Caccamo Papers: Criminals’ Code – When police searched the home of Francesco Caccamo and reached into the cookie jar, they found themselves a major treat. Inside was a loaded .25-calibre handgun, six counterfeit ten-dollar bills, and – most importantly – what later became known as the “Caccamo Papers,” a twenty-seven-page document that experts from Italy identified as the secret rules and regulations of the Calabrian Mafia.
Written in archaic Italian, it outlined the initiation rites of the ’Ndrangheta, or Calabrian Mafia, warning that any member who revealed the secrets of the society would be killed. Italian and Canadian police said that only four copies of the code were known and that all were in the hands of the Mafia, according to their sources.
Caccamo, whom Canadian authorities tried unsuccessfully to deport, was an important ’Ndrangheta member, the mastro di giornato , who made sure members complied with the rules and that spoils of crime were fairly divided, police said.
Among the rules was one that forbade members from telling anyone they belong to the ’Ndrangheta. Meetings begin with the disarming of members and a reminder to keep what is said secret. If members fail to give up their weapons at the beginning of a meeting, they may be disciplined by a beating on the back with a pointed stick.
See also: Giacomo Luppino, ’Ndrangheta, Michele “Mike” Racco .
Calgary Hells Angels: Fighting City Hall – A senior Hells Angel and at least one underling plotted in 1999 to blow up the homes of Alderman Dale Hodges, a Calgary city-hall staffer and a member of a community organization, and counselled a thug to assault Hodges and another person.
The bikers were angry with the alderman for his opposition to their former clubhouse in the Bowness area of Calgary. The clubhouse had been ordered destroyed because it failed to comply with local building codes. The plot was uncovered before the beatings could take place, and the bikers were sent to prison.
Capone, Al – See Samuel Bronfman, Moose Jaw Capone Tunnels, Rocco Perri, Antonio Papalia, Quadeville, Sainte-Pierre and Miquelon .
Cappuccitti Brothers: Rich Blood – Daniel Vincent and Vincent David Cappuccitti were born into an extremely wealthy family that was involved in the potato-shipping and the hotel businesses in the Toronto area.
The brothers were sent to prison in 1991 for the 1989 plot to kill boxer Eddie Melo and Frank Natale Roda of King City. Crown attorney Hugh Campbell said Danny Cappuccitti, then twenty-six, was “a dangerous psychopathic personality who led the conspiracy.”
See also: Eddie Melo .
Carlyle, Frank: Coulee Namesake – He had been an officer with the North-West Mounted Police around the turn of the twentieth century, but was thrown off the force for being too friendly with horse thieves. He also got along well with train robbers, and in 1905, he was part of a scheme to rob a train near Plentywood, Montana. Carlyle’s job was to blow up a railway bridge, and other members of his gang were to rob the train when it stopped.
The plan was spoiled when Carlyle got drunk and staggered off in an alcoholic haze, infuriating gang leaders Sam Kelly and Frank Jones.
On Christmas Day three riders showed up at a ranch in the Big Muddy Badlands of southern Saskatchewan, which Carlyle was visiting. They seized Carlyle, rode off into the hills with him to an area now known as Carlyle Coulee, and shot him dead.
See also: Big Muddy Badlands, Dutch Henry, Sam Kelly, Sundance Kid, Outlaw Trail .
Caruana, Alfonso: “Mafia’s Rothschild” – Former pig farmer and international money launderer Alfonso Caruana wasn’t in an expansive mood when grilled by Revenue Canada lawyer Chantal Comtois during an income-tax hearing in Montreal in March 1997. Comtois asked if Caruana was the Mafia’s godfather.
“If only it were true,” Caruana replied.
Comtois pressed on: “Is it true that you owned 160 square kilometres of land in Venezuela near the Colombian border?”
“Everything is false,” replied the fifty-one-year-old Caruana, who now lived in the community of Woodbridge, north of Toronto. Revenue Canada was demanding $29.8 million in unpaid taxes and penalties, but Caruana countered that he made just $400 a week – net – washing and waxing vehicles at a car wash he owned.
Caruana was pressed to explain why people kept bringing him huge sums of money, and why some of that money found its way to Switzerland.
“You went back and forth – Venezuela, Montreal, Switzerland?” the judge asked.
“No, I had it brought to me,” Caruana replied.
“By whom?” the judge asked.
“By travellers,” Caruana replied, declining to elaborate.
Superior Court Justice Derek Guthrie noted that some $21 million had passed through Caruana’s bank account in 1981 – one of several years when he didn’t file an income-tax return. Caruana seemed puzzled. Despite the large sums of money going through his accounts, Caruana had declared bankruptcy.
For much of his life, Caruana had been able to escape such unwanted attention. His father had learned the ways of Mafia stealth in Agrigento, Sicily, from don Giuseppe Settecase, the same man who was sent to Montreal to try to mediate the Paolo Violi–Nick Rizzuto feud back in the 1970s. Caruana’s family originally came to Canada around 1967, when he was a teenager. He had arrived in the Montreal courtroom via a winding route, from the dusty Sicilian village of Siculiana in southern Sicily to Montreal, South America, and a posh Sicilian enclave in Woking, outside London, England, in a district nicknamed the Stockbroker Belt. He had left Europe shortly before a wave of money-laundering and drug-trafficking arrests hit his business associates. Along their travels, the Caruana and Cuntrera families of Siculiana kept intermarrying, creating, in the words of academic researcher Tom Blickman, “a curious mix of Sicilian old-fashioned patriarchal clannishness (which protects them from infiltration) and modern global enterprise in illegal commodities.”
By 1997, tax problems weren’t the worst of Caruana’s woes. The rival Corleonesi Mafia clan of Sicily wanted to kill him, because they thought he had become too rich and too arrogant, while Italian authorities sought to lock him up for almost twenty-two years for his conviction in absentia for drug trafficking and Mafia association.
When the 1997 Montreal tax hearing was over, the news wasn’t so bad for Caruana. Guthrie ordered him to pay only $90,000 of the tax bill over the next three years. “I don’t believe a word he said …,” Guthrie concluded. “I don’t believe the bankrupt [Caruana] and his wife, whose testimonies were full of holes, hesitations and incomplete explanations, but I must render my judgment based on proof, not suspicions.”
Within a year, on July 15, 1998, Caruana was arrested with thirteen others on charges of conspiracy to import cocaine, conspiracy to traffic in cocaine, and importing cocaine in a series of pre-dawn raids carried out simultaneously by some two hundred officers in Toronto, Montreal, the United States, and Mexico.
Police said that, when Caruana wasn’t washing cars or raising pigs, he moonlighted as the head of a multi-billion-dollar Mafia group, one of the most powerful in the world, that specialized in drug trafficking and money laundering. His group had bases throughout the world, including Toronto, Montreal, New York, Miami, Houston, Mexico City, Venezuela, Aruba, Spain, France, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, India, and Thailand. The sophisticated organization moved drug profits from accounts in Toronto and Montreal to Miami, Houston, and Mexico City, through numbered accounts in Lugano, Switzerland, and from there to Colombia. Arrested along with Caruana, then fifty-two, for conspiracy to import cocaine were his brothers Gerlando, fifty-four, of St. Leonard, Quebec, and Pasquale, fifty, of Maple, Ontario.
