(Francesco Arcadi arrest, Image obtained from Huffington Post, 2016)
November 6, 2016
For the Mafia in Montreal everything is dynamic, and, therefore, everything is static. Since the 1970s, the clans that comprise the large and complex organization that constitutes traditional organized crime in Montreal have been in a state of turmoil. Murders, avarice, venality and mayhem with public money have become the proverbial norm for the City and its prolific gangster element. However, the apparent constant shifts in power belies the true constancy of the Italian mafia in La Belle Province and the environs of its largest and wealthiest metropolis. Again and again calls have come out from onlookers and observers in both the media and government decrying the violence utilized by the group and identifying the contemporary period as a possible or even clear end to the syndicate. This, unfortunately for the citizens of Montreal and Québec, has never come to pass and is certainly not the case currently.
The latest iteration of this apparent eradication prediction from true crime prognosticators has developed following the arrests and murder of much of the current Montreal mafia’s leadership round table over the past year. However, as discussed in several earlier PanAm Crime articles, these actions connote strength and prosperity and not necessarily violence over the scraps of the organization’s rackets or the elimination of the Italian crews by other criminal organizations (see here). It should always be remembered dear readers, when analyzing violence between elements in any organized criminal group, that such incidents would only occur if there were serious resources worth fighting over. This reality does not contend that such conflicts could be not related to improving resource pipelines or a shift in the access to those same resources, but it does mean that organizational violence – in the case of Italian organized crime and almost all other forms of established, systematized criminality – is always related to who retains or gains access to incredibly lucrative markets (in drugs, smuggling or gambling) or (labour extortion) rackets. These conflicts can certainly end up being systemically destructive and bring about the deaths of key people within the network, or create cooperating witnesses or arrests by other means, but they are not, in and of themselves, a sign of organizational retraction.
So, with this appropriate lens established, who is, once again, preying upon the Sicilians in Montreal? Postulations continue to be put forward by both casual and educated observers alike. In this edition of PanAmerican Crime the subject matter will be considerably shorter as it will touch on the dichotomy and events described in another recent PanAmerican Crime article, entitled “The Giordano Murder and Why Nothing Has Changed”, (see here). It will take you through what has happened since the February, 2016 murder of Lorenzo “the skunk” Giordano, the recent arrests and murders, and will conclude with what will may well develop from here.
Resurgent Hells Angels, street gangs or perhaps Ndrangheta clans from Toronto and Hamilton trying to once again gain access to one of, if not the most, significant deep water port for illicit narcotics importation on the north-eastern coast of North America: all have been nominated as the villains in the latest incidents of gangland violence in Montreal as onlookers seek to explain the conflict and why it hasn’t stopped in years. The origins of these ideas are certainly dramatic and tragic, and should therefore not be dismissed lightly. Despite calls to contrary, there is no evidence at this time to suggest that any of the organizations mentioned earlier are involved in the current conflict. Both the Ontario Ndrangheta clans and Montreal Mafia enjoy different sources for their primary import of cocaine and other drugs. The Ndrangheta in Toronto also failed in its bid to back competing crews of Calabrian origin within the Montreal mob during the infamous Montreal mob conflict of 2009-2013. It is therefore extremely unlikely that these clans would be in a position to launch another assault in an area where they have reduced influence and capacity, especially given the deaths of key members within the Calabrian criminal community both during and following the 2009-2013 war. Wars cost capital – political, security and human in nature – making the ability of countries, organizations and groups to launch repeated unsuccessful attempts at a hostile takeover extremely unlikely. The groups that would have to be involved on the Calabrian side likely simply do not see the benefit in wasting further resources on such an endeavour, especially when any failed attempt of this type and magnitude could result in a reduction of influence, power and authority within their own home locales.
The Hells Angels, always allies of the Montreal mob, continue to work, even in their reduced presence on the street following continued law enforcement scrutiny, for the Montreal mafia and its Sicilian leadership. The case of Jimmy Cournoyer perhaps demonstrates this fact perfectly for all observers. Cournoyer was a long-time drug trafficker in the City of Montreal and its environs. First arrested as a young teen, he soon grew from these humble beginnings and a troubled single-parent home to become the largest independent drug trafficker in Canada. By the time of his arrest in Mexico on February 16, 2012, 33 year-old Cournoyer had become a pre-eminent drug smuggler, charged by the United States government with moving over $1 billion worth of marijuana and cocaine from Canada into the United States. The arrangement, interestingly, reveals of a more complex operational paradigm. The cocaine would originate from the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico where Cournoyer would arrange for its transport to Canada to various key players in the Montreal mafia. Once in Montreal, the drugs would be distributed by the various Montreal mafia factions to their dealers and distribution networks, most notably the Hells Angels. Besides the local bikers, the Montreal mob soon began sending the drugs south, again through contacts maintained by Cournoyer, to the proverbial Mecca of drug consumption: New York City, where it was distributed by members and associates of the Bonanno Crime Family. Drug pipelines are an excellent method of determining hierarchy in the criminal world. Those with the connections import the narcotics, and those dependent and farther down the ladder obtain the drugs through the importer and establish their own local distribution networks. Cournoyer would eventually plead guilty and be sentenced to 27 years in 2014. Again, revealing the strength of the Montreal criminal behemoth that is the Rizzuto Family, Cournoyer’s arrest represents just one of many known importation schemes run by the Montreal crime family; (remember the network run by the Arcadi Crew through Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport in the early 2000s, the dismantling of which sent Francesco Arcadi, Lorenzo Giordano, Francesco del Balso and many of the acolytes from their crew to prison for long stretches as part of Operation Colisée in 2006).
