware he was being recorded. “I will show you how I will kick him … You know how I will crush him? Like this!”
“I am telling you, if anything can be done, do it and I will support you,” the father-in-law promised slavishly. “I am very sorry, truly. You know I am sorry.”
Though Terrasi’s firms did not win that particular roadwork job, they did secure the contract to build part of an extensive aqueduct across western Sicily. According to Italian police, the entire structure, which cost seventy million dollars, was built by Mafia-controlled companies who shared the contracts among themselves.
“The investigation also dealt with the subject of the municipal elections of 2007 in Cattolica,” the National Post quoted authorities as saying. “It has been verified that the Mafia group headed by Domenico Terrasi acted effectively for the election of the current mayor, Cosimo Piro, and of a municipal councillor. The investigation also pointed out the illegal activity of the above-mentioned group in controlling the election.”
Things had come full circle. In 1955, Vito Rizzuto’s father-in-law-to-be and other clan members had murdered Giuseppe Spagnolo, the staunch Mafia opponent and first elected mayor of Cattolica Eraclea. Half a century later, the same clan had manoeuvred to put their man in the town mayor’s chair.
In other ways, though, times had changed. After the Second World War, political authorities had left the way clear for the Mafia. By the early twenty-first century, courageous police officers, prosecutors and judges in both Italy and North America were determined to fight it.
Nicolò Rizzuto and his son, Vito, could only watch as their empire began to crumble under killing blows dealt by police and judicial authorities. For years already, members of rival clans in Montreal had been circling, like so many sharks sensing blood in the water. As the organization foundered, the predators had greedily torn off strips. Now they relished a final feeding frenzy.
In the months and years following Vito Rizzuto’s arrest in January 2004, some forty individuals in and around Montreal were murdered, were abducted, or disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Several of them had ties to the city’s Mafia. Unpaid debts often constituted the motives for the crimes, but sometimes other factors could be inferred. Investigators were nonetheless at a loss for leads in many cases.
On January 19, 2004, one Carmelo Tommassino called his wife to say he wouldn’t be able to pick up their young daughter at school. When his wife asked him why, he couldn’t give her an explanation. He hung up and was never seen or heard from again. Paolo Gervasi, the former owner of the Castel Tina strip club who had fallen out with the Sicilian clan, was murdered the same day, killed by gunfire as he got behind the wheel of his Jeep after leaving a pastry shop on Jean-Talon Street (see Chapter 11).
In February 2005, Calabrian mobster Domenico Cordeleone was kidnapped, by all accounts because of a drug debt, but was released in short order. Years earlier, he had been tight with Colombian narcotraficante Jairo Garcia, who’d become a powerful member of the Cali cartel after returning to his native country. The two had been neighbours in La Plaine, a semi-rural suburb north of Montreal, where they each owned huge estates.
Real estate developer Antonio (Tony) Magi, who was often seen with Rizzuto family members, was abducted the following April. Two strangers stopped him on Saint-Jacques Street in LaSalle, handcuffed him and took him to a house in Laval. The businessman was slightly injured. In his version of the story, he managed to break free of his restraints and flee. Rather than file a police report, he called Vito Rizzuto’s son Nick Jr. and arranged to meet him at the Bar Laennec, in Laval, with Francesco Del Balso and Antonio (Tony) Volpato. The latter was another of Vito’s former classmates at St. Pius X Secondary School (and would make headlines three years later, when it was revealed that he was a former lover of model Julie Couillard, who in 2008 would find herself infamously at the centre of a scandal involving Canada’s foreign minister). All wondered who might have planned the kidnapping and why.
Leonardo D’Angelo was abducted a few days later, on May 1. He was the nephew of Vincenzo Spagnolo, the former Buffet Roma owner who had been one of the men accompanying Vito on his Dominican Republic golf trip. D’Angelo had built up a debt of $400,000. Nicolò Rizzuto Sr. and Paolo Renda had been trying to help him out for two months, but it wasn’t enough. Money was raised among his relatives and friends, and he was freed.
Three weeks later, on May 25, 2005, it was the turn of Frank Martorana, a close associate of Francesco Arcadi, to be snatched. He was talking with someone in the backroom of Paduano, a barbershop on Jean-Talon Street in Saint-Léonard, when four men burst in. When he tried to resist, blows from the butt of a revolver rained down on his head, and he was subdued.
Police believed his abduction was related to various long-standing debts, which exceeded a million dollars. He returned to his home in Lorraine, north of Montreal, a week later, his face still bearing the traces of the aggression. He refused to press charges. Drug trafficker Christian Deschênes had previously planned to kidnap Martorana, along with Francesco Arcadi, in July 2001 (see Chapter 13).
Martorana had also been mixed up in a convoluted case of extortion. He owed $500,000 to John Scotti, the Saint-Léonard luxury car dealer, and Scotti was eager to be paid. A garage owner in Toronto happened to owe Martorana the same amount. Vito Rizzuto and his cronies had leaned on the garage owner to force him to pay Martorana so that Martorana could refund Scotti. The garage owner went to the police. The ensuing investigation then had a significant influence on the unfolding of Operation Colisée, leading police to focus on crimes of extortion.
The same day, May 25, Domenico Dettori was assaulted by several men in the Rivière-des-Prairies district of east-end Montreal. They threw him in a van, gave him a severe beating, ensured that he properly understood the message they were relaying, and let him go. Dettori refused to tell police anything about his aggressors and would only admit that the incident had been sparked by a drug debt.
Mike Lapolla and Giovanni “Johnny” Bertolo were murdered in 2005, and Richard Griffin and Domenico Macri met the same fate in 2006, as detailed elsewhere in these pages. There were more killings in 2007. On March 9, thirty-two-year-old Carmine Guarino, a small-time drug dealer with ties to the Sicilian clan, was shot dead at Café Albano on Jarry Street. On April 26, the charred body of Ezechielle De Bellis, thirty-seven, was found next to Highway 125 near Rawdon, northeast of Montreal. De Bellis, who had attended Macri’s funeral, was an enforcer for the Montreal Mafia and had a drug trafficking charge pending against him.