The Cuntrera-Caruana clan was called “the Mafia’s Rothschilds” by journalist Giuseppe D’Avanzo in the Italian newspaper la Repubblica . Canadian police called their effort to bag them Project Omerta. Omerta means “conspiracy of silence” in Italian, so the project name was wholly appropriate for one targeting such a tight-lipped man.
Until that point, despite his notoriety in police circles, Caruana enjoyed relative privacy in his $400,000 home on Goldpark Court in Woodbridge. He and his family had no record of violence and were Mafia financiers and facilitators, not gunmen. In a milieu where leaders had nicknames like The Executioner and The Beast, Caruana was known as The Ghost.
His brother-in-law Pasquale Cuntrera had also been arrested that spring in Spain. He was in his seventies and confined to a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop him from somehow escaping custody in Italy in May while awaiting sentencing in a drug-trafficking case, causing a national scandal.
When Caruana was sentenced to eighteen years in prison, police could say that they had lopped the head off a state-of-the-art, multi-billion-dollar, transnational crime enterprise. They couldn’t, however, say that they had killed his organization or others like it. Authorities estimated that some $17 billion was laundered in Canada each year, making Canada, in the words of RCMP Chief Supt. Ben Soave, head of the Toronto Integrated Intelligence Unit, “a haven for organized crime.”
Part of the reason it was considered a haven was light prison sentences for mobsters. When he pleaded guilty in February 2000, Caruana was somehow eligible for parole because of time already served. The board, however, exercised some discretion and did not let him walk out of the courtroom a free man the day of his conviction.
In July 2003, Mr. Justice Ian Nordheimer denied Caruana bail, saying he was too rich and powerful to be allowed out of custody, since he still had access to enormous drug profits. Instead, he had to stay in custody to see if he would be deported to his native Italy, where he faced nearly twenty-two years in prison on drug trafficking and Mafia conspiracy charges.
Alfonso’s brother Gerlando Caruana became eligible for accelerated parole in February 2003, but was arrested on a warrant from Italy in April while inside Fenbrook Institution, a medium-security prison north of Toronto.
The Office of the State Attorney General in Palermo, Sicily, called Caruana “a front-line participant in managing a colossal heroin traffic, the drug being produced in clandestine Sicilian laboratories and transported to the United States.” The Palermo attorney general said “a river of money” was used to buy morphine to turn into heroin. “Thereby, [they] kept up a non-stop circuit of drugs to the U.S.A. and of money to Switzerland and thence to Sicily.”
See also: Tommaso Buscetta, Enio Mora .
Cattle Rustling: New West Crime – Brand inspectors said organized-crime syndicates were behind $1.6-million worth of suspected cattle-rustling cases in Alberta in 2000, and that many more cases likely went unreported.
Sometimes, thieves just drove up to a field and loaded cattle onto trucks. At other times, they waited until the cattle were herded into lots at auction markets. Some owners made things easy by not branding their animals. Others left them out to graze from spring until fall.
Cazzetta Brothers: Biker Innovators – Salvatore Cazzetta was a member of the tiny SS biker gang in Quebec in the 1980s, of which fellow members included Maurice “Mom” Boucher.
When the SS dissolved in 1984 and became part of the international Hells Angels organization, Cazzetta wanted to try something new. He was thirty then, old enough to be experienced but young enough to be flexible. He convinced his brother Giovanni, twenty-seven, to quit the Outlaws biker gang, and together they would start up a new kind of biker club. Gang vests and crests only seemed to invite trouble, so they were out. He still liked tattoos, jewellery, and clubhouses, so they stayed.
Rock Machine founder Giovanni Cazzetta (left) by Johnny Plescio, Salvatore Cazzetta, and Renaud Jomphe
Salvatore Cazzetta spoke fluent English, French, and Italian, and had wide-ranging, influential underworld contacts, including members of the Montreal Italian Mafia, the French-Canadian Dubois brothers, and the mostly Irish West End Gang.
By 1990, his new group had a name – the Rock Machine – and a crest, a bald eagle. Members wore rings with the eagle crest on them instead of colours, and displayed eagle logos at their businesses. The Rock Machine didn’t have weekly meetings like the Angels, and didn’t have membership lists, which Cazzetta felt only helped identify members when they fell into police hands. He and Giovanni built up more than one hundred associates in their network between Montreal and Quebec City in the early to mid-1990s, and Cazzetta did well enough moving drugs that he could buy a house worth more than $2 million in L’Epiphanie, while the Rock Machine had a $1.3-million fortified clubhouse in southwest Montreal on Hudon Street.
His brother Giovanni pleaded guilty to possession of three kilograms of cocaine worth $2.25 million in the spring of 1993, and Salvatore was arrested in Fort Erie, Ontario, on May 1994 and charged with importing eleven tons of cocaine. With its two leaders in jail, the Rock Machine was under attack from Maurice “Mom” Boucher, Giovanni’s former SS brother, for their drug distribution turf in downtown Montreal, along Saint-Laurent Boulevard, Sainte-Catherine Street, and Saint-Denis Street.
The Rock Machine took a pounding in the war that followed, and finally, in December 2000, they were absorbed into the American-based Bandidos gang. By that time, the two Cazzetta brothers were in jail for drug trafficking.
See also: The Alliance, Bandidos, Maurice “Mom” Boucher, Dark Circle, Fred Faucher, Dany Kane, Nomads, Paul Porter, Rock Machine, Wolverine .
Charbonneau, Jean-Pierre: Brave Survivor – The Montreal reporter for Le Devoir newspaper survived a shooting attempt on him in his newsroom from a mobster connected to the Cotroni family and rebounded to write a thick tome on organized crime in 1976. The Canadian Connection exhaustively chronicled drug trafficking in Canada from the 1930s onwards.
Charbonneau’s book was crammed with names of criminals, providing a virtual who’s who for police, prosecutors, and fellow reporters. During the Pizza Connection heroin-trafficking trial of the mid-1980s, in which prosecutors included future New York City mayor Rudolph Guiliani, New York Police Department investigator Charles Rooney leafed through the index of the book and found the name Salvatore Catalano. The entry helped them understand the international scope of the criminal who lived in their jurisdiction, describing him as “an important international trafficker.” It continued, “Catalano, a Brooklyn resident, had been exposed in 1963 by Italian authorities as a dangerous member of the Mafia.” It noted that Catalano had been listed by the American Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs as an associate of Tommaso Buscetta, a Sicilian Mafiosi, “and several other U.S. and Italian crime chiefs.”
The account by Charbonneau explained that Catalano had been caught on a Canadian police wiretap trying to set up a Mexican company to import sardines, tomatoes, pasta, or anything else. “That doesn’t matter,” Catalano said on the phone. He said the man in Mexico would understand, as this was simply a front for drug trafficking. With this report, American investigators were able to better understand their targets in the massive Pizza Connection case.
