Racco, Domenic: Fallen Son – On the last day of his life, December 9, 1983, the son of respected Toronto ’Ndrangheta boss Mike Racco was frantic. The panicky, nervous tone to his voice was a far cry from the normal, cocky demeanour of the man who had once been touted as the future leader of the Toronto ’Ndrangheta, or Calabrian Mafia. Domenic was certainly no stranger to police, and the man they knew was confident and aggressive, not afraid of police or attention.
Anyone close to old Mike Racco would be noted by police, but Domenic brought enormous unwanted attention to himself – and his father’s operations – through his own actions. His history was one of privilege and rashness. In 1971, he had opened fire with a pistol on three youths at a suburban Toronto plaza in a dispute over a cigarette. He then fled to the United States, and returned in a chartered aircraft only after police launched a relentless series of raids in Toronto’s Italian community. He was twenty-one then, and his future now included a ten-year sentence for three counts of attempted murder.
Domenic Racco, 1971
While behind bars, he enjoyed the status and protection that came with being Mike Racco’s only son. He habitually sat at the head of any table in the prison, because he regarded himself a leader, and others obviously felt the same way. The Metro Toronto Police intelligence squad wrote in 1975 that he was “being groomed to become a major Mafia leader.”
In 1976, a report by the federal Solicitor-General’s Department said considerable influence had been brought to bear by politicians and prominent members of Toronto’s Italian community to try to obtain Racco’s release from prison. Meanwhile, his father arranged for mobsters to visit him each week while he was in prison.
In November 1976, two U.S. citizens from Albany, New York, were given penitentiary terms after they were found guilty of conspiring with Domenic Racco – while he was a convict in Collins Bay Penitentiary near Kingston, Ontario – to wound Tony Commisso, his brother-in-law, by shooting him in the legs. Racco wanted Commisso shot in the legs because he believed Commisso had co-operated with police in their investigation of the shopping plaza shootings. Police said Racco had warned that anyone who tried to testify against him would not make it to the courtroom.
During his final days in prison, at the minimum-security Frontenac Institution, he was sometimes seen driving a late-model Lincoln Continental in the Kingston area, practising for his driver’s-licence test.
Upon his release from prison, he became both a cocaine dealer and a frequent user, and was often seen in the bars and restaurants of Toronto’s trendy Yorkville area, where some of the clientele were heavy cocaine users. He wore his hair long, drove a white Cadillac, and split his nights between the family’s home above their bakery on St. Clair Avenue West and that of his girlfriend in the west end of Toronto.
He was proud of the muscles he developed lifting weights in prison, and maintained his reputation as a hot-tempered individual who would retaliate violently against what he considered to be the smallest slight.
However, with the death of his father to cancer in 1980, Domenic’s charmed status in the underworld evaporated. That explained the nervous tone to his voice in conversations intercepted by police during the late months of 1983. Those tapes showed that he was desperately trying to raise more than $500,000 by mortgaging his family’s business to pay his drug tab. A trust company told him that the money could not be advanced for several months, and so Racco proceeded to mortgage a vacant lot for $21,000 and borrowed an additional $20,000 from two of his brothers-in-law.
The wiretaps indicated Racco was on edge as he was pressed for money by Domenic Musitano, Hamilton scrap-dealer and mobster, who made it clear to Racco that he had run out of patience over an outstanding debt.
On October 31, 1983, police intercepted a conversation between Musitano and Racco, which included this conversation;
Racco: Listen, we’re trying to get that thing cashed.
Musitano: How long is it going to take?
Racco: It’s just a matter of them at the bank.… You got to have a little patience.… I would have lost my patience already.… You got more patience than I got.
Later in the conversation, Musitano said, “It’s gone real beyond patience now.”
Racco replied, “I know. I can feel the heat. You’re steaming.”
On November 11, they talked again on the telephone, and Musitano asked Racco, “How are you coming with that thing, then?”
As Racco pleaded for more time, small-time hood William Rankin was being released on mandatory supervision from Millhaven Penitentiary in Kingston, Ontario. While serving a three-year prison term for robbery and being unlawfully at large, Rankin had met Musitano’s brother, Anthony, who had begun a life sentence in January 1983, for a series of bombing incidents in Hamilton between 1976 and 1980.
Rankin got out of prison on December 7, 1983, and was met by Peter Majeste, twenty-three, a friend who later testified in court that he and Rankin planned a life of crime together trafficking in drugs. They drove to a motel about three kilometres from the prison, celebrating Rankin’s release with two women and a generous supply of hashish oil and liquor.
That night, Domenic Musitano and Racco met in the coffee shop of the Holiday Inn in Oakville, Ontario. Unknown to both men, they were followed into the hotel by a plainclothes officer from Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Police, who had heard about two murder contracts, but didn’t know who the targets were or when the killings were supposed to take place.
On the morning of December 9, 1983, Racco picked up a cheque for $21,506.97, the proceeds of a mortgage on a vacant lot the family owned near the bakery. After leaving the lawyer’s office, Racco went to a nearby branch of the National Bank of Canada and cashed the cheque. He also obtained a certified cheque in his own name for $8,000.
That night, he signed in at RCMP headquarters in Toronto at 8 : 48 p.m. as part of the conditions for bail on a charge he was facing of conspiring to traffic in cocaine.
At 10 a.m. the next day, Racco’s body was spotted by a passenger on a GO commuter bus en route to Milton from Toronto, in a field north of Derry Road, two kilometres east of Trafalgar Road in the town of Milton.
Racco was dressed in well-cut and expensive brown slacks and a sports jacket. He had on two gold necklaces, a ring on the little finger of his left hand. There was $111.76 in his pockets, and three bullets in his head and two in his heart. He was thirty-two years old.
