Mafia Inc.: The Long, Bloody Reign of Canada's Sicilian Clan - André Cédilot, André Noël (2011)
Chapter 5. ASSASSINATIONS
ON VALENTINE’S DAY, 1976, Pietro Sciara took his wife out to the movies—to see the Italian-dubbed version of The Godfather: Part II, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. It was screening at the Riviera, a depressing brick structure in an equally depressing industrial no man’s land in north-end Montreal. The movie house belonged to Palmina Puliafito, Vic Cotroni’s sister.
Three months earlier, Sciara had testified before the CECO. Sporting a polka-dotted tie under a pinstripe suit, he tried to appear laid-back, but tensed up once the commissioners asked him if he was familiar with the word “Mafia.” “ ‘The Mafia?’ I don’t know,” he answered aggressively. “What’s that, ‘the Mafia’?” (Indeed, the words “Mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” were never spoken in the original Godfather film: Paramount Pictures, bowing to cries of racism from the head of one of the Five Families, Joe Colombo, had deemed it more prudent to have the characters refer to their organization by the less inflammatory terms “family” and “syndicate.”) Sciara answered the CECOcommissioners’ questions solely in Italian and would only admit that he was acquainted with Paolo Violi and had met with him often at the Reggio Bar.
Born in Siculiana, Sciara had spent a good part of his life in Cattolica Eraclea, where he had come into the orbit of Don Nino Manno, Nicolò Rizzuto’s father-in-law. During the Second World War, Sciara had been recruited into the Italian Air Force. Later, he had served as a campiere, guarding land for the Marquis Borsellino, the owner of the palazzo of the same name on the Piazza Roma. Italian authorities declared him to be a Mafioso under the anti-Mafia legislation enacted in 1963, following the Ciaculli massacre. Found guilty of delinquenza per associazione (crime by association) and placed under house arrest in the Piedmontese comune of Balzola, in northern Italy, Sciara had preferred to flee to Canada. He lived on De Bellefeuille Street in Saint-Léonard, where his neighbours included Leonardo Caruana. Sciara’s right-hand man was Domenico Arcuri, a Sicilian-born taxi driver. The CECO hearings revealed that Sciara had worked as a night watchman for Inter-State Paving, the company owned by Senator Pietro Rizzuto. “I do not know everyone in the employ of my company,” the influential senator would later insist during a lengthy interview with a La Presse reporter.
Given his origins, it might have seemed natural for Pietro Sciara to side with Montreal’s Sicilian mobsters in their fight with the Calabrian faction. But loyalty was a factor: Sciara had become consigliere to both Vic Cotroni and Paolo Violi, and he took the duty to heart. Violi even addressed him using the term of endearment “Zio Petrino” (Uncle Pete). Sciara had backed Violi’s efforts to have Nicolò Rizzuto expelled from the decina. He was also pleased with the election of Phil Rastelli as Bonanno family boss, a process from which Montreal’s Sicilian faction had been excluded. And he had successfully pleaded on behalf of Violi in his bid to win Rastelli’s approval as acting head of the Montreal clan. All these were reasons for the Sicilians to view Sciara as a traitor.
On the way out of the Riviera cinema, Sciara affectionately took his wife’s arm. As they walked toward their car, three armed men appeared out of the shadows. The sixty-year-old consigliere was felled by a blast to the head from a .12 gauge shotgun. His wife was wounded in the arm. Nearby, a fourth man waited at the wheel of a van with its engine running, in which the murdering trio rapidly made their escape. The police found the van, but not the killers.
Payback was not long in coming. Less than a month later, on March 10, 1976, a high-ranking adviser to the Rizzuto clan, Sebastiano Messina, was shot dead by an unknown assailant as he sat in his café-bar on Tillemont Street. Violi suspected that Messina was one of Pietro Sciara’s killers.
The opening salvoes had been fired in what would prove to be a war of attrition between the clans.
Paolo Violi was serving out the one-year jail term imposed by the CECO for his refusal to testify. As the time went by, he was probably safer in his cell at the Bordeaux Prison than behind the counter at the Reggio Bar. In his absence, he asked his brother Francesco, nine years his junior, to look after the family interests.
On the evening of February 8, 1977, Francesco was at work at his restaurant-supply firm, Violi Importing & Distributing, in Rivière-des-Prairies, on the eastern tip of the Island of Montreal. One or more men, armed—as at least one of Sciara’s killers had been—with .12 gauge shotguns, burst in and fatally shot him.
Paolo Violi was no fool: he knew he had fallen out of favour with the other forces vying for control of the Montreal Mafia. At night, he asked the prison guards to make sure the door to his cell was locked. He wasn’t the only one convinced that his days were numbered; the prison authorities reckoned they were as well, and as a result he was not granted permission to attend his brother’s funeral.
After his release, Violi sold the Reggio Bar to the brothers Vincenzo and Giuseppe Randisi, Sicilian mobsters allied with the Cotroni clan. Despite the heightened danger, Paolo continued to frequent his former head office, which had changed names: the Reggio was now known as the Bar Jean-Talon. Violi continued to attend meetings and card games there. The tension was palpable, and activity feverish, but if Violi was afraid, he didn’t show it. He was overconfident by nature.
Eventually, Violi agreed to a sit-down with Nicolò Rizzuto. Some of their close associates evidently felt a peaceful resolution of the conflict was still possible, but the two clan bosses held firm. No microphones captured this particular conversation, but it is reasonable to assume that Rizzuto asked Violi to step aside, and the latter rejected the entreaty outright. His hubris and sense of Mafia honour apparently trumped his will to live.
Police got wind of other planned hits. A tip from a resident of Saint-Léonard led police to a van stuffed with weapons, ski masks and white coveralls in the parking lot of the Langelier shopping centre, not far from the Bar Jean-Talon. After several days of further investigation, they decided to tail two suspects, Domenico Manno and Agostino Cuntrera. They were frequently seen meeting with other Sicilian Mafiosi in local eateries. One evening, officers watched the pair head to the Bar Jean-Talon “as if they were reconnoitring the place,” as one investigator wrote in his report. On Thursday, January 19, 1978, after listening in on a conversation between Violi and Vincenzo Randisi, the bar’s new co-owner, the police were sure they were close to nabbing Manno and Cuntrera in the act. They watched as the two stepped out of a white Cadillac near the Bar Jean-Talon and entered through a door leading to the basement. But Violi wasn’t there: he hadn’t shown up for his meeting with Randisi. He had been held up at home, the supervising investigator on the case wrote, by an “electrical problem.”
On another occasion, officers stationed on the second floor of a duplex on Druillettes Street watched through a window as two masked men got out of a van and headed quickly toward the Reggio Bar. They gave up, however, when they realized that so much snow had piled up in the alleyway behind the establishment, it would likely hamper their escape.
The police had now been shadowing Manno and Cuntrera for about three weeks, and it was proving expensive. Top brass and the investigating team agreed to call off the surveillance for the weekend. On the Sunday, around suppertime, Violi answered his telephone at home: it was Randisi, inviting him to come to another card game at his old establishment. Violi finished eating, kissed his wife, Grazia, and their children, put on a coat and went out. Snow was falling in large, fluffy flakes. After he arrived at the Bar Jean-Talon, he called home to tell Grazia that he wouldn’t be home too late. The bugs had been removed from the establishment for some time by then, but the phone line had been tapped anew. Not long after, a man was heard picking up the receiver. He announced to the person on the other end of the line, in a low voice: “Il porco è qui”—the pig is here.
Violi sat down at a table in the bar, accompanied by several card players. Shortly after 7:30 P.M., a masked man who had been hiding in the basement ascended the stairs at the rear of the ice-cream bar and strode purposefully through the room. He carried a lupara, the double-barrelled, sawed-off shotgun favoured by Sicilian mobsters for permanent settlings of accounts. This particular weapon was a Zardini, a rare model manufactured in an Italian village. The shells were uncommon too, containing pellets larger and more destructive than those normally available in North America. From where he was sitting, Violi could not see the assassin approach, and if his tablemates did, none of them so much as batted an eyelash. The killer pressed the barrel of the lupara to Violi’s skull, behind his ear, and pulled the trigger. The forty-six-year-old godfather of Saint-Léonard collapsed to the floor. A police photograph taken in the aftermath of the hit shows him lying flat on his back, blood pooled around his head, arms and legs outstretched as if crucified. Minutes later, Domenico Manno phoned his brother-in-law, Nicolò Rizzuto, in Venezuela and laconically shared the news: “Il porco è morto”—the pig is dead. Grazia Violi also got a telephone call, from a man saying there was “trouble at the ice-cream bar” on Jean-Talon.
Violi surely had known that his death warrant had been signed. The Montreal police had offered protection in exchange for his collaboration, but he declined; the idea of becoming an informant disgusted him. He also refused to run or hide. This came as no surprise to Robert Ménard, the undercover cop who had gotten to know him well while posing as his tenant for six years. “Paolo was not a runner,” he said years later. “Paolo was not the type who would run away from anything … He was going to weasel to the cops? Not when your balls turn to brick. Not Paolo. Never! He’s just not the type. To him, honour, that was it. I’m not glorifying the son of a bitch. I’m just saying that was the way he was.”
Vic Cotroni, too, must have known Violi would be eliminated sooner or later, but he lacked the clout to step up and prevent it from happening. Vic had cancer and was steadily weakening; as he did, new forces were asserting themselves in Montreal’s mobland. The Mafia was bringing in fresh blood, and the Sicilians were taking over. More important, in New York, the Commission had given its assent for Violi’s execution. Had Vic Cotroni interceded or voiced his disapproval too insistently, he would have been next on the hit list.
Cotroni nonetheless showed up for Violi’s lavish funeral at the Church of the Madonna della Difesa in Montreal’s Little Italy. Several Calabrian Mafiosi from Ontario, chief among them Giacomo Luppino, Violi’s father-in-law, made the trip. Domenico Violi, Paolo’s father, travelled from Parma, in suburban Cleveland, once again obtaining special authorization from the Canadian department of immigration. It had been less than a year since he had buried his son Francesco. There were no emissaries from the American Cosa Nostra: the families sent floral wreaths only. Flowers also arrived from Italy. The church was filled to capacity, and a sizable crowd of curious onlookers massed outside as snow fell.
The police suspected six men of being mixed up in the murder, all of them with connections to Nicolò Rizzuto. An arrest warrant was issued for Nicolò’s son-in-law, Paolo Renda, who in 1968, ten years earlier, had, along with Vito Rizzuto, set fire to his Boucherville barbershop. Renda managed to flee to Venezuela before the warrant was signed, and would return to Montreal only after it was lifted. Investigators have always believed that the hit was planned by Paolo Renda’s father, Calogero, but he was never charged. Suspicions were also directed at Giuseppe LoPresti.
Charges initially laid against Vincenzo Randisi, one of the brothers who had bought the Reggio Bar from Violi, were withdrawn. Randisi stated he had simply seen a stranger enter the café and shoot Violi. Three other suspects pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit murder. The first, Domenico Manno, was Nicolò Rizzuto’s brother-in-law. The second, Agostino Cuntrera, who had arrived in Canada in 1965, was the cousin of the brothers Liborio, Gaspare and Pasquale Cuntrera, and the owner of a Mikes restaurant franchise at the corner of Jean-Talon Street and Pie-IX Boulevard, where several basement meetings had been held. The third man, Giovanni DiMora, was Agostino Cuntrera’s brother-in-law and his partner in managing the restaurant.
Manno had a prior conviction for running a gambling house, but the conspiracy charges were Cuntrera’s and DiMora’s first brushes with the law. Quebec Superior Court Justice Claire Barrette-Joncas took the time to praise the pair as hard-working citizens. In her opinion—if one were to set aside their involvement in painstakingly planning a cold-blooded murder—they were good guys: “They were model immigrants,” she declared, “who performed the most modest tasks in an effort to earn a living and to slowly and laboriously build themselves a trade.” There was insufficient evidence to accuse them of first-degree murder. Thanks to the surveillance operation and electronic eavesdropping, however, the police had enough to indict them on conspiracy. Cuntrera, Manno and DiMora had little choice but to plead guilty, and they both did time.
Two and a half years after Paolo Violi was slain, his brother Rocco, then aged forty, was the target of a botched hit. Rocco was known to police but less so than his brother Francesco, who had always been ready to defend Paolo’s interests. Rocco had been deported from the United States after attending the funeral of Carlo Gambino, the powerful head of the family of the same name. He also had arrests and convictions for running gambling houses, but that was about it. Still, the Rizzuto clan viewed Rocco as a potential threat. As long as he was alive, he might want to exact revenge on his brothers’ killers.
On July 28, 1980, Rocco Violi was at the wheel of an Oldsmobile, stopped at a red light on Pascal-Gagnon Street in Saint-Léonard, when two bikers rode up alongside. One raised a sawed-off shotgun and fired, but failed to hit his target. Rocco stamped on the accelerator and pulled away but was soon caught. A second shotgun blast did not miss. Wounded in the head, Rocco underwent surgery at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital and survived—but not for long.
On October 17 of the same year, in his home on Houel Street in Saint-Léonard, Rocco sat down at the kitchen table with his family. It would be the last time he did so. The table was beside the window. In a building behind the house, a sniper had been perched for some time, waiting for this precise moment. He raised his rifle, his target in the telescopic sight, and squeezed the trigger once. The bullet pierced the window glass and thudded into Rocco’s body, killing him instantly. The murder weapon, a .308 calibre Remington, was later found at the Le Baron Complex, an office building on Jean-Talon Street East.
Domenico Violi once again made the trip from Cleveland, to bury a son for the fourth time (Rocco’s twin, Giuseppe, had been killed ten years earlier in a road accident). The Violi brothers’ widows decided to pack up and move with their children to Ontario, under the protective umbrella of Don Giacomo Luppino and his Hamilton Mafia coterie.
Nicolò Rizzuto would remain in Venezuela for a while yet, but his son, Vito, returned to Montreal later that year to pave the way for the family’s definitive conquest of the city. Although the way was now clear, the Rizzutos would have to wait for the demise of Vic Cotroni before their ascension to power could be complete. Cotroni was a pioneer of the Montreal underworld and had played no small role in establishing the Bonanno family’s bridgehead in Canada. He was too prestigious to be removed.
The late 1970s and early 1980s were a time especially rife with mob assassinations, not only in Montreal but in New York and Sicily as well. The motives were not always interconnected, but it was clear that the underworld was in serious upheaval. The most spectacular hit was on Carmine “Lilo” Galante, who had presided over the modernization of Montreal’s Mafia in the 1950s.
When he was paroled in 1974 after serving twelve years, Galante had challenged Phil Rastelli’s recent appointment as Bonanno family boss. As Joe Bonanno’s one-time consigliere, Lilo felt the throne was his by right. Since Rastelli happened to be headed to prison just as Galante was getting out, the way was clear for him to manoeuvre as he pleased.
It was Galante who had earlier green-lighted Nicolò Rizzuto’s order to eliminate Paolo Violi and bring in new members, even though authority to liquidate made members of the Mafia and induct new ones was reserved for the boss. Galante took the liberty of including Sicilians, such as Baldassare Amato and Cesare Bonventre, in his crew. The “Zips” had the reputation of being as loyal as they were vicious: Galante was sure they would bolster his ranks. A participant in both of the 1957 “summits,” at the Grande Albergo in Palermo and in Apalachin, New York, Galante had been one of the principal architects of the Mafia’s international narcotics franchise. Now, he demanded nothing less than a monopoly on heroin trafficking with the Sicilians.
Carlo Gambino, head of the eponymous crime family in New York, was felled by a heart attack in 1976. His body was barely cold in the ground when Galante began making open pronouncements that he should be crowned head of the Commission. It was not long before this self-aggrandizing offended the heads of the Five Families, not least Phil Rastelli. When his loyal lieutenant Big Joey Massino visited him in prison, Rastelli asked him to go before the Commission and seek authorization to eliminate the would-be usurper. The request was well received, in particular by Paul Castellano, the new head of the Gambino family. The Commission sanctioned the killing of Lilo Galante.
An insidious plot was concocted, and the contract was given to Amato and Bonventre, the Zips that Galante had enthusiastically inducted into the clan and who had become his bodyguards. They would have no choice but to betray their new boss. The pair were well acquainted with Galante’s routine: he often did business and took meals on Knickerbocker Avenue, in a rundown area of Bushwick, in the heart of Brooklyn. The neighbourhood (originally Boswijck, a seventeenth-century Dutch word, one translation of which is “refuge”) had once teemed with bars and beer halls, making it a favourite haunt of night owls. Joe Bonanno had set up his headquarters there. But Knickerbocker Avenue had lately fallen on hard times. The value of homes and stores, many of them abandoned, had plummeted. Most of Bushwick’s traditional Italian population had moved out, soon to be replaced by African Americans and Puerto Rican immigrants. Those in the most impoverished strata of society have nowhere to escape to—save, perhaps, artificial paradises. The most desperate among them were the ideal customers for purveyors of heroin. They were a destitute but sizable clientele.
Some old-time eateries on Knickerbocker were extant, like Joe and Mary’s Italian-American Restaurant, which belonged to Giuseppe “Joe” Turano, a cousin of Carmine Galante. The Zips liked to hang out at the few remaining pizza parlours, where the Sicilian dialect was spoken. The avenue had become their turf. The Knickerbocker Avenue neighbourhood had been one of the few spared during the riots that followed the New York City blackout in July 1977: the troublemakers, greeted by the sight of gun-toting property owners, had wisely decided to continue their pillaging elsewhere.
On July 12, 1979, Carmine Galante was dropped off at Joe and Mary’s. It was a sweltering summer afternoon, too hot to eat inside, so his cousin set a table on the patio. The meal had barely begun when three Bonanno family members arrived: Galante’s bodyguards, Baldassare “Baldo” Amato and Cesare “The Tall Guy” Bonventre, were accompanied by Leonardo “Nardo” Coppola, a drug trafficker renowned for his loyalty to Galante. The quartet polished off their dishes of fish and salad and emptied their wine glasses. Lilo lit up one of his famous stogies and sat back, waiting for dessert and coffee. Around 2:45 P.M., three ski-masked men ran into the patio area.
One of the killers stood squarely in front of Galante and opened fire, yelling: “This is for you, Galante.” The Mafioso was struck three times by shotgun fire: in the neck, the right shoulder and the head. The force of the blasts knocked him backward over his chair. An overhead photo shows him sprawled on his back, his ubiquitous cigar still clamped between his teeth. None of the assailants bothered to filch the wad of bills, $860 in total, in his pocket. Galante died as he had lived: police believe he had ordered or perpetrated upwards of a hundred murders during his long career. He was sixty-nine years old.
Nardo Coppola, Galante’s loyal associate, and Giuseppe Turano, his cousin and the owner of Joe and Mary’s, also lay dead on the patio: killed to either keep them from giving testimony about the crime or from seeking retribution for it. Witnesses out front on Knickerbocker Avenue saw the three masked men leaving the restaurant in obvious haste. Galante bodyguards Amato and Bonventre followed; they could easily have shot at the fleeing killers but did nothing. They were obviously part of the plot but couldn’t be charged, for lack of evidence. It took police several years to arrest somebody for the murder of Carmine Galante: Anthony “Bruno” Indelicato, the son of Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato, one of the three renegade Bonanno captains who would be executed two years later on Long Island by Vito Rizzuto and his accomplices. Anthony was sentenced to twelve years in prison.
On November 16, 1980, sixteen months after the hit on Galante, Anthony Indelicato and Cesare Bonventre were among the hundreds of guests gathered at the Pierre Hotel in New York City for a lavish reception following the wedding of Giuseppe Bono, the senior member of the ruling Mafia clan in Ciaculli, the suburb of Palermo forever marked by the car bomb that killed seven carabinieri in 1963. With them were other influential Zips, like Salvatore “Totò” Catalano and his associate Giuseppe Ganci. When Canadian police investigators got a look at the photos, though, it was another face in the crowd of mobsters and drug traffickers that most piqued their interest: Vito Rizzuto’s. The fact that he had been invited to such an important gathering, barely a month after the last Violi brother had been wiped off the map, was evidence of his unconditional acceptance within U.S. Mafia circles.
Some three hundred Mafiosi and their wives had been invited to the ceremony at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown Manhattan and to the reception at the Pierre, a five-star hotel ten blocks farther north on Fifth Avenue, facing Central Park. Not all of them had the chance to pose for pictures with Bono and his bride, Antonina Albino, but Vito Rizzuto and his wife, Giovanna, were among those granted the privilege. Standing in front of a trellis adorned with white flowers, Antonina, the daughter of a Queens pizzeria owner, was resplendent in white. The groom, in a dark suit with a carnation boutonniere, wasn’t exactly the fashion-model type. The diminutive Bono wore rimless glasses and could do little to hide the fact that his hair was rapidly thinning. It was his second marriage. Next to his Snow White, he looked more like a spiffed-up version of one of the seven dwarfs.
What Bono lacked in looks, he made up for in wealth and power. He had hired two bands to play the reception, and paid $64,000 to rent the space at the Pierre, a Manhattan landmark celebrated for its Euro-chic elegance and elaborate frescoes. Bono claimed to have earned his fortune in the hotel industry, but police forces in North and South America as well as Europe suspected him of being a high-level international narcotrafficker. He maintained close connections to such varied criminal elements as the head of the Neapolitan Camorra, Michele Zaza; the Zips who had whacked Lilo Galante; and the South American confederates of Nicolò and Vito Rizzuto. Bono was among the masterminds of the Pizza Connection, and one of the main suppliers of heroin to the Cuntrera-Caruana clan. Two years previously, alerted to the fact that Italian authorities were closing in on him, he had left Sicily and moved most of his operations to Venezuela. Bono was a “man of honour” and demanded to be treated as such: even his brothers were required to kiss his knuckles in a show of respect.
U.S. authorities ordered the wedding photographer to hand over his work. The photos showed the hundreds of “distinguished” guests parading past the main entrance of the Pierre, including most of the leaders of the Gambino, DeCavalcante and Bonanno families. Montreal was well represented, not only by Vito Rizzuto and his lawyer, Jean Salois, but by Vito’s lieutenant Giuseppe LoPresti, who like his boss was born in Cattolica Eraclea. A suspect in the murder of Paolo Violi, LoPresti fraternized with Cesare Bonventre whenever he visited New York City. Investigators also recognized Gerlando “George from Canada” Sciascia, yet another native of Cattolica Eraclea, along with Domenico Arcuri, Sylvestro Polifroni and Michel Pozza, the Montreal mob’s key financial adviser.
In the Mafia, happy events like weddings succeed and precede bloodier episodes with metronomic regularity. Today’s killers are tomorrow’s targets. In the time it takes to guzzle a glass of champagne, allies become adversaries. Life seems bereft of meaning unless it is juxtaposed with death. And so while the capos and soldiers were hitting the dance floor with their belles at the Pierre ballroom, more murders were being plotted on both sides of the Atlantic.
Giuseppe Settecasi, who had made half-hearted efforts to placate the conflict between Paolo Violi and Nicolò Rizzuto, lived in an Agrigento apartment building surrounded by a tall wrought-iron fence and equipped with a sophisticated surveillance system. Its residents—judges, lawyers and businessmen—imagined themselves safe from the gunfire that rang out day after day in this turbulent part of Sicily. Settecasi was involved in a dangerous business: financing heroin labs. On March 23, 1981, after his usual card-game appointment in a small café at the train station, he arrived home. One of his neighbours heard a detonation and called police. When investigators arrived and examined Settecasi’s lifeless body, they made a curious discovery. His skull was coated in a thick layer of paraffin. Underneath was a bullet hole.
The same year, Leonardo Caruana, a close associate of Settecasi, was shot in front of his Palermo home as he returned from his son’s wedding. The old man had lived for a time in Montreal, where he had known Rizzuto consigliere Pietro Sciara, the first victim in the war that led to the annihilation of the Violi clan. In the early 1970s, Caruana had had a falling out with Nicolò Rizzuto; their differences of opinion included the fact that Caruana saw no point to the infighting between the Sicilian and Calabrian factions of the Montreal mob. There was no clear motive for his murder. It is possible that he was taken out because he had voiced disagreement within his clan, but the more likely reason for his killing is that he was a close associate of Settecasi.
In such circles, the slightest transgressions were punishable by death. The heroin trade had by now reached its zenith. Those who supplied the pipeline but flouted the established rules were eliminated. An RCMP investigation revealed that, during this time, Pasquale Cuntrera had withdrawn U.S.$500,000 from a Swiss account to pay one of the Palermo bosses, who was in league with one Salvatore “Totuccio” Inzerillo. The latter ran clandestine narcotics labs near the Sicilian capital, supplying the New York market via Montreal. He was also a careless man. He took the initiative of having Gaetano Costa, the chief prosecutor of Palermo, killed. The act, understandably, drew greater attention from authorities. Worse, Inzerillo decided to ship a consignment of heroin to his brother in New York—without the consent of the Cupola. Such unauthorized deliveries tended to be frowned upon by Sicilian, American and Canadian traffickers.
Inzerillo’s life ended in a hail of AK-47 fire as he left the home of his mistress. “The gunmen fired through the sealed window of a new bulletproof Alfa Romeo; they had tested out the weapon on a jeweler’s bulletproof showcase beforehand and found that a concentrated spray of fire on a small patch of glass worked very well,” the late journalist Claire Sterling recounted in Octopus: The Long Reach of the International Sicilian Mafia. Inzerillo’s was only one death in what became known as the Second Mafia War, a systematic killing spree that would extend throughout Sicily, to the rest of Europe, to the United States and into South America. Officially, the Cupola was now headed by Michele “The Pope” Greco—a distant relative of Salvatore “Ciaschiteddu” Greco, the Ciaculli Mafia boss who had fled to Venezuela and ran a “cocaine ranch” there with Nicolò Rizzuto. But in practice, the highest authority of the Sicilian Mafia was under the control of Don Luciano Leggio (then in prison) and Salvatore “Totò” Riina, who came from the town of Corleone, sixty kilometres south of Palermo. The Second Mafia War would see twenty-one members of Salvatore Inzerillo’s clan slain.
Inzerillo’s fifteen-year-old son, Giuseppe, was abducted and killed. Before shooting him in the head, however, his captors cut off his arm: the very limb with which, the boy had vowed, he would shoot Totò Riina and avenge his father’s death. Then one of his brothers, Pietro, turned up in the trunk of a Cadillac in Mount Laurel Township, New Jersey: his lifeless body, hands bound behind his back, was wrapped in a plastic bag. Five one-dollar bills were stuffed into his mouth; another between his testicles.
The Corleonesi under Riina rubbed out another rival, Stefano Bontade, along with the 120 “men of honour” in his clan. “Gaetano Badalamenti lost eleven relatives. A nephew was tortured, shot and cut into pieces in West Germany,” Claire Sterling wrote. “An entire buried car cemetery was dug up later in Agrigento province, with the charred skeletons of other bosses shot and burned before burial.” The Second Mafia War lasted three years and saw upwards of a thousand Mafiosi killed. The Corleonesi lost very few soldiers.
The assassination in Brooklyn of the three rebel Bonanno capos, perpetrated by Vito Rizzuto and his accomplices, was to have far more decisive repercussions on the Montreal Mafia than any of the killings in Sicily. The episode put Nicolò’s son’s criminal career into overdrive.
Meanwhile, in New York City, the execution of Carmine Galante had done little to ease the tensions within the Bonanno ranks. The head of the family, Rusty Rastelli, was serving a long sentence at the Lewisburg Federal Prison in Pennsylvania and was thus indisposed to discipline his troops. Captains Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato, Philip “Philly Lucky” Giaccone and Dominick “Big Trin” Trinchera had come to believe they were now viewed as dispensable by Rastelli’s faction. Desperate to hold on to power, they discreetly secured support from the Genovese family. Captains loyal to Rastelli had the blessing of the Gambino and Colombo families.
Joe Massino remained unfailingly loyal to Philip Rastelli, visiting him in prison and passing on his instructions. When Carmine Galante asked him to abandon this go-between role, Massino refused, telling Lilo: “He [Rastelli] is like my uncle. He raised me, baptized me [into the Bonanno family]. I can’t abandon him.” It was Massino who then conveyed Rastelli’s entreaty to the Commission seeking authorization to eliminate Galante.
In spring 1981, a Colombo family soldier warned Massino that the three capos were readying a power grab that would involve the permanent removal of their opponents, including Massino. He sought counsel from his allies on the Commission, Paul Castellano and Carmine Persico, respectively heads of the Gambino and Colombo families. Their suggestion: he should defend himself. Massino construed that advice as authorization to take out the three dissident captains.
The rest is described elsewhere in these pages: Massino and his brother-in-law, Salvatore Vitale, asked the Sicilians in the family to give them a hand; the Zips called in the cavalry in the form of their trusted Montreal allies, who sent a hit squad consisting of Vito Rizzuto, another shooter referred to as “the old-timer,” and a third man named Emanuele; the signal to shoot was given by Gerlando “George from Canada” Sciascia.
Vito and his accomplices had acted as good soldiers, getting in up to their necks for the Bonanno family and, by extension, the Commission. They’d signed their oaths of allegiance in the blood of the murdered capos, in the process bumping their profile within the family circle up several notches. Neither Vito nor his father, Nicolò, however, could lay claim to absolute rule over Montreal. Vic Cotroni’s brother, Frank, had recently been freed from prison and had resumed his duties. He was decidedly not pleased at the Rizzutos’ bid to oust the Calabrians from the organization by knocking off the brothers Violi one after another. He considered resuming the vendetta but was dissuaded by Vic. Frank’s grumbling turned to exasperation when he learned that Michel Pozza, the Calabrian outfit’s main money man, was now hiring out his services to the Sicilians. Cotroni decided to have him eliminated. It was a move that would have unexpected consequences.
The fifty-seven-year-old Pozza was neither Calabrian nor Sicilian. He had been born in Trento, in northern Italy. Soon after immigrating to Montreal, he enrolled in university, studying finance. He paid his tuition by working as a doorman at the Casa Loma, a popular club on Sainte-Catherine Street East run by the Cotronis. It was there that he met Cotroni lieutenant Luigi Greco. Pozza regularly supplied Greco with financial advice until the latter’s fatal floor-cleaning accident, when he made the mistake of using kerosene as a solvent. Seemingly eager to collaborate with any faction, Pozza had also become an associate of Paolo Violi and attended his wedding in Hamilton in the company of Vic Cotroni and Joe Di Maulo. His advice to all and sundry among the Mafia was to reinvest their profits in the licit economy and get involved in labour unions. He himself became active in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. The CECO described him as “one of the important figures in the Montreal Mafia.”
Pozza was no fool. After the Violi brothers were assassinated, he had sensed the winds were shifting. He abandoned the Calabrians and took up with the Sicilians: they were the ones doing the most business and therefore had the most money in need of laundering. Every transaction meant a tidy commission for him. In 1979, Salvatore Catalano, a prominent Zip in the Bonanno family, introduced Pozza to Vito Ciancimino, the former mayor of Palermo. The meeting took place in the resort town of Mondello, a suburb of the Sicilian capital. Police believe the agenda included narcotics trafficking and investments to be made in Canada.
The following year, narcotrafficker Pasquale Cuntrera, on his way from Venezuela, stopped off in Montreal, where he met with Pozza. The latter had been among the minority of non-Sicilians invited to the Giuseppe Bono wedding at the Pierre, in New York City. Police observed him several times in the company of Gerlando Sciascia and Giuseppe LoPresti, including on September 24, 1982, at Vito Rizzuto’s home. Four days after that meeting, he was dead.
Pozza was well aware that his fraternization with the Sicilians irked his former partners like Frank Cotroni. When he returned home to Mont-Rolland (a village in the Laurentian Mountains since merged with a neighbouring municipality, Sainte-Adèle), before parking his Audi in the driveway he would drive back and forth a few times, past the front of his house on Desjardins Street, making sure no sniper was hidden in the bushes.
Pozza was invited by Frank and Vic Cotroni to meet them at the home of their sister, Palmina, who looked after the family’s financial interests. Pozza sat down in the kitchen and began conversing with Vic. Frank arrived later, accompanied by Réal Simard, who held two jobs for him: driver and hit man. The young Simard, the nephew of the wrestler-turned-mobster Armand Courville, had already murdered two of Frank Cotroni’s enemies and would go on to kill five more. Vic would shortly have a new assignment for him. “When we got there, Vic was in the kitchen with Pozza, and the conversation was heated,” Simard recalled years later, after he became an informant. Frank Cotroni joined his brother in the kitchen with Pozza, while Simard waited in the living room with Palmina. Suddenly he heard Vic raise his voice and swear at Pozza. “I want you to report to Frank,” he warned.
Frank Cotroni ordered Pozza to ditch the Rizuttos and come back to work for him exclusively. Pozza left without promising anything. Frank, on his way out to his car with Simard, whispered: “Something has to be done about him.” Simard got the message. On September 28, he made his way to Mont-Rolland. Under cover of darkness, he lay in wait in the bushes across from Pozza’s house. Around two in the morning, Pozza drove up in his Audi, and Simard sprang from his hiding place. He pulled out a .22 calibre pistol and shot Pozza once in the body and a second time to the head, following his mentor’s admonition: “You never leave a body without giving it a bullet in the head,” Frank Cotroni had once told him.
Police went through Pozza’s papers at his office on Papineau Avenue and at his home in Mont-Rolland. They found a copy of a confidential government of Quebec report that recommended legalization of slot machines and casinos in the province. There was also a trove of bank records linking Vito Ciancimino, the ex-mayor of Palermo whom Pozza had met in 1979, to real estate deals in Canada. Ciancimino’s sons, Giovanni and Sergio, had travelled to Quebec and invested some $2.6 million there. This included the purchase of a building in Greenfield Park, on Montreal’s South Shore, and another on Saint-Joseph Boulevard in Drummondville, halfway between Montreal and Quebec City. Serving as front men for their father, the two brothers had been making similar investments since around 1976. Police eventually determined that the money came from drug deals orchestrated by Vito Rizzuto’s associates, the brothers Cuntrera.
Vito Ciancimino, who had grown up as the son of a barber in Corleone, became an influential member of the Christian Democratic Party and was in charge of public works in the Palermo city administration at a time when Mafia-controlled developers began tearing down heritage buildings in the city centre and putting up shoddily built apartment blocks in their place. The boom came to be known as the “Sack of Palermo.” In one four-year period, city council awarded 80 percent of 4,250 building permits to five shell companies allied with the Mafia. The mob-controlled entrepreneurs pocketed grant money destined for restoration projects and demolished several art deco palazzi. One building, a masterwork by the great Sicilian art nouveau architect Ernesto Basile, came down overnight. It was due to be declared a historic building, which would have saved it, but the Mafia-linked developers saw to its demolition before the paperwork could go through. Numerous parks were paved over. As a result, the heart of one of Europe’s finest cities was transformed into a collection of soulless concrete bunkers, each more unattractive than the last. Fortunately, some parts of old Palermo were spared the wrecking ball.
When sacker-in-chief Vito Ciancimino was later elected mayor of Palermo, it provoked outrage. He was soon investigated by the anti-Mafia commission and forced to resign. He remained beyond the reach of the law for years, however. The discovery in Michel Pozza’s Mont-Rolland home of documents implicating Ciancimino helped change all that, and he became infamous as the first Italian politician to be convicted for membership in the Mafia. When he was arrested and handcuffed in front of television cameras in November 1984, he fainted.
Besides the bank records found in Pozza’s home, the evidence against the former mayor of Palermo came from testimony given by Tommaso Buscetta, perhaps the most famous pentito in the history of the Mafia. He had fled Sicily after the Ciaculli car bombing and had been convicted for murder in absentia. In 1960, a witness had seen Buscetta and an accomplice abduct two men at gunpoint; the victims were never found. The clan to which Buscetta belonged was attempting to muscle in on the Palermo construction industry at the time.
One of his first arrests came in 1969, at the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle-Champlain border crossing between Quebec and New York State. Buscetta was travelling with two New York Cosa Nostra members in a car belonging to a known Montreal Mafioso and was in possession of four Canadian passports. He managed to elude U.S. customs agents and return to Quebec. The following year, he crossed into the United States again and was arrested. When Italian authorities did not press for his extradition, he was released. Buscetta went to live in Brazil; he was eventually arrested and extradited to Italy, where he served eight years in prison.
In 1980, he gave police the slip while on day parole. He hid out in Palermo but, sensing the imminent outbreak of the Second Mafia War and the probable defeat of his allies Stefano Bontade, Salvatore Inzerillo and Gaetano Badalamenti, he headed for Paris. Armed with another fake passport, Buscetta flew by Concorde to Brazil and bought a swank apartment in Copacabana, the storied chic neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro. He was soon back into narcotics trafficking, big time.
As Buscetta had predicted, war erupted within the Sicilian Mafia. When the dust settled, several of his allies lined up with the victors: the Corleonesi under Don Luciano Leggio and Salvatore “Totò” Riina. Gaetano Badalamenti went to see Buscetta in Rio and pleaded with him to return to Sicily and direct a counterattack against the Corleonesi. Buscetta refused, but Don Leggio and Totò Riina’s men, when they learned of the meeting, construed it as a plot against them. Buscetta’s Brazilian brother-in-law disappeared. A fortnight later, his two sons, Antonio and Benedetto, vanished in turn. His son-in-law was killed in his pizzeria in Palermo, a fate that soon befell his elder brother Vincenzo as well, murdered along with his son in their glassworks in the same city.
Buscetta decided to take refuge north of the Brazilian port city of Belém, near the mouth of the Amazon, and wait for the Corleonesi to come for him. In 1983, he flew to São Paulo. His wife travelled there to meet him, unaware that she was being followed by the police. Buscetta was arrested, along with eleven traffickers. Brazilian authorities seized cases of documents, including records of long-distance phone calls and invoices for travel from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo to Caracas, New York, Montreal and several European cities. When Buscetta learned that he would be extradited to Italy, he tried to commit suicide by swallowing strychnine. He was saved at the last minute.
Incarcerated at the Rebibbia high-security prison near Rome, Tommaso Buscetta decided to become an informant. “The new Mafia no longer has any values, nor respect for anyone,” he complained—conveniently ignoring his involvement in several murders and the fact that he had flooded poor neighbourhoods in the metropolises of America with hundreds of kilos of heroin. In truth, there was no “new Mafia”: the Mafia had always been an organization of wanton killers. The only difference was that it was now led by Buscetta’s enemies. Despite the many voluntary omissions in his testimony, the famous turncoat proved to be an invaluable source of information.
Buscetta had the privilege of being debriefed by a brilliant man who, unlike him, possessed true values: the investigating magistrate Giovanni Falcone. The very first time Buscetta met Falcone, in a São Paolo prison, the Mafioso proffered this admonition:
I don’t believe the Italian State really intends to fight the Mafia. I warn you, Judge. After these interviews with me you will become a celebrity. But they will seek to destroy you, physically and professionally. And they’ll do the same to me. Don’t forget, an account opened with Cosa Nostra can never be closed. Do you still wish to interview me?
Judge Falcone, then aged forty-four, was, like Buscetta, a native of Palermo. For the past four years he had been investigating the network led by Salvatore Inzerillo, the Palermitan trafficker responsible for sending massive quantities of heroin to New York. State authorities had learned a lesson with the murder of another magistrate, Gaetano Costa, which had been ordered by Inzerillo. They had created a pool of anti-Mafia judges, sending a clear message: the killing of a judge would not impede any inquiry, because information would now be shared among multiple investigators.
For three months, from morning to evening, Buscetta detailed to Falcone the rules, philosophy, structure and operation of Cosa Nostra, emphasizing the importance of family and blood ties. Once the pentito’s testimony was complete, Judge Falcone and three of his assistants compiled an 8,600-page dossier on the history of the Mafia, its members and its practices. At the famous Maxiprocesso (Maxi Trial) that ensued, the anti-Mafia judges issued more than 450 arrest warrants in Italy. “[Buscetta] handed me the key to the Mafia’s structure, its organization, its methods,” Falcone wrote. “From then on, I was able to decipher the Mafia’s languages and moves.” The informant explained that a Mafia family was the basic cell of the organization in Sicily. It comprised soldiers, who reported to a capodecina—literally, “head of ten,” the approximate number of men under his command. Each capodecina was supported by a consigliere, or adviser. Three or four families together made up a mandamento, or district. The district heads met in each province of Sicily and had representatives on the interprovincial Commission, or Cupola.
“I am often asked if a man of honour can choose not to kill. My answer is no,” Falcone explained in Men of Honour: The Truth about the Mafia. He went on:
No one can choose to turn down an order from the Commission or from the head of their family … Participation in an act of violence is usually rigorously logical, and it is this logic which makes Cosa Nostra the feared organization it is. I often emphasize this concept because it is only by recognizing the Mafia for what it is—a serious and supremely organized criminal organization—that we will be in a position to fight it … [T]he man of honour cannot allow himself the luxury of expressing doubts about the circumstances of a murder. Either he is capable of eliminating the victim with complete efficiency and professionalism or he is not. End of story.
While Falcone was conducting his interrogations, the chief of police in Agrigento, Filippo Nicastro, happened to read the Montreal police summary of the numerous telephone conversations recorded in the Reggio Bar thanks to the undercover work of Sergeant-Detective Robert Ménard, alias Bob Wilson. The reports had languished on a shelf in the Sicilian police station for eight years. Nicastro handed them over to Judge Falcone. The anecdote is recounted in Men of Honour, and Falcone quotes excerpts from the conversation during which Giuseppe Cuffaro tried to persuade Paolo Violi to accept Sicilians into the Montreal Mafia:
[T]his interesting conversation in Sicilian dialect, translated into English, was transmitted to Italy in 1976. It passed through various offices of the Ministry of the Interior before reaching the tribunal of Agrigento, which was dealing with the Cuffaro case, where it is filed away. Fortunately, one fine day in 1984, just after an interview with Buscetta, a painstaking magistrate from Agrigento calls me: “I have here a few translations of recordings made in Canada in 1972 that seem to confirm what Buscetta is saying …”
Falcone realized the importance of the Cuntrera-Caruana clan. “The Cuntrera and Caruana families for their part founded genuine industrial empires, in Canada and Venezuela, working hard from the beginning of the Sixties up until today,” he wrote. “We know that in the Eighties the Sicilian Mafia, led by the Cuntrera and Caruana families … took over a large part of the heroin traffic destined for the United States.”
The judge also summed up his probe into the activities of former Palermo mayor Vito Ciancimino:
… I discovered that three Swiss bank accounts, in the name of an Italian suspect—let us call him Mr. X—had been used for sudden and significant movements of capital in 1981–82 … I asked the Swiss authorities’ permission to examine the relevant documentation. The permission was granted. But the accounts suddenly dried up. I continued the investigation and discovered that the sums—five million dollars—had been transferred to a Panamian company. There they were divided into two parts: two and a half million transferred again to a bank in New York, the remaining two and a half million moved to a bank in Montreal. But its peregrinations did not stop here. They continued up until 1991.
Falcone condemned Mafia infiltration of the licit economy and the perversion of the public calls for tenders process. He was also distressed about the political influence of the Sicilian Mafia: “I believe that Cosa Nostra has been involved in all the important events in Sicily, beginning with the Allied landing … during the Second World War and the election of Mafia mayors after the liberation,” he concluded.
Judge Falcone travelled to Canada on a number of occasions, specifically to Quebec, meeting with investigators, poring over documents and interviewing witnesses. In 1985, he spent three days on the fifth floor of the Palais de Justice in Old Montreal, gathering information to complement his investigation of Vito Ciancimino and his money laundering methods. He heard a dozen witnesses behind closed doors in the courthouse: they included bankers, notaries and the widow of Michel Pozza, Franca. Those fortunate enough to have met Falcone in Montreal recall a man with a good sense of humour. This was doubtless an effective antidote to ennui: the magistrate often took up investigations that had been stalled by the murders of colleagues, which the Mafia called cadaveri eccellenti: “excellent cadavers,” or “illustrious corpses.” Falcone was a chain-smoker, seemingly unconcerned by the long-term health effects of tobacco. Perhaps he sensed that he would meet his death at the hands of something other than heart disease or cancer. He was not overly concerned about his own comfort; he was a crusader on behalf of his people and had faith in ultimate victory. “The Mafia is not a curse from God,” he famously said. “The Mafia is a human phenomenon and thus, like all human phenomena, it has had a beginning and an evolution, and will also have an end.”
Falcone vacationed in Western Canada, crossing the Prairies by car and visiting the Rocky Mountains. He enjoyed the chance to travel alone with his wife, Francesca, escorted by a single RCMP officer. It was a far cry from what he had become accustomed to in Italy, where he rode in sedans with reinforced body panels and bulletproof windows, accompanied by marksmen and, occasionally, under helicopter escort. Between seventeen and sixty bodyguards were permanently assigned to him and his wife.
Falcone was the main instigator of the Maxi Trial, which took place in 1986 and 1987. Tommaso Buscetta was a principal witness. More than 350 of the 474 Mafiosi charged were convicted of serious crimes. In the meantime, Buscetta had already testified at the so-called Pizza Connection Trial in New York, against his former ally Gaetano Badalamenti, among others. No members of the Rizzuto and Cuntrera-Caruana clans were called to testify during that trial, although some of their names had popped up during the investigation. Judicial authorities were just beginning to gain some understanding of their importance.
On September 16, 1984, the godfather of the Montreal Mafia, Vic Cotroni, succumbed to cancer. He was seventy-three years old. In his book on the history of organized crime in Quebec, former RCMP Criminal Intelligence Directorate analyst Pierre de Champlain wrote that the lead hearse was trailed by twenty-two others and practically sagging under the weight of floral arrangements. A brass band blew endless iterations of Chopin’s Funeral March. Vito Rizzuto, Giuseppe LoPresti and several other mobsters attended the ceremony at the Church of the Madonna della Difesa. Well-known personalities paying their last respects to the old don included vaudeville and TV entertainer Claude Blanchard and the publisher of Corriere Italiano, Alfredo Gagliardi.
With Cotroni gone, the way was now clear for Nicolò and Vito Rizzuto.