Morbid Curiosity


Acapulco Conference: Southern Summit – Gambling was the topic when Meyer Lansky, the top money-mover of the American Mob, chaired a meeting in Acapulco in February 1970. Among those present were mobsters from Montreal, Toronto, and Hamilton, including Vic and Frank “Santos” Cotroni and Paolo Violi. Attendees wanted to know how to cash in on casinos, which were soon to be legalized by the Quebec government.

The criminals met several times at the villa of former Montrealer Leo Bercovitch, a millionaire who’d made his fortune in various legal and illegal businesses in Canada before settling permanently in Mexico. Accompanying them at restaurants and on the beach was Montreal criminal lawyer Raymond Daoust. At first, Daoust vigorously denied his attendance, until photos surfaced that showed him sunning himself with the gangsters on the beach.

Meyer Lansky poolside in Acapulco

See also: Frank “Santos” Cotroni, Vincenzo “Vic the Egg” Cotroni, Paolo Violi .

Frank “Santos” Cotroni ( far left ) and Raymond Daoust ( far right ) in Acapulco

Agueci, Alberto: Horrific Example – Agueci is best remembered as a chilling example of why you shouldn’t threaten a Mafia don.

Immediately after he immigrated from Salemi, Sicily, in the early 1950s, Agueci worked as a road labourer in Windsor, Ontario. However, it wasn’t long before he graduated to being part owner of a Toronto bakery, and he was considered a threatening presence in Toronto gambling clubs.

When not baking or gambling, he was often in New York, meeting mobsters and plotting how to move drugs. In the late 1950s, he met up with Joe “Cago” Valachi at Maggie’s Bar on Lexington Avenue in New York City, when Valachi was on the run from American authorities for narcotics dealing. Valachi instantly and rightly assumed that Agueci was under the wing of Buffalo don Stefano Magaddino. “He is with Steve Magaddino as Steve’s family takes in Toronto and Montreal,” Valachi recalled in his memoirs, The Valachi Papers . Soon, Agueci was helping his new associate, Valachi, hide out in Toronto.

In March 1960, a lieutenant in the Magaddino family approached Agueci and asked him to run large quantities of heroin from his birthplace, Salemi, to the United States through Toronto. A month later, Magaddino himself reputedly gave Agueci the go-ahead and assured him that he would look out for him, should any member of La Cosa Nostra, the American Mob, try to interfere. “Go ahead with this narcotics business, but be very careful who you trust in your organization” was the way Magaddino put it, according to Agueci’s brother Vito.

Alberto Agueci

Vito Agueci

Under the direction of his brother Alberto, Vito Agueci went to Sicily to buy fifteen kilograms of heroin at $3,300 a kilogram. By September 1960, Vito had made four trips to Sicily, buying a total of forty-five kilograms. Also that month, Magaddino fulfilled his promise of guarding Agueci’s new turf, punishing an interloper by refusing him payment of $100,000 for five kilograms of heroin that the man handed over to Magaddino. In doing so, Magaddino self-righteously lived up to his promise, and robbed the man at the same time.

It was around this time, Vito Agueci later told federal narcotics agents in New York City, that Alberto became a full member of La Cosa Nostra. As Vito reported, in a meeting at the Fort Erie, Ontario, racetrack, a Buffalo mobster explained the organization’s code “about not talking, leaving other members’ wives alone, always operating in secret, and taking orders as they come.”

Shortly afterwards, Hamilton mobster “Johnny Pops” Papalia, an Agueci associate, vanished after his near-fatal beating of gambler Max Bluestein at the Town Tavern in Toronto, a block east of where the Eaton Centre now stands. The attack brought enormous publicity and police attention to the underworld, with Toronto Star columnist Pierre Berton leading the charge.

In order to take the heat off the Mob, Alberto Agueci reportedly ordered Papalia to surrender. However, police had already learned a lot of damaging information about Papalia’s operations in Guelph, Windsor, Hamilton, and Toronto. They found that he was involved in counterfeiting, and were particularly curious to learn that numerous Italian Canadians had made return trips to Italy at Agueci’s expense.

Soon, Italian police, the French Sûreté, the RCMP , and American investigators joined forces in the case, which wove in with work done internationally on the famed French Connection pipeline of heroin through Marseilles into New York City.

Alberto and Vito were charged as two Canadian connections, along with Papalia, Rocco Scopelliti, also of Toronto, and eight Americans, including Agueci’s old friend Joe Valachi. “The first thing Albert says to me is, ‘Joe, I’m sorry you got involved in this,’ ” Valachi recalled. In his memoirs, The Valachi Papers , Valachi described how Alberto Agueci simply couldn’t handle life behind bars, and quickly turned against his boss, Magaddino, who made no effort to help out with his legal fees.

“I tried to help him, but some guys just can’t take being in the can, and I could see right away Albert Agueci wasn’t going to last long,” Valachi remembered. “All he talked about was getting out on bail. He kept telling me his wife was raising the money to get him out and how he was going to declare himself [inform] if Steve Magaddino didn’t get his brother out too, meaning he would tell everybody that Steve, his boss, was in on the deal, which he was.”

Joe Valachi

Alberto Agueci’s mutilated body was found in a field

Such talk of informing was suicidal, and Valachi said he warned Agueci about “sending out too many messages,” as this would only draw Magaddino’s wrath. “But Albert is stubborn,” Valachi said.

Agueci again demanded Magaddino’s aid in raising his $20,000 bail, and Magaddino, annoyed at his impertinence, again refused.

In order to raise bail money, Agueci’s wife, Vita, was forced to sell the family bungalow on Armitage Avenue in Scarborough, Ontario, at a loss and borrow from friends. Then she and their two children moved into a cramped two-room flat in downtown Toronto with friends.

Once freed, Agueci immediately jumped bail on October 8, 1961, hired a taxi, and drove from New York City to Lewiston, New York, where he confronted Magaddino in person with a demand for aid. Again, the Buffalo boss refused.

Police suspected something particularly ugly was going to happen when a wiretap in Buffalo picked up two Magaddino soldiers joyfully talking of taking Agueci to a place called “Mary’s farm” to work him over.

“Well, it ain’t but a couple of weeks and we hear on the radio that they found Albert’s body in some field,” Valachi recalled. “He was burned up. They got a print off a finger and that’s how they identified him.”

Agueci’s death was a horrific one, as some thirty pounds of flesh were carved from his legs before he died. Tortured for three days until he was mercifully strangled, his death sent out an unforgettable message to others in the underworld: You don’t threaten the boss.

See also: Max Bluestein, Stefano Magaddino, French Connection, John “Johnny Pops” Papalia, Joe “Cago” Valachi .

AK Kannan: Homegrown Street Gang – The AK Kannan street gang was started in Toronto in 1992 by Jothiravi Sittampalam, shortly after he arrived in Canada from Sri Lanka. His street name is Kannan, meaning “god.” He survived at least two ambushes on his car, once when he was leaving a Brampton courthouse.

Police believe the AK Kannan and rival VVT gangs have close ties to terrorist groups such as the Tamil Tigers and their Sri Lankan rivals, the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam.

In Toronto, gang members often hang out at all-night doughnut shops as they battle for more control of the drug trade and extortion and robbery money.

Police in Vancouver say gang members are involved in robberies, weapons offences, assault, and extortion, while Montreal gang members have been active in home invasion, drug trafficking, and document forgery.

See also: VVT .

Alberti, Michele – See Girolomo Commisso .

The Alliance: Unholy Union – This union of independent drug traffickers, Montreal bar owners, and members of the Rock Machine motorcycle gang was forged in 1995 to fight off the Hells Angels, who were trying to muscle into the city’s downtown drug trade. They often wore rings with ALVALM – for the Alliance motto À la vie, à la mort , which roughly translates as “In life and in death.”

See also: Giovanni Cazzetta, Dark Circle, Hells Angels, Nomads, Rock Machine .

Amodeo, Gaetano – See Nicolo “Nick” Rizzuto, Gerlando Sciascia .

Anti-Gang Legislation: Gangs Banged – Tough new laws to target mobsters were passed by Parliament in 2001, as the biker wars in Quebec between the Hells Angels and Rock Machine stirred up public pressure for police to be given more teeth to fight organized crime.

Under the anti-gang laws, it’s a crime to commit a serious offence for the benefit of, at “the direction of,” or “in association” with a criminal organization. The law defines a criminal organization as a group of three or more people whose main activities include committing crimes for some benefit.

The anti-gang law survived its first legal challenge in February 2004 when Madam Justice Michelle Fuerst of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that the law isn’t vague or overly broad. She made her ruling while dismissing a constitutional challenge to the law brought by Steven “Tiger” Lindsay and Raymond Bonner, two alleged members of the Hells Angels accused of extorting $75,000 from a Barrie, Ontario, businessman.

The new law means anyone convicted on an offence faces up to fourteen additional years in prison for carrying out a crime in association with a criminal organization.

Apollos: Angels’ Landing Site – The Apollos motorcycle club was the big biker presence in Saskatchewan, until the Hells Angels set up shop in Regina on New Year’s Eve 2001.

It was a peaceful takeover, as the Hells Angels moved into the 8th Avenue clubhouse of the Apollos, who then became inactive. The clubhouse was surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence, and a sign noted it was under twenty-four-hour surveillance.

See also: Hells Angels .

Arcuri, Giacinto: Acquitted Grandfather – In the late fall of 2002, a jury in Newmarket, north of Toronto, simply could not believe that the frail-looking senior citizen wearing an eye patch could have bound and murdered his burly long-time friend Enio Mora, who was godfather to one of Arcuri’s grandchildren.

Mora’s body was found September 11, 1996, stuffed into the trunk of his gold Cadillac parked on rural Teston Road near Weston Road in Vaughan, north of Toronto. The 260-pound mobster had been shot in the head four times and his artificial leg was detached and lying near his head, and his pants had been yanked down.

Less than forty-eight hours after the discovery of Mora’s body, a special five-member York Region police surveillance team began watching and photographing Arcuri outside his North York home. Over several weeks, police followed Arcuri as he drove around Toronto. Three months after the murder, Arcuri, seventy-two, was charged with second-degree murder.

However, when the case finally reached court in the fall of 2002, the five-foot-five grandfather looked anything but threatening and walked to the witness stand with a severe limp. Arcuri, a retired fish salesman and paver, spoke in court through a Sicilian interpreter, even though he had lived in Canada since 1942. He told the court that he was simply trying to help his old friend Mora on the final day of the mobster’s life. He met Mora in a York Region real-estate office. Mora had lost a leg in a gun incident, and wanted a treadmill just like the one Arcuri used to try to recover from a 1994 heart attack. Hours after they spoke, Mora’s half-naked body was found in the trunk of his Cadillac.

Arcuri looked feeble and a little confused as he told the story, complaining, “I always had pain in my leg, my arm, and my back.”

He said he had known Mora, forty-seven, for about twenty years and considered him a close friend. Police said Mora, a self-employed contractor, was a major local underworld figure, whose associates included major Mob bosses “Johnny Pops” Papalia of Hamilton and Paul Volpe of Toronto, both of whom had also been murdered.

Handling Arcuri’s defence was lawyer Joe Bloomenfeld, who had an affable, rumpled, avuncular manner in court and experience defending a string of underworld notables, including boxer Eddie Melo, who would become yet another murder victim.

Arcuri said that he owned land with a group of people, including Mora, restaurateur Nicola Galifi, and “a Chinese person,” but he dismissed the idea that anything had soured in their business relationship.

Arcuri said he couldn’t explain how a shirt with his DNA and Mora’s blood had been found at a roadside near the body. He couldn’t even be positive that the bloody shirt was his own, saying, “I have fifty shirts.” He also couldn’t be sure that shoes found near the body belonged to him, noting, “I have forty pairs of shoes.”

He curtly dismissed assistant Crown attorney Peter Westgate’s suggestion that he met with a friend to get their stories straight before giving a statement to police. Arcuri said he met with the friend on November 28, 1996, simply “because there was lots of time and I went to see him just to kill some time.”

Arcuri said he did his best to co-operate with police to get to the bottom of his friend’s murder. Then he talked again of his poor health. “I don’t see well today,” said Arcuri, who had the lens of his glasses over his left eye covered with a patch. “I don’t even remember what I ate last night.”

The Crown admitted that it was basing its case on circumstantial evidence, such as the DNA on the blood-stained shirt, feathers, a package of gum, and the hand-stitched hem on some pants. That circumstantial evidence led police to suspect that a farm on Weston Road was likely the murder scene. “There is no eyewitness or smoking gun,” assistant Crown attorney Lee-Anne McCallum told the jury. “There is no motive,” she said. “This is a circumstantial case.”

In the end, the jury believed the old grandfather Arcuri. The murder of his long-time friend remained unsolved.

See also: Enio Mora, John “Johnny Pops” Papalia, Paul Volpe .

Arviv, Harold Haim: Hot on the Dance Floor – He managed the trendy $1-million disco called Arviv’s on Bloor Street in downtown Toronto. However, he liked insurance money even more than dancing, and so he levelled the place with thirty sticks of dynamite at 5 a.m. on January 9, 1980.

After he was found guilty of the explosion – and before he was sentenced to prison in September 1986 – the tanned, Israeli-born criminal spent much of his time dancing at a central Toronto disco (that he had not blown up) and sunning himself aboard his $170,000 powerboat The Problem Child , which was moored at Ontario Place on the Toronto waterfront. The vessel had a full-time boat boy, whose duties included passing out T-shirts with the stencilled message “100 per cent Bad Boys.” Previous watercraft owned by Arviv were named Misbehaviour and Monkey Business .

Testimony by Satan’s Choice biker Cecil Kirby, who did dirty jobs for mobster Cosimo Commisso and his brother Rocco Remo Commisso of Toronto, helped secure Arviv’s conviction.

Judge Arthur Whealy was decidedly unimpressed by an innovative sentencing proposal involving Arviv’s estranged wife, Kathryn. Through defence lawyer Edward Greenspan, she graciously offered to drop a lawsuit to collect $2 million in insurance money for the disco if the judge would agree to a maximum sentence of only thirty months.

The judge slammed the offer as “audacious, repugnant and abhorrent,” and went on to fume, “It can only be described as an attempt to buy a shorter sentence.… This is a court of law, not a fish market.… Only the rich could make such an offer.”

Arviv earnestly told the judge that “my life was never the same after I was charged in September 1982. I lost three businesses, my wife and children.… I hope that once I’ve done my time that society will let me go.”

Upon hearing his sentence of four years, the expensively dressed prisoner was smiling again, and blew a two-handed kiss to the crowded spectator gallery in District Court in Toronto before he was led away in handcuffs.

After his release, he built a friendship with boxer Eddie Melo. The beaming buddies posed for pictures in March 1994, when Melo announced he would be returning to the ring at age thirty-four. Arviv was supposed to be his boxing manager for a pugilistic tour of Europe, but the ring comeback never materialized, and Melo and Ariv eventually had a bitter falling out over the stock business. Arviv missed Melo’s 2001 funeral, as he was out of the country on holidays.

See also: Cosimo Commisso, Rocco Remo Commisso, Cecil Kirby, Eddie Melo .

L’Association des témoins spéciaux du Québec: Angry Informers – There has always been an uneasy relationship between authorities and informers, and this was never more evident than when Hells Angels hit-man-turned-informer Stéphane “Godasse” Gagné was called to the witness stand in Montreal in April 2004 to testify in the trial of Wolodumyr “Walter” “Nurget” Stadnick and Donald Stockford of the Angels elite Nomads chapter.

Instead of testifying against Stadnick and Stockford, Gagné used the occasion to tell the court that authorities had not respected his informant’s contract, denying him courses and time outside his cell.

He spoke as a member of a newly formed informants’ group, l’Association des témoins spéciaux du Québec, which claimed to speak for between ten and fifty informants, many of whom were recruited during the Hells Angels–Rock Machine biker war.

Their association published a newsletter, called Journal L’Informateur , which included news on lawsuits filed by themselves and their families against authorities, and also a pamphlet, with the question “Did they shortchange you?”

Others in the group included former Hells Angels hit man Serge Quesnel, who admitted to killing five people and plotting the murders of thirteen others, before signing an informant deal in 1995 that gave him $390,000 over the fifteen-year life of the contract.

See also: Stéphane “Godasse” Gagné, Wolodumyr “Walter” “Nurget” Stadnick, Serge Quesnel .

Atlantic City – See Paul Volpe .

Auger, Michel: Shooting the Messenger – The reporter, who had chronicled Montreal’s underworld for three decades, was unloading his car on September 3, 2000, when a man dressed in black pumped six bullets at him and hustled away across the parking lot at Le Journal de Montréal . The gun was hidden in an umbrella, which slightly deflected the bullets, and probably saved Auger’s life.

“I saw someone without a face and a ball of smoke near his belt,” Auger said later. “While he was fleeing … I immediately knew that my work was the cause of the pains in my back.” He staggered but did not fall, and managed to pull out his cellphone and call for help.

Auger recovered, and kept on writing in Le Journal de Montréal about the deadly and escalating biker gang war in Quebec. By the time Auger was shot, in fact, some 160 people – including innocent bystanders – had already been murdered during eight years. Biker gangs forced farmers to grow marijuana, muscled in on small-town drug markets, beat up bar owners, killed two prison guards, and plotted the murders of judges, police officers, prosecutors, and journalists.

Michel Vézina, a Hells Angels gunsmith, made the gun used to shoot journalist Michel Auger

“I received threats in the past,” Auger said. “I was taking precautions. I was not expecting to be shot. I was expecting maybe my car would be blown up.… I thought in Colombia, life is more dangerous, but not here in Canada.”

The last article Auger wrote before his shooting was about how Hells Angels murdered people who told their secrets, and it included the passage “The dead don’t talk.”

See also: Maurice “Mom” Boucher, Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, Hells Angels, Rock Machine, Nomads .

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