Montreal Mafia Lessons in the Wake of Magot and Mastiff

November 30, 2015

(Image of Salvatore Cazzetta obtained from LaPresse, 2015)

On Tuesday, December 17, 2015, hundreds of officers from the Sûreté de Québec, the RCMP as well as multiple local agencies closed in around several targets across the province of Quebec and the city of Montreal specifically. Their goal was the arrest of at least 48 people associated with organized criminal groups that operate within the province’s borders. While many gangsters of different stripes were rounded up in this latest assault on organized crime, undoubtedly the operation was focussed on the apprehension of several top suspects. These leaders were the “big fish” in the eyes of police, who had supposedly taken control of the ailing mafia institution in Montreal following the death of Don Vito Rizzuto from cancer in 2013. In this article we will explore the characters involved in the recent arrests and place the significance of their loss within the context of what can be discerned by the patterns of recognizable behaviour that can be historically observed with these criminal organizations and others like them. What does this mean for the illegal organizations themselves and what can the residents of Montreal expect to change on their streets for the better; or, for the worse?

The scheme, as highlighted by the arresting officers, went something like this: following Vito Rizzuto’s death in 2013, the remaining upper echelon of the Sicilian faction in the Montreal mafia borgata assembled a new leadership group, with the aim of establishing renewed stability following the boss’ death and the recent ending of a destructive war that saw dozens murdered, including two prominent members of the former leadership group, also referred to as “the Table.” This reference points to the small table at the back of the Cosenza Social Club, which served as the base of operations for the crime family until recently. The new stability would be obtained by two things that former president of the United States Theodore Roosevelt would classify as “the carrot, and the stick.” Indeed, it is interesting to note that carrots in Roosevelt’s time were considered to be incentivizing treats (people today would likely go more for chocolate or some gluten-free monstrosity), while the “stick” of course refers to that oft-applied method of coercive influencing – violence.

Luckily for the new Sicilian regime, the violence had already been spearheaded by the late Don Vito, and an uneasy calm now permeated the streets of the City. This tension was made all the more prescient with the April, 2014 death of Carmine Verduci in the Toronto suburb of Vaughan, which had experts speculating (including on this website) that the Rizzutos’ wrath may have finally spread to the ‘ndrangheta clans that had supported the rebellion of the alliance formed by the Calabrian faction in Montreal, Vito’s former Quebecois protegé Raynald Desjardins and newly arrived American deportee and former Bonanno Crime Family boss Salvatore “the Ironworker” Montagna.

By the end of 2014 Vito’s revenge seemed be near completion. Verduci, the apparent “messenger” of the ‘ndrangheta locales in the greater Toronto area, was dead, as was Juan Fernandez who was also gunned down in April, 2013 while in Sicily. (It should be noted that investigators now believe Verduci was not murdered as part of a feud with the Montreal Sicilians, instead it was likely due to an internal struggle between the local Toronto ‘ndrangheta clans). Fernandez, like Desjardins, was reportedly “made” by Vito Rizzuto, apparently becoming the first inductees of non-Italian lineage to achieve that height in the criminal underworld. His death, like so many others over that last year, being attributed to his inability or desire not to assist the Rizzutos while they were under attack in Vito’s absence due to imprisonment from 2004 until 2012. These deaths accompanied numerous others, including reputed Toronto ‘ndrangheta hitman Salvatore “Young Gun Sam” Calautti, again in a neighbourhood north of Toronto in July, 2013. Calautti was considered by police to be responsible for the sniper-shooting death of former Rizzuto patriarch Nicolo Rizzuto in his Montreal mansion in November, 2010, at the height of the attack on the Montreal Sicilian faction.

Raynald Desjardins and his crew were arrested in 2011 for the murder of Sal Montagna after their relationship soured and the remaining rebel leaders of the Calabrian faction who were still reputed to be in the Montreal borgata were also slain. These captains include Joe di Maulo, who was assassinated in his driveway in November, 2012 as well as Giuseppe “the Pony Tail” de Vito, whose death is listed as a suicide but is considered by many to have been murder. The quick counter-point for this discrepancy being that de Vito was murdered while in custody, his body found with a high dose of cyanide. De Vito had been on the run after being charged as part of Project Colisée in 2006 for gangsterism and drug trafficking. He was arrested on these charges in the city of Laval, north of Montreal, in 2010 and sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2012, the year of Vito Rizzuto’s return. It is known that de Vito’s crew of established drug traffickers joined the rebel faction under di Maulo and the ‘ndrangheta clans, and evidence of Rizzuto’s revenge can be seen by the murder of two of de Vito’s crew members, Domenico Facchina in December, 2012 and Vincenzo Scuderi in January, 2013. De Vito himself was found dead later that year in July, 2013. In organized crime such coincidences rarely occur, if ever.

Since the “stick” aspect of the new plan for stability had already been achieved by the time of the inception of the new regime the only issue left on the agenda was the proverbial “carrot”. In the case of criminal organizations and highly developed criminal institutions, such as the Montreal mafia, the “carrot” often takes the form of a treat that is subtle in a material sense but overt existentially: forgiveness. Mafia memories are long and the effects of the recent conflict will likely continue to manifest themselves for years to come, as was the case with the Sicilian takeover of Montreal in the 1970s which greatly influenced the contemporary conflict. However, the murders have dropped off and no reinvigorated international mob war has broken out in Italy or across Canada’s large Italian communities in Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton. Money is being made by the traditional mafia methods throughout the province of Quebec: extortion, labour and public sector corruption as well as, of course, drug trafficking – the criminal occupation that continues to define the importance of the city of Montreal.

Further evidence of this new period of relative peace and prosperity is what the arresting police forces are calling the renewed “union” between criminal groups in the City. Beginning in the 1990s and possibly before, the Montreal mafia, the Hells Angels and the Irish West End gang that controls the Port of Montreal established a relationship that would set wholesale and retail prices of specific illegal drugs in their territories and collaborated systemically to achieve greater economies of scale and purchasing power. A properly defined drug cartel, as it were. In the aftermath of the mafia war and Don Vito’s death the disparate groups, including the Montreal borgata, Hells Angels and local street gangs would continue to go back to work and play nice, making the best of the current situation. Montreal has always played a pre-eminent role in the drug trade in the North America and the profits associated with illegal trafficking in the City continue to be as stupefying as ever.

The renewed working alliance in Montreal is best understood by connecting the network of those recently arrested in operations Magot and Mastiff. At the bottom are the Haitian gang leaders, who have been known to operate as hitmen and muscle for traditional organized crime groups, such as Ducarme Joseph did for Desjardins’ crew before his murder in August, 2014. One such leader who is still alive and who was taken down in the recent raids is Gregory Woolley. Woolley is a full-patch Hells Angel and worked as a bodyguard for Maurice “Mom” Boucher in the 1990s. Interestingly, he is likely the only full-patch African-American in the notoriously racist organization. Woolley also serves as the HA’s liaison and selected leader for the north-Montreal Haitian gangs that loosely fall under the labels of the Blues and the Reds and believed to be a rough approximation of the English-language Bloods and Crips gangs. Woolley and the other Haitians arrested are therefore instrumental in connecting street-level retail distribution with the Quebec biker juggernaut – the Hells Angels.

Arrested along with Woolley and his Haitian gang underlings were several known Hells Angels (HA), including the notorious Salvatore Cazzetta. Cazzetta initially founded the Rock Machine MC in opposition to the Lennoxville massacre perpetrated by the HA on members of their own Sherbrooke chapter in 1985. Cazzetta and his brother would be arrested and sent to prison in 1994 and 1997 respectively, and their inability to smooth tensions between their former friend and gang member Mom Boucher led to the Quebec Biker War (c. 1994-2002). (See PanAm Crime article: Walter Stadnick and the Rise of the International Canadian Biker for further information on this period and contemporary outlaw biker culture in Canada). Following his release, Cazzetta patched-over to the HA and continued to fill the role played by the large outlaw biker organization as the top-echelon mid-tier drug trafficking organization (DTO) in Canada. His brother, Giovanni Cazzetta, was released in 2005 one year following his brother, and also returned to his ways as a prolific drug trafficker. Giovanni has always reputedly been connected to prominent members of the Montreal mafia, including its Sicilian faction. The Sicilians, for there part, continue to operate international drug smuggling operations through connections in Europe, Lebanon as well as Venezuela, and the Caribbean, where elements of the Caruana-Cuntrera Clan – a prominent crew in the family as well as in the Agrigento Mafia clan in Sicily – continue to setup and oversee large scale cocaine trafficking networks.

Through these series of connections it is possible to see how this new cabal continues to sit astride the Montreal underworld and control the sale and wholesale distribution of marijuana, heroin and cocaine throughout La Belle Province. As has been stated repeatedly by PanAmerican Crime, the importance of understanding and teasing out these connections is paramount if law-enforcement wishes to disrupt or reduce the capacity of these networks. While money is considered the penultimate prize of organized crime, the fuel remains the connections that facilitate the logistics, transfers of illicit resources, laundering, opportunities for extortion and the establishment of legitimate and semi-legitimate business interests. If these connections are institutionalized between established criminal organizations, which may appear to be occurring, than efforts by law-enforcement to eliminate the threat posed to society by these groups will be that much more difficult.

Those mafia members arrested in the recent police raids include Leonardo Rizzuto – son of the deceased boss, don Vito – and Stefano Sollecito, the son of Rocco “the Sauce” Sollecito who, like many prominent Sicilians faction members, was arrested in operation Colisée in 2006, only being released in 2012. Rocco Sollecito once uttered the famous line upon his release that he would be with his don Vito “in life, and in death,” before bunkering down in his home to await the release of Rizzuto in 2012. The Sollecito’s are believed to have figured prominently in the revenge exacted by Vito Rizzuto and his supporters in the period immediately following Rizzuto’s exit from prison.

Perhaps, when examining the intense amount of law-enforcement scrutiny on the Montreal mafia over the past decade, the immensity of their influence and power can be properly understood and the recent trumpeting of success over these raids placed within the proper context.

– 2004 – Don Vito Rizzuto arrested; extradited 2006.

– 2006 – Operation Colisée, focusing on the importation of cocaine and other contraband through Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport. The arrests led to the imprisonment of captains Rocco Sollecito and Francesco Arcadi, as well as former don Nicolo Rizzuto and reputed consigliere and Rizzuto brother-in-law Paolo Renda. 90 other people would be charged as part of the operation.

– 2009 – Charbonneau Commission enacted in Quebec; called to look into issues of municipal and labour corruption, with specific regard to public sector capital investment projects. Mayor of Laval and two mayors of Montreal forced to resign between 2012 and 2013. It is found that Montreal mafia imposed a 2% surcharge on all construction projects along with the mayor’s office, which imposed a 3% surcharge.

– 2009 – 2012/2013 – Montreal mafia war. Dozens shot, many killed.

– 2011 – Raynald Desjardins and seven of his crew members are arrested for the murder of former Desjardins/di Maulo ally and former Bonanna Crime Family Boss Salvatore Montagna.

– 2014 – Nicola Valvano arrested with others for his part in a cross-border smuggling operation at the Akwasasne native reserve, which straddles the American-Canadian border. Over $30 million made as part of the scheme to smuggle illegal tobacco from North Carolina.

– 2014 – Operation Clemenza leads to the arrest of two large drug dealing crews, 34 people face charges in all. One crew was reportedly led by the late Giuseppe de Vito, who was imprisoned for 15 years as part of operation Colisée, and is now run by his lieutenants Giuseppe Setta and Alessandro Sucapana, The other group is reportedly led by two brothers, Antonio and Roberto Bastone. Operation Clemenza was supposedly initiated following the arrest of Raynald Desjardins and members of his crew for their part in the murder of Salvatore Montagna.

– 2015 – Operations Magot and Mastiff.

 

As this list makes clear, the Montreal mafia has not enjoyed a rosy period in the sun over the past decade. It has lost leadership figures with valuable institutional knowledge to both prison and death (natural or otherwise), it has seen many lucrative drug trafficking and smuggling networks dismantled, and it has had to contend with an armed rebellion during a time when it was at its most vulnerable. However, as this list also makes clear, the party has not stopped in spite of the ongoing pressure. In fact, the organization and its counterparts across Montreal are once again seeking to establish the institutionalized operational framework that operated so successfully under the Sicilians from the 1970s up until 2009 and the shooting death of Nick Rizzuto Jr.

 

Montreal Mafia leadership “Table” prior to the arrest of Vito Rizzuto (2004):

Nicolo Rizzuto – former boss and nominal leader.

Vito Rizzuto – Don Vito, the boss.

Paolo Renda – reputed consigliere and brother-in-law of Rizzuto.

Francesco Arcadi – reputed street boss or possible underboss.

Rocco Sollecito – captain and reputed street boss upon release in 2011, following the deaths of Nick Rizzuto Jr. and Sr.

 

Montreal Mafia leadership “Table” prior to operations Mastiff and Magot:

Stefano Sollecito – listed as the new head or boss. Sollecito is the son of long-time  loyalist captain Rocco “the sauce” Sollecito and reportedly contributed to Montreal mafia’s expansion into Toronto in the early 2000s.

Leonardo Rizzuto – second son of late Vito Rizzuto, also listed as an apparent leader but presumably under Sollecito. Likely position is underboss, or something relatable. However, Sicilian tradition stipulates that the title should go to the surviving son,  if there is one available. In this case, there is – Leonardo Rizzuto. Yet, Rizzuto was not reportedly involved with the clan on a criminal level until the assassination of his brother Nick Jr. in 2009. Stefano may be filling in until the younger Rizzuto has time to obtain some experience.

Rocco Sollecito – considered to be the consigliere or one of the senior advisors.

Nicola Spagnolo – father is Vincenzo Spagnolo, also a known mafioso in Montreal. Both  are considered the joint captains of their respective crew and are reportedly in charge of supervising the lucrative construction rackets controlled by the family. Vincenzo was a known friend of former patriarch Nicolo Rizutto and both were considered key parts of Vito’s entourage following his return from prison in 2012/2013.

Liborio “Poncho” Cuntrera – son of Agostino Cuntrera, who was a powerful captain in the crime family. Agostino was killed during the recent war in June, 2010 along with his bodyguard Liborio Sciascia. Liborio Cuntrera reportedly controls his father’s old crew, which is considered extremely influential within the family and heavily linked to international drug smuggling. Part of powerful Caruana-Cuntrera clan.

Vito Salvaggio – is a captain in the organization.

 

Other notable members include:

Calogero Renda – son of late consigliere Paolo Renda, who disappeared (feared murdered) in May, 2010. Uncle Giuseppe Renda (brother of Paolo) also disappeared during that conflict and is presumed murdered.

Arcadi crew – led by former underboss and noted tough-guy captain, Francesco Arcadi, this crew is also heavily involved in drug trafficking and extortion. Although many senior members were arrested in Operation Colisée – such as Francesco del Balso and Lorenzo Giordano – there are still crew members on the verge of being released or who continue to operation on the streets. This group may challenge for leadership if the current leadership faces severe prison time due to the current legal troubles.

As can be seen, the traditional leadership paradigm – “the table” – has continued to operate, with the established connections between Quebec criminal groups continuing unabated. Family connections – often the lifeblood of criminal fraternities – have continued to serve the group and a new generation of mafiosi are now replacing their direct blood relatives in important spots throughout the organization. These replacements are not always the result of arrests and are, in some cases, apparently deliberately designed transition moves that, like in any large successful institution, will undoubtedly preserve institutional knowledge and the connections that so empower these organizations. Further evidence of this relatively smooth transition is in the fact that no violence has continued to plague any faction of the organization, Sicilian or Calabrian. Another indicator of stability and organizational strength are the ages of those said to compose the new leadership “table”. All, with the exception of the senior consigliere – Rocco Sollecito – are in their forties. This young average age, compared to prominent crime families in NYC, indicates sustained recruitment from communities in society that continue to support this group – an important hallmark of all inter-generational fraternities.

Moving forward there are several potential hurdles that could obstruct the rebuilding of the organization following such turmoil over the past decade. These include the impending release of Francesco Arcadi – a Calabrian who is loyal to the Sicilian faction. Arcadi is a reputed captain who handled the crew that participated in the smuggling ring at Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport in Montreal and was consequently arrested along with several of his top lieutenants, such as Francesco del Balso and Lorenzo Giordano. This group was also considered to be an enforcement arm of the organization and Arcadi’s removal from the street is likely one of the major factors that prompted the revolt which ravaged the organization and Montreal’s underworld for much of 2009 through 2012/2013. Arcadi let it be known following Vito Rizzuto’s death that he wanted a top spot in the organization and it is unclear how the new regime responded to this demand. Interestingly, the arrest of Leonardo Rizzuto and Stefano Sollecito may actually smooth Arcadi’s release, as there will be less competition on the street for the job; contrasting this optimistic prediction is the possibility that Arcadi may see his chance to assume control, and do so violently. This decision will depend on the current leadership’s ability to weather their current legal storm and whether they can reach out to Arcadi prior to his release and reach some form of accommodation.

While major upheavals were initially expected from the ‘ndrangheta clans in Toronto and Hamilton, this has simply not happened and the current calm in Canada’s largest city may actually speak to growing uncertainty in the Toronto mob environment after the failed insurrection in Montreal. Regardless of what the future holds what needs to be extracted from the current arrests is not an unmitigated triumph over the limited tentacles of organized crime; rather, what should be gleaned is that much more work needs to be done. While the police and security agencies have clearly done an excellent job in dismantling certain dangerous elements of the Montreal criminal fraternity, what is apparent is that the City and Province continue to suffer from an organized institution of criminals that has been successful in continuing to replicate the institutional apparatus of previous iterations of the organization, and that this operational paradigm is much more firmly embedded in the fabric of Quebec’s society than is often openly admitted. Regardless of the intense pressure brought to bare by law-enforcement over the past decade, the institution of the Montreal mafia continues to operate and facilitate its role as the preeminent leader (and drug trafficker) in the Quebec underworld. What remains to be seen is who, be they from the current regime or rival clans, of the ever-emerging pool of suitable candidates wields the power moving forward.

 

By: Scott Paulseth

 

 

Sources:

 

Global News, April 30, 2014, http://globalnews.ca/news/1301411/quebec-tobacco-ring-allegedly-involved-italian-and-native-organized-crime/

About the Mafia, June 12, 2014, http://aboutthemafia.com/tag/roberto-bastone

CBC News, June 12, 2014, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/quebec-police-raids-31-alleged-mafia-members-arrested-1.2673070

Toronto Star, June 12, 2014, http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/06/12/montreal_mafia_ring_cracked_by_quebec_police_reportedly_thanks_to_blackberry_messages.html

National Post, June 12, 2014, http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/quebec-police-arrest-32-people-in-raids-on-violent-and-active-organized-crime-groups

Montreal Gazette, November 20, 2014, http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/montreal-drug-raids-target-organized-crime-suspected-mafia-players

Quebec Daily News, November 30, 2015, http://newsinquebec.com/la-table-de-la-mafia-montrealaise-jdq/

La Presse, April 12, 2013, http://www.lapresse.ca/actualites/justice-et-affaires-criminelles/proces/201304/12/01-4640184-un-proche-de-rizutto-en-prison-pour-neuf-mois.php

Le Journal de Montreal, May 23, 2015, http://www.journaldemontreal.com/2015/05/23/un-notaire–pour-la-mafia-voulait-etre-depute

Simcoe.com, June 12, 2014, http://www.simcoe.com/news-story/4575982-barrie-man-arrested-in-montreal-mafia-ring-raids/

About the Mafia, November 21, 2015, http://aboutthemafia.com/tag/montreal-mafia-2015

 

Further Reading:

Lee Lamothe and Adrian Humphries, “The Sixth Family”, 2008.

Andre Cedilot and Andre Noel, “Mafia Inc.”, 2010.

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