Charbonneau went on to become minister of intergovernmental affairs for the Province of Quebec. His long-time friend, and former rival in journalism, Michel Auger was shot by a gunman connected to the Hells Angels in 2001, and also survived to write again.
See also: Michel Auger, Tommaso Buscetta .
Cheema, Ranjit: Almost Stung – A mysterious Pakistani man who called himself only “Khan” went to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency ( DEA ) in the late 1990s with a plan for what police call a reverse sting. In such an operation, police or their agents offer to sell contraband to a target whom they consider an organized criminal.
The mysterious Khan made his living by setting up illegal drug shipments, arranging deals with police, and then collecting rewards from them. Khan’s plan was to smuggle $12 million in heroin from Pakistan to Los Angeles and then into Canada.
Reverse stings are legal in the United States, but the Canadian law allowing them was overturned around January 1997, right in the middle of the joint DEA-RCMP operation involving Khan that had targeted Ranjit Cheema of Vancouver and others. By that time, plans were already in motion for a shipment of two hundred kilograms of heroin from Pakistan to Canada, using Khan as the middleman. The Mounties hoped that Parliament might pass legislation to allow reverse stings so that they could stay in the operation, but this didn’t happen.
Meanwhile, Khan received $35,000 plus expenses from the Canadian police for helping the project, which was officially terminated on February 25, 1997. Six years later, American authorities were still fighting to extradite Cheema and two co-accused to face charges of conspiracy to distribute heroin and conspiracy to possess it with intent to distribute.
Cheng “Big Sister” Chui-ping: Human Cargo – On the Chinatown streets of Toronto and Manhattan, Cheng Chui-ping looked like any other matronly, slightly chubby housewife from a rural Fujianese village.
Her reputation, however, was quite extraordinary. Depending on whom you asked, she was alternately a saint, an international organized criminal, a liberator, a kidnapper, a folk hero, an exploiter, or a heaven-sent reuniter of families.
Born in the poor farming village of Shengmei in Fujian province, she had little education and few prospects when she first came to Canada as an illegal migrant in the early 1980s.
These were fortuitous times for her as she moved to Manhattan. Ties between China and the United States were warming, opening up trade, travel, and tourist links. Before this, the only way out of China was to work as a seaman and then jump ship, but now Cheng recognized the business potential in offering to guide Chinese outside the country, and then allow them to disappear.
In 1989, things went horribly wrong, after she arranged for several groups to enter Canada and be held in a safe house in southern Ontario, before heading into the United States. One group of women and children were driven to the banks of the Niagara River in midwinter and put on a flimsy $69 rubberized raft. En route to the U.S. side, the raft capsized, and four passengers died.
She was convicted of conspiracy to smuggle aliens into the United States, and sentenced to six months in prison. While serving time, she became an FBI informant, providing information on other migrant smugglers – called “snakeheads” – as well as on a violent and powerful Chinese gang, the Fuk Ching.
Once freed, she returned to Manhattan’s Chinatown, where she puttered around her Yung Sun restaurant and Tak Shun variety store, set amongst a confusion of restaurants, jewellery, clothing, electronic, and produce shops in the heart of the East Broadway Chinese district. She sold cheap clothes and food in the neighbourhood, which was the largest base for illegal immigrants leaving China, and home to thousands of newly arrived Fujianese.
During lunch hours, Cheng chopped vegetables, washed dishes, waited on tables. At other times, she could been seen weaving among fellow Fujianese and Cantonese pedestrians along East Broadway, with bales of clothes to sell at her general-merchandise store. While she was rich enough to own the $3-million building that housed her restaurant, she continued to work and live there, and chose the subway over chauffeured limousines.
Along East Broadway, she was known as “Dajie Ping” or “Big Sister Ping” – a term of endearment among those thankful for her role in helping them to the United States. She had a reputation for finding jobs for people and for helping them figure out their new surroundings. She was also capable of providing loans faster than the Bank of China.
However, officials said she made U.S.$40 million on the backs of illegal Chinese immigrants, who were poor, vulnerable, and unsophisticated. Police said she ran her immigration business by buying off corrupt immigration, tourist, and other officials and using fake or purchased papers. She charged a small down payment, and hopefuls promised to borrow the rest of the money upon arrival from family members already in the United States. Those who couldn’t pay were found jobs at restaurants and garment factories and allowed to pay off the debt, with interest, in instalments. In the 1980s, according to police, the fee for the trip to America was $18,000, the price of a one-way ticket would hit $60,000 by 2003.
The 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown created a boom in Cheng’s business. The amnesty granted by President George Bush to Chinese living in the United States established a huge legal population that could afford to pay to bring family and relatives over. As demand accelerated, larger criminal gangs learned that smuggling people was more profitable and legally less risky than smuggling drugs.
Quickly the nature of the game changed. Gangs with bases in Hong Kong and China entered the field. Immigrants were recruited en masse, even if they couldn’t afford a down payment. And when they couldn’t keep up the payments or find jobs in a recession-racked America, they were kidnapped, tortured, and sometimes killed. To accommodate the demand, snakeheads pooled resources and bought old, unseaworthy ships and stuffed the holds with people who would spend months at sea in horrific conditions.
During one month in 1993, at least twenty-five ships, carrying thousands of immigrants, set off from Fujian crammed with human cargo. One of them was the Golden Venture , a dilapidated freighter that had been won in a poker game by Gu Liang-chi, who went by the street name Ah Kay, the leader of a Fujianese street gang that controlled East Broadway.
Cheng’s fortunes changed forever, when on June 6, 1993, the Golden Venture hit a sandbar off the shore of the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, New York City. After three months at sea, it had travelled 25,750 kilometres and now was just 200 metres from the shores of America, and within sight of the Statue of Liberty, when it started to take on water.
Ten passengers either drowned or died of hypothermia. Images of hundreds of immigrants jumping ship and huddling in blankets on the beach helped spark an American crackdown on people smuggling, and inspired tougher immigration laws.
Cheng watched the tragedy of the vessel hitting a sandbar on TV news reports in her New York home, said an alleged associate involved in the operation. “When I arrived Sister Ping told me she had a bad feeling about the boat,” Weng Yu-hui said in a court statement. “I told her she shouldn’t worry too much, because she only had two customers on board. She said she worried nonetheless, because she had had a run of bad luck recently.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals described the conditions on the ship as unsanitary and dangerous. “Nearly 300 passengers were crammed into the 40-foot-by-20-foot hold.… A single stationary ladder provided access to the deck. No life boats or life preservers were available. Water and food were severely rationed.… The male passengers were required to use the deck of the boat as a latrine,” the court said.
The tragedy launched a six-year manhunt for Cheng, who returned to the People’s Republic of China a couple of months later for an anniversary celebration of the Communist Party. Much to her surprise, she was arrested upon her arrival, but bribed her way out of custody.