On the morning of July 5, a panic-stricken resident of Pointe-Claire, a community on Montreal’s West Island, called 911 to report that she had seen a body lying in the backyard of a house. Hasan Eroglu, a thirty-nine-year-old heroin dealer and close friend of Lorenzo Giordano, had been shot three times. A handgun equipped with a silencer was found nearby.
On September 12, Calabrian-born Francesco Velenosi, age fifty-six, who was involved in loansharking and illegal gambling, left his home in LaSalle, saying he was going out to meet friends. He was murdered later the same day or the next day. Five days later, a family member called police to inform them that they had found Velenosi’s grey Volvo, with his body stuffed in the trunk. He had been horribly beaten, probably with one or more golf clubs.
On December 21, Tony Mucci, the man who shot journalist Jean-Pierre Charbonneau in the newsroom of Le Devoir in 1973, was himself the target of a murder attempt. Unknown assailants fired at him as he sat in the Café Maida—Francesco Arcadi’s headquarters, on Lacordaire Boulevard in Saint-Léonard—but missed. Mucci was the lieutenant of Moreno Gallo, a well-respected underworld boss.
Gallo, then aged sixty-one, was widely believed to be in line to take over the leadership of the Montreal Mafia. He had immigrated to Canada at age nine with his mother and sister, two years after his father. He had obtained permanent residency but had never become a Canadian citizen. In 1974, he had been convicted of murder in the shooting death in Old Montreal of Angelo Facchino, a drug dealer who worked for the Dubois brothers’ gang. He had been paroled nine years later.
Operation Colisée investigators had observed Gallo in the company of the Rizzuto clan leaders on several occasions. Along with many others, he had been a featured player in the RCMP’s hidden-camera videos, bringing tribute money to the Consenza. Police had compiled a report on his Mafia relations—one persuasive enough for his parole to be revoked. Gallo was sent back to prison but, even so, maintained close ties to members of criminal organizations. “Recent information … reveals that you stayed in direct contact with people connected with biker gangs, street gangs and Italian organized crime,” noted a report by the Canada Border Services Agency, which was seeking to deport him to Italy.
During this turbulent period, a bona fide declaration of war against the Rizzuto clan was issued by one Sergio Piccirilli, a protegé of the Ontario Calabrian clans and a staunch ally of the D’Amico crime family of Granby, Quebec. Though it was only with hindsight that investigators would grasp the full import of these events, the attack was direct and unambiguous. It was the first formal offensive against the Sicilian clan that had exterminated the Calabrian Paolo Violi in 1978 and ruled the Montreal Mafia in the intervening three decades.
Born in Calabria on New Year’s Day, 1960, Sergio Piccirilli, variously nicknamed “Big Guy” and “Grizzly,” was a prolific drug merchant in the Montreal region, dealing in marijuana, cocaine and various so-called designer drugs. He and his accomplices manufactured ecstasy out of a garage on Leman Street in the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul industrial park of Laval. Piccirilli peddled his wares in Montreal and New York. Business really started booming when he hooked up with Sharon Simon, a trafficker nicknamed the “Kanehsatake drug queen” by the media. She owned a huge estate at the end of a private road in the Mohawk community of Kanehsatake, near Oka, off the northwest tip of the Island of Montreal. She and Piccirilli were romantically involved for a time, which provided Grizzly with new connections for marijuana and contraband cigarettes.
For twenty years, Piccirilli had paid the Rizzuto clan—more precisely, Francesco Arcadi—a commission on the proceeds of his drug sales. The more he dealt, the more he had to cough up in “taxes.” Eventually he got fed up and vowed to stop paying. He told associates that if Arcadi wanted to make money, all he had to do was work as hard as he did. Such effrontery, of course, was the sort of thing that could cost him dearly. Piccirilli’s Calabrian boss in Toronto, Franco Mattoso, learned that there was a contract out on him and told him about it.
On February 4, 2005, Piccirilli went to Toronto with Domenico D’Agostino, his right-hand man. He sought advice from Mattoso, then went to Hamilton for a meeting with the brothers Giuseppe and Domenico Violi. When their father, Paolo, had been killed by the Rizzuto clan, Giuseppe and Domenico were eight and twelve years old, respectively. They were now aged thirty-five and thirty-nine, and intensely involved in the activities of the Ontario Mafia, specifically in the Hamilton underworld, where their grandfather on their mother’s side, Giacomo Luppino, had long held sway. RCMP investigators who tracked their movements are unaware of the precise nature of the Violis’ conversation with Piccirilli, but it can safely be surmised that they did not prevail upon him to make peace with the clan that had executed their father.
On police surveillance recordings, Piccirilli’s mother is heard expressing worry for her son’s safety. He tried to reassure her by insisting he was well shielded. “I still have my friends supporting me,” he told her. “I even called some friends from Toronto and the U.S. They’re all coming.” He added that he was sick and tired of being under the Rizzuto clan’s thumb: “Those bastards, they’re jealous because I don’t wanna work for them.”
Piccirilli was armed almost everywhere he went. As an additional precaution, he often slept away from his home in the northeastern Montreal suburb of Terrebonne. For a while, he holed up at a hotel in Saint-André-Avellin, a small town partway between Montreal and Ottawa. True to his boasting, he did have powerful allies, including Salvatore Cazzetta, the paroled former leader of the Rock Machine biker gang, who were about to patch over to the Hells Angels. But those Piccirilli could most count on were the D’Amicos of Granby. The marijuana-smuggling family worked closely with the powerful Hells Angels chapter in nearby Sherbrooke and had their own bone to pick with Francesco Arcadi and his Consenza cronies, over a murky matter of drug money (see Chapter 16).
