Mafia Inc.: The Long, Bloody Reign of Canada's Sicilian Clan - André Cédilot, André Noël (2011)
Chapter 6. THE NARCOBOURGEOISIE
EVERY SPRING, AS IT HAS for centuries, an expansive carpet of white trilliums covers the floor of the Bois-de-Saraguay. The woodland, which extends southward into the borough of Cartierville from the Rivière des Prairies, is notable for being the best-preserved on the Island of Montreal. Rare species—at least for Quebec—that botanists have identified there include the American hornbeam, black maple, shagbark hickory and butternut. Many of the trees are centuries old. The woodland’s stewards have included the Sulpicians, the island’s first seigneurs, or landowners, and others who succeeded them. Rich families like the MacDougalls and Ogilvies built stately homes nearby, but in doing so took care to preserve the natural surroundings.
By the late 1970s, however, developers had bought up a large swath of the woods and subdivided it for new residential construction. Citizens protested vehemently, joined by well-known personalities, including Pierre Dansereau, the renowned ecologist who had helped found the Montreal Botanical Garden in the 1930s. The grassroots campaign compelled the provincial government to proclaim the Bois-de-Saraguay a natural district, the first ever in an urban setting in Quebec.
The woodland was saved, but one developer managed to have his subdivision excluded from the governmental decree. It built imposing, modern homes in the Bois-de-Saraguay and sold them to rich families. Vito Rizzuto moved into the neighbourhood in 1982, a year after taking part in the slaughter of the three captains in Brooklyn. “Behind every great fortune there is a great crime”: the aphorism, often attributed to Honoré de Balzac, could have been written about Vito and his partners. With drug money and other income from their various rackets pouring in, the Mafiosi were intent on joining the bourgeoisie and showing off their material wealth. Vito left middle-class Saint-Léonard and settled into his wooded bastion, away from prying eyes. Since Rizzuto knew almost all his neighbours, it wasn’t exactly practical for police to stake out his home from some nearby bushes. Many of the homes on Antoine-Berthelet Avenue belonged to family members or close acquaintances, and it wasn’t long before the media dubbed it la rue de la mafia—“Mafia row.”
Vito’s expansive residence, officially owned by his wife, Giovanna, was built on a 1,300-square-metre lot. The house was not a bad investment: the 2010 municipal valuation roll listed its worth as $917,500. In May 2011, it was put up for sale at an asking price of $1,995,000. The Canadian wing of Sotheby’s International Realty, specializing in luxury properties, attempted to wax poetic in its online listing:
Beautiful stone residence … custom built to the highest quality standards … [L]ocated on a beautiful lot adj. to an immense wooded area …
Elegant granite floors grace the large entrance and cross-hall … A family room with wood-burning fireplace and marble mantle imported from Italy overlooks and provides the covered patio that spans the width of the house …
A curved staircase leads the way upstairs to find a large landing with built-ins, creating a grand home office. The second floor also gives way to a luxurious and large master suite replete with a separate living area, a large dressing room and closet and a well-appointed bathroom finished with fixtures and tiles are from Italy. The three additional bedrooms all have their own on-suite bathrooms and large closets …
The photos showed the home’s ample garage with three wide doors extending off the main building, which is itself wider than a bowling alley is long; the facade, an awkward mix of grey stone and faux half-timbers set into stucco; and leaded glass windows in the same mock Tudor style.
Vito’s sister, Maria, moved in next door with her husband, Paolo Renda (who had been arrested and convicted along with Vito after the bungled arson in his Boucherville barbershop and subsequently fled to Venezuela when under investigation for the murder of Paolo Violi). He had returned to Canada after three other members of the clan pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to commit murder. Back in Montreal, he was running gambling houses again. A confidential police document states that the developer who sold the lots on Antoine-Berthelet Avenue was in fact Paolo Renda: “It is interesting to note that these properties [on Antoine-Berthelet Avenue] are part of a real estate development created and managed by Paolo Renda and that the majority of lots and homes have been sold to persons suspected of criminal activity.”
Nicolò Rizzuto had a huge, half-million-dollar home built on the same street, next to that of his daughter, Maria. He sold it to his wife, Libertina, for the same price. Nick had been spending most of his time in Venezuela during these years, but after the rub-out of Paolo Violi, he was no longer hesitant to make the trip to Montreal. The visits, however, were always brief. He was constantly on the move between Caracas, Milan, New York and Montreal. The summer of 1982 found him in Italy, where police shadowed him, intrigued by his links to one Vito Palazzolo, a funds-transfer specialist who later went into seclusion in South Africa. Thousands of U.S. banknotes were being deposited at the Chemical Bank in New York, with the money later funnelled to Swiss accounts, namely at the Handelsbank in Zurich and the Credit Suisse in Bellinzona, an Alpine town not far from the border with Italy.
Nicolò Rizzuto was in regular contact with Giuseppe Bono and Michelangelo LaScala, both major suppliers of heroin. Police intercepted one conversation in which large sums of money were discussed, using code words. The terms, vague and mysterious, gave the impression that Nick wanted to recover a debt. He told the man on the phone to pick up a suitcase in Milan and deliver it to Venezuela. The wiretaps enabled police to conclude that Nick had, intriguingly, arranged for some luxury furniture to be shipped to his home on des Vannes Street in Saint-Léonard, where he was still living while his new house on Antoine-Berthelet was being built. The furniture came from Tuscany and was to be delivered to Montreal via Halifax. The shipping costs alone amounted to nearly $100,000.
The fourth Rizzuto clan member to move to Antoine-Berthelet Avenue was Giuseppe LoPresti. Through his wife, Rosa Lumia, born in Cattolica Eraclea like he was, LoPresti was related to the Mannos and, in turn, to the Rizzutos—no small detail in the Sicilian Mafia’s use of blood ties as a defence against betrayal. LoPresti, variously nicknamed “Poor Joe” and “Sad-Eye Joe,” had immigrated to Canada in 1969. He was an important link in the chain between the Sicilians and the American Cosa Nostra in moving narcotics from South America to New York via Montreal. According to Yvon Thibault, a sergeant with the RCMP’s intelligence unit, LoPresti was, after a fashion, the Rizzutos’ ambassador.