In December 1993, she was named in a six-count federal indictment for smuggling aliens and for illegal money transfers. Cheng retreated to a three-storey house, No. 398 in Shengmei village, constructed with money sent back to China over the years. Her home, complete with pagoda, dwarfed the other houses, made mostly of mud in the farming village.
Interpol agents had begun checking passenger lists on flights between Hong Kong and New York after she eluded arrest. But in the end it was not her name but that of her son that would prove to be her downfall.
With forty agents staked out in the Hong Kong airport on the morning of her son’s flight hoping that Cheng too would arrive, she was spotted and arrested. At the time of her arrest she was found to be carrying three false passports for Hong Kong, the United States, and the state of Belize.
Prosecutors say Cheng hired members of the notorious Fuk Ching gang in Chinatown to hold immigrants hostage in safe houses until they paid up to $30,000 apiece. Authorities said gang members sometimes threatened to dismember their captives.
Finally returned to a New York City courtroom in September 2003, Cheng struck a humble pose before the court in a black suit, with her head down and hair drawn into a low ponytail, pleading not guilty to people smuggling. She looked quite ordinary, and not like someone accused of masterminding smuggling attempts involving as many as three thousand immigrants.
By the time of her court appearance, Ah Kay, the leader of the East Broadway Fuk Ching gang, was already serving a twenty-year term for his role in the Golden Venture tragedy, after pleading guilty to smuggling people and racketeering.
Chourt, Médard – See Sieur des Groseilliers .
Chu, Wai Hing “Kitty”: Kitty Cathouses – On the night of September 10, 1997, police swept more than a dozen brothels throughout the Toronto area and, before the night was over, some twenty-two women – including alleged ringleader Wai Hing “Kitty” Chu, thirty-three, faced a total of 750 prostitution and immigration-related charges. All of the women were Asian and few spoke more than a couple words of English.
Simultaneous raids were conducted in Vancouver, British Columbia, and San Jose, California.
Chu was no stranger to authorities. She claimed refugee status in Canada after arriving from Hong Kong in 1987 but was able to extend her stay in Canada by appealing her refusal to the Federal Court and then to the immigration minister on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Those appeals were also rejected.
In the meantime, she was convicted of several prostitution-related offences in Canada and she was ordered deported in the summer of 1995. The Immigration Department was working on arrangements to have her removed from Canada at the time of the brothel raids.
There were reports that the women had been pressed into service as prostitutes to pay for their passage to North America, but later reports said that many knew exactly what kind of work they had been recruited to do. Soon after the story broke, most of the women were released on their own recognizance and vanished from public view.
Chu was identified by Canadian police as the head of the Toronto chapter of a prostitution ring working in California in the late 1990s.
According to police, they were tipped off to the Toronto operation by an informant who knew several people in the Canadian operation, and who helped police learn that members of the ring in Thailand and Malaysia recruited the women for a $40,000 fee and brought them into Canada, where they were eventually delivered to brothels to work off their indebtedness to the ring.
Canadian authorities say Chu was connected to the Big Circle Boys, and that her prostitution ring brought the women into Canada via Vancouver on visitors’ visas. When they arrived in Vancouver, they were met at the airport and put on another plane to Toronto, where they were escorted to one of a series of houses or apartments in North York, Scarborough, and Markham.
Bawdy-house operators paid between $7,500 and $15,000 in U.S. currency for each woman delivered to Canada, and the women, some as young as sixteen, were exchanged among the bawdy houses and in some cases were sold to brothels in the United States.
“You can buy any girl in the place for $15,000 [U.S.],” RCMP Staff Sgt. Larry Tronstad said.
Once the debt was repaid, police said, the women were theoretically free to go, though many continued to work in the brothels and massage parlours.
See also: Big Circle Boys .
Cobham, Eric: Pirate/Magistrate – When it was clear his death was coming soon, he summoned a priest to make a confession. Then he urged the priest to have his confession transcribed and put into book form.
Almost all copies of his exploits as a pirate in the Gulf of St. Lawrence between 1740 and 1760 were quickly bought up – by his own family. They considered themselves respectable, and did not want it broadly known that their wealth came from two decades of savagery on the high seas.
One copy survived purchase – and burning – by the Cobham family, and it was safeguarded in the French Archives. Its contents were backed up by contemporary accounts.
Born in Poole, one of the channel ports of England, Cobham went to sea as a boy. He may have worked in the Newfoundland fisheries at the age of fourteen or fifteen before joining a smuggling gang running brandy from France to England.
When he was about nineteen or twenty, he was caught, flogged, and sent to Newgate Prison for about two years. Upon his release, he worked at an inn in Oxford, where he robbed a wealthy traveller of a bag of gold coins.
The innocent innkeeper was accused of the theft, and Cobham didn’t step up to clear his name. While the innkeeper was hanged for the theft, Cobham used the loot to buy a small, armed boat in Plymouth. There he recruited a nasty crew from the docks, and set sail for the Irish Sea, where they were lucky enough to find a ship carrying a golden cargo.
Showing the brutality that became the signature of his pirate career, Cobham sank the ship and drowned the crew, then set sail for the French Mediterranean to forge contacts with pirate brokers.
When he returned to Plymouth, he met Maria Lindsey, and the association made him even more ruthless. Together, they found a fresh pirate crew and set sail for the New World.
They first landed in New England in the whaling community of Nantucket, and soon afterwards sailed north past the tip of Cape Breton Island. There, they discovered the supply route to New France, where there were cargoes of furs and fish, and virtually no competition from other pirates.
They chose to make their home on the west coast of Newfoundland in Bay St. George at Sandy Point, which was guarded by a mass of shoals. This put them two days’ sail from their favourite theatre of mayhem, between Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island.
Since they didn’t want to risk frequent ocean crossings, they regularly unloaded some booty at Percé on the eastern point of the Gaspé Peninsula, where there was an active black market.
Cobham later boasted that he operated for twenty years without ever being caught. That’s because he followed the pirate motto “Dead cats don’t meow,” and slaughtered all potential witnesses, then sank their ships.
His partner, Maria, was likely insane. Cobham’s memoirs say she poisoned one ship’s crew. Other captured sailors were sewn into sacks and thrown overboard alive, or were tied up and used for pistol practice.
Piracy was a young man’s crime, and when it came time to retire, Cobham and Maria sailed for France, where they bought a grand estate near Le Havre from the Duc de Charters. There, they purchased status amongst the landed gentry, with a private harbour, servants, and a yacht.
However, the old ways died hard, and on one cruise, Cobham snuck onboard a brig sailing the English Channel from the West Indies. He and his servants overpowered the surprised crew, slaughtered them, and threw them overboard. It was more for old time’s sake than money, as Cobham had plenty of that already.
After that last spasm of violence, Cobham settled into life as a pillar of respectability. He was appointed a magistrate in the French county courts, a position he held for a dozen years.