Police had pegged Piccirilli as one of the quartet of costumed, armed men who kidnapped Arcadi associate Nicolò Varacalli on Halloween night in 2005. Two days before Christmas, he joined the D’Amico delegation that showed up to intimidate the regulars at the Consenza, leading investigators to fear a bloodbath. Police knew there was a contract out on Piccirilli, and they knew Piccirilli planned to murder old Nick, whom he blamed for all his troubles with Arcadi. “We’re fed up with living like this,” he had warned. “Enough is enough, it’s time to make a move.”
For several days, Piccirilli posted men near the Consenza to discreetly watch Rizzuto and his cronies come and go.
“I’m looking at him right through the café window!” one of them reported to his boss by cellphone as old Nick came into view. “I can see him perfectly; I could do it easy!”
“Do nothing tonight,” Piccirilli answered. “I have to go to Toronto first.”
On February 16, 2006, police officers paid Piccirilli a visit to warn him that he was playing a dangerous, and possibly fatal, game. “I’m not afraid to die,” he retorted. “I know how to watch out for myself; I don’t need anybody’s help.” A few hours later, he was on the phone to one of them, Sergeant Jos Tomeo of the RCMP.
“Is it illegal to wear a bulletproof vest?” he asked ingenuously.
“No, no, you can if you want to,” the Mountie assured him.
That same evening, through an intermediary, Piccirilli asked to acquire weapons from Sharon Simon. The next day, at the request of the RCMP investigators, SQ officers stopped a Volkswagen Touareg on Highway 640, not far from Oka. Simon was seated in the vehicle with a man. She was on her way to deliver an AK-47 to Laval. The automatic weapon was of the same type that Mohawk warriors had favoured during the Oka Crisis of 1990, the infamous seventy-eight-day standoff sparked by a land dispute and pitting First Nations activists against the SQ, the RCMP and eventually the Canadian army. The officers also found a black case containing a .380 calibre pistol, a magazine and ammunition. They seized the weapons, then sent Simon and her companion on their way so as not to jeopardize the ongoing investigation.
Police never ascertained how the conflict between Piccirilli and the Rizzuto clan leadership was settled. The latter were arrested and jailed later that year on November 22, as Operation Colisée drew to a close. By that time, Piccirilli, the Kanehsatake drug queen and several accomplices had themselves been nabbed, and faced gangsterism, drug trafficking and money laundering charges. A Court of Québec judge threw out the charges against Piccirilli, but Canada’s Ministry of Justice appealed.
Around six-thirty in the morning of August 11, 2008, an unknown assailant tried to kill Antonio Magi (who had been kidnapped three years earlier but managed to escape his captors). The forty-nine-year-old Montreal real estate developer was at the wheel of his Range Rover, waiting for a red light at the intersection of Cavendish Boulevard and Monkland Avenue in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood, when the killer fired several bullets into him and then fled on foot. As the critically wounded Magi slumped in his seat, his foot came off the brake pedal of his suv, which rolled slowly along Cavendish, ran into several parked cars and came to rest against a tree. He was rushed to hospital, where he fell into a coma. He eventually recovered but remained hospitalized for six months, during which time he had ample opportunity to reflect on the reasons for the attempt on his life and who might have ordered it.
Police, meanwhile, tried to piece together their own theory. They knew that Magi had benefited from the Rizzuto clan’s protection for years. But that umbrella now seemed to be in tatters in the wake of Vito’s arrest and extradition to the United States, one investigator noted. Magi had been doing business with Nick Rizzuto Jr. They had bought a piece of land together, in Montreal’s west end, and planned to build a residential complex on it. They often met at the second-floor offices of FTM Construction, the company Magi ran with his younger brother, Alberino (Rino) Magi, on Upper Lachine Road in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
Magi was a prominent figure in Montreal real estate. His wife ran a private daycare that received subsidies from the Quebec government. In 1999, he had partnered with an acquaintance of Vito Rizzuto, condo developer Terry Pomerantz—he of the stolen Cadillac suv recovered by Vito’s men—on the project to convert the former cold-storage warehouse in Old Montreal. The project, 1 Avenue du Port, had been announced with pomp and ceremony at a press conference held on a cruise ship moored in the harbour basin between the warehouse and the clock tower in Montreal’s Old Port. Acting as spokesperson for his company of the time, Harbourteam, Magi had posed for photographers with the heritage building in the background. Before long, though, problems cropped up, partners abandoned him, and buyers who had left large deposits began wondering whether they would ever be able to move into their promised condos in one of the city’s most prestigious harbourfront addresses. The project was eventually taken over by another developer but not completed until several years later. Tony and Rino Magi also held a significant stake in a high-rise construction project in Montreal’s downtown core, at the corner of De la Montagne Street and De Maisonneuve Boulevard. As debts continued to pile up, in 2005, Tony sought bankruptcy protection for Harbourteam and another firm of his, Gescor. His brother wouldn’t fare much better and was involved in dodgy relations as well. In 2008, Rino and several other Montreal businessmen faced charges from U.S. authorities for having backed a telemarketing scam that preyed on senior citizens in California and other states.
A police search warrant filed at the Montreal courthouse stated that Tony Magi “had close ties to Montreal’s Italian Mafia”—a charge that he has always denied. He was also known to be acquainted with street gang members. Upon his discharge from hospital, he hired bodyguards. That precaution couldn’t prevent one of his enemies from firing shots at his wife, Rita Biasini, in February 2011, as she drove away from the family home on a quiet street in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce in her suv. She escaped unharmed, managing to drive to a nearby police station.
