The Giordano murder and why Nothing has changed

(Lorenzo Giordano murder scene, Image obtained from Montreal Gazette, March 1, 2016)

The murder of Lorenzo “the skunk” Giordano in broad daylight on a public street in Laval is once again being trumpeted as a death knell or a sign of the sure insurmountable dissonance within the clans comprising the Montreal mafia. The well-known mobster was shot while sitting in his vehicle in the parking lot of a fitness club he was known to frequent on the island of Laval, directly north of the island and Citè de Montreal.

Giordano initially gained notoriety in the underworld for being a member of Francesco Arcadi’s crew, which had served Don Vito Rizzuto during the 1990s and early 2000s throughout Montreal. Arcadi, while of Calabrian descent, was a firm supporter of Rizzuto and a powerful captain within the Sicilian faction of the Montreal mafia. Arcadi and his closest associates, including Giordano and Francesco Del Balso, constituted a dangerous crew within a dangerous organization and were thought to have participated in several murders to help further the illicit aims of the crime family – the Arcadi Crew’s primarily source of income is thought to be drug trafficking. When Arcadi rose up to the position of underboss by at least the year 2000 Giordano and Del Balso correspondingly rose in stature and were believed to be captains of their own crews within their own right, although it is unclear whether their rank of captain or capodecina was formally recognized. By the time of their arrest and imprisonment as part of Operation Colisée in 2006 they were considered pre-eminent and destined for future underworld success within the ranks of the powerful Montreal mafia.

As is the case in most organized crime-related murders, the underlying causes of the victim’s outstanding conflicts will lead to the killers, and perhaps even to those who ordered it. Although, as the recent mob conflict in Montreal demonstrates, this is an unlikely proposition when dealing with this notoriously close-knit organization. As such, several theories have been postulated as to why Giordano, a supposed loyal member of the victorious Sicilian clan (see here), was killed. First, is that it was personal or a random sequence of events. The murderer supposedly wearing a mask while committing his heinous deed undermines this theory. Second, is the notion that Giordano’s territory was usurped by other elements and he wanted it back after returning from prison; but what elements? Other mafia groups – the Calabrians or even Toronto and Hamilton clans – looking to gain influence after their initial failure a few years ago (see here)? Perhaps the always ubiquitous in western Quebec Hells Angels or other “one-percenter” biker organizations (see here)? Maybe other ethnic street gangs coming into their criminal own?

In spite of all of the varying postulations a pattern of behaviour has emerged that allows us to predict the source of the murder contract against Giordano, regardless of what the ethnicity of the shooter proves to be.

What happened:

Contrary to the now apocryphal statements attributing recent violence in Montreal to the rise in the importance of street gangs, the killing of Giordano should be attributed to the Sicilian faction or an allied clan as retribution for him emerging from prison intent on disrupting the local power structure in the Montreal mafia underworld. He was the lieutenant or protegé of former underboss Francesco Arcadi and worked alongside his fellow lieutenant Francesco Del Balso. All three were ensnared in Operation Colisée in 2006 for trafficking cocaine through Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport in Montreal and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Having served the mandatory two-thirds of their sentences each was in a different state of release from custody.

Arcadi and his adherents had let it be known prior to their release that he wanted to assume the top spot in the Montreal mafia underworld hierarchy. Like the Napoleonically fierce Carmine Galante of 1970s New York mafia fame, the equally diminutive and ferocious Arcadi resolutely sees himself as the natural successor of Don Vito due to once having been the number two during the proverbial heyday of Vito Rizzuto’s reign. He had been replaced by other emerging leaders over the ensuing years he experienced behind bars, but after the many deaths associated with the 2009-2013 Montreal mafia conflict and, indeed, Don Vito’s own untimely demise from cancer, he feels he is entitled to the top spot. After the pronouncement by the imprisoned Arcadi and his supporters regarding his expectation of assuming control death threats against them were reportedly intercepted by police. Street gangs do not have the ability to threaten mafia members outside of their area of control, especially prior to their release from prison. Illegal biker gangs and the always important Hells Angels for their part, as evidenced by the charges against Salvatore Cazzetta and Mom Boucher in Operations Magot and Mastiff (see here), continue to work with mafia groups loyal to the current leadership structure and there is no reason or evidence to suggest that this cooperation has ended. Such an action would fly in the face of forty-five years of mutually beneficial symbiotic interaction and can therefore be discounted until serious evidence undermines it.

The most likely scenario involves a gunman or hit team loyal to the current Montreal mafia leadership table, including Rizzuto’s son Leonardo, intercepting an overly confident Giordano at this local club with lethal consequences. It is also possible that another clan took the contract in order to ingratiate themselves to the victorious and newly consecrated Sicilian leadership, or because Arcadi and Giordano were themselves threatening their own operations with their release. Regardless, the result remains that the Arcadi group’s release and bellicosity prompted this response by the current leadership.

Significance:

The November 2015 Raids of Operations Magot and Mastiff did remove the Rizzuto dynasty from power, at least from a hands-on perspective. But, as discussed in our previous post on PanAm Crime on these two operations, a new Montreal mafia leadership hierarchy had been assembled by those members loyal to the victorious Sicilian faction in the immediate post-conflict era and had remained loyal to the Rizzuto leadership structure and personal dynasty. These members included (prior to Magot and Mastiff):

  • Stefano Sollecito – nominal boss;
  • Leonardo Rizzuto – nominal underboss;
  • Rocco Sollecito – reputed consigliere;
  • Liborio “punchy” Cuntrera – narcotics lieutenant;
  • Nicola and Vincenzo Spagnolo – labour unions lieutenant; and,
  • Vito Salvaggio – reputed senior captain.

There is no reason to believe that these members will suddenly abandon their loyalty to the established regime now, even with the recent arrests. It did not happen during four-plus years of conflict and it is unlikely to happen so soon now, especially when many ruling committee members remain free. These members, including Rocco Sollecito, one of Don Vito’s oldest and notoriously staunch supporters, will likely have something to say before giving up there acquired wealth and position to Arcadi and his disciples.

But apart from pointing to the ongoing tensions within this organization, what does this murder tell us? In fact, rather than a display of disunity and institutional anarchy, it may point to the relative strength of the organization. Firstly, when analyzed within the context of the chronology of events related to Giordano’s release, the killing can be seen as part of a complex series of messages between Arcadi and the current leadership. First, Arcadi announced his intention to assume the boss position prior to his release. In response, death threats were issued to Arcadi and other members of his inner group. Upon his release, Giordano adopted and maintained a public image. His killing can be seen as a response to his behaviour and likely disobedience to the ruling cabal. This shooting should also be examined against the backdrop of organized crime-related violence in the Montreal region over this period. Included in these events were the September 2015 shooting death of Marco Claudio Campellone, the March, 2016 murder of Nino de Bartolomais and the shooting of Yannick Larose just a week after Bartolomais. There was also a fire-bomb attack on an Italian café reputedly associated with organized crime on Jean Talon St. E. in December of 2015. While not all or even most of these events should be attributed to the Arcadi dispute – the Larose and Bartolomais shootings are likely related to biker groups asserting themselves on the criminal scene again – some can be viewed as counter-points in the violent disagreement between the Arcadi group and Rizzuto supporters. The murder of Giordano can be seen as the final riposte before the potential shooting of Arcadi himself, or another top supporter. This final end for Arcadi should not be discounted in the relative near-term and it is likely that he will be the final proverbial message sent in this increasingly violent conversation.

The resolution of the countervailing groups in the conflict again points to the lucrative nature of the Montreal rackets and the continuing importance and entrenchment of the mafia group in that city. People are not killed upon their release from prison unless they seek to undermine the established order – the key word there being “established”. There may indeed be turmoil in store for the Montreal mob due to the pending trial and likely imprisonment of Stefano Sollecito and Leonardo Rizzuto following Operations Magot and Mastiff, and the current leadership structure as it is currently constituted may soon descend into conflict reminiscent of 2009-2013. But these trials have not happened and, as of 2016, the Calabrese faction and their ‘Ndrangheta supporters do not appear likely to try another move for power any time soon (see here).

What another successfully enacted murder by the organization demonstrates is that, unlike their American cousins in New York City and beyond, the Montreal mafia can quite easily rely on murder to achieve its ends. Murder remains the riskiest of all mafia enterprises because it carries the greatest risk. Not only are heat from law enforcement and prison as well as financial loss possibilities, but, organizationally, the risk of witnesses and members cooperating in order to avoid lengthy prison sentences is a potentially lethal one for organized crime syndicates, even ones as organized as traditional Italian borgatas. But, as far as we can discern, no important witness has cooperated with authorities and no one who is a known made member has testified against the myriad murderers that must be disseminated throughout the various clans and crews within the organization. Only once a significant volume of important made members have renounced their criminal identities and agreed to testify against their former mafia colleagues can a mafia organization be properly defeated or even denuded. Violence within a mafia institution can accelerate this process of disintegration, but it is not a direct corollary relationship and the Montreal mafia appears to have weathered another conflict without serious structural damage – i.e. the closing of long established profitable criminal businesses by police. The collapse of the Cleveland crime family as well as the serious undermining of the Bonanno and Colombo crime families in New York City demonstrate these facts about internal mafia violence, members becoming cooperating witnesses and the collapse of mafia institutions.

This tradition of loyalty and resonant identities have remained ensconced in the Montreal borgata despite the many deaths that resulted from the recent mob war. It is therefore responsible to surmise that, given the ongoing loyalty being demonstrated throughout the organization in the face of adversity and police pressure, the organization will continue to function at a high degree of efficiency and profitability for the foreseeable future. The potential long-term imprisonment of Sollecito and Rizzuto may alter this outlook and, rather than the current Arcadi conflict, remains the primary obstacle against the establishment of enduring peace between the Montreal mafia clans. The Giordano murder, while tragic, will not lead to the group’s disintegration and is more likely a sign of the ongoing strength of the organization than a sign of its structural disunity or demise.

Scott Paulseth

 

Sources:

“Lorenzo Giordano murder investigation continues,” CBC News, March 2, 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/rizzuto-lorenzo-giordano-murder-1.3473193.

Feith, Jesse, “Lorenzo Giordano, linked to Rizzuto clan, gunned down in Laval,” Montreal Gazette, March 1, 2016, http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/one-person-shot-in-parking-lot-of-lavals-carrefour-multisports.

Cherry, Paul, “Mafia busts: Sweeping raids, 48 arrests, and a murder plot,” Montreal Gazette, November 20, 2015, http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/montreal-drug-raids-target-organized-crime-suspected-mafia-players.

MSN.com, http://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/canada/%E2%80%98many-montreal-mafiosi-are-very-nervous%E2%80%99-why-the-city%E2%80%99s-criminal-gangs-are-spilling-blood-again/ar-BBrlBWu?li=AAggNb9&ocid=mailsignoutmd.

Feith, Jesse, “Montreal Mafia hit could spark others: crime experts”, Montreal Gazette, March 4, 2016, http://montrealgazette.com/news/montreal-mafia-hit-could-spark-others-crime-experts

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