Lastly, Gerlando “George from Canada” Sciascia, acting through his proxyholder, Vincenzo Cammisano—a restaurant owner and yet another Antoine-Berthelet Avenue resident—purchased the lot next to LoPresti’s. Born on February 15, 1934, in Cattolica Eraclea, Sciascia had come to Canada in 1955. Three years later, he slipped into the United States illegally, only to be arrested. Despite this, he managed to obtain a visa and settled in New York, where he lived in a small house in the Bronx and ran a pizza parlour on Long Island. He would later apply for permanent residency in Canada only to see his request denied.
Sciascia worked closely with LoPresti in coordinating heroin imports into the United States through Canada and was involved in laundering the profits of the trade all over the world. He oversaw the activities of the Montreal decina for the Bonanno family.
A 1982 report by the Montreal police force entitled L’état de la situation du crime organisé (“Status Report on Organized Crime”) described the Mafia as public enemy number one. Like the CECO commissioners in 1976, however, the analysts’ prime focus was the Calabrian clan and the Québécois gangsters affiliated with the Cotroni organization. They still had not grasped the importance of the Sicilian factor and only mentioned the names of Nicolò and Vito Rizzuto in passing.
In the meantime, Vito Rizzuto was living the good life in Montreal, refining his grand bourgeois taste for fine wines and whiskies. In the evening, he made the rounds of the city’s upscale bars and restaurants. He tended to combine the practical and the pleasurable on such occasions, using them to broaden his network of contacts and do business both licit and illicit. He went to bed in the wee hours and slept in: there was always plenty of time to get in a round of golf later in the afternoon. A huge boxing fan, he attended almost every major bout in Montreal and the surrounding area. One day he took in a match in Cornwall, Ontario, not far from the border with Quebec, with Johnny Pops Papalia. The Calabrian-born Papalia had cut his teeth on the Montreal organized crime scene, alongside Luigi Greco and Carmine Galante. Rizzuto was ringside at the Montreal Forum for another fight, accompanied by the three men convicted for conspiring to murder Paolo Violi: Domenico Manno, Agostino Cuntrera and Giovanni DiMora. It was also another occasion for him to meet up with Claude Faber, one of Frank Cotroni’s lieutenants. Later, he made another appearance at the Forum with Agostino Cuntrera and other Mafiosi for an eagerly awaited match between Mario Cusson and Dave Hilton.
Vito travelled to Toronto often, to meet Pietro Scarcella, a mobster born in the same town as Joe Bonanno, Castellammare del Golfo. After he arrived in Ontario, Scarcella became a carpenters’ union organizer and a driver for another mobster, Paul Volpe, who was working in casinos in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In November 1983, Volpe’s lifeless body was found in the trunk of his wife’s BMW, parked at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport; police believe Scarcella led his boss to the killers. Vito Rizzuto openly consorted with traffickers and murderers. Some of them would go to see him at his home on Antoine-Berthelet Avenue. On at least three occasions between July and October 1982, he played host to Sabatino “Sammy” Nicolucci, whose prior convictions included drug possession and forgery. In February 1984, the two flew to Venezuela on the same plane.
In the wake of the three capos murder in 1981, Vito no longer travelled to the United States. When flying out of Canada, he avoided routes with stopovers in U.S. cities. He was clearly afraid of being arrested. He was even “afraid that a mechanical problem might force a pilot to land in U.S. territory,” according to one Montreal police investigator. American police forces and prosecutors had insufficient evidence to bring charges against him, but they were convinced of his guilt. The FBI clearly set out its suspicions in an internal report prepared in 1985 and entitled “La Cosa Nostra in Canada.” In it the Bureau considers the possible motive for the massacre of the renegade Bonanno captains: “It is not completely clear whether they were killed for their involvement in the [murder of Carmine Galante] or for their attempt to obtain a larger amount of proceeds from narcotics trafficking. The significant factor surrounding these murders is that Vito Rizzuto, Nick Rizzuto’s son, is suspected of being involved in these murders. This gives further support to the theory that the Sicilian factions from the Bonanno and Montreal families are criminally aligned.”
Vito Rizzuto had nothing of the psychopathic nature of Carmine Galante—suspected of more than a hundred murders—but getting on his wrong side was nonetheless inadvisable. According to police, he had his say in a succession of attacks that rocked Montreal’s ice cream industry.
On May 12, 1983, a bomb exploded behind a Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant on Henri-Bourassa Boulevard in east-end Montreal, right beside a franchise of Baskin-Robbins. The owner got the message: he stopped selling his ice cream to Italian banquet halls and buffets, and from then on he received no threats.
The next target was Crémerie Roberto, a dairy bar on Bélanger Street, also in east-end Montreal. The owner first received threats by phone, which he failed to take seriously. Then, in September 1983, his car was set on fire. In March 1984, his ice cream–making equipment was mysteriously sabotaged. Then he was savagely beaten by masked men who burst into the dairy bar. Finally, a perfectly respectable man—whose wife, as it happened, would later be elected a Liberal member of Parliament—paid him a visit and politely convinced the dairy bar manager that it was time he showed a little understanding. He got the message. Once he ceased delivering his delicious Italian gelati to hotels and major restaurants in the Greater Montreal Area, his problems went away.