The next kidnapping victim was Mario Marabella. On December 4, 2008, as he stopped to buy gas at a service station in Laval, he was waylaid by three or four men. Later that evening, his car was found torched and abandoned in east-end Montreal. Marabella had a prior conviction for loansharking and was involved in several other illicit pursuits, including trafficking in marijuana. Police reckoned he was abducted because he owed a significant amount to creditors and, moreover, had adopted an excessively high profile on the street. Marabella answered to Agostino Cuntrera, still one of the most influential members of the Sicilian clan. With Moreno Gallo behind bars and under threat of deportation to Italy, it was Cuntrera who was now tapped as a potential successor to the Rizzutos as leader of the Montreal Mafia. In that light, the kidnapping of Marabella, his right-hand man, took on even greater importance.
Many more blows—some of them far more devastating—awaited the clan.
On January 16, 2009, in the early afternoon, Sam Fasulo, age thirty-seven, was in his Jeep Cherokee waiting for a red light to change at the intersection of Henri-Bourassa and Langelier Boulevards in Montreal North when a light-coloured suv pulled up beside him. One of its two occupants sprayed Fasulo with a volley of bullets, almost two dozen in all, hitting him several times in the head and body. One round pierced a wad of bills in his jacket pocket. Fasulo found the strength to make a call on his cellphone. When police and ambulance workers arrived, he was slumped against the steering wheel. He was taken to hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries two days later.
Fasulo was very well known to police. He had close ties to Francesco Arcadi, Vito Rizzuto’s lieutenant, who by then was incarcerated as well. Around one in the morning on December 8, 2002, an Operation Colisée wiretap had picked up Arcadi ordering Fasulo to settle a problem. A mob-linked drug trafficker was being hassled in a bar on Fleury Street in Montreal; Arcadi told Fasulo to head straight there but to use verbal threats, not violence, on the troublemaker: “I don’t want you to go there and start hitting right away. When you get there you grab this piece of shit … You tell him: ‘Don’t you touch this fellow or I will slit your throat like a goat.’ ” Another recording from three-quarters of an hour later suggests that Fasulo settled the problem in short order but that he did use his fists, not just his mouth.
The elimination of Fasulo was significant in more than one respect. Whoever ordered the hit had succeeded in taking out not just the right-hand man of a key Rizzuto clan leader, but a drug dealer who controlled the market in several Italian cafés in Saint-Michel and other northeast Montreal neighbourhoods.
Fasulo had been arrested in February 2003 with seventeen others, accused of running a ring that dealt up to $100,000 in heroin and crack cocaine every week. The network operated out of cafés with decidedly unsubtle mob-inspired names like “Scarface” and “Goodfellas.” Neighbour hood residents complained that the drug dealing led to a host of other problems including fights, prostitution, and syringes littering the streets. After a year-long investigation, Montreal police had asked for the support of the RCMP and the SQ; some 185 officers were marshalled to arrest the members of the network in multiple raids. They seized hashish, marijuana, crack, heroin, Viagra tablets, luxury cars, automatic weapons, handguns and a silencer, as well as sticks of dynamite, detonators and other bomb-making materials. Many of the cafés were dirty and poorly maintained, obviously serving only as fronts for drug dealing. “During our search and seizure operations, we had to look pretty hard before finding any coffee machines,” said one officer who had been part of the investigation, appropriately dubbed “Operation Espresso.” They did, however, discover more than a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of sophisticated video surveillance gear.
Fasulo had been sentenced to four years in prison but won early release in 2005, after which he discreetly resumed his former line of work. His murder was a prelude to several more significant ones. And, coincidence or not, it also occurred at the same time as the first in a wave of firebombing attacks on Italian cafés. Molotov cocktails were lobbed at around twenty of them in northeast Montreal during 2009 and 2010. With some rare exceptions, the perpetrators followed the same modus operandi, striking at night or in the very early morning, when the establishments were unoccupied. They would smash the café window, light the rag “fuse” stuffed into the neck of a gasoline-filled bottle and throw the projectile onto the floor inside. In some cases, fairly serious blazes ensued, causing considerable damage, but often the flames died out quickly or were extinguished by firefighters. There were no deaths. Police eventually made an initial arrest: nineteen-year-old Mickendy Démosthène, who had links to Montreal’s street gangs. Arrests of other street gang members followed, and investigators put forward various theories on motives for the attacks.
One was that since the arrests of the Rizzuto clan leadership, the street gangs had decided they could directly confront Sicilian operatives on their turf in the city’s northeast neighbourhoods. Other investigators, however, thought it far more likely that rival Italian clans were using street gang members to send a message. One person who thought so was Jacques Robinette, deputy chief with the Montreal police force and the man in charge of special investigations. He believed it was quite possible that the young criminals had been hired by Ontario’s Calabrian clans looking to take advantage of the weakened Sicilian organization and gain a foothold in Montreal.
It was a scenario that fit with what investigators had learned about Sergio Piccirilli and his February 2005 meetings with his Calabrian boss in Toronto and with Paolo Violi’s two sons in Hamilton, prior to his declaring war on the Rizzuto clan.
Late in the morning on August 21, 2009, long-time Rizzuto family associate Federico del Peschio was shot and killed behind La Cantina restaurant, on Saint-Laurent Boulevard near Legendre Street in the north-end neighbourhood of Ahuntsic. The fifty-nine-year-old, who lived in Laval, was starting his business day. He locked the door of his silver Mercedes and headed across the parking lot toward the restaurant, which he co-owned. A hired killer, obviously well acquainted with del Peschio’s daily routine, was lying in wait. Just after the fatal shots rang out, a witness saw a dark-skinned man flee down the alley behind the restaurant and into a waiting van driven by an accomplice. The driver pulled away immediately, before anyone could note the licence plate number. “I walked over to the victim and saw the pool of his own blood,” the same witness recounted. “The restaurant staff were hysterical. They were going round in circles, completely hysterical.” Investigating officers found a firearm and spent cartridges in the parking lot. They strongly suspected that the killer was a street gang member.