He and Maria grew apart as they grew more respectable. He wenched with enthusiasm and no discretion, while she often numbed herself with alcohol laced with laudanum, a then popular mixture of alcohol, sugar, and morphine. She became increasingly withdrawn, and her body was found one day in the sea under a cliff, her system full of laudanum. Apparently, she wanted to make doubly sure of her suicide.
Cobham’s final working years were spent as a magistrate in France, where he died a natural death.
See also: Charles Bellamy, Cupids, Peter Easton, High Island, Edward Jordan, Captain Kidd, Mogul Mackenzie, Henry Mainwaring, Sheila Na Geira, Samuel Nelson, John Phillips, Gilbert Pike, Pirates, Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts .
Coderre, Judge Louis: Gloomy Judgment – Many Montrealers in the early 1920s were disgusted with rampant drug peddling and prostitution on their streets. They were also certain that things couldn’t be so blatant without corruption among the police and municipal authorities, and presented Superior Court with a petition bearing 158 signatures, calling for an investigation.
Judge Louis Coderre agreed to the investigation, which involved 162 days of testimony from criminals, police, and the public, beginning on October 6, 1924. When it was over, the horrified judge wrote that “vice spread itself across the city with an ugliness and insolence that seemed assured of impunity.”
Coke, Christopher “Dudus”: Community Criminal – Few people noticed when Christopher Coke slipped into Toronto in the 2000s, quietly and often, to visit relatives and associates in his “Shower Posse.” He certainly didn’t look threatening, with his pudgy face and five-foot-four frame. Who could guess that American authorities blamed him for more than one thousand murders, including one in which an enemy was cut to bits with a chain saw? No one in the mainstream even knew of his visits until John Lancaster of the CBC broke the story in early 2012.
Coke’s real home was in the Tivoli Gardens neighbourhood of West Kingston, Jamaica. There he was a “don,” a community leader and a criminal. His neighbours called him “president,” although he was put into power with guns, not ballots.
His Tivoli Gardens was a war zone in May 2010, when Jamaican police and the United States Army attacked, trying to enforce an attempt by the American government to extradite Coke for drug and weapons trafficking charges. Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding didn’t want to enforce the American extradition order, but the Americans were impossible to ignore. For his part, Coke posted sentries and had his minions erect barricades of rubble and barbed wire.
In Tivoli, Coke and his people often acted as a government of sorts. They gave out benefits, collected taxes, and fiercely guarded their borders. Wielding power was natural for Coke, whose father, Lester Lloyd Coke (a.k.a. Jim Brown), ruled Tivoli three decades earlier. The elder Coke changed his name to Jim Brown out of respect for the former football player’s acting performance in the war film The Dirty Dozen .
Brown’s organization was dubbed the Shower Posse for their propensity to shower bullets on crowds that might contain enemies. For Brown’s part, he died in a Jamaican prison cell, a fate his son apparently greatly feared.
An American P-3 Orion surveillance plane circled above Tivoli Gardens the day the police and Army attacked Coke’s stronghold. Seventy-six civilians and three security officers were killed in the battle. A month later, Coke was arrested at a roadblock, wearing a wig and dressed as a woman, in a car driver by a reverend who said they were en route to the U.S. embassy to surrender.
Comeau, Gary: Loyal Brother – The bar in Port Hope, Ontario, was full of bikers in 1978 when someone pumped three bullets into Bill Matiyek, sergeant-at-arms for the Golden Hawk Riders motorcycle club. When police tried to interview witnesses, several of whom were members of the Satan’s Choice biker club, no one co-operated.
Six members of the Satan’s Choice were charged with the shooting, and none of them took the stand in his own defence, since loyalty to the club forbade it.
After the longest murder trial in Canada to that date, Gary Comeau and Rick Sauve of the Satan’s Choice were each convicted of first-degree murder, and Merv Baker, Jeff McLeod, Larry Hurren, and David Hoffman, all of the Choice, were found guilty of murder in the second-degree.
Lorne Campbell, another Satan’s Choice member, swore that he shot Matiyek, but he had once been found guilty of perjury, and his confession wasn’t believed.
Hoffman was eventually freed when a police wiretap showed he wasn’t even in Port Hope on the night of the killing.
Comeau’s claims of innocence were defended in a book by author Mick Lowe, Conspiracy of Brothers , which inspired songwriter Steve Earle to write the song “Justice in Ontario,” and the case was also taken up by the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.
Finally, in September 2000, Comeau was the last of the six men jailed in the murder to get parole. If he knew who did the killing, he wasn’t saying, choosing nearly a quarter-century in prison to ratting on a biker brother.
See also: Satan’s Choice .
Commisso, Cosimo Elia: Business and Personal Plots – Born in Calabria, Italy, in 1945, Commisso has a Canadian criminal record that includes three convictions for conspiracy to commit murder and counselling to commit murder in 1981.
The convictions came for plotting the murders of Toronto Mob boss Paul Volpe and his driver, Pietro Scarcella. Those two murders were planned for business reasons, while a third murder plot against American hairdresser Helen Nafpliotis was strictly personal. She had a romantic involvement that did not meet with Commisso’s approval.
Cosimo Elia Commisso
Other convictions for Commisso include extortion, explosion with intent, arson, counsel to extortion, aggravated assault, and wilfully setting fires. He was considered a member of the Siderno crime group in Toronto, and by 1976 was ranked as capo bastone (boss). His undoing came when family enforcer Cecil Kirby of the Satan’s Choice biker gang turned against him and co-operated with police.
See also: Girolomo Commisso, Rocco Remo Commisso, Cecil Kirby, ’Ndrangheta .
Commisso, Girolomo: Fallen Father – He had been considered sgarrista or camorrista or a higher-than-average soldier in the Calabrian Mafia of southern Italy when he was murdered in his mid-twenties in 1948, leaving behind a widow and three sons.
His sons – Rocco Remo, Cosimo Elia, and Michele – eventually moved to Toronto, where they had relatives and family friends. While his murder was never officially solved, it was widely believed to have been carried out by Salvatore Scarfo, a member of the Antonio Macri cosca (Mafia group) and his associate Michele Alberti, fifty-eight, who fled southern Italy for Argentina.
Alberti finally returned to Calabria in 1982, at which point there was a lunch meeting on the patio terrace of Gourna Restaurant in his birthplace of Siderno. With the dinner, finally peace seemed possible, after more than three decades of tensions.
Those feelings of goodwill lasted about as long as it took to get through the entrée. Then someone shot Alberti to death and, even though the restaurant was busy and there were more than twenty people at his table, police could find no witnesses.
Diners at his table that day included about a dozen Toronto residents, many of whom were close to the children of Girolomo Commisso. They included a manager of a Toronto-area linen-rental firm, who said he couldn’t remember who arranged the lunch and that he didn’t really know the victim. There were also two Toronto brothers in their thirties, one of whom said he felt lucky that he left the table shortly before the murder. “What does it take [for a stray] bullet to catch another guy?” he asked, adding he also did not know who invited the victim to his final meal.
Other diners included Vincenzo Figliomeni of Brampton, who would be murdered in November 1988, and Vincenzo “Jimmy” DeLeo, who ran a Toronto bakery shop. DeLeo said he visited Rocco Remo and Cosimo Elia Commisso in Kingston Penitentiary immediately after returning from Italy, but they didn’t discuss the killing. DeLeo said he and another Toronto man were en route to the restaurant’s washroom when the victim was shot. The old baker added he did not know the victim well. “I didn’t know there were going to be all of those people there,” DeLeo said. He shrugged his shoulders innocently when asked if he knew Alberti was a prime suspect in the murder of Gerolamo Commisso. “Oh my gosh, no … I came to Canada in the 1930s.”
See also: Cosimo Commisso, Rocco Remo Commisso, ’Ndrangheta .
Commisso, Rocco Remo: New World, Old Problems – He immigrated to Canada in 1961 at age sixteen with his mother and two brothers, Cosimo Elia, then twenty-three, and Michele, then thirteen. The community he was leaving, Gioisa Ionica in the Italian province of Calabria, was dominated by the ’Ndrangheta (Calabrian Mafia), and Commisso’s father, Girolomo, had been a senior member until his murder in 1948.
Rocco Remo Commisso
His uncles in Toronto ran a bakery and, during the 1960s, young Commisso was very close with them. It wasn’t until 1970 that police noted him, and suspected he was using strong-arm tactics to pirate bakery contracts from other bakeries.
He was particularly close to old Mafia don Michele “Mike” Racco. In 1971, a power struggle was developing between the cosca of Marina di Gioiosa and Commisso’s birthplace of Gioiosa Ionica. That October, Commisso was visiting in Calabria with Salvatore Aquino, head of Gioisa Ionica cosca , when someone opened fire on them.
The next year, he returned to Calabria, and again was fired upon.
During this period, Toronto appeared to have two cornerstones – one under Michele Racco and that of Rocco Zito, to which Commisso appeared closer. The Zito group also had a close working relationship with Sicilian mobsters with tight ties to Montreal.
Rocco Remo Commisso was a pallbearer at Mike Racco’s 1980 funeral. The next year, things started to go badly for him. In May 1981, he and his brother Cosimo Elia were arrested for counselling Satan’s Choice biker Cecil Kirby to murder Toronto La Cosa Nostra leader Paul Volpe and his driver, Pietro Scarcella.
During the prison stint that followed, he showed himself to be well read by criminal standards, and worked in Kingston Penitentiary library.
See also: Girolomo Commisso, Cecil Kirby, ’Ndrangheta, Michele “Mike” Racco, Rocco Zito .
Cooper, Darin: Official Disgrace – This organized criminal was a member of the Toronto police department and, between December 1999 and March 2000, he and five associates pretended to be police officers on drug raids in order to commit crimes. Cooper, a ten-year police veteran, would flash his badge and then enter a residence, a police-issue Glock pistol hanging from his belt and a phony search warrant in his hand. Then he and his gang would rob and threaten drug dealers.
Their plan was to use money from the robberies to import 200,000 ecstasy pills from Europe, and then sell the tablets to dealers for a profit of about $1.2 million.
The gang was formed in a gym where Cooper became hooked on steroids and other drugs, according to his lawyer, Edward Greenspan. When the crimes were committed, Cooper claimed he was taking as many as nineteen different pills and tablets and five injections daily to satisfy his drug habit, at a cost of almost $800 weekly.
Cooper stole police equipment for the other men and used department databases to obtain information about their intended robbery targets. This strange and ugly chapter in the history of the Toronto force ended in February 2001, when Cooper, thirty-one, hugged his mother in the courthouse and was led away to serve a nine-and-a-half-year prison term.
Chief Julian Fantino noted that his Toronto police force moved quickly and strongly against Cooper. “[This case] casts a shadow over Cooper, the individual involved. We’re not about to assume guilt for his wrongdoing.”
Most of Cooper’s prison time was to be served in “super segregation,” because, as a former police officer, he was a prime target for other inmates.
Cooper had graduated in the top 5 per cent of police officers in his class and had no criminal record until his crime spree.
Costa, Giovanni: Born Unlucky – Costa wasn’t a criminal, but he died a criminal’s death nonetheless.
Costa had the profound misfortune of being related to mobsters involved in a four-year-long gang war in Toronto and Calabria, Italy, over drug turf. In June 1991, members of the five major Mafia groups operating in Toronto were believed to have been consulted before the father of three was shotgunned to death on June 27, 1991, making him the forty-ninth victim in the feud between Siderno’s rival Macri-Commisso-Caccamo-Romeo and Costa-Lombardo-Figliomeni crime groups. By the time Costa was killed, criminals were targeting innocent family members, such as a deaf-mute in the Costa family.
While Giovanni Costa wasn’t a criminal, two of his brothers were tied to the Calabrian Mafia (’Ndrangheta) in Toronto and Siderno, and he was the fourth Costa brother murdered in bloodshed that began on January 21, 1987, with the murder of his brother Luciano, thirty-two.
Another Costa brother, Giuseppe, was also an organized-crime figure who operated in Toronto in the early 1970s. Giuseppe, known in Toronto as Peppe and Joe, was close to established families in the Toronto area, including the crime group once directed by the late Giacomo Luppino of Hamilton.
Hostilities had begun to heat up after Luciano and Giuseppe returned to Calabria from Toronto and began challenging traditional crime groups operating in drug trafficking in Siderno. Giuseppe aligned himself with crime groups in a neighbouring Calabrian province with control over an airport and an ocean port, which gave them influence in heroin trafficking.
Giovanni wanted to escape the violence and give his family a peaceful life when he appeared in Toronto on August 16, 1986. He was granted landed-immigrant status five years later, and worked as an ornamental iron worker.
Italian sources said the underworld ambitions of his brothers, Giuseppe and Luciano, did not grate on Toronto organized criminals as much as on Calabrian criminals, after their return to Italy. “In Toronto, there’s a place for everybody,” said author Antonio Nicaso, who has studied links between organized-crime groups in Calabria and Canada. “In Siderno, with only 20,000 people, the interests of each individual are more restricted.”
See also: Rocco Remo Commisso, Giacomo Luppino, ’Ndrangheta .
Cotroni, Frank “Santos”: Recipe for Crime – On February 25, 2004, mobster Frank “Santos” Cotroni managed one of the greatest achievements of his turbulent life. He died in his bed of natural causes, in the nondescript east-end Montreal duplex he shared with his daughter, surrounded by family members.
At the time of his death from brain cancer at age seventy-two, Cotroni was heavily sedated with morphine. “His children were with him,” veteran Montreal crime reporter Claude Poirier of the TVA news network said. “He had been on morphine for two weeks.”
Frank “Santos” Cotroni in 1953
From left: Guido Orsini, Frank Cotroni, Carlo Arena
Frank Cotroni posing with Nancy Sinatra
Frank Cotroni, 2002
Cotroni was known in mob circles as “Le Gros,” French for “The Big Guy,” and “Il Cice,” an Italian phrase for the tender, life-giving core at the centre of a hard nut. The youngest of six Cotroni children, the Montreal-born mobster was certainly a hard nut. He served more than half of his adult life in prison, some of it for ordering five underworld killings of mob rivals in the 1980s.
His businesses in Montreal and Toronto included boxing promotions, vending machines, ceramics, strippers, restaurants, labour racketeering, and, primarily, drug trafficking. Despite serving much of the 1980s and 1990s in prison in Quebec, he maintained links to cocaine suppliers in New York; Miami; Cali, Colombia; and Lima, Peru. Along the way, he also found time to write a cookbook.
In the early 1980s, as Cotroni pushed to expand from Montreal into Toronto, he grumbled more than once that one of the few bad points about “Toronto the Good” was a dearth of police officers on the take. Roy McMurtry, then Ontario Attorney General, was told in a meeting with southern Ontario police chiefs just before Christmas 1983 that Frank Cotroni was a man to watch. “By far our greatest concern must be the Cotroni family of Montreal.… Needless to say, we consider [Frank] Cotroni our most serious threat,” the police briefed McMurtry.
Cotroni’s Toronto lieutenants included Réal Simard, an ex-con impressed with Cotroni’s frequent presence both in Montreal’s best steakhouses and behind the wheel of his four-door Lincoln Continental.
Simard carried out five murders for Cotroni, and later said he was taught to destroy his clothes afterward to get rid of powder burns and to always make sure his victim was dead. He said Cotroni instructed him, “You never leave a body without giving it a bullet in the head.”
Cotroni installed Simard in July 1983, in a posh thirtieth-floor apartment in a downtown hotel. Shortly afterward, Simard drove his new Mercedes-Benz to meet with Hamilton mobster Johnny “Pops” Papalia at an east-end Hamilton strip club. A phone call to Cotroni’s Montreal home proved that Simard enjoyed his blessing and Papalia, who would normally object to a newcomer in his territory, backed off in deference to Cotroni’s greater power.
See also: Boxing, Giuseppe “Pep” Cotroni, Vincenzo “Vic the Egg” Cotroni, Eddie Melo, Réal Simard .
Cotroni, Giuseppe “Pep”: Big Crimes, Big Prison Times – The younger brother of Montreal Mafia leader Vic Cotroni, and the elder brother of Frank, Pep’s health never recovered from more than a dozen years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary in Manitoba for a late-1950s $9-million securities heist and possession of heroin valued at $8 million. At the time, these were considered the biggest drug-trafficking and securities-fraud cases in the history of Canada.
See also: Frank “Santos” Cotroni and Vincenzo “Vic the Egg” Cotroni, Luigi “Louis” Greco, Lucien Rivard .
Giuseppe “Pep” Cotroni
Cotroni, Vincenzo “Vic the Egg”: Branch-Plant Manager – Vic Cotroni was fourteen in 1924 when he arrived in Canada with his parents, two sisters, and younger brother Giuseppe “Pep” from Mammola, Calabria. He spoke neither English nor French, and never went to school.
Montreal was often the first stopping point for Italian immigrants, and the Cotroni’s new neighbourhood was one everyone aspired to leave quickly. They settled at the corner of Ontario and St. Timothée Streets in a three-storey brick row house, in Montreal’s original Italian section. It was an area of urban decay, a seamy spot for frequent violent crime, a flourishing bootlegging trade, gaming houses, and brothels. More affluent Italian immigrants understandably preferred to settle in the new Italian section in St. Leonard around Madonna della Difesa church.
In 1929, Cotroni became a naturalized Canadian at the same time as his parents. His father, Nicodemo, worked as a carpenter and listed his income at $35 a week. All of the family’s possessions were valued at just $1,500.
Young Vic and his father had plenty of minor brushes with the law for selling bootleg booze in Montreal and in 1928, when Vic was eighteen, he was arrested on a charge of violating a teenaged girl for refusing to marry him. She became his bride while he was free on bail awaiting charges, after he paid a $1,000 bond to keep the peace for twelve months, and they would remain married for the rest of his life.
A couple of months later, he spent thirty days in jail for illegally selling liquor, and in 1931 he was convicted of passing a bad cheque. In 1934, there was another six months in jail for possession of counterfeit money, which he later said consisted of just two fake fifty-cent pieces.
He worked for a time with his father as a carpenter, then became a professional wrestler under the name Vic Vincent. He was trained by wrestler Armand Courville, who remained a friend and associate for the rest of his life. When not perfecting half nelsons and body slams, Cotroni was learning how to get a hold on gambling houses, blind pigs (booze cans), and brothels, as well as crooked politicians.
Paolo Violi (left) and Vincenzo “Vic the Egg” Cotroni at dinner
In 1936, he was found guilty of assaulting an election officer, his last conviction for almost four decades. He and Courville had been hired by the Liberal party and the Union Nationale in “baseball-bat elections” to clear balloting rooms of their rivals and to stuff ballot boxes.
Throughout this period, Cotroni’s name appears in Montreal court records alternately spelled as Cotroni, Catroni, Catoni, and Coutroni, with Cotroni the most common version. (The spelling “Cotrone” appears on Vic’s headstone.)
He was heavily involved in nightclubs and gambling in the 1940s, and he was considered a benefactor of Québecois music at a time when much of the entertainment was American and English-language.
Ironically, crime inquiries and investigations in Quebec and the United States in the 1950s only helped Cotroni’s underworld career. Potential rival Frank Petrula disappeared after a 1954 police raid uncovered a list of politicians and journalists who had been paid $100,000 to defeat then mayoralty candidate Jean Drapeau. Drapeau, at that time a young lawyer, was a target because of his zeal in running the Mob into the ground for a vice inquiry set up in 1953 to clean up Montreal’s reputation.
Crime probes in the United States during the same time period pushed Carmine Galante of the New York City Bonanno family north to Montreal. Police estimated Galante was soon collecting gambling profits in Montreal worth about $50 million a year.
Galante and Cotroni became friends and, by 1960, Cotroni was a well-established local underworld chieftain, left in virtual control of the Bonanno family’s northern “subsidiary.” His powers were like that of a chairman of the board of local criminals.
The 1970s were a devastating, sometimes humiliating decade for Cotroni. He sued Maclean’s magazine for an article that fingered him as a Mafia boss, and won the case in 1972. However, the victory brought only more embarrassment, for the judge awarded him just $2 in damages – $1 for the English version of the offending article and another $1 for the French – on the grounds that Vic Cotroni did not have much of a reputation to sully.
A young Vic Cotroni
The following year saw the launching of the Quebec inquiry into organized crime. The hearings dragged on for years, and witnesses accused him of being involved in prostitution, loan-sharking, gambling, extortion, and a host of other crimes. Cotroni responded by playing dumb and telling the inquiry that he was just a humble sausage-maker. “If I’m such a bad criminal, why am I walking around free?” he asked. It didn’t help him that a wiretap captured his voice offering one of his tips for success: “I act stupid.” This time it didn’t work, and he got a year for contempt of court, a sentence that he beat on appeal.
At five-foot-five and 135 pounds, he certainly didn’t look dangerous. Even when he spoke, he remained true to the code of silence. “What is the Mafia?” the little grandfather once asked a reporter. “I made my money in clubs and in gambling. All the rest is nothing but talk.”
Pietro Sciara, Cotroni adviser
But he didn’t seem so benign during a wiretapped conversation with “Johnny Pops” Papalia of Hamilton, as Cotroni pressed Papalia for money from an extortion bid.
“I don’t care what he says,” Papalia said. “He didn’t give it to me, Vic.”
“Let’s hope because, eh, we’ll kill you,” Cotroni replied.
“I know you’ll kill me, Vic,” Papalia said. “I believe you’ll kill me.”
Tired and sick, he slowly withdrew from his role as businessman and “chairman of the board.” The Quebec government in 1975 revoked his licence to operate his meat business. In 1977, Pietro Sciara, a Sicilian adviser who worked for Cotroni, was murdered outside a theatre where he had just seen the Italian-language version of The Godfather . In 1978, Paolo Violi, another Cotroni associate, and Cotroni’s handpicked successor, was shot dead in his ice-cream and espresso-coffee bar.
By 1980, the old Cotroni organization was in severe decline, as various upstart groups, ranging from motorcycle gangs to brutally ambitious local hoods, warred for control of turf he once dominated.
As cancer racked his body, however, Cotroni remained the equivalent of a chairman of the board of the Montreal Italian mob. He retained respect, loyalty, and potential power, if he chose to wield it. His death was a victory of sorts, since he went to his grave peacefully, unlike many of his associates.
See also: Bill and Joe Bonanno, Frank “Santos” and Giuseppe “Pep” Cotroni, Armand Courville, Faison D’Or, Carmine Galante, Luigi Greco, Willie Obront, Paolo Violi .
Coureurs de Bois: Runners from the Law – Canadian schoolchildren read of them as romantic figures of the Canadian wilderness, whose name translates as “runners of the woods.”
A coureur de bois (C.W. Jefferys, National Archives of Canada)
In their own time, however, they were far less affectionately regarded by the state and church powers of New France. It was illegal in New France in the seventeenth century to trade with the Indians, and this carried the threat of fines, imprisonment, or hanging.
The first of their number was Étienne Brûlé, who died in 1633.
While coureurs de bois were technically criminals in New France, the law regarding trading with Indians was rarely enforced, since they were vital to the economy of the colony. Historians Harold Horwood and Ed Butts credit them with keeping New France solvent in the seventeenth century, since, without them, there would have been no fur trade. The money they were paid never left the continent and their trading generated taxes that went back to the cash-strapped government.
Part of the problem they had with the Quebec state was sexual. Jesuit priests were disgusted by their custom of taking Native wives, and living with them outside the church. There were also business jealousies. At least one coureur de bois was hanged after he sold furs to a governor’s trade rival. They were finally given legal status in 1700, and after that, those who followed this trade became known as voyageurs.
See also: É tienne Brûlé, Sieur des Groseilliers, Pierre-Esprit Radisson .
Courville, Armand: Grappling with the Law – Courville was also a successful amateur and then professional wrestler, who taught at the Club St. Paul de Ville, where he had about forty students, including young Vincenzo “Vic the Egg” Cotroni. Together, they also learned the fine points of organized crime that would help them gain a hold on Montreal’s underworld.
One of the first big lessons they learned was that it paid enormously to have provincial, municipal, and police contacts. At one point, Courville bragged to La Patrie newspaper, “J’étais le chef de la ‘police’ du parti Liberal,” “I am the chief of police for the Liberal party.”
He went into the restaurant business with Vic Cotroni in 1941, opening up the Faison Doré and Café Royal. He was considered the right arm of Cotroni, and was well known in Montreal’s East End, with his fine cars and rolls of bills, which he would peel off with flare.
He also had an interest in gaming clubs with Cotroni, and was generous to parish priests and community groups. If he suffered from low self-esteem or remorse, he certainly didn’t show it. When a crime commission pressed him about his livelihood in the 1970s, he replied, “If the Mafia exists in Montreal, it’s probably like the Knights of Columbus.”
His association with Cotroni lasted for a half-century, and they owned meat-packing firms together with Paolo Violi. Courville was one of the culprits in the scam that brought tainted meat to the concession stands of Expo 67.
His nephew, Réal Simard, became a hit man for Frank Cotroni, and then turned informer. By the time Courville died in 1991, Simard was in a witness-protection program.
See also: Vincenzo “Vic the Egg” Cotroni, Réal Simard .
Cuntrera-Caruana Family – See Alfonso Caruana .
Cupids, Newfoundland: Loved by Pirates – Originally founded by the English in 1610, it was known as Cuper’s Cove. That name gradually morphed into “Cupids.”
Not long after its founding, the settlement was discovered and raided by rich pirate Peter Easton, and the pirates kept coming back. In 1810, a Mrs. LeGrow reported unearthing a box of English and Spanish gold coins, which had been buried in her garden.
See also: Charles Bellamy, Eric Cobham, Peter Easton, High Island, Edward Jordan, Captain Kidd, Mogul Mackenzie, Henry Mainwaring, Sheila Na Geira, Samuel Nelson, John Phillips, Gilbert Pike, Pirates, Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts .
Customs Scandal: Criminal Clearinghouse – In November 1924, the barge Tremblay docked at the Port of Montreal with 16,000 gallons of alcohol hidden in its hold. That’s more than enough liquor to fill a backyard swimming pool, and no duty had been paid on any of it. Soon, Walter Duncan, an investigator for the Department of Finance, revealed that several customs officers were raking in bribes of $100 a week.
In Ottawa, William Lyon Mackenzie King appointed his customs minister, Jacques Bureau, to the Senate, called an election, and narrowly clung to power. Duncan kept digging into corruption and passed on more damaging evidence to veteran Conservative MP Harry H. Stevens, whose revelations of widespread corruption in the Customs Department sparked the formation of a parliamentary committee to study the charges.
The committee found that much of the liquor shipped from Canadian ports was smuggled back into Canada. That cost taxpayers untold millions of dollars, since excise tax was not paid on exported liquor.
Prime Minister King faced loud calls to explain the apparent indifference of customs ministers. The Commons passed a motion censuring the government, moved by Harry Stevens. At this point, King decided that he could no longer hold together his minority government, and appealed to the Governor General, Lord Byng, to dissolve Parliament, but Byng refused. King subsequently resigned on June 28, 1926, and the Governor General invited Arthur Meighen of the Conservative Party to form a government.
Meanwhile, investigators found even more corruption within the ranks of customs officials, such as officials accepting bribes as Montreal mobsters smuggled liquor into New York State, and then picked up goods to smuggle into Canada. This was a time of a transportation boom, and mobsters used fast cars and trucks to tighten ties between the underworlds, while corrupting customs officers in between.
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