One theory for his murder was that he was “poaching” on drug-trafficking territory claimed by Domenic Musitano in Hamilton.
The Musitanos weren’t about to explain. Anthony Musitano, thirty-eight, and William Rankin, thirty-three, each pleaded guilty to murder conspiracy and were each given twelve-year prison terms. Musitano’s nephew, Giuseppe Avignone, twenty-three, was sentenced to five years after pleading guilty to playing a role in the conspiracy, while Domenic Musitano, forty-eight, pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact and received a six-year term.
Graham Court and Dennis Monaghan, both of Hamilton, were each convicted of first-degree murder, but their convictions were overturned on appeal. Their new trial was derailed when Justice Stephen Glithero of Ontario Court (General Division) accused police and prosecutors of tampering, negligence, and “flagrant and intentional misconduct.”
The Ontario Provincial Police investigated the accusations, and issued a press release on April 3, 1998, which stated the force couldn’t find any evidence of police misconduct, and also could find no evidence of any attempt by prosecutors to obstruct justice.
See also: Michele “Mike” Racco, Domenic Musitano, ’Ndrangheta, John “Johnny Pops” Papalia .
Racco, Michele “Mike”: Respected Baker – The 1980 funeral for the baker who ran a shop on St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto was one of the largest in the history of the city’s underworld. When he died at age sixty-six after surgery for cancer, thousands turned out to pay their respects.
Aside from fluffy bread rolls and to-die-for bread, Racco was considered capo crimini , or “boss of bosses,” in Toronto’s Calabrian Mafia. His influence extended well into the United States, according to informer Cecil Kirby, a biker who did dirty work for the Calabrian Mob.
Racco sat atop a fifty-member Mob family in Metro Toronto, which was part of the Siderno group from southern Italy. American intelligence officers said the Siderno mobsters were recruited by the traditional Sicilian Mob for manpower when some of their own sons refused to become involved with criminal activity. Police speculated that, once the Siderno Mob saw there was big money available for illicit activities, they began branching out for themselves. Racco’s crime group became known by police as the Siderno Group, because most of its members came to Canada in the 1950s from the Siderno area.
Michele “Mike” Racco
Racco was born on December 12, 1913, in Siderno Marina, a small town in the southern Italian province of Calabria. Italian police said he was already a member of the Calabrian Mafia when he migrated to Canada in 1952.
After a short period at Thunder Bay, he moved to Toronto and started his bakery store on St. Clair Avenue West at Nairn Avenue. The business prospered, and the bakery became a landmark in the predominantly Italian district. In the late 1970s, he added on a coffee shop and an ice-cream parlour.
Racco was installed in Toronto as part of the Stefano Magaddino clan, but after the Buffalo don’s death in 1974, he established ties with the Violi brothers of Montreal. He also had connections with Toronto mobster Paul Volpe, but the two had a falling out for some reason in the mid-1960s. Things around Racco were always a little fuzzy to police, which was the way he wanted them. When Racco-associated bakeries were hit in the 1960s with a string of bombings, police first thought there was a fight underway for underworld control in Toronto. Later, police adjusted their theories and concluded that Racco was bombing his own stores for insurance money to help finance underworld operations.
Late one night, he was almost caught with counterfeit money when police went to his bakery. They found a bundle of $25,000 in counterfeit bills on the sidewalk beneath the window of his bedroom over the bakery, and could only report the incident as found money.
In 1962, La Camera di Controllo (board of control) of the Ontario ’Ndrangheta included Michele Racco, Rocco Zito, Salvatore Triumbari, a Downsview soft-drink bottler, and Filippo Vendemini, a shoe-store owner.
Racco was never convicted of a crime in Canada, although he had convictions for a number of minor offences in Italy as a young man. He simply laughed when a Globe and Mail reporter told him the police regarded him as a leader of the Toronto Mafia. He volunteered to let the reporter spend a day working with him in the bakery and coffee shop and then decide for himself. “That would be a day in the life of this so-called Mafia leader,” Racco scoffed.
Michele “Mike” Racco (right) and Cosimo Stalteri (left) on Nairn Street
“What is this Mafia?” Racco asked the reporter. “You really believe it exists?” His comments seem to be standard issue for mobsters of his generation. When “Johnny Pops” Papalia of Hamilton was asked a similar question, he had replied, “What’s organized crime?” while Vic Cotroni of Montreal had queried someone bold enough to question him, “What is the Mafia? I made my money in clubs and in gambling. All the rest is nothing but talk.”
Police certainly believed the Mafia existed, seeing Racco as a planner, arranger, and adviser who was frequently consulted by immigrant members of the Calabrian Mafia and other Mafia organizations across Canada and the United States. He was also in frequent contact with senior members of the Calabrian Mafia in Italy.
They say he often sought the advice of Mafia leaders in Calabria, who regarded the Toronto organization as an overseas branch and who authorized him to sanction organized-crime murders in the Toronto Italian community.
Racco sanctioned three such murders, according to the police. These were the shooting deaths of his co-leaders of the Ontario ’Ndrangheta, Salvatore Triumbari, killed in 1967, and Filippo Vendemini, killed in 1969. Both Triumbari and Vendemini were slain because of their involvement in the ritual disfigurement of a fellow Calabrian Mafia member, and there could easily have been another victim, but police said Racco was so disturbed about the massive police investigations that followed the Triumbari and Vendemini killings that he spared the life of a third person involved in the disfiguring, so that the police attention would cool down. Police also saw Racco’s hand in the murder of Salvatore Palermiti, a visitor to Toronto from Siderno, killed in 1976 in an attempt to settle a dispute between two feuding underworld figures. Despite the strong police suspicions, no one was ever charged in any of the murders.