At a trial in 2002, the restaurant had been described as a meeting place for drug traffickers. One of those accused, lawyer José Guede, had been ordered not to visit the establishment because he would likely run into Vito Rizzuto and other mobsters there (Guede was cleared of the charges against him and that decision was later upheld on appeal). Vito was a regular at La Cantina; it was there that del Peschio introduced him to La Presse sports columnist Réjean Tremblay one evening in the winter of 2003, when Vito complained about journalists looking into his links to OMG Media, the company that installed public garbage and recycling bins emblazoned with advertising.
In 1979, del Peschio had been convicted of trafficking in hashish along with Sidney Lallouz, a drug dealer who also made headlines when, after his release from prison, he was involved in land deals with the Société de développement industriel de Montréal (SODIM), a paramunicipal agency responsible for industrial development in the city.
In February 1988, del Peschio had been arrested in Caracas, Venezuela, with Nicolò Rizzuto and two other accomplices, when police found cocaine in Rizzuto’s home. Del Peschio spent a few months in a Venezuelan prison with old Nick. Their two other cellmates were Antonino Mongiovì, Paolo Cuntrera’s son-in-law, and Gennaro Scaletta. Not long before del Peschio was killed behind La Cantina, Scaletta, who had since become an informant, had testified at a trial in Italy pursuant to an investigation dubbed Operazione Orso Bruno (Operation Brown Bear) that exposed money laundering operations involving Rizzuto family members.
Del Peschio had become co-owner of La Cantina after his return from Venezuela. He was not content merely to play the host when patrons came to dine in his restaurant, however. In his entourage, there were whispers that he had a discreet hand in several illegal pursuits, including loansharking and hashish trafficking. Some said he had been exterminated because he had interceded in a dispute over a debt. Others believed he had been called to the rescue by the Rizzuto clan after Operation Colisée, and had agreed to act as a “compromise candidate” as boss, pending the release of the clan leaders from jail.
There was little doubt that rivals were out to widen the vacuum around the old-guard Sicilian family and their associates. Ironically, del Peschio was killed just a block north of the spot where Pietro Sciara had been shot dead as he left the Riviera cinema on Valentine’s Day 1976. The slaying of Sciara, consigliere to Vic Cotroni and Paolo Violi, was the event that hastened the end of the Calabrian clan’s reign and the start of the Rizzuto family’s ascendancy. The Riviera cinema, long since closed, was now the Solid Gold, a bar that attracted members of organized crime groups. Its manager was Moreno Gallo.
The viewing for del Peschio took place at the Loreto funeral home, which belonged to the Rizzuto and Renda families. Some three hundred people attended the funeral at the Church of the Madonna della Difesa, the same place of worship where Paolo Violi’s funeral had taken place in 1978.
Huge floral arrangements hung from the rears of two limousines parked in front of the church, in the heart of Montreal’s Little Italy. One had been sent by mobster Tony Mucci, who had survived a murder attempt himself a year and a half earlier; the other was from Lorenzo LoPresti, age thirty-eight, the son of Giuseppe (Joe) LoPresti, murdered in April 1992. Several familiar faces from the Montreal Mafia lingered on the forecourt after the casket was borne from the church. Libertina Rizzuto, Vito’s mother, was seen weeping in the arms of a man; she had been very fond of del Peschio. Her daughter, Maria Renda, also quite upset, was by her side.
The tall figure of Nicolò Rizzuto Jr., Vito’s eldest son, stood out from the crowd of mourners. Curious onlookers could not help but remark on how much he looked like his father, with his hair carefully combed backward, his brooding gaze and his stocky build. With him were his mother, Giovanna, as well as his brother, Leonardo, and sister, Bettina. Five months later, Nick Jr.’s life came to a violent end as well.
Rizzuto, forty-two, was hit by four bullets shortly after noon on December 28, on Upper Lachine Road in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. Area residents told reporters they heard at least six gunshots. “It sounded just like someone setting off firecrackers,” one neighbour said. Witnesses described a dark-skinned man wearing jeans and a dark coat, his head partly covered by a hood, who ran from the scene after the shots rang out and disappeared down Melrose Avenue.
When first responders reached the scene, a crowd had already gathered. In Montreal, a killing at midday in a fairly busy area is anything but an everyday occurrence. Vito’s son lay in the parking lot of a residential building, next to his black Mercedes coupe. Firefighters and ambulance workers tried in vain to resuscitate him. Police quickly cordoned off a security perimeter. Investigators climbed the stairs to the second floor of a building right next door, site of the office of FTM Construction, real estate developer Tony Magi’s firm. Rizzuto and Magi had partnered on real estate projects in the Montreal suburbs of Lachine and LaSalle, and Rizzuto had often been to the office over the past three years. Four months earlier, in September, he had been there with Magi when police investigating various mobland murder attempts went to question the developer.
Police had been back to FTM Construction in November, armed this time with a search warrant. They were looking into incidents of assault and attempted extortion involving members of a street gang. A week later, in connection with that investigation, they arrested Lamartine Sévère Paul, a member of a gang aligned with the Crips, and a cousin of alleged street gang kingpin Ducarme Joseph. Police alleged Magi lent money to a wide variety of clients and hired Joseph to intimidate those who refused to pay.
Magi, however, had no criminal record, and neither did Nicolò Rizzuto Jr., apart from three impaired driving convictions. But police knew that Vito had naturally chosen his eldest son to take over, at least in part, the reins of the family business if need be. After returning from Cuba, not long before his January 2004 arrest, Vito had introduced Nick Jr. to several of his underworld contacts as well as businessmen in the clan’s orbit. Nick’s principal task had been laundering money for the family. He had also thought he had the necessary clout to put a stop to the wave of Italian café firebombings. According to police, Nick had at least one “face to face” meeting with street gang members and was heard saying, “The blacks aren’t laughing any more,” a week before his death.