Attacks on others continued. A small explosive device was left at the door of a candy manufacturer. A few days later, a homemade bomb caused serious damage inside the San Marco pastry shop on Jean-Talon Street East. Then in December 1984, several sticks of dynamite exploded in the Rachelli ice cream factory in Saint-Laurent, causing damage estimated at $750,000. The company, owned by two Milanese businessmen, had set up shop in Montreal at the invitation of the Quebec Ministry of Food and Agriculture. The previous summer, Roberto and Sergio Rachelli had invested two million dollars to build the factory, with the provincial and federal governments pledging to grant subsidies of $210,000 and $260,000 respectively. The investors, who owned the Societa Gelateria Rachelli, founded in Milan in 1935, hoped to corner a significant share of the Canadian market for Italian ice cream. Representatives of the governments as well as of the city of Montreal, along with a Catholic bishop, were on hand for the factory’s inauguration. The bomb blast rocked the building just two weeks later. Terrorized, aghast at the apathy of the Canadian authorities and disconcerted by the powerlessness of the police, the two brothers closed up shop in Saint-Laurent and went back to Milan. They began to fear attacks on their ice cream facilities in Italy. “I didn’t know the Mafia was so influential in Canada,” one of them said.
The Montreal ice cream war was far from over. Réjean Chaput, age forty-eight, was killed by an assailant wielding a nine-millimetre pistol as he crossed Chabanel Street, in the north end. In his car, police found several documents pertaining to ice cream sales. One Frederic Ellmenrich died after being shot three times on the same street, in front of his place of business, Fufu Industries Inc., a maker and distributor of Italian ice cream. A few years later, his partner Vincenzo Miraglia was also killed.
Oddly, there was never so much as an inkling of trouble at Crémerie Ital Gelati, located at 5884 Jean-Talon Street East. The ice cream parlour belonged to Domenico Arcuri, who had purchased its assets from the estate of the late Paolo Violi. This was the same Domenico Arcuri who had gone to Montreal’s Dorval Airport in 1972 to pick up the two Bonanno family envoys dispatched in a bid to broker peace between Violi and Nicolò Rizzuto. Arcuri, a Sicilian, was sufficiently well regarded within the Mafia hierarchy to have been invited to the Bono wedding at the Pierre in New York. He had become part of Vito Rizzuto’s inner circle. The police suspected that Ital Gelati represented Arcuri’s share of the booty after the Sicilian clan’s victory over the Calabrians. Additionally, the Rachelli brothers of Milan had most unwisely tried to prevent this company from securing a permit to operate a dairy factory. Thirty years later, Ital Gelati still controls the Italian ice cream market in Montreal.
To his credit, however, Vito Rizzuto had not attempted to take advantage of his clan’s triumph by further humiliating the Calabrians. Instead, he won them over—or at least quelled their rancour. No reprisal was decreed against Frank Cotroni for the murder of Michel Pozza, Rizzuto’s “laundryman.” Focusing all his energies on growing his profit margins, Vito was not about to let sentiments be a distraction. Since Cotroni benefited from a formidable network of drug-trafficking contacts, Vito reasoned that he might as well turn that fact to his advantage. He won the support, if not the sympathy, of Giuseppe “Joe” Di Maulo, a Calabrian and a pillar of the Montreal Mafia.
Di Maulo had none of the bluster of a Frank Cotroni, but people familiar with the Mafia at the time believed he played a vital role in the Calabrian faction—or what was left of it—and was a key to its future. Cotroni’s criminal dossier was growing ever thicker, so much so that he would soon be spending most of his time in prison. He had received hefty sentences for drug trafficking, and police suspected he was behind several murders. Di Maulo’s rap sheet, on the other hand, was fairly slim: he had served a thirteen-month term for weapons possession in 1961 and been acquitted on murder charges stemming from a triple slaying at the Casa Loma club on Sainte-Catherine Street in 1971.
Blessed with an undeniable talent for diplomacy, Di Maulo had the necessary ambition to smooth the friction between Sicilians and Calabrians and develop good relations with Vito Rizzuto, the new boss. That did not, however, keep him from remaining loyal toward Frank Cotroni. Indeed, his eldest daughter, Mylena, married Cotroni’s son, Frank Jr. Di Maulo would act as a sort of mediator between the factions, meeting with representatives of one in a downtown restaurant, and delegates of the other in the long-established Italian district of Saint-Léonard. His contacts were not limited to Mafia members; his years spent managing and renovating nightclubs had allowed him to widen his network of business contacts and cultivate friendly relations with politicians, lawyers, notaries, artists, entrepreneurs, even judges.
Like Vito Rizzuto, Joe Di Maulo knew how to earn money other than by pointing a gun at everything and everyone in sight. By running gambling dens and massage parlours, for instance. And like Vito, Joe knew when it was time to fight and when it was better to run. When he felt the police closing in, he had gone into exile in Florida for two years.
Di Maulo was married to the sister of Raynald Desjardins, one of the few “old-stock” francophone Quebecers to gain the trust of the Italian Mafia’s inner circle. A former nightclub waiter, Desjardins had reoriented his career to become a heroin and hashish trafficker. In the spring of 1984, he travelled with Vito Rizzuto to Milan. The Italian city is famed as a fashion capital, of course, but the two partners weren’t there to shop for designer suits. Two months after that trip, Milanese police seized a 3.5-tonne consignment of cannabis from Lebanon, bound by ship for the United States, where it was to be sent on to Montreal by truck. The suspect picked up in Milan was carrying a pager registered to Desjardins.
Vito Rizzuto had retooled himself into a modern, efficient Mafioso. Without disavowing blood ties and the dominance of his Sicilian family, he was now working not only with Calabrians in Quebec and Ontario, but also with non-Italians like Raynald Desjardins and the Dubois brothers. He joined forces indiscriminately with the South American drug cartels and the Irish mobsters of Montreal’s West End Gang and, eventually, the Hells Angels. Rizzuto planted himself steadfastly at the centre of operations. He exercised a unique brand of authority thanks to his ability to draw together disparate groups and individuals, who set aside their natural rivalries and worked toward one goal: wealth. He rose to become the godfather of Canadian organized crime, although that title was officially reserved for his father, Nicolò.
Besides drug trafficking, Vito and the various Sicilian and Calabrian crime families were involved in all the classic underworld activities: loansharking, theft, fraud, gambling, bookmaking (including video lottery terminals), counterfeit currency, prostitution, pornography, contraband alcohol and tobacco, the sale of alcoholic beverages after hours, and so on.