During his life, Racco turned up at all the right Mafia weddings, baptisms, and funerals, and was always seated in a place of honour. In death, his pallbearers included Rocco Zito and Racco’s nephew Rocco Remo Commisso.
See also: Rocco Remo and Cosimo Commisso, Cecil Kirby, Giacomo Luppino, ’Ndrangheta, Domenic Racco .
Radisson, Pierre-Esprit: Fur-Trading Double-Crosser – In the seventeenth century he was considered an outlaw with a price on his head by the government of New France, although he was considerably more popular with the English government.
The English were happy to deal with him and his partner, Sieur des Groseilliers, because of their access to rich fur-trading routes. He and Groseilliers founded the Hudson’s Bay Company to further English interests.
Radisson meets the Indians in a Winter Camp (C.W. Jefferys, Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1972-26-60)
He was about thirteen or fourteen when he arrived in Canada in May 1651 with his family and settled in Trois-Rivières on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, upriver from Quebec. About a year after his arrival, he was captured by the Iroquois while duck hunting, and treated like an adopted member of the Iroquois tribe. Eventually, he escaped to the Dutch trading post in New Amsterdam, now New York.
When he made his way back to New France, he found the colony’s rules stifling. He knew he was forbidden to go upriver without the supervision of one of the government’s men and a priest, but he balked at this and went into the woods anyway. “We were Cesars, being nobody to contradict us,” he wrote in his journal.
He travelled through the area that is now the states of Wisconsin and Minnesota, despite strict laws against trading without a licence. He acted as a spy against the English, then double-crossed the French and arrived in England with furs in 1684, where he was entertained by the King and Duke of York.
Within three years, in 1687, his fortunes suffered yet another reversal, as he was brought back from Fort York (later York Factory), at the mouth of the Hayes River, to England as a prisoner amidst accusations of illegal trading. This turned out to be a lucky break, as Pierre Lemoyne d’Iberville of New France had just been raiding Hudson Bay, and had captured the English posts at Fort York. If he had captured Radisson, he almost certainly would have sent him to the gallows for previous double-crosses.
See also: Coureurs de Bois, Sieur des Groseilliers .
Rat Portage: Political Rat’s Nest – The northwestern Ontario rail town of Kenora was known as Rat Portage back in the 1880s, when it had a reported thirty-six saloons and forty-eight residences, and was home to characters like Boston O’Brien the Slugger, Patsy Roach, Al Mulligan the Bad Man, Charlie Bull-Pup, and Black Jim Reddy of Montana.
Not surprisingly, Rat Portage had a rough-and-ready reputation as a bootleggers’ paradise, whose prime trade was helping rail workers forget their thirst and boredom.
What was surprising was that it also had three sets of police (Manitoba, Ontario, and federal) and dual Ontario and Manitoba jails, magistrates, justices of the peace, constables, and courthouses.
The heavy police presence – and dramatically low police efficiency – came because both Ontario and Manitoba claimed Rat Portage to be in their territory. Manitoba granted liquor licences to several hotel and wholesale outlets, and Ontario magistrates refused to recognize the legality of these licences.
Soon, constables from both provinces were busy arresting each other while criminals involved in gambling and bootlegging went about their illegal business. A newspaper reporter at the time wrote: “Dominion Commissioner McCabe with two policemen, Ontario Magistrate Burdon with twenty-five policemen and Stipendiary Magistrate Brereton with fifteen policemen acting on behalf of Manitoba have been arresting each other all day.”
Things only got worse when the Ontario government lured some of the local gamblers and bootleggers, including the character known as Boston O’Brien the Slugger, into the fray with the lure of free whisky and pay as special constables. Prisoners arrested on the order of one magistrate were sprung free by men who claimed they were upholding the rights of the rival province. Meanwhile, police on both sides worried that the telegraph wires were tapped, and everyone but the criminals had to shudder when a gang descended on one of the Rat River jails and set it on fire, after releasing the prisoners.
Finally, the governments of Ontario and Manitoba worked out a joint agreement for the administration of the hamlet, leaving the final decision to the Privy Council of England, which ruled in 1884 that Rat Portage and the criminals inside it fell under Ontario’s jurisdiction.
Red Deer: Biker Bash – This central Alberta city advertises itself as “Alberta’s trading and distribution centre,” and for good reason. There are more than a million people living within a 160-kilometre radius and local merchants have no business tax and the lowest overall taxes in the country.
It’s just a ninety-minute drive to either Calgary or Edmonton, which helps explain why the Hells Angels were attracted to set up shop in the city of 60,000 on July 23, 1997, absorbing the local Grim Reapers club. The bikers celebrated with bear hugs, kisses, and whacks on the back, while Det. Greg Park of the Calgary police force’s intelligence unit moaned, “It’s the first day of the rest of our lives.”
Community leaders called for businesses to boycott the Angels, but some, like one liquor-store owner, put up a sign saying, “Welcome Hells Angel! Who is causing trouble?”
There were some three hundred Angels and associates at the patch-over ceremony, which included a bar and a band in the hotel and plenty of roast beef, shrimp, crab, beer, and wine. Some Grim Reapers were so excited to get the death’s-head patches of the winged skull that they sewed them on by hand in the Waskasoo ballroom at 1 a.m., rather than waiting for daylight and a professional tailor.
The patches were from a tailor in Voralbergh, Austria, and after he got his, Kevin “Critter” Press, formerly of the Calgary Grim Reapers, gushed to a reporter, “I feel like I’m walking three inches off the ground.”