These attempts at conflict resolution had been welcomed with shrugged shoulders, if not outright contempt. Nicolò Jr. may have resembled his father physically, but the comparisons ended there. He had inherited none of Vito’s charisma, possessed none of his experience and failed to impose respect in the milieu. He seemed not to understand that the street gang members were in all likelihood being manipulated by a rival Italian Mafia faction looking to topple the Rizzuto clan. A faction very probably aligned with the Ontario Calabrian clan but also comprising younger Sicilian mobsters rebelling against the old guard represented by Nick Sr., Paolo Renda and Rocco Sollecito. “The Calabrians have started taxing the base again, starting with the bars run by the Sicilians, and they’re using the street gangs,” one investigator contended.
On the evening of December 28, a few hours after the murder, the clan huddled urgently at the home of Nicolò Rizzuto Sr., who had been released from Bordeaux prison the year before. The family, understandably, was shattered. Reached by phone at the penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, a distraught Vito said he thought he could convince prison authorities to grant him a furlough so he could attend the funeral, but his relatives persuaded him not to. His wife, Giovanna, and their two surviving children, already torn by grief, feared Vito’s presence would attract even more media coverage of the ceremony. And they didn’t relish the thought of him making only a brief visit to Montreal, showing up at the church in handcuffs and escorted by police.
Nick Jr.’s gold casket was carried into the Church of the Madonna della Difesa, where the clan had bid addio to Federico del Peschio five months earlier. Old Nick now said goodbye to his grandson, accompanied by his wife, Libertina, his daughter-in-law, Giovanna, and numerous other family members. The deceased’s widow, Eleonora, sat with her two children nearby. Her son was named Vito, like his grandfather and his great-great-grandfather, murdered in a quarry in Patterson, New York, in 1933. “Forgive us our sins and lead us to eternal salvation,” intoned Father Jacques du Plouy, addressing the faithful in Italian. “Nicolò was promised eternal joy at his baptism … Now, he is in good hands with God.”
After the ceremony, eight pallbearers lifted the casket and placed it in the hearse. The cortège of ten limousines got underway, headed for a cemetery in east-end Montreal. Press photographers had set up on some balconies on the other side of the street that provided the best vantage point from which to record the scene. Plainclothes police officers trained their camera lenses on the forecourt as well; later, analysts would determine who exactly had attended but also who was absent. A few friends of the family spoke to journalists. “It’s a monstrous way to end your life. It’s a sad, sad day for me,” said Ricardo Padulo, the owner of the restaurant Buffet Da Enrico, located on Saint-Zotique Street in the same neighbourhood as the church; his wife had gone to high school with Nick Jr. Padulo said the Rizzutos “help poor people, and people in trouble with their businesses. We can criticize, but they did a lot of good.”
The murder of Vito’s son was by far the most severe blow ever struck against the family to that point. The various arrests, Vito’s extradition, Nick Sr.’s jail sentence and the murder of close associates like Federico del Peschio seemed almost trivial events next to this shocking tragedy. “To have a son murdered is the worst thing that can happen to a Mafia boss,” said Pierre de Champlain, former Criminal Intelligence Directorate analyst with the RCMP in Ottawa. There were rumblings in the underworld that Old Nick was prepared to pay his family’s enemies two million dollars to be at peace.
Bullets flew in broad daylight in a busy neighbourhood once again, on March 18, 2010. This time, the target was forty-one-year-old Ducarme Joseph. Early in the afternoon, two masked hit men burst into his clothing store, FlawNego, on Saint-Jacques Street in Old Montreal, firing dozens of times. Joseph managed to flee by the rear exit, but the others present in the store were not as lucky. Peter Christopoulos, Joseph’s bodyguard and drug-trafficking partner, and Jean Gaston, the store manager, were killed. Frédéric Louis, another of Joseph’s bodyguards, was injured. Alain Gagnon, an electrician who happened to be working in the store and had no links to organized crime, was shot in the face but survived.
Joseph, the alleged street gang leader, lived in a downtown apartment, above an Eggspectation restaurant franchise at the corner of De Maisonneuve Boulevard and De la Montagne Street. The building had been put up by Tony Magi and his partners. A search warrant states that the promoter had given Joseph the apartment in lieu of payment after he hired him to shake down debtors. The day after the shooting, police caught up with and arrested Joseph as he was leaving Magi’s office, FTM Construction, not far from the parking lot where Nicolò Rizzuto Jr. had been shot dead.
The close ties between Joseph and Magi, and the fact that Magi was known to consort with Mafiosi, led investigators and crime watchers alike to believe that the FlawNego shooting was connected to the conflicts that were destabilizing the Italian Mafia in the city, but the precise motive for the attempt on Joseph’s life remained murky. Three members of rival street gangs were arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder. A persistent rumour had it that the Sicilian clan had offered a bounty of $200,000 to whoever could rub out Ducarme Joseph.
Five months after the murder of Nick Jr., a second enemy thrust cut deep and close to the heart of the Rizzuto family. Seventy-year-old Paolo Renda vanished—from all appearances, he was the victim of a kidnapping. Until recently, such a move would have been unthinkable. No one would have dared attempt such a brazen, direct attack on someone so high up in the clan—the consigliere was the number-three man after Vito Rizzuto and his father. Renda, of course, was not merely an associate of the Rizzutos: he was tied to them by blood. He was Old Nick’s cousin: the latter’s mother was the sister of Renda’s father, Calogero Renda, who had murdered a Mafia boss in Siculiana before moving to Montreal—and, in 1978, was suspected of having planned the killing of Paolo Violi. Paolo Renda had then married Vito’s only sister, who became Maria Renda. Moreover, he was godfather to Nick Jr.
