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He may be regretting his multicultural approach.
One of his non-Italian inductees, Juan Ramon Fernandez, who was born in Spain and seen as his rock-ribbed, loyal henchman, was recently killed in Sicily, apparently because he was reluctant to choose sides in Montreal’s deadly Mafia war.
Another, Quebecer Raynald Desjardins, has been named as the architect of the rebellious faction that challenged the leadership of Mr. Rizzuto in Montreal, authorities allege.
The wiretaps were released to the National Post on Friday after a large police operation in Sicily that arrested 21 men on Wednesday.
They shed fascinating and unexpected light on the perplexing and deadly struggle for control of Canada’s underworld — a struggle that has claimed 20 lives — after police in Sicily monitored conversations between dozens of mobsters, including Canadians visiting and living in the birthplace of the Mafia.
Declaring that Mr. Rizzuto “makes the f–king rules” regardless of what Mafia bosses in Sicily thought, Mr. Fernandez asserted his right to sit at the table with other “men of honour.”
“Vito ‘made’ me and my compare, Raynald,” Mr. Fernandez is heard saying on a wiretap, a reference to being officially inducted into the Mafia, a right previously reserved for Italians.
“You’re not Italian,” said the surprised man he was speaking with.
“No, no. Me and my compare,” Mr. Fernandez insisted, were “made” men despite their lineage.
Mr. Fernandez was slain alongside another mob-linked man from Canada and, in a persuasive sign that Montreal’s mob war has spread to Sicily, the very birthplace of the Mafia, one of two men charged with their murders was also previously deported from Canada.
“We believe the order to kill him came from Canada. We are sure of it,” said an Italian officer working on the large investigation.
The gold Rolex watch Mr. Fernandez held precious as the only jewellery he could bring with him from Canada, was found in the possession of one of those charged with his murder, said investigators.
The murders backstop a large investigation by Italian police revealing the trans-Atlantic reach of the Mafia in Canada, with mobsters shuttling from Toronto and Montreal to arrange global drug shipments and even continuing their underworld feud abroad as if borders did not exist.“There’s four guys at an important Mafia murder in Sicily and three of them lived in Canada. That says a lot about the Mafia here, their mobility, their relationships internationally,” said an Ontario organized crime investigator.
Mr. Fernandez, 56, was born in Spain but grew up in Canada and became an important mob figure in Quebec and Ontario. His charred body was found in Sicily as police closed their probe, codenamed Operation Argo, that saw 21 mobsters arrested on Wednesday.
Mr. Fernandez’s last day alive was April 9 when he and Fernando Pimentel, 36, an associate from Mississauga, Ont., who was visiting him in Sicily, left for a meeting to close a marijuana deal, authorities say.
He was meeting Pietro and Salvatore Scaduto, two brothers, in an isolated field outside Bagheria, near Palermo, where Mr. Fernandez was told a large marijuana crop was being harvested, authorities alleged. Mr. Fernandez knew the brothers and trusted them; he was heard many times on police wiretaps extolling their friendship.
The deal, however, was a planned ambush, the type needed to kill someone as feared as Mr. Fernandez.
When they got out of the car, they were met with a fusillade of bullets, killing them both, authorities said. Their bodies were stripped of their valuables, pushed into the bush at the side of the dirt road and burned.
Police wondered why Mr. Fernandez was suddenly no longer heard on the wiretaps. The surveillance teams that usually watched him stroll about town had no one to follow.
“He went silent,” said the officer. “We thought he may have started a journey for Canada.”
But days later, one of the Scaduto brothers was caught trying to sell Mr. Fernandez’s Rolex watch for 3,000 euros, authorities said.
The watch was not something Mr. Fernandez would let go willingly.
“He loved that watch. Every day he wore this watch. Every day,” said the officer in Italy, who requested his name not be published. Italian police had heard him say it was the only piece not confiscated by police in Canada.
Investigators in Canada believe the watch was given to him by Vito Rizzuto, the Mafia boss from Montreal for whom Mr. Fernandez worked while in Canada.
Pietro Scaduto, 49, and Salvatore Scaduto, 51, were charged with murder. Pietro is a former Toronto resident.
Two months after Mr. Fernandez was released from prison in Canada in April 2004 and deported to Spain he arrived in Bagheria.
‘We believe the order to kill him came from Canada. We are sure of it’
Again showing the links between the underworld of Canada and Italy, he chose the city because as many as 10 mafiosi there have ties to Canada, primarily with the Rizzuto crime family, the officer said.
Several are former residents of Canada, including Michele Modica, Andrea Carbone and Pietro Scaduto — all of whom were involved in the notorious California Sandwiches shooting in Toronto in 2004, a botched mob hit that left Louise Russo, an innocent mother, paralyzed.
After that shooting, all were deported back to Bagheria.
Although Mr. Fernandez had been deported three times from Canada because of criminal convictions, he always considered Canada home.
“Fernandez lived in Sicily, but his heart and his mind were in Toronto. He thought every day of the business of Toronto. His business was still there, everyday he was in contact with his men in Toronto,” said an officer who has been immersed in the investigation.
“And Canadian men came to Italy to meet with him and talk to him about his business in Toronto and in Montreal.”But as the mobsters erase borders, police herald their own international co-operation: Italian authorities were alerted to Mr. Fernandez by Canadian police.
“We were notified that a very important wiseguy had arrived in Sicily and we started to investigate this guy,” said the officer.
In Sicily, Mr. Fernandez was sending oxycodone pills from Sicily to Canada, using Sicilian Mafiosi as couriers, and arranging cocaine shipments from Ecuador and Colombia to Italy and Canada, police said.
“He was in a very good situation, from the criminal point of view,” said the officer.
Until the very end.
Frank Zampino’s long-awaited appearance before Quebec’s corruption inquiry began Wednesday and saw him grilled about his attendance at the wedding of a mobster’s son in July 1991.
Zampino acknowledged that, in hindsight, going to the wedding of Frank Cotroni’s son and Joe Di Maulo’s daughter was perhaps not the best idea.
“It wasn’t the most brilliant decision of the century to go to the marriage, but I’m telling you I had no ulterior motive,” said the man who served as former mayor Gerald Tremblay’s right-hand man for several years until 2008.
“Perceptions are worth more than facts in politics.”
Zampino has frequently been mentioned at the inquiry as being close to various players involved in corruption.
The former head of the city’s powerful executive committee is currently charged with fraud stemming from a 2008 land deal involving city-owned property that was sold to a developer.
Zampino said he was invited to attend the wedding by a Di Maulo family member, Mario Di Maulo, a political organizer.
He added he didn’t know Joe Di Maulo, who was killed in his driveway near Montreal last November.
Di Maulo was described as a middleman between the Cotroni and Rizzuto clans and kept a low profile while having ties to the rival groups.
As for Zampino, he was acquainted with another brother, Jimmy Di Maulo, but insisted at the time he was unaware of the family’s Mafia links.
Zampino said he didn’t know Cotroni well. Both Cotroni and Di Maulo were central figures during another public inquiry in the 1970s into organized crime.
“I knew Mr. Cotroni from the newspapers like other Quebecers,” Zampino told the Charbonneau Commission. “I didn’t know him personally.”
Zampino also denied knowing Vito Rizzuto, the man considered to be in charge of the Mafia in Montreal following the demise of the Cotroni family.
The inquiry indicated it was in possession of a photo of Zampino and Rizzuto together, but Zampino said he wasn’t sure whether any such photo was ever taken.
His first day of testimony often took on a testy tone. Zampino told the probe he took offence to the suggestion he was tied to the Mafia based on his participation at the wedding. He said he attended the marriage in good faith and without other designs.
As mayor of the largely Italian suburb of Saint-Leonard, he was invited to as many 50 weddings a year. But Zampino said he didn’t dig up the background of those inviting him.
“I often was invited to weddings, it was part of the culture,” said Zampino, adding he refused the majority of invites.
“If I accepted to go to all of those weddings, I’d be divorced.”
The longtime municipal stalwart also took issue with an allegation he exerted huge influence at city hall, particularly in the awarding of contracts.
One witness, Rosaire Sauriol of the engineering firm Dessau, previously described Zampino as ”the most powerful man in Montreal.”
Inquiry witnesses have described how companies inflated the cost of public projects and divided up the extra cash among the Mafia, corrupt bureaucrats and Union Montreal, Zampino’s old party.
But Zampino maintained he wasn’t involved at all in political party financing and he disputed there was a two-headed administration at city hall. Witnesses have testified Zampino was in charge while Tremblay was largely left in the dark.
Earlier on Wednesday, Zampino, a chartered accountant, said he got into politics in 1986 purely by chance after being approached to run as a councillor.
In 1990, he became mayor of Saint-Leonard. He was then acclaimed in 1994 and 1998.
He ended up spending 22 years in municipal politics in Montreal and Saint-Leonard.
He became involved in Montreal politics in 2001, when the province merged small cities into a megacity. Zampino says he wasn’t in favour, but didn’t want to be left on the outside looking in.
That’s when he decided to get onboard with Tremblay, who had ambitions of becoming mayor of Montreal and wanted Zampino, who was respected among other suburban mayors.
Zampino said he was proud of his time with the city and said he left it in better financial condition than when he started.
When the questions briefly turned to electoral financing, Zampino said he was unaware of the existence of “turn-key” elections when he started in politics. He said he learned of them through the papers.
So-called “turn-key” elections occur when companies provide everything and candidates step right into their privately financed campaign operation in exchange for post-election favours for the firms.
The witness before Zampino, ex-party fundraiser Bernard Trepanier, said that type of election financing was the norm.
Trepanier and Zampino are close friends.
Zampino downplayed, however, the number of calls between phone numbers belonging to the two men. The inquiry put the number at 1,800 over a four-year span.
Zampino countered that closer to 200 was more accurate and not out of the ordinary considering their friendship.
“Saying he called me 1,800 times is fundamentally dishonest,” Zampino said.
His testimony continues on Thursday.
A short history of the Mafia in Montreal
Gazette reporter Paul Cherry explains the history of organized crime in Montreal, its major players and how the Rizzuto family gained prominence
Montreal Mafia member’s funeral
Joe Di Maulo, a key member of the Montreal Mafia, has been laid to rest, and police were keeping close tabs on his funeral. Mike Armstrong reports.
MONTREAL—Flashy fall guy or drug kingpin? These are the duelling portraits a jury will see when a 33-year-old Quebecer goes on trial in June on charges of running a lucrative smuggling ring with links to the highest ranks of the Mafia and the Hells Angels.
Jimmy Cournoyer makes no apologies for his playboy lifestyle. Before his arrest early last year, he drove a car valued at $2 million, dated glamorous Brazilian-born model Amelia Racine and partied with stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and ultimate fighting champion George St-Pierre.
But a list filed in a New York court claiming to outline “Cournoyer’s extensive criminal contacts” is much more sinister, according to American prosecutors, who have disclosed that they will call an expert witness to testify about the workings of Italian organized crime in the U.S. and Canada.
The list includes Montreal Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto, Hells Angels leader Maurice “Mom” Boucher, and the leaders of Montreal’s infamous West End Gang.
The hundreds of names that appear on the court filing were produced last week by the U.S. States Attorney also includes former Canadian boxing champion Arturo Gatti, now dead, and Martino Caputo, a Toronto man arrested last month in Germany on charges that he helped orchestrate the daylight murder of a man outside a College Street bar in Toronto’s Little Italy last summer. The killing was reportedly due to a drug dispute.
Caputo, and his twin brother, Antonio, who together ran a Spadina Avenue restaurant that was a regular stop when Rizzuto visited Toronto, were also arrested in 2001 during a sweep on illegal gambling operations in Ontario and Quebec.
The charges against Cournoyer and five others are the result of a probe that began in 2007 into drug-trafficking operations worth almost $ 1 billion headquartered in Montreal that had formed a cartel to smuggle marijuana into the U.S., set prices and distribute the drugs to users.
Cournoyer is alleged to have coordinated the shipment of some 50,000 kilograms of marijuana south of the border, arranged for the profits to travel from New York to California and overseen the purchase of cocaine that was then brought back into Canada, according to court filings.
He allegedly outfitted his underlings with high-security Blackberry devices that could be remotely disabled if lost or seized by police and smuggled 9-mm handguns across the Canada-U.S. border for protection.
The list of Cournoyer’s co-conspirators includes other alleged and convicted drug traffickers, bikers, enforcers and numerous residents of Cornwall’s Akwesasne native reserve — the alleged embarkation point for the drug shipments.
Cournoyer’s attorney, Gerald McMahon, said more than a dozen of the names on the list point to the real culprits in the smuggling operation, a point he will try to make to a jury when the trial begins on June 3.
Chief among those responsible is New York attorney Stanley Cohen, whom Cournoyer has claimed in pre-trial hearings is giving evidence to the authorities in order to protect himself and his clients on Mohawk territory from prosecution.
Cohen worked closely with the Mohawk Warriors during the Oka Crisis and has represented a number of accused Mohawk drug traffickers over the years. He is primarily known in the United States as the lawyer of choice for accused terrorists and for Hamas.
“This is like the fifth different person that the (U.S.) government claims is the head of this consortium. Whenever Stanley Cohen decides to knife somebody, he’s the new head of the consortium,” McMahon said in an interview.
“It’s a moving target. Jimmy Cournoyer is not the head of any consortium. He’s not involved in any marijuana trafficking and he’s simply a target of opportunity for Stanley Cohen.”
Prosecutors have repeatedly denied that Cohen is at the heart of the criminal charges.
“Mr. Cohen is not a government witness and has never been an informant for the government,” U.S. attorney Loretta Lynch wrote in a letter to McMahon last month.
With a high-profile trial involving Jimmy Cournoyer set to begin in New York in two months, the lawyers involved have been filing several exchanges in a U.S. District Court based in Brooklyn. As part of those filings, the prosecution recently produced a long list of people alleged to be “co-conspirators” in the case against Cournoyer.
According to a summary of the case filed in court, Cournoyer, 33, allegedly “co-ordinated the importation and distribution of more than 100,000 pounds of hydroponic marijuana into the United States, specifically to Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, N.Y., from Canada” between 2002 and 2011. The marijuana is thought to have originated from Montreal and by 2009, “Cournoyer was sending at least 1,000 pounds of marijuana to New York per week, and was planning to expand his business to 5,000 pounds of marijuana per week.”
In a letter filed to the court recently, United States Attorney Loretta Lynch wrote that “the government anticipates that evidence may be introduced at trial implicating dozens of individuals as co-conspirators of the Cournoyer enterprise.”
The letter does not explain how the list of more than 400 names was generated or how the people on it may be tied to Cournoyer.
It is possibly based on a list of contacts Cournoyer kept on communication devices seized in the investigation. Earlier this year, the prosecution revealed reputed mob boss Vito Rizzuto’s telephone number was among those saved on a telephone seized from Cournoyer.
Rizzuto’s name appears on the list made public in U.S. court, as do several other major figures from Montreal’s underworld. At least three other people on the list are believed to have ties to the Mafia in Montreal, including Andrew (Andrea) Scoppa, 49, whose name was apparently misspelled among Cournoyer’s contacts as “Andrew Scopa.” Scoppa, who has been linked to the Rizzuto organization in the past, was sentenced to a six-year prison term in 2004 for drug trafficking in Montreal.
The prosecution also stated last week that during the trial it intends to call a detective with the New York Police Department who will testify “regarding the historical development of Italian organized crime in the United States and Canada” and about the Bonanno crime family in particular. Ties between the Bonanno family and the Mafia in Montreal have existed for decades. And one person with alleged ties to the Bonannos, John Venizelos, has been charged with acting as Cournoyer’s distributor in New York.
The list of Cournoyer’s potential contacts also suggests he knew some of the more influential figures within the Montreal-based West End Gang, including Gerald (Gerry) Matticks, 72, his brother Richard, 79, and his son Donald, 49. Both Gerry and Donald Matticks have served lengthy prison terms for helping the Hells Angels smuggle cocaine through the Port of Montreal.
Another name on the list made public in New York court recently is that of Shane Kenneth Maloney, 35, who also has alleged ties to the West End gang. He was arrested in November, with more than 100 people, in Operation Loquace, a Sûreté du Québec investigation into drug trafficking. The SQ alleged last year that Maloney, who faces nine charges in Operation Loquace, has close ties to the West End Gang. His bail hearing in that case is scheduled for May and he has another case pending in Montreal where he is charged in connection with a vicious assault on a Montreal police officer in Mexico in January 2011.
Another name that leaps out from the list is “Moms Boucher,” a possible reference to Maurice (Mom) Boucher, 59, the Hells Angels leader who has been behind bars since 2000. Boucher was convicted of orchestrating the deaths of two prison guards. Cournoyer would have been about 20 years old the last time Boucher was a free man.
Also on the list are the names of two men who have been indicated with Cournoyer in New York as part of the same investigation — Patrick (Peg Leg) Paisse, 40, of St-Jérôme, and Mario Olivier Racine, 32, of Laval. Both men are currently trying to avoid being extradited to the U.S.
The district attorney in New York also revealed last week that as part of its case, it recently disclosed Correctional Service of Canada records of the people who visited Cournoyer while he was serving a sentence, between 2005 and 2007, at a federal penitentiary in Quebec.
MONTREAL—Montrealers say they have had enough of corruption, crooked construction bosses and the meddling mafia, but not enough to stop the city from awarding a road-repair contract to firms implicated in wrongdoing.
In the streets and cafes of this city, everyone agrees the companies — some with alleged links to organized crime — have been the scourge of the past decade, rigging bids and fixing prices on municipal infrastructure jobs with the help of crooked politicians and bureaucrats on the take.
The anger grows with each new witness at a hearing of the Charbonneau corruption inquiry that has been charting the schemes in agonizing detail for months.
But the greater evil, it would appear, is the equally pervasive and iconic Montreal pothole.
And so it was that politicians of all stripes gathered last week at Montreal City Hall for a council meeting where they screwed up their faces, held their noses and cast their votes to award a $5.2-million contract for emergency pothole repairs to a consortium of seven companies, at least three of which have been linked to wrongdoing in testimony at the Charbonneau commission.
Councillors rose to speak of the dilemma they faced and this is what they meant: the current one-year contract to supply the city with asphalt expires at the end of this week, just as the spring season has sprung a fresh gauntlet of potholes upon Montreal’s frustrated drivers and cyclists.
The most prominent of the consortium’s firms, Louisbourg SBC, was founded by construction magnate Tony Accurso. The notorious figure, who is facing charges of tax evasion, fraud and municipal corruption, has been named as a central player in setting up the construction cartels in Montreal and surrounding cities.
Accurso gave up leadership of his lucrative empire last fall, but that hasn’t cooled the anger about Louisbourg possibly earning more than $2.2 million off the pothole job, plus the $193,000 destined for a smaller firm in the corporate universe he created.
Interim Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum went so far as to conduct an online poll to judge the city’s mood about the contract. He revealed ahead of Friday’s vote that 60% of 5,200 citizen respondents were against the contract being awarded. But Applebaum, who was appointed by council colleagues to manage the corruption fallout after ex-mayor Gérald Tremblay resigned last November, endorsed the contract anyway.
“We have very few options,” said Marvin Rotrand, a city councillor who demonstrated a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the road-maintenance racket. “We can’t build an asphalt plant between now and April 15.”
The asphalt world, it turns out, has very exacting standards. For optimum repairs, the product must arrive at the offending road divot piping hot and right on time. That means that asphalt facilities over the years have been strategically located. On average, Rotrand said, they are no more than 24 kilometres from any possible pothole.
The result is that some of the firms who colluded to ensure taxpayer money went directly into their pockets over the past decade or so get to keep their lock on the business by virtue of their preferable geography. A suggestion that Montreal look at creating its own city-run asphalt depots was dismissed as a waste of money that would, in any event, do nothing to solve the immediate pothole problems.
As Rotrand said of the city’s dilemma: “When it comes to something as fundamental as potholes, you have to fill them.”
All hope is not lost, although it is a long way off.
The city intends to forward the asphalt contract to Quebec’s financial regulator, l’Autorité des marchés financiers, which is under new orders to audit any company competing for a contract worth more than $40 million. The results won’t likely be in until next fall, said Richard Bergeron, leader of the opposition Projet Montreal party.
“To ensure they are put through this analysis, you have to vote for the contract,” he said.
“It’s our chance in voting for this contract to force (Accurso) to have to suffer this process. We will not miss this chance, even if it seems a bit paradoxical.”