The previous Sunday, many of the city’s churchgoers said special prayers about the arrival of the Angels. “Some pastors were contacted by the RCMP and asked to cover them in prayer and just pray for the whole situation,” said Pastor Matt Kitchener of the First Baptist Church. There would be more to pray about in November 1999, when the Angels set up a chapter of the elite Nomads in Red Deer.
See also: Calgary Hells Angels, Diefenbunker .
Redliners: Wally’s Private Army – Police dubbed this biker gang the Redliners when an officer noticed a member wearing a Redliner Racing jacket.
Exactly what the gang called themselves was never that clear.
They were formed in the spring of 1995 by disgruntled members of the Spartans gang in Winnipeg and had eighteen members and twenty associates or possible prospects.
They were so close to Walter Stadnick, then the Hells Angels national president, during his time in Winnipeg that the entire gang was considered Hells Angels’ associates. Because this group was formed under the direction of tight-lipped Stadnick, virtually every action was shrouded in secrecy.
The group adopted colours consisting of a deaths’-head skull encircled in flames, but these colours were not worn publicly. However, club members routinely wore a similar insignia on sweatshirts.
Their strength by the end of 1995 was twenty-four members and sixty more associates. By June 1997, the gang was on its last legs, as members were increasingly disorganized, and several of them were fettered by clauses by the courts that forbid association with criminals, as well as by curfews.
See also: Los Brovos, Spartans, Wolodumyr “Walter” “Nurget” Stadnick .
Red Scorpions: Middle-Class Thugs – There’s a theory that organized crime is often borne in poverty and that it offers an entrée into the economy for society’s most marginalized members. As the theory goes, groups often tend to graduate from crime to a place in the mainstream economy. This theory is called “ethnic succession,” and some thinkers say it applies to boxers as well as business people. It’s a fine theory and often applies to the real world, but it’s of no use whatsoever when discussing the Red Scorpions of the B.C. coast.
The Bacon Brothers, Jonathan “Jon,” Jarrod, and James “Jamie,” grew up in a comfortable middle-class home in Abbotsford, B.C. The boys didn’t want for anything but still were hungry for power and more money.
In 2006, they hooked up with the Red Scorpions gang of the Lower Mainland of B.C., which was formed around 2000 by young thugs in a youth detention centre. The gang’s specialty was “dial-a-dope,” in which drug users would call in orders and receive quick delivery, as if they were ordering pizza. Gang members identified themselves by tattooing “ RS ” onto their wrists.
Soon the Bacons were running the Red Scorpions, and their increased status made them targets for the United Nations and Hells Angels gangs. James was lucky – or canny – enough to survive numerous murder bids. Jon, the oldest brother, survived a hit attempt in front of his parents’ suburban home before a hit team finally shot him dead in Kelowna on August 14, 2011. He was thirty years old at the time, and many commentators concluded that his death meant the end of the Red Scorpions as a force to be reckoned with.
See also: Sandip “Dip” Duhre, Peter Gill, Gillian Guess, Bhupinder “Bindy” Johal, United Nations .
Red Zone: Slaughter in the Streets – Outlaw bikers in the 1990s and early 2000s called Quebec “the red zone” because the violence was so hot there. A study by Montreal criminologist Pierre Tremblay concluded that the nickname was as apt as it was colourful. Tremblay found that, of 859 murders in Quebec between 1970 and 1986, 118 were biker-related. That worked out to 13.7 per cent of the provincial murder rate. Ironically, that was during the bikers’ “peace time,” before the war began in 1994 with the Rock Machine that killed some 165 people – including an eleven-year-old boy and two prison guards – and caused three hundred serious injuries.
See also: Michel Auger, Daniel Desrochers, Diane Lavigne, Nomads, Rock Machine .
Rivard, Lucien: Political Poison – The story about how the heroin trafficker Rivard escaped from Bordeaux Jail in 1965 wasn’t true, but it was so good that people loved to tell it anyway. As the story went, the mobster persuaded guards into allowing him to water the prison ice rink, even though it was a spring day when the temperature outside was 4°C.
What was true was that Rivard was helped out of jail by a Bordeaux worker, and that he scaled the prison wall with a garden hose. It was also true that Rivard destroyed the career of a federal justice minister and nearly sank Lester Pearson’s Liberal government in one of the great scandals of Canadian political history.
Rivard, a squat, strongly built man, was convicted in 1933, at age seventeen, of breaking into a storage shed. By the early 1950s, he had fallen into the heroin business, after setting up a casino in Cuba, and he also ran guns for Fidel Castro’s rebels before being imprisoned, then expelled.
Back in Quebec in the late 1950s, Rivard opened the Domaine Ideal, a beach resort in Laval, which the Globe and Mail described as an ideal spot for those “with strong appetites for wenching and drinking.” When not tending to those appetites, some patrons were involved in Rivard’s drug-smuggling and arms-trafficking operations.
Rivard was a major figure in the Montreal underworld, and looked the part in expensive suits and pointy shoes, often rubbing shoulders with Giuseppe “Pep” Cotroni, brother of the city’s leading Mafiosi, Vic Cotroni.
Rivard’s fortunes changed in October 1963, when U.S. agents in Laredo, Texas, nabbed drug-runner Michel Caron as he tried to enter from Mexico with thirty-five kilograms of heroin. Caron opened up to police, implicating Rivard and a mobster from New York’s Gambino crime family.
Word of Caron’s confession reached all the way to U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who called his Canadian counterpart to make sure Caron’s family would be taken to a safe house.