Thursday, May 20, 2010, was shaping up to be a fine spring day. Paolo Renda was continuing to enjoy the sweet taste of freedom, having been released from prison just three months earlier—but these would be his last moments of liberty. He made himself a cup of coffee—he liked powdered decaf, which his acquaintances must have viewed as heretical behaviour for an Italian, and one who grew grapes to make his own wine, to boot—then left his home on Antoine-Berthelet Avenue to go play a round of golf.
Arrested with the rest of the Consenza clique in 2006 at the close of Operation Colisée and sentenced to six years in prison for gangsterism and possession of the proceeds of crime, Renda had won release in February 2010 after serving two-thirds of his sentence. Correctional Service of Canada, however, was worried that he might seek revenge for the murder of Nick Jr., and the National Parole Board had subjected him to stricter conditions: he had to present a monthly statement of income and expenses, and refrain from associating with other dangerous offenders. Items he was forbidden from carrying included a pager, a cellphone and, of course, a firearm. “Unfortunate events took place on December 28, 2009, during which your godson was killed,” the parole board commissioners remarked on the day of Renda’s release. “The Correctional Service of Canada fears reprisals on the part of Italian organized crime. A tighter framework is recommended to assure public security.”
After his golf game, Renda went to the Loreto funeral home, which his family owned, to pay his respects to a recently deceased friend. He then left Rivière-des-Prairies and headed for home. On the way, he stopped at a Saint-Léonard butcher shop, where he bought four steaks for a planned supper with his wife, Maria, his daughter, Domenica, and her husband, Antonio Cammisano. He had said he would be home by 4 P.M. His son, forty-three-year-old Calogero, knew his father’s habits well and began to worry when he didn’t return at the promised hour. Maria hoped her husband had simply been stopped by police for some violation of his parole conditions. She called the Correctional Service; an officer then contacted Montreal police.
Calogero went out to look for his father and quickly spotted his car. The light-grey Infiniti sedan was sitting not far from the family home, in front of a house on Gouin Boulevard near Albert-Prévost Avenue. The driver’s side window was open, and the key was still in the ignition. Renda always drove with the windows up and the air conditioning on—details that were noted by investigators when they later tried to reconstitute the sequence of events. Apparently, the individuals who pulled Renda over to the side of the road had been wearing police uniforms, which might explain why he had willingly lowered the window. All the available evidence suggested he would have had no reason to be suspicious. But the key in the ignition meant he had probably left the vehicle in a hurry, perhaps under threat from someone with a gun in his hand.
A woman who lived in the home opposite the spot where the abandoned Infiniti was found said a man—probably Calogero—had come to her house around six o’clock. “This man knocked on the door and asked me if I’d seen the driver of the car,” she told a reporter. “I said no and he left in a panic.”
Police officers went to the Renda residence to complete the missing person report. When they arrived, the house was full of visitors. Besides Maria Renda, they noted the presence of Calogero, his sister, Domenica, and her husband, Antonio Cammisano, as well as Paolo Renda’s in-laws and neighbours: Nicolò and Libertina Rizzuto. All appeared to be in a state of shock. Seated at the kitchen table with her daughter, Maria told the officers what she could about her husband’s abduction. Libertina hovered nearby. The three men remained in the living room. When they wanted to converse, they got up and went outside, making sure to slide the patio door shut behind them. A pensive Nicolò, still shaken by the murder of his grandson, narrowed his small, dark eyes. Once or twice, Calogero Renda tried to insert himself into the conversation with the police officers, nervously trying to taunt them, but his efforts fell flat. The officers closed their notebooks and left a phone number with Mrs. Renda. Police asked for the public’s help in finding Paolo Renda and issued a description: white male, age seventy, grey hair, brown eyes, height five feet eight inches, weight 170 pounds, last seen wearing a striped polo shirt and navy blue pants. In the ensuing weeks, neither Maria Renda nor any other family member ever contacted police to ask how the investigation was progressing.
Paolo Renda had long suspected that something like this could happen to him and had made arrangements accordingly. In late 2005, there had been the threats from drug trafficker Sergio Piccirilli and the members of the D’Amico family of Granby. In the waning weeks of Operation Colisée, Renda had had surveillance cameras installed around his home. Like the other clan leaders, he travelled with bodyguards. On the day of his arrest, November 22, 2006, police had searched his house for more than twelve hours and discovered a vintage .32 calibre pistol, loaded, in a secret compartment built into a piece of furniture. They had also seized two illegally stored rifles.
The day after his son-in-law cousin disappeared, Nicolò Rizzuto was due in Montreal municipal court to answer charges of impaired driving. The trial was put off—not for the first time. The Crown prosecutor, Jean-Christofe Ardeneus, explained to Judge Robert Diamond that a court appearance might be a risky move for the accused, given the events of the day before. “A detective sergeant [with the Montreal police] said it could cause certain problems with his security,” the prosecutor said.
The judge was reluctant to grant a further delay, noting that the charges stemmed from the incident four years previously when Rizzuto had driven his Mercedes into a fire truck that was responding to an emergency on December 31, 2005. Police arriving on that scene had noticed that he appeared confused and had trouble standing up; and now, Rizzuto family lawyer Loris Cavaliere told Judge Diamond that the news of Renda’s disappearance was stressful for Old Nick, who had a respiratory illness to boot.
“This happened yesterday and his health is already at risk,” Cavaliere said. On his way out of court, the lawyer told reporters that he could not find the words to describe his feelings in the wake of Renda’s disappearance. A month earlier, he had represented Renda before Quebec’s construction regulation agency, the Régie du bâtiment, which was considering revoking the licence of Renda Construction because of Paolo’s conviction on gangsterism charges. Renda had written to the agency that he preferred to withdraw his renewal request rather than see the licence revoked.