Since the patterns reveal that it is very unlikely that the Calabrians or bikers are leading this renewed assault on the Sicilian faction in Montreal, the campaign must be a emanating from an internal source of dissent. With the arrest of Don Vito Rizzuto in 2003 his established underboss who operated his own crew, the deadly and powerful Francesco Arcadi, assumed the mantle of acting boss for the organization and steered it until his own arrest for drug importation in 2006, which saw his crew largely dismantled. Arcadi and his underlings were known to be vicious and handle many of the enforcement jobs required of all respectable drug trafficking organizations. It was no surprise then to many observers that, following the 2009-2013 Montreal mob conflict and the death of Don Vito Rizzuto from cancer in 2013, Arcadi let it be known that he considered himself in line for the top job. Given that he had just spent close to a decade behind bars such a statement is both amazing and revealing as at first glance it would appear unlikely that Arcadi and his once powerful regime (or crew) would be able to muster the strength to oppose the current leadership. Perhaps Arcadi may simply be insane. Yet, despite possibly possessing a vituperative, violent or vitriolic sociopathic temperament, a person does not generally rise to a prominent position of leadership in a multi-million dollar enterprise by being completely out of their mind. Ergo, if Arcadi made the threats he could, in all likelihood, back up his claim.
Despite his apparent strength and the apparent continued loyalty of many followers, Arcadi was pitted against a deadly and determined foe, one that had just survived a deadly five-year assault and had responded to such ferociousness in kind. Again, as mentioned in “The Giordano Murder and Why Nothing Has Changed”, following Don Vito’s death the family reconstituted its leadership configuration in the same structure as before:
- Stefano Sollecito – nominal boss;
- Leonardo Rizzuto – nominal underboss;
- Rocco ‘the sauce” Sollecito – reputed consigliere (and Stefano’s father);
- Nicola and Vincenzo Spagnolo – labour unions lieutenants;
- Vito Salvaggio – reputed senior captain; and,
- Liborio “punchy” Cuntrera – narcotics lieutenant.
Arcadi was therefore seemingly content to contend with experienced mobsters with resounding supporters who were capable and known killers – lacking cajones the diminutive Arcadi is not. Yet, despite his tempestuous nature and clear abilities Arcadi did not strike first. The Montreal Mafia leadership group did with the murder of Lorenzo “the skunk” Giordano on February 29, 2016 outside of a Laval fitness club. The Skunk was Arcadi’s clear second in command and his murder, intended to send a message to the Arcadi group to stop its supposedly misguided attempt at the throne, essentially began a second war in Montreal between competing mob factions.
As stated in a previous PanAmerican Crime article: “…when analyzed within the context of the chronology of events related to Giordano’s release, (his) 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… and (an apparent) fire-bomb attack on an Italian café reputedly associated with organized crime on Jean Talon St. E. in December of 2015… (These actions) can be viewed as counter-points in the violent disagreement between the Arcadi group and Rizzuto supporters.”
Arcadi would not take the murder of his most trusted supporter lying down, but he would have to orchestrate his response from behind bars as both he and Francesco del Balso, remained on parole until 2019. Fearing his impending murder, Quebec authorities re-imprisoned the two men in an attempt to prevent further violence. It would not work. Yet before more bullets could fly law enforcement would strike first with the dual assaults of Operations Magot and Mastiff, which would result in drug trafficking charges being laid against Leonardo Rizzuto (Don Vito’s sole remaining son and reputed underboss) and Stefano Sollecito, the reputed boss and the son of Rocco “the Sauce” Sollecito, who reportedly uttered the most telling and chilling quote in Canadian gangster lore prior to the conclusion of the previous Montreal mob war, stating he would be with his boss Vito “in life, and in death.” (For more on Operations Magot and Mastiff see here).
The arrests of Sollecito and Rizzuto in November, 2015 were again hailed as the death knell of the Montreal mob by many, but while the two mob scions began to fight the serious criminal charges against them their opponents in the underworld continued their own campaign of intimidation and violence. The first serious attack occurred on May 27, 2016 against the remaining top administration member of the group on the street: Rocco Sollecito, who was gunned down in an obvious mob rubout in broad daylight – no one has been arrested or charged with the crime. The second attack occurred on October 15, 2016 and resulted in the shooting death of Vincenzo Spagnolo, a less senior but still prominent member of the current leadership table. With the three administration members either dead or in jail and the father another important captain murdered the reach of Arcadi appears long and deadly, even when incarcerated “for his own protection.”
Both of these murders are undoubtedly serious blows to an organization that has experienced tremendous pressures and personnel turnover within the past decade. Yet, once again, patterns emerge as to what is happening and what may occur. Again, as with the conflict in 2009-2013, a series of fire-bombings and arsons has hit the city of Montreal’s Italian cafés and gelaterias, all of which are locations for local mid-level drug distribution or money laundering. Such assaults indicate that the brewing conflict is both personal and business in nature and that Arcadi and his supporters are intent on capturing the still-lucrative rackets and smuggling routes into and out of the region. Arcadi may also be receiving support from other criminal groups that wish to ensure they are on the winning side of any new conflict or that simply hold grudges from the previous war against members of the Sicilian faction. And, despite the fact that it remains highly unlikely that any other group is directing the Arcadi crew, such support may well entail other mafia clans or groups from outside of the city. But, given the support Arcadi may well be receiving from members of the crews of the once powerful Calabrian faction – despite arrests and murders many adherents of the capos Joe DiMaulo and Giuseppe DeVito, who fought in the deadly 2009-2013 campaign against the Sicilian Rizzuto faction, are still, to some extent, on the street – it may not be necessary to look anywhere beyond Montreal for crews and soldiers to support his hostile takeover bid. (The DeVito crew suffered a setback in June, 2014 following several arrests linked to Operation Clemenza; the DiMaulo crew has a long history of operations, access to extensive resources with many relatives of Joe DiMaulo still reportedly in the mix; it should, therefore, be considered active).
Despite Arcadi’s potential strength and obvious sense of charisma and brio, his opposition remains staunch and powerful. When analyzing the Sicilians and their capabilities it becomes clear that, regardless of the obvious intensity of the current assault against them, they also retain considerable firepower and resources. The backbone of this strength lies with the three major Sicilian crews that supported Don Vito Rizzuto, which remain largely intact. The drug-trafficking crew of reputed capo Liborio “Punchy” Cuntrera remains on the street and largely untouched. Once referred to as “the Rothschilds” of the Sicilian mafia, the Caruana-Cuntrera clan are prolific smugglers and dealers of narcotics, possessing international reach and considerable resources. Besides this group, the crew of Vito Salvaggio is also on the street and unscathed. Salvaggio is a member of the leadership table and considered a captain with his own soldiers, and it has been speculated that as the Sollecitos progressed up the ladder during the previous decade he took over the operations of their crew, once headed by Rocco and then Stefano before their respected promotions. It is also possible that he is the next captain of the crew formerly run by Antonio “Tony” Mucci, a known mafia captain in Montreal and underworld power who continues to operate on the street. Mucci himself may still be operating his own crew, either neutrally or even taking one of the current opposing sides. Finally, the Spagnolo Crew, which reportedly has purview over the labour rackets operated by the crime family, also appears intact after the recent murder of Vincenzo Spagnolo. His son, Nicola, is likewise considered to be a capo-regime with loyal followers and extensive resources, even following the heat brought down on the Quebec construction industry following the investigation and report released in 2015 by the Charbonneau commission. Such analysis does not even begin to touch the potential candidates who may be operating parallel, rebellious or loyal regimes or crews within the organization.
What remains to be seen is a concrete response from the Sicilian faction following the incredible murder of Rocco Sollecito as well as Vincenzo Spagnolo. It is likely that, given the heat brought down on the Sicilian rackets and crews by the Charbonneau Commission as well as the recent arrests of the younger Sollecito and Leonardo Rizzuto, the Sicilians are apprehensive about making any violent moves until such heat dissipates or can be mitigated by plea deals or simply time. Police investigations, even with government resources, cannot proceed indefinitely, and the Sicilians will continue to wait or play possum until they can be sure of their success. Again, such a strategy was followed and operated successfully by Vito Rizzuto during the 2009-2013 conflict before his own demise. If Leonardo Rizzuto or Stefano Sollecito receive extensive prison sentences in their upcoming trials the entire leadership structure of the Montreal crime family may indeed change. But, until that happens, there is no indication that the Sicilians, with their extensive connections to local, provincial and federal government contacts, their billion dollar drug empire or their numerous capable crews, are interested in surrendering to the Arcadi bid for control of Montreal any time soon. Wise observers should expect more violence and reciprocal ripostes to follow on the streets of La Belle Province.
By: Scott Paulseth
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