“They were believed to be disorganized following the work of the CECO,” noted RCMP Sergeant Yvon Thibault in a report presented at an international conference on organized crime held in the fall of 1991 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “On the contrary, they expanded. It was the beginning of the internationalization of the Montreal mafia.”
“In implementing a branch in Montreal, the Sicilian Cosa Nostra had to show superior adaptability in order to grow,” the RCMP noted in another report. “It therefore recruited non-Sicilians into its ranks, who proved to be useful because of their contacts in other local and national organizations, in Toronto for example, but also internationally.”
On February 7, 1983, Nick Rizzuto’s name was entered in an investigative dossier filed with an investigating magistrate in Rome by the Criminalpol branch of the Italian State Police. The charge, titled “Bono Giuseppe + 159,” identified the 159 accomplices of Bono, the drug kingpin whose wedding at the Pierre in Manhattan had been attended by hundreds of Mafiosi. The Criminalpol investigators in Milan described Nicolò Rizzuto as a trafficker on the same level as Bono himself. His name appeared next to heavyweights like Salvatore Catalano, the boss of the Bonanno Zips; Tommaso Buscetta (who was still in Brazilian exile at the time but would soon spill his secrets to Judge Giovanni Falcone); Michele Zaza, of the Camorra (the Neapolitan Mafia); Sicilian boss Bernardo Brusca; Gerlando “George from Canada” Sciascia; and many others. Criminalpol noted that, since the dismantling of the French Connection, Bono’s network had branched out across the planet. The investigators suspected them of having distributed three tonnes of heroin refined in Italy from morphine base.
In 1984, the RCMP thought they had Vito Rizzuto on their hook, but he slipped through their fingers. It was only the first in a series of failures and frustrations for Canadian federal law enforcement. This particular probe began with the discovery of twelve kilos of cocaine at Vancouver International Airport. The drugs had been hidden in false-bottomed suitcases. Four suspects were nabbed, including a South American doctor who decided to talk. Police learned that the intended recipient of the shipment was an Italian Montrealer named William Papier; he was supposed to pick up the suitcases in a Vancouver hotel. Papier’s name was already in the RCMP’s files in Montreal. Police suspected he worked for Sabatino “Sammy” Nicolucci, the man who had visited Vito Rizzuto in his new home on Antoine-Berthelet Avenue on at least three occasions in the summer and fall of 1982. The RCMP believed Nicolucci and his crew were moving a dozen or so kilos of coke every three months. When Papier called Nicolucci from Vancouver in the middle of the night, police were listening in.
“I just had a close call,” Papier said. “There’s cops all over the hotel.”
“Shut up!” Nicolucci hissed.
“It was so close, Sammy!” a panicked Papier yelped.
“Shut the fuck up,” Nicolucci warned. “We’ll see each other when you get back to Montreal,” he added, then hung up.
Sergeant John Norris left RCMP Quebec headquarters in Westmount and flew to Vancouver. He thought he had sufficient evidence to charge Nicolucci and Papier, even though the latter, aware he was being tailed, hadn’t taken possession of the cocaine shipment. His enthusiasm was curbed by the local prosecutor, Emily Reid, who explained that a brief telephone conversation would not constitute sufficient proof. Back in Montreal, Norris and his fellow officers kept up surveillance on Nicolucci and Papier. A month later, they heard the two suspects discussing vacation plans but were sure their conversation was actually a coded reference to another cocaine shipment. The Mounties only had one concrete piece of information to go on, however: Nicolucci was supposed to catch a plane to Venezuela on February 4, 1984. That morning, the RCMP officers used a light plane to track his movements in Montreal. They watched as he got into a taxicab, got out in front of a public building, went in one door and then exited from another, suitcases in hand, hailed another cab and headed for Dorval Airport.
Other officers continued trailing him on the ground. Nicolucci was greeted at the airport by thirty-seven-year-old Sylvestro Polifroni, alias Sylvio Marro, who had prior convictions for his involvement in gambling houses and counterfeiting. Three and a half years earlier, Polifroni had been among the guests at the Bono wedding in Manhattan. Yet more interesting was the fact that Nicolucci and Polifroni boarded the same plane out of Dorval as Vito Rizzuto and his wife, Giovanna. Vito was recognized by an officer who had already shadowed him at the behest of RCMP intelligence. The four passengers transited through Toronto and Barbados before deplaning in Caracas.
Sergeant Norris and a Vancouver colleague, Larry Sizler, immediately boarded a flight to Venezuela. As soon as they arrived, they went straight to the U.S. Embassy in downtown Caracas. Jim Lockaby, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), was waiting for them. He led his Canadian colleagues on a ten-minute car ride to an unobtrusive building where he introduced them to a Venezuelan secret-service agent. “Señor D” was in his sixties and a bona fide walking encyclopedia, familiar with the movements of several prominent politicians and businessmen in the country and their links to local and international narcotraffickers. After making small talk, he locked the door to his office, then walked over to some shelves against one wall and gave them a gentle shove with his shoulder. The shelves pivoted inward to reveal a room whose walls were covered with organizational charts and photographs.
“Señor D” proceeded to expound upon Venezuela’s pivotal role in the worldwide drug trade. The faces in the photos included those of the Cuntrera and Caruana families, already labelled as major-league traffickers and money launderers, and those of members of other Siculiana Mafia families: the Cuffaros, the Vellas … and the Rizzutos. After this session worthy of a clichéd spy film, Norris and Sizler were introduced to Commissioner Ivan Israël Waizer, head of counter-espionage for the Venezuelan State Police. Wiazer informed the RCMP officers that Nicolucci and Polifroni first stopped in to see Nicolò Rizzuto in his home and had then booked rooms at the Hilton Caracas, one of the finest hotels in the capital. Nicolucci’s room had been registered in the name of Pasquale Cuntrera, the senior member of the Siculiana clan in Venezuela. Wiazer’s men had bugged both rooms and were set up in a room one floor above, listening in.
A few days after his arrival in Caracas, Vito Rizzuto knocked on the door to Polifroni’s room, stepped inside and started talking to him and Nicolucci.