Meanwhile, Rivard was arrested, and his efforts to get bail by contacting Liberal contacts entangled the Pearson government. Pierre Lamontagne, the lawyer hired by the U.S. government, was offered $20,000 by an assistant to Immigration Minister René Tremblay to secure Rivard’s release on bail. Lamontagne was also pushed by an aide to federal Justice Minister Guy Favreau, and by Guy Rouleau, a Member of Parliament and Pearson’s parliamentary secretary.
The RCMP looked into it, but concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to lay charges. Through it all, Rivard remained in prison.
Lucien Rivard, 1952
However, in November 1964, the opposition Conservatives learned of the affair and MP Erik Nielsen led a ruthless campaign against Favreau, who had been considered a rising star in the Pearson cabinet.
Things only got worse for the Liberals when Rivard escaped the Bordeaux jail with another inmate in March 1965. Outside, they hijacked a car. Rivard gave the driver money to take a cab home, and later called him to tell him where to find his car. While Rivard was on the lam, he annoyed authorities with a series of letters. In one, mailed on March 30 to Prime Minister Pearson, he philosophized, “Life is short, you know. I don’t intend to be in jail for the rest of my life.” In a missive to his prison warden, he boasted, “I’ve never taken a penny from someone poorer than me.”
His time on the run lasted just four months, but the scandal was enough to push Favreau to resign. Pearson regrouped by recruiting three new leading Quebec candidates – Jean Marchand, Gérard Pelletier, and Pierre Trudeau.
The escapade made Rivard something of a folk hero, celebrated in a song titled “The Gallic Pimpernel.”
Favreau would die in 1967, and many who knew him said his health collapsed at the strain of being made a scapegoat. “Guy Favreau was the most brilliant Quebec MP of the time,” said Judge Jules Deschênes, who was Favreau’s lawyer during the affair. “I’m certain the scandal killed him.”
“The harshness of politics has destroyed no better man,” mourned Tom Kent, then an adviser to Pearson.
The Dorion Inquiry was held to investigate how Rivard managed to escape from prison. It didn’t tell of how he was aided in his escape by a prison worker. However, it did find that he had many backers among federal Liberal organizers in Quebec, although Rivard never divulged names of his alleged political pals.
He served nine years of a twenty-year sentence in the United States, and his wife, Marie, wrote him daily. He lived quietly in Laval until his death February 3, 2002, at Montreal’s Sacré Coeur Hospital. He was nearly blind at the time of his death at age eighty-six.
See also: Giuseppe “Pep” Cotroni .
Rizzuto, Nicolo “Nick”: “Last Real Godfather” – Montreal Mafia boss Nicolo “Nick” Rizzuto knew throughout his adult life that there were men who wanted him dead, but he might have expected a little more respect when his killer finally arrived.
The eighty-six-year-old was sitting at the kitchen table of his Montreal mansion shortly before supper on November 10, 2010, when a sniper pulled the trigger, killing him with one shot to the head. It was a particularly cruel killing, since his wife and daughter were with him at the time in his home on Antoine Berthelet Avenue, a pricey cul-de-sac dubbed “Mafia Alley.”
The sniper was apparently hiding in a wooded area behind Rizzuto’s unfenced backyard, close to a statue of the Virgin Mary and out of sight of several security cameras. It was the latest in a string of assassinations against the crime family Nick ran with his son Vito. “He was the last of the real godfathers,” said Antonio Nicaso, who has written several books on the Mafia. “He was a combination of old and new, the last true godfather who was still alive and outside jail.”
There were reports that Nick Rizzuto was targeted for death since earlier in the fall of 2010, following a visit from mobster Salvatore “Sal the Ironworker” Montagna, former head of the Bonanno crime family in New York. Montagna had just been deported back to Montreal and he reportedly suggested strongly that it was time for the elder Rizzuto to step aside. Rizzuto allegedly answered back that he wasn’t about to be told when to retire, especially from a member of the Bonannos. It was an informer in the Bonanno group who sent Nick’s son Vito to an American prison for his role in three gangland slayings, and Nick was acting as caretaker for the family until Vito’s expected release in the fall of 2012.
In the months before his murder, Nick was acutely aware that his severely depleted crime family was under attack on the streets of his adopted country as well as in its courtrooms. His lieutenant and son-in-law, Paolo Renda, disappeared earlier in 2010, abducted while driving to his home a few doors down from Nick’s mansion.
In 2009, Nick’s grandson, Nick Jr., was shot dead in the middle of the day on a Montreal street. Another key family member, Agostino Cuntrera, known as the “seigneur,” or lord, of the St. Leonard district, was gunned down with his bodyguard, Liborio Sciascia, when he stepped out of his warehouse in 2010.
When his family came under attack, the elder Rizzuto often bunkered himself in his luxury home, giving killers few options. “I think they [Rizzuto’s enemies] had no choice,” said Normand Brisebois, a former enforcer for the Rizzuto family and Montreal bikers. “He was not going out at all. He was always in the house.”
By the time of his murder, the power of Rizzuto’s crime family had declined considerably in the Montreal underworld through a furious attack by assassins after his son Vito was arrested in 2006 for his role in three gangland slayings in New York. It was a sharp, painful decline for Nick, whose image of counting money on a round ceramic table and then stuffing it in his sock was captured in early 2000s by a police camera hidden in the family’s underworld social club.
The money that filled his sock – and Swiss bank accounts – came from a far-flung criminal empire that took decades to build. From the modest Consenza Social Club in Montreal, Nick and Vito Rizzuto ran a sophisticated crime family with global tentacles, reaching from cocaine barons of South America to Italian construction firms to the construction and illegal drug businesses of the GTA .