Cavaliere said he was dismayed by the “bizarre” circumstances of Renda’s disappearance. “That’s the hardest thing to comprehend,” the lawyer said. “He’s a good, quiet man. Since his release he’s been following his conditions by the book.”
Investigators, once again, could only speculate for the most part. Both the criminal world and the Italian community were rife with all manner of fanciful rumours. Some said Renda had been abducted at the behest of senior Mafia leaders in Sicily bent on forcing the Rizzutos to hand over money they had hoarded over several years. Others said the orders had come from New York City. Still others claimed that Renda hadn’t been abducted at all, but had vanished of his own volition and was hiding out in Venezuela. Police, meanwhile, had every reason to believe that he had been first tortured, then killed by his abductors, who were out to learn the Rizzuto organization’s secrets. Whichever theory was correct, it was clear that a rival clan was intent on removing the Rizzuto clan and taking over the Montreal underworld. There was no “war” per se, for the simple reason that the Rizzutos, no doubt too severely weakened, weren’t striking back after any of the attacks. Thirty years previously, the Rizzutos had eliminated the Violi brothers in succession to usurp their throne. Now they were tasting their own proverbial medicine.
Whoever the enemy was, he continued sending messages written in blood. On June 29, Agostino Cuntrera, aged sixty-six, one of the Sicilians who had taken the rap for Paolo Violi’s slaying in 1978, one of the senior Montreal representatives of the tentacular Cuntrera-Caruana-Rizzuto alliance and one of the men thought to be in line to succeed Vito, was murdered. Once again, the slaying took place in broad daylight. The hit squad also killed Cuntrera’s driver and bodyguard, forty-year-old Liborio Sciascia.
The two men were outside Cuntrera’s wholesale food distribution company, John & Dino, on Magloire Street in the Saint-Léonard industrial park. Cuntrera was seated at a picnic table normally used by employees on cigarette breaks, not far from his armoured vehicle. Though he may well have suspected that it was only a matter of time before killers had him in their sights as well, the old mobster hadn’t changed his routine, stopping by his food warehouse daily. Around four in the afternoon, a black Chevrolet Impala turned onto Magloire Street, discharging a masked man who raised a hunting rifle and fired. A single bullet struck Cuntrera in the head, sending him sprawling to the ground and killing him instantly. Sciascia, who was standing beside the picnic table, was hit in the chest and abdomen. He died soon afterward at Santa Cabrini Hospital. The Chevy was gone as quickly as it had appeared. A nearly identical car was later stopped by police, who held its occupants for questioning but later released them after determining they had nothing to do with the shooting.
The twin killings created a commotion in the surrounding area. Dozens of workers poured out of nearby workshops and warehouses and rushed to the crime scene, massing up against the police barriers. Cuntrera’s body lay under a yellow sheet, with one foot protruding, for several hours while investigators combed the scene. “My boss called me and told me to watch it on the news. He said, ‘It’s him! It’s Cuntrera!’ ” one woman said. “He was well known in the community,” a bystander added. Several men banded together, leaning on the hood of a car, speaking in hushed tones and casting annoyed glances at journalists. One of them approached photographers, saying, “You can take as many pictures as you want. Just make sure none of us is in any of them.” As afternoon turned to evening, limousines and luxury cars including Jaguars and Mercedes cruised past the food warehouse repeatedly.
After the convictions of Nicolò Rizzuto and the clan’s inner circle in the fall of 2008, Cuntrera had agreed—though not particularly enthusiastically—to come to the aid of the now rudderless leadership. Under the yoke of three years’ probation, Old Nick was rebuffing all requests for help: when a mobster or businessman came to him with a problem, he replied that he could do nothing and suggested that they go see Cuntrera.
Nicknamed “le seigneur de Saint-Léonard,” Cuntrera had sent out a message that all those who owed money to the clan had to pay up immediately. That entreaty had led to a wave of conflicts, reprisals, kidnappings and attempted murders, and generally provoked much grumbling against the Sicilian Mafia bosses, who no longer had the respect of the “young ones.” In the United States, most of the Cosa Nostra families had seen a shift in authority toward fourth-generation mobsters, but in Montreal, the old-timers were stubbornly clinging to power.
Well aware of the threats against him, Cuntrera had left the funeral of Nicolò Rizzuto Jr. in Tony Mucci’s armoured vehicle. A few months later, he bought his own. Police had met with him shortly before his death and warned him that he might be gunned down. He had confirmed to them in veiled terms that he was filling the role of acting family boss “a bit,” but added that he was getting old and was not at all happy to be doing so. Nevertheless, he’d thanked the officers for their warning and said he would take it under advisement.
Liborio Sciascia, who had done time in the United States on a cocaine trafficking conviction, had agreed to become Cuntrera’s driver and bodyguard despite attempts to dissuade him by family members, who feared for his safety. The assignment paid well—$1,500 a week—and it was a way of paying tribute to Cuntrera, who had helped him after his release from prison. Sciascia’s wake was held at the Loreto funeral home. The Cuntrera family paid all expenses.
The viewing for Agostino Cuntrera was at the Loreto as well. Henchmen stood guard outside, and Nicolò Rizzuto arrived discreetly through a side entrance. The room was awash in white flowers. A photograph of the deceased, adorned with a rosary, sat on the closed casket. Above it was the word nonno—“grandpa” in Italian. The coffin was then placed in a hearse for the trip to Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel Church in Saint-Léonard, followed by three limousines blanketed in floral arrangements. Some six hundred mourners packed the church, almost all of them clad in black. They included Leonardo Rizzuto, Vito’s second son. Bells pealed, and the casket was borne into the church and under the nave. As it passed through the front door, bodyguards made the sign of the cross.
It was, apparently, the only remaining gesture that the members and associates of the Sicilian clan could muster. They had towered over the landscape of organized crime in Montreal, Quebec and a good part of Canada for decades, but now a page of history was being turned.