“They’ve got a new president,” he told them in English, referring to Jaime Lusinchi, who had been sworn in on February 2. “We’ve lost our contacts, but it’ll only be a few weeks and everything will be back to normal.”
“Shhh!” a voice was heard saying.
The police heard footsteps in the room below, then someone turning on the sink and shower faucets to muffle the sound of their conversations. Ten days later, Nicolucci left Venezuela for Santa Cruz, in Bolivia, which by this time was producing 80 percent of the world’s cocaine supply. (In 1980, DEA agents had landed in the Bolivian jungle, posing as smugglers, and had succeeded in taking delivery of four hundred kilos of the white powder.) The Bolivian interior minister, nominally in charge of narcotics repression, was himself a trafficker. Canada had no co-operation agreement with Bolivia, so the RCMP officers were unable to follow Nicolucci to his next destination; the DEA therefore picked up the trail. Meanwhile, in Montreal, the Mounties continued monitoring wiretapped conversations in Canada. They learned that Nicolucci was due back in Caracas on February 23, where his girlfriend, Diane Blanchette, was to meet up with him. From there, the couple went to Aruba, the island close to Venezuela and Colombia that was then still part of the Netherlands Antilles.
At the same time, a woman named Gloria Mercado de Ballivian flew from Miami to Aruba. Police were sure that her task was to collect payment from Nicolucci for the twelve kilos of coke that had been seized in Vancouver and perhaps arrange a further transaction. Sergeant John Norris headed for Aruba as well. He would later learn that the suspects had been alerted to his presence.
The probe, conducted simultaneously in five countries—Canada, Venezuela, Bolivia, Aruba and the United States—had soon amassed sufficient evidence to link Sammy Nicolucci and William Papier to the Vancouver haul. The two men were arraigned in Montreal Superior Court, and subsequently tried and found guilty by a jury. Each was sentenced to fourteen years. They appealed, but the verdict was upheld.
At the conclusion of that investigation, RCMP officers arrived at Vito Rizzuto’s residence on Antoine-Berthelet Avenue, armed with a search warrant. The new godfather politely ushered the policemen in, his face and manner showing no nervousness whatsoever. Obviously, the search wasn’t going to turn up a thing. When the officers had finished going through drawers, cupboards and closets, Rizzuto escorted them to the front door, a wry smile on his lips. From that moment on, he was logged in police files as the leader of the Mafia in Montreal.
In July 1984, the Mounties had barely closed their file on Sabatino Nicolucci when Vito Rizzuto’s name popped up again, this time as part of a heroin investigation. Posing as a trafficker eager to expand his dealings in Western Canada, an undercover officer from Calgary had bought heroin from members of the Sicilian outfit in Montreal, hoping to move all the way up the chain to Vito. Staking out a small Italian café on Bélanger Street from a building across the street, investigators observed Vito and Raynald Desjardins conversing on the sidewalk on multiple occasions.
The undercover man succeeded in baiting known traffickers, including Giuseppe Armeni, who had already done time for murder, and his nephew Domenico, along with members of the Morello family. But the cop eventually gave up under the pressure of his assignment. After eighteen months of intensive efforts, he still had nothing that would incriminate Vito Rizzuto. Once, when he insisted on meeting the boss, his contact warned him that he would have to be patient: “We’ve known him for twenty years; you’re gonna have to wait. He’ll talk to you when he’s ready to talk to you.” The RCMP’s frustration was just beginning. They knew what Vito was up to, but they had nothing on him. The investigation was called off. Police eventually launched another. The investigators were again convinced that the plumber-in-chief was Vito Rizzuto, but netting him was something else entirely. In this case, the man who turned on the taps to pump in the drugs was a former doorman at a strip bar on Montreal’s South Shore by the name of Denis Lemieux.
A doorman could hope to earn about a thousand dollars a week in tips. It was clear that Lemieux was pulling in far more than that. His uncommon financial prowess had enabled him to purchase two bars, including Le Privé, on Bishop Street in downtown Montreal. He moved out of his modest bungalow on Westley Boulevard in Saint-Hubert, and into a spacious mansion in Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu, farther east on the South Shore. Depending on his mood, he drove either a Mercedes 300 or a Mazda RX-7. The very exemplar of a 1980s narcobourgeois, he travelled extensively and cultivated extremely profitable contacts.
Lemieux’s original source was Nicolucci, but it was his meeting with Luis Cantieri, a multilingual Brazilian in league with the Rizzuto clan, that put him on the road to big money. Cantieri knew Quebec well: he had once played for the Castors de Montréal, a semi-professional soccer team. He had connections in Argentina, Peru, Haiti, Venezuela and India, and especially in Caribbean countries, where Lemieux would travel to meet the suppliers. Cantieri’s role was to orchestrate the shipments. The cargo followed an elaborate path. From São Paulo, it left by ship bound for New York or Baltimore. From there, it was trucked to Saratoga, in upstate New York and, 250 kilometres to the north, crossed the border into Quebec in a concealed compartment in a tractor-trailer. Lemieux took delivery of about fifty kilos per year by this route, a considerable amount for the time, and dealt most of the merchandise out of his Bishop Street bar.
Lemieux was eventually busted in 1985 and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. (Freed after serving one-third of his term, he soon resumed his drug operations but was killed in November 1992 along with three other people, including two innocent women in their twenties, by machine-gun-wielding assailants in a residential building in Brossard, on the banks of the St. Lawrence Seaway on the South Shore of Montreal.) Luis Cantieri was also arrested and convicted along with two co-conspirators: travel agent Jean Lamarche and a globe-trotting businessman-cum–drug runner named Norman Rosenblum. That investigation showed police that cocaine imports to Montreal had reached unprecedented proportions. Coke was the drug of choice for many. Rather than being wafted into a soporific state, users experienced an intense “rush” and felt alert, quick-witted, confident and brilliant. It was relished by everyone from stockbrokers to lawyers, politicians and musicians.
This burgeoning market stoked the greed of suppliers, importers and resellers alike. But in the criminal realm as elsewhere, the aphorism “too much of a good thing” is an apt one. The excessive supply of cocaine drove prices down sharply. Before long, enterprising dealers were converting the powder into the more crystalline form known popularly as “crack” or “freebase.” Crack cocaine could be sold in smaller quantities and, therefore, to more customers. It was inexpensive to produce and easy to ingest: much like hashish, users could simply smoke it, rolled into cigarettes or using glass pipes. Cocaine had never been so accessible: a “rock” could be had for as little as three dollars. But the dealers weren’t losing out. Crack’s rush was immediate and intense but fleeting, so users got hooked quickly and needed more and more. The social impact of the drug was devastating. Cocaine was no longer reserved to the rarefied realms of stock exchanges and professional firms; it was now ravaging inner-city streets. Its victims began showing up in hospital emergency rooms at an alarming rate. In the United States, the first “crack babies,” characterized by abnormally low birth weights, were born to addicted mothers in late 1984. The epidemic did not attain such severe proportions in Canada, but it caused extensive harm nonetheless.
The misfortune of so many brought joy to a rapacious few. The profits from trafficking in the cocaine boom complemented those of the Rizzuto and Cuntrera-Caruana clans’ long-established heroin trade. The skyrocketing revenue presented a daunting problem for the Montreal Mafia, however: thousands of banknotes were piling up and were in danger of rotting—literally—unless they could be funnelled back into the licit economy.
When an Italian prosecuting judge named Gioacchino Natoli came to Montreal as part of his investigation of Pasquale Caruana and Giuseppe Cuffaro, one of the many witnesses he heard from was a clerk at a branch of the Montreal City and District Savings Bank (now Laurentian Bank of Canada). The woman told him how a large quantity of two-, five- and ten-dollar notes that she had been asked to count “didn’t smell right.”
“Do you mean the money physically smelled bad?” the prosecutor asked.
“That’s right,” she said. “It smelled musty.”
From 1978 to 1981, Sicilian mobsters paid weekly visits to the City and District branch in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, on Montreal’s West Island, carrying up to $500,000 at a time in hockey-equipment bags. Alfonso Caruana and his cronies would pull up in front of the bank in a van and drag the heavy sacks inside. Clerks would spend half a day counting the small-denomination bills in the basement, after which they would hand over nice, clean bank drafts to these most unconventional clients.
RCMP Sergeant Mark Bourque was able to trace U.S.$36 million worth of that money funnelled into Swiss accounts. Interrogated by Judge Natoli at the Montreal courthouse, the manager of the bank, Aldo Tucci, candidly explained: “They were entrepreneurs who had a company in Venezuela. But I was simply following the instructions I was given.” He said he had notified Raymond Garneau, the chairman and CEO of the bank (and a former Liberal minister of finance in the provincial government of Robert Bourassa), and that Garneau had approved the deposits. Garneau denied this, stating that he had signed no such authorization, but he admitted that he had wondered whether the bank could refuse the money without being exposed to legal proceedings.
Giuseppe Cuffaro deposited more than seventeen million dollars in small bills at a branch of the Hellenic Canadian Trust on Parc Avenue and at a branch of the National Bank of Canada on Saint-Michel Boulevard. Sergeant Bourque was revolted by the behaviour of the Canadian banks. In his opinion, there was a very good reason why the Cuntrera-Caruana clan had made Canada their home: the country was a heaven-sent pool for them to wash their dirty money in.
But Canada wasn’t the only such paradise. On November 27, 1978, Alfonso Caruana and Giuseppe Cuffaro were searched when they arrived in Zurich on a flight from Mirabel International Airport, just north of Montreal. Customs officers found $600,000 stashed in the false bottoms of their suitcases. The two passengers claimed the cash was from the sale of a boat. They paid a fine and were sent on their way. Alfonso Caruana had been dirt-poor when he arrived in Canada in 1968: he had only one hundred dollars in his pocket. It was obvious the two men were in the business of laundering money, but they were breaking no laws.
Caruana and Cuffaro travelled constantly. In 1981 and 1982, Cuffaro left Montreal at least ten times. A probe of his American Express account revealed that he had made business trips to Zurich, Caracas, Miami, Aruba, Rome, Bologna, Palermo, Nassau, London, Hollywood (in Florida), New Delhi and New York, often more than once. He also found time to visit Singapore, Rio de Janeiro and Bangkok. The Sicilian Mafiosi were decidedly in the vanguard of the globalization of capital flow.
In the space of a few years, tens of millions of dollars coursed through accounts controlled by Alfonso. With Giuseppe Bono, among others, as a partner, Caruana set up front companies in Milan. At one point he spent a month in Thailand with Cuffaro. He already owned homes in Canada and Venezuela when he bought a luxe villa in Melide, on the outskirts of the banking district of Lugano, a city in the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino, just two hours’ drive north from Milan. Police observed him there conducting an exchange of money with Mafia boss Antonio Salamone, part of the Greco clan, who had come especially from Brazil to meet him.
Lugano is a study in both natural beauty and financial expediency. Straddling the border, Lake Lugano reflects the Italian Alps in the southernmost third of its waters, and the Swiss Alps in the northern two-thirds. The canton of Ticino is the third-largest financial centre in Switzerland, after Zurich and Geneva. The banking industry alone employs nearly ten thousand people in the city of Lugano. Historical connections with Italy are multitudinous. Most important of all to men like Alfonso Caruana was the Swiss authorities’ legendary, maniacal reverence for bank secrecy.
In 1982, Alfonso moved to England to take over the business of his cousin, Liborio Cuntrera, who had died of cirrhosis of the liver. Vito Rizzuto’s Tudor revival home on Antoine-Berthelet Avenue may have been a posh pad, but it paled in comparison with Broomfield Manor in Godalming, Surrey. Caruana bought it for £450,000, almost a million Canadian dollars at the time. He paid cash. Built in the Georgian style, it boasted six ample bedrooms as well as a heated, lighted swimming pool. Elegant flower beds surrounded a basin with a waterfall. The three-hectare grounds, enclosed in a 2.5-metre-high wall, included kennels and tracks for dog racing. Pasquale Caruana lived not far from his brother Alfonso, in a residence only slightly less sumptuous. The Hook was located in the upscale London suburb of Woking, which like Godalming is part of the so-called stockbroker belt. It too had an indoor pool and a dog track, but featured a sauna instead of a water garden. It had cost Pasquale almost as much as what Alfonso had paid for Broomfield Manor. The luxury real estate agent’s listing had described it as “ideal for the busy businessman who needs easy access to Heathrow and London [airports].”
Liborio Cuntrera’s body was repatriated to Italy for burial. He had been living in England for seven years, during which time his brothers Pasquale, Gaspare and Paolo called Venezuela home. Liborio had emigrated from Sicily to Canada in 1951, when he was twenty-two, and became a naturalized Canadian citizen. He had never been arrested—quite the feat considering his pivotal role in the Cuntrera-Caruanas’ narco-empire and money-laundering network. He had been a close associate of Francesco Di Carlo, a gangster of no small note in Mafia history.
Di Carlo also lived in Woking, in a mansion called Brankdene; it too was encircled by a lofty fence. Two huge Alsatians guarded the property. At night, the gates would occasionally swing open to admit limousines; area residents mistakenly believed that the lord of the manor was in the hotel business. After Liborio Cuntrera’s death, Di Carlo began to visit his neighbours Alfonso and Pasquale Caruana frequently.
The peace and quiet of Surrey’s nouveaux riches seemed not particularly troubled by the discovery, early in the morning of June 18, 1982, of the body of Roberto Calvi. He was found hanging beneath Blackfriars Bridge in London’s financial district, with bricks stuffed into his clothing to weigh it down, and the equivalent of fifteen thousand dollars in various currencies in his pockets. Calvi was the chairman of the Banco Ambrosiano, which had just gone bankrupt. His nickname in the press was “God’s banker.”
He had earned that sobriquet because the private bank’s principal shareholder was the Institute for Works of Religion, otherwise known as the Vatican Bank, headed at the time by Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, an American. Calvi was also a member of a Masonic lodge called Propaganda Due (or P2), whose grand master was Licio Gelli. The motives for the Calvi murder remain nebulous, but it appears some influential members of the Mafia were extremely displeased at having lost the colossal sums they had deposited at the Banco Ambrosiano. Roberto Calvi’s son Carlo, a banker living in Montreal, remains convinced his father was killed because he was privy to the secret financial dealings of the Mafia and the Vatican. In 1997, a prosecutor in Rome laid charges against several suspects. One was Giuseppe “Pippo” Calò, known as the “Mafia’s cashier,” who sat on the Cupola and was on the side of the victorious Corleonesi during the Second Mafia War.
Francesco Di Carlo was implicated too. When he decided to co-operate with authorities in 1996, Di Carlo denied having been the murderer of “God’s banker” but did acknowledge that Pippo Calò had asked him to do the deed. According to Di Carlo, the killing had been ordered by both Calò and Licio Gelli, the P2 grand master.
Di Carlo was also alleged to have been part of the plot to assassinate Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, who was a friend of the Canadian Senator Pietro Rizzuto. In 1982, Dalla Chiesa, a general of the carabinieri, was named a prefect for Palermo to combat the Mafia. The appointment provoked an outpouring of joy. Sicilians placed great trust in the general, who had a well-founded reputation as a true servant of the state. He dared to call things as he saw them: the Sicilian Mafia could not prosper without collusion by politicians, specifically members of the Christian Democratic Party—and he unhesitatingly identified the most corrupt among them. The Mafia feared him. One hundred days after his arrival in Sicily, he was assassinated along with his wife, Emanuela, and their driver/bodyguard. The killing had been ordered by the Corleonese boss Totò Riina.
Another “illustrious corpse,” as the Mafia was fond of saying.
Di Carlo’s name was on the lengthy list of the accused at the Maxi Trial in Palermo. Italian authorities maintain that they notified British law enforcement as early as 1976 of Di Carlo’s presence in suburban London. They even provided his address, apparently, but for reasons unknown he was never arrested.
Di Carlo regarded his wealthy neighbour Alfonso Caruana as a brother. After he became a pentito, Di Carlo told prosecutors that the Corleonesi had wanted him to eliminate Caruana, but he had refused. Had he really received that order? Perhaps Di Carlo, known in English mob circles as “Frankie the Strangler,” sought to cultivate an image of a good guy to whom the idea of killing a close friend was abhorrent. One thing is certain, however: he collaborated actively with the Cuntrera-Caruana clan, among other things, on a major operation to transport heroin to Montreal. The dope was hidden in furniture.
On August 21, 1984, a few days after a consignment of teak furniture cleared customs in the Port of Felixstowe, in England, a cheque in the amount of thirteen thousand dollars was deposited in a Montreal bank branch. Nine days later, the cargo was en route to Canada, and the money was in a bank in Bangkok, Thailand. The transaction was unremarkable and attracted no attention. But by December 2 of that year, it no longer appeared insignificant at all. That day, a routine search by British customs officers turned up 250 kilograms of hashish hidden in another shipment of furniture. The shipper was Shalimar Enterprise, based in Kashmir; the consignee was London-based Elongate Ltd. Once off-loaded at Felixstowe, the furniture was supposed to transit through a London warehouse before being sent on to Montreal. New manifests were to be created for the shipment to fool Canadian authorities into believing the goods’ country of origin was England, and not Kashmir. In this way, the traffickers hoped to reduce the suspicions of HM Customs and Excise investigators—who nonetheless seized the drugs and arrested two Montreal-based envoys of Pasquale Caruana and Antonio Zambito.
In early 1985, British customs learned that Elongate Ltd. was expecting another consignment of furniture, this time from Thailand-based Chiangmai Treasure Co., Ltd. As soon as the ship docked at the Port of Southampton, officers rushed to open the container. They found nothing but furniture. In May, Chiangmai sent another containerized shipment. An unsuspecting Francesco Di Carlo told customs that it was to be transshipped to Montreal, freight paid, to an import-export company that was headed by Antonio Zambito and had been founded by Pasquale Caruana and his brothers. Drug-sniffing dogs helped customs agents find several packets of almost pure heroin carefully hidden inside compartments in luxury teak tables. They kept part of the dope and allowed the rest to proceed to Montreal, counting on the RCMP to nab whoever showed up to collect it.
A month later, on the Felixstowe docks, a dog handler had to strain with all his might to keep his sniffer dog, Ben, from tearing the leash from his hands. His colleagues had just opened another container of furniture. Ben was barking furiously with good reason: among the wares were two tables identical to those that had been examined in May in Southampton, and each contained thirty-five kilos of brown heroin. Once again, the container had been shipped from Thailand, destination Montreal.
RCMP drug squad investigators were on the alert and placed the Montreal suspects under surveillance. A report states that they were especially intrigued “by almost daily meetings held by individuals of Italian nationality” at a small convenience store on des Galeries d’Anjou Boulevard in east-end Montreal. The store’s owner, Salvatore Vella, was seen speaking with Pasquale and Gerlando Caruana, Giuseppe Cuffaro, Luciano Zambito and Filippo Vaccarello. Some of these same individuals occasionally went to a warehouse that they had rented in Saint-Laurent, in the western part of the Island of Montreal.
During the surveillance operation, officers observed Filippo Vaccarello and an individual unknown to them enter the office of the accounting firm of Alfonso Gagliano, who the previous year had been elected as the Liberal member of Parliament for the riding of Saint-Léonard. The reason for that visit has never been made clear. The RCMP noted this fact in a report, which it subsequently sent to the office of the future prime minister, Jean Chrétien. La Presse reporters looked into the MP’s unusual relations. Another individual, Dima Messina, a financial representative of Vito Rizzuto who specialized in money laundering, had also been seen in Gagliano’s office in the late 1980s. When asked about the matter, the MP replied that he knew neither Vaccarello nor Messina. “Italian names ring a bell … but no,” he said. “They are not clients. I checked with my wife. Vaccarello? That means nothing to me. There has been information to the effect that Messina was in my accounting office … I really don’t know. It’s a mystery. My office is a public place: if a client sends someone to pick up an envelope or a document, we give it to them; we don’t ask questions.”
Pasquale Caruana was one of the principal suspects in the case of the furniture smuggling scheme. He lived in a lavish home on Belleville Street, in South Shore Longueuil, which had taken two years to build and cost $1.5 million. Vincenza, the wife of his brother Gerlando, owned mountains of jewellery. RCMP Sergeant Mark Bourque noted that just about every day, she would invite neighbouring housewives, with much ceremony, for an afternoon snack.
Another shipment of teak furniture arrived in the Port of Montreal on June 19, 1985. The next day, the RCMP intercepted a conversation between Pasquale and Gerlando Caruana. They were discussing the purchase of a plastic bag sealer to aid in the repackaging of the heroin.
“I need this thing and I’m going to buy it tonight,” Gerlando said.
“Yeah, okay. Everything’s okay,” was Pasquale’s reply.
The Mounties seized fifty-eight kilos of heroin in the Saint-Laurent warehouse. On June 21, four members of the network were arrested in Great Britain, and four more in Montreal. Canadian police lacked sufficient proof to bring in Pasquale Caruana, but their British counterparts nabbed Francesco Di Carlo; an English court later sentenced him to twenty-five years. Antonino Cassarà, assistant to the chief of police of Palermo and one of the main authors of the “Bono Giuseppe + 159” report, went to interrogate Di Carlo in prison. Three days after he returned to Sicily, he was gunned down by at least a dozen assailants as his horrified wife looked on. The hit had been ordered by the Corleonesi clan under Totò Riina. Cassarà’s name was added to the increasingly long list of illustrious corpses.
The RCMP arrested Gerlando Caruana, Luciano Zambito, Filippo Vaccarello and Lucio Bedia (the latter was eventually acquitted). Gerlando’s brother Alfonso realized that staying in Great Britain was a risky proposition. He put his mansion in the stockbroker belt up for sale and fled to Venezuela. His wife and children returned to Montreal, and he eventually joined them there. They moved into a house in Laval worth some $200,000. Compared to Broomfield Manor, it was a modest home indeed. But the time for playing at bourgeois gentleman of the manor had passed. Alfonso Caruana now had to assume the role of an honest, hard-working everyman. He opened Pizzeria Toscana, on Jean-Talon Street in Saint-Léonard, where he kneaded and flipped dough while his wife, Giuseppina, worked the cash register.
Revenue Canada nevertheless took an interest in him. In 1986, the federal agency seized $827,624 in his bank account, having noted that millions of dollars had transited through it. Caruana contested the seizure in writing. In a sworn affidavit, he stated that he had not been a resident of Canada during the period in question and therefore did not owe any income tax on the money. Revenue Canada officials responded that he had laundered some nine million dollars through Canadian banks and that Italian authorities were seeking to indict him on drug trafficking charges. They invited him to meet with them and explain his actions. Alfonso declined, telling the taxman he could keep the money, and then fled once more to Venezuela.
“According to the public prosecutor of Palermo, the Cuntrera-Caruana clan controls a very large heroin trafficking network,” notes a 1990 strategy report by Quebec’s organized-crime research office (Bureau de recherche du Québec sur le crime organisé). “Italian police believe it sold more than five hundred kilos of heroin around the world between 1980 and 1988. This represents proceeds of $4 billion.”
While continuing to deal in heroin, Vito Rizzuto decided to diversify and boost his network’s revenues by importing several dozen tonnes of hashish. That sideline would very nearly force him to trade the comfort of his lavish home on Antoine-Berthelet Avenue for a jail cell. But, as usual, fortune was on his side, and he escaped the clutches of the police and the legal system with relative ease.