His family knew the value of both finesse and fear. Brisebois said he personally trashed and burned Montreal bars whose owners offended the crime family. He said that he found the elder Rizzuto to be distant, but not hostile, when they met in bars. Nick wouldn’t speak directly to those who weren’t in his crime family, but he would smile and nod as he sipped grappa, Brisebois said.
Despite his stature in the underworld and obvious wealth, it was not until 2008 that Nick was convicted for the first time. He pleaded guilty to possession of the proceeds of crime and gangsterism and received a two-year suspended sentence and probation. He had been charged in 2006 after police managed to peer into his organization with microphones and video cameras installed in their unassuming social club.
They captured Nick receiving bundles of cash in the back room of the club, sometimes counting it out in Italian. Earlier in 2010, he pleaded guilty to tax evasion and paid $209,000 in fines after $5.2 million in unclaimed income was found in Swiss bank accounts. Italian authorities wanted to charge him for Mafia association, but Canadian laws meant he couldn’t be extradited to the country of his birth.
In his heyday, the great-grandfather radiated style, not fear, when he ventured out in public. He dressed the role of a Mafia godfather, with crisply tailored suits and wide fedoras. Police noted after a raid in the mid-2000s on his home that there wasn’t a speck of dust, even in the corners of the closets. His suits were hung according to colour and style, like merchandise in a fine men’s store.
His attention to detail helped explain how Rizzuto rose to the top of the Montreal Mob pyramid in the late 1970s after the murders of the Violi brothers, who were originally from Hamilton. It had been clear as things ever are in the Mafia that, since the early 1970s, either Rizzuto or his Mob family rival, Paolo Violi, would be murdered. Violi had tried to get approval from the top level of the Bonanno family in New York to kill Rizzuto, but was denied. Both men wanted to head Montreal’s underworld after Vic Cotroni, and neither would step aside gracefully.
Mob watchers noted the similarities between Rizzuto’s murder and the killing of Rocco Violi on October 17, 1980. Rocco was also sitting at his kitchen table when he was shot dead and his wife and two children were present in the home. Nick was widely believed to be the architect of the murder of Rocco and his brothers, Paolo and Frank, although he was never charged. Those murders helped him establish what was widely considered the most powerful Mafia family Canada has ever known.
Nicolo “Nick” Rizzuto
Even if Rizzuto and Paolo Violi had liked each other – and there was no hint that they did – their traditions separated them. Rizzuto was a traditional Sicilian Mafiosi, while Violi was a Calabrian ’Ndrangheta criminal, and neither man was flexible enough to coexist with his rival. From 1978 until 1981, more than twenty mobsters and associates tried to kill Rizzuto, and the Violis were killed in Montreal and Italy. By 1982, all of the Violi brothers were dead, Vic Cotroni was dying of cancer, and Rizzuto was finally recognized as Montreal’s new boss. Rizzuto won the battle for Montreal from afar – in a compound in Venezuela to be specific – where he had fled in the early 1970s.
It was the crowning achievement for Rizzuto, who was born on February 18, 1924, in the dusty town of Cattolica Eraclea, Agrigento, Sicily. For most of his adult life, his career had a global sweep. Around 1971, Rizzuto and allies in the Cuntrera-Caruana crime family began to set up a base in Venezuela as they graduated into the ranks of the world’s most sophisticated drug shippers and financiers.
After the murders of the Violi brothers, Rizzuto was freer to come and go in Montreal as he pleased, and still maintained a compound in Caracas, which he saw as a safe haven. He had ties there with the Cuntrera-Caruana Sicilian Mafia family, which also had a Montreal base. His freedom was curbed when he was arrested in early 1988 by Venezuelan police on drug charges, and he was held in custody until February 1992.
When finally released, he began spending more time on Antoine-Berthelet Avenue, in the posh Cartierville section of Montreal, where there were just four houses. Rizzuto and his son Vito lived side by side, along with Vito’s sister Maria and her husband, Paolo Renda, who had some gambling arrests on his record. The fourth house belonged to Giuseppe “Joe” LoPresti, a lieutenant in the Rizzuto family, whose role was to act as a “bridge” between the Sicilian and American Mafia families running drugs from Venezuela to Montreal to New York.
Rizzuto occasionally made the news but seldom seemed under threat. His name was mentioned in the halls of Parliament in March 2001, when Anne McLellan, the Justice Minister, told the Commons that confidentiality rules prevented her from explaining why the Justice Department did not tell immigration officials that an alleged Mafia hit man was living in Montreal.
The hit man, Gaetano Amodeo, was described by Italian prosecutors as a member of Sicily’s Cattolica Eraclea Mafia clan, and was alleged to have murdered a German underworld figure in 1981 and played a role in the 1992 murder of a police investigator. Italian authorities had requested his arrest on January 10, 1999, but Canadian authorities did not move to scoop him up.
Stockwell Day, the Canadian Alliance party leader, asked why the RCMP ignored the request, when they had photographed him in April 1999 talking to Rizzuto. “The RCMP monitored his motions and even photographed him in the company of the head of the Montreal Mafia,” Day said in Parliament. “How could the RCMP just take pictures of him rather than put handcuffs on him?” In August 2001, a little over two years after he was photographed with Rizzuto, Amodeo was sentenced to life in prison in Italy.
Brisebois said he suspected that the men plotting Nick Rizzuto’s death were emboldened because his son Vito and the family’s toughest members, including Lorenzo “Skunk” Giordano, were all either in custody or dead. At the time of Rizzuto’s murder, Giordano was serving a fifteen-year prison term for gangsterism, conspiracy, and possession of the proceeds of crime. Giordano wasn’t someone to be trifled with, and once subdued a rival with a gunshot to the testicles.
See also: Giuseppe “Joe” LoPresti, Salvatore Montagna, Vito Rizzuto, Gerlando Sciascia, Paolo Violi .
Rizzuto, Vito: “Mediator” – There was a time when Vito Rizzuto was known as a peacekeeper and mediator. However, by the time his rival Salvatore the “Bambino Boss” or “Sal the Ironworker” Montagna was fatally sprayed with bullets shortly before Christmas 2011, Rizzuto was respected as a survivor as well.
Rizzuto’s family came under fire soon after he was imprisoned in the U.S. in 2006 for his role in three New York gangland slayings in 1981. A widely held theory is that Montagna attempted to consolidate the Montreal underworld in Rizzuto’s absence, moving to Montreal and systematically orchestrating the murders of Vito’s father, son, and several key advisors. In time, that conspiracy turned on itself, leaving Rizzuto’s ranks severely depleted and Montagna dead.
In happier times, Vito Rizzuto could be found on an almost daily basis at the Consenza Social Club, a grungy north-end Montreal coffee shop located between a cheese shop and a tanning salon on Jarry Street. There, he sipped coffee under fading pictures of the main square in Cattolica Eraclea, in Agrigento, Sicily, where he was born on February 21, 1946. One wall of the club was full of photographs of golf tournaments, a favourite past-time of Rizzuto. Although the Cosenza was a decidedly modest venue, there were often $100,000 Mercedes-Benz cars parked outside and Rizzuto frequently arrived at the wheel of his late-model white Jaguar. He was known as the “Dapper Don” in reference to his expensively tailored, form-fitting suits.
In arrest documents filed in January 2004, the FBI , U.S. Justice Department, and the New York Police Department drew from information from informer Salvatore “Good Looking Sal” Vitale, an underboss and brother-in-law to Bonanno leader Joseph Massino. Vitale told authorities that on May 5, 1981, he was a member of an elite, four-person hit team, along with Rizzuto, Gerlando “George from Montreal” Sciascia of Montreal, and a Canadian known to him only as Emanuel.
In a scene that was recreated in the film Donnie Brasco , starring Johnny Depp, Vitale said three members of the hit team hid in a closet of a Brooklyn social club, then burst out firing a hail of bullets that brought down Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato, Philip “Lucky” Gicaonne, and Dominick “Big Trin” Trinchera.
Vito Rizzuto in handcuffs
The day after the murders, Rizzuto was photographed by investigators leaving his room at the Capri Motor Lodge in the Bronx, heading for a black sedan with Sciascia and Joseph Massino, who would emerge as the new godfather of the Bonanno family. Rizzuto and Sciascia returned to Montreal.
As the son of Montreal Mafia don Nicolo “Nick” Rizzuto, Vito was known to police long before the 1981 triple murders. In 1972, he was convicted of attempting to set fire to a Montreal shopping plaza, and in 1986, he was acquitted on a drunk-driving charge. On December 18, 1989, he was acquitted in Sept-Iles, Quebec, on charges of conspiring to import thirty-two tons of hashish, and he was acquitted again on November 8, 1990, in Newfoundland, of conspiring to traffic in sixteen tons of hashish.
Those charges were dropped after it was revealed that the RCMP had illegally wiretapped discussions between his lawyer and other defence lawyers involved in the case. After his 1990 acquittal, Rizzuto was uncharacteristically talkative, and quipped to a reporter, “One word can mean so much, especially when that word is ‘acquittal.’ ”
In 1994, the RCMP arrested fifty-seven people in connection with a money-laundering scheme that included a plot to ship cocaine to Britain. Rizzuto was mentioned as a co-conspirator, but wasn’t charged. Also in 1994, Canadian police suspected him of trying to get his hands on some of the multi-billion-dollar fortune that was stashed away by the late Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos.
Canadian police suspected that Vito Rizzuto had a mandate from members of the family of a Filipino general – Severino Garcia Santa Romana, a close associate of the late president – to try to find some of Marcos’s fortune on their behalf. Some estimates pegged the fortune that Marcos stashed overseas at as much as $40 billion. No charges were laid against Rizzuto in the Marcos matter, and there’s no record if he recovered any of that money.
Vito Rizzuto (left) sits with Juan Ramond Fernandez
Vito Rizzuto walking
Things were particularly hectic for Vito Rizzuto in 2001. That year, Revenue Canada described him as “the godfather of the Italian Mafia in Montreal,” but he managed to avoid the potentially embarrassing media scrutiny of a trial when his lawyer reached an out-of-court settlement in August 2001. Revenue Canada had accused him of using middle men to purchase penny stocks on the Alberta Stock Exchange and said he didn’t report revenues- more than $1.5 million between 1986 and 1988 – from the investment. The government was seeking unpaid taxes plus interest, as well as more than $127,000 in penalties.
A trial certainly would have been interesting. Federal documents indicated the government intended to focus heavily on Rizzuto’s alleged ties to organized crime, including Maurice “Mom” Boucher of the Hells Angels biker club. According to investigators, Rizzuto created an organized crime group called “the Consortium,” which included the Hells Angels, West End Gang, Colombian cocaine cartels, and the Mafia. The Consortium sought to put their energies into making money together rather than in fighting.
Also in 2001, Rizzuto managed to avoid two murder plots to kill him at the Consenza Social club. While foiling the hits, police said that they found Rizzuto’s enemies had armed themselves with an AK - 47 automatic rifle, a .357 calibre magnum revolver, a .350 magnum, two 9 mm pistols, two bullet-proof vests, walkie-talkies, piles of ammunition clips, and sticks of dynamite.
Despite all of the tension on the streets and in the courtroom – or perhaps because of them – Rizzuto was an avid golfer, and often played in Montreal-area charity fundraisers. He lost a couple of golfing partners in the 1990s to a police sting into the laundering of drug money. His friend and schoolmate Valentino Morielli was convicted of conspiring to bring cocaine into Canada via Miami and the Cayman Islands, and another golf buddy, lawyer Joseph Lagan, was found guilty of money laundering.
The 1999 murder of his friend Sciascia made Rizzuto leery of New York, police say. The hit was ordered by the top level of the Bonanno family. Sciascia was considered the top Canadian in the Bonannos at the time of his murder. After Sciascia’s murder, Rizzuto started to appear in Ontario more frequently, and was in the Toronto area about four times a month, visiting relatives and planning business, as he frequented the area’s finer restaurants and golf courses. “He was looking in Ontario to explore opportunities for investment,” said author Antonio Nicaso, who has written almost two dozen books on organized crime. “He has lots of money to invest.”
His investments were made in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and even the former Northwest Territories, where he was interested in diamond mining. Police said his Ontario interests ranged from a discount coffin business to an illegal multi-million-dollar bookmaking operation in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Woodbridge, Mississauga, Bolton, and Hamilton, in which gamblers bet on major league baseball, the N HL , and NBA games using the Internet, cell phones, Palm Pilots, Blackberry wireless devices, and storefronts.
In recent years, Rizzuto – who speaks English, French, Spanish, and Italian – went to Mexico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic to play golf, but never to the United States, even in transit. “His mentality is to think bigger – not to think locally,” said Nicaso. “I don’t think that there is anyone on the police radar [in Canada] like him.”
The dapper Montrealer was in an uncharacteristically chatty mood in December 2003, during a break from an impaired-driving case he was fighting in municipal court. Speaking in English, he dismissed past statements by the RCMP , prosecutors, and the federal government that he was head of an organized crime family as “nothing more than allegations.” He also told veteran crime reporter Michel Auger that Revenue Canada got things wrong when a document presented in tax court alleged that he was “the godfather of the Italian Mafia in Montreal.”
“I deny everything they say,” he said. Asked to describe himself professionally, he replied, “I’m the jack of all trades.”
“I’m a mediator,” he explained. “People come to me to solve disputes because they believe in me. They have respect in me.”
See also: Maurice “Mom” Boucher, Alfonso Caruana, Raynald Desjardins, Giuseppe “Joe” LoPresti, Salvatore Montagna, Sabatino Nicolucci, Nicolo “Nick” Rizzuto, Gerlando Sciascia .
Roberts, Bartholomew “Black Bart”: Eye for Talent – The Welsh pirate hit hard at the hamlet of Trepassy on the southern shore of Newfoundland in 1720, looting the community of provisions, then torching it.
Despite his hostility, there were many sailors in Newfoundland who welcomed him, and who warmed to his call of “Lads, who’ll come with me and be a free man?” For pirates like Black Bart, captain of the Royal Rover , Newfoundland offered both a convenient stopover point and a deep talent pool for recruiting crewmen. Sailors knew they could make their fortunes with him, as he was extremely accurate in navigation, and prowled from West Africa to Brazil, from the Spanish Main of the Caribbean to Newfoundland’s fishing grounds.
Much is known about life on his ships through articles recorded by Captain Charles Johnson, who noted that he liked democracy (one sailor, one vote) and health insurance ($800 for arms or legs lost in service), and was a patron of the arts of a sort (fiddlers got Sundays off). Roberts cut a dashing figure in his white plumed hats and tailored clothes, flaming red-damask waistcoats and breeches. His pistols hung from silk sashes and, about his neck, he sported a conspicuous gold chain on which hung a diamond-inlaid gold cross. While his crews drank heavily, he was a teetotaller, who discouraged profanity and observed the Sabbath with regular services. His crews were also expected to say nightly prayers. Robbery of a crewmate meant a sailor’s nose and ears would be split and he would be put ashore. Defrauding the crew of any money at all also meant a sailor would be put ashore. Sailors on the Royal Rover who persisted in swearing could expect a whipping.
He would not allow his crew to bring women or young boys aboard, feeling that this would create jealousy and thus disunity amongst his crew. However, the Royal Rover’s mate was John Walden, twenty-two, who shared Roberts’s bed, and was known by the rest of the crew as “Miss Nanny,” slang at the time for a gay man.
Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts
Bart’s motto was “A merry life and a short one,” but he made it to about age forty, which was considerable longevity for a pirate of the time. Most were in their twenties. He died onboard ship in December 1721, when his Royal Fortune was caught off guard by the British navy off the Guinea coast. His mate, Walden, honoured his last wishes by throwing his body overboard, so that it would not be publicly hanged in a gibbet onshore, as was the custom with slain pirates. Walden lost a leg in the battle, but survived to be hanged onshore. The British navy captain who won the battle, Chaloner Ogle, looted the Royal Fortune of gold, then turned the rest of her cargo over to British authorities. He was knighted for his sea victory and later promoted to the rank of admiral.
See also: Charles Bellamy, Henry Cobham, Cupids, Peter Easton, High Island, Bill Johnston, Edward Jordan, Captain Kidd, Mogul Mackenzie, Henry Mainwaring, Sheila Na Geira, Samuel Nelson, Oak Island, John Phillips, Gilbert Pike, John Williams .
Rock Machine Canada
Rock Machine: Drug Wars – In the mid-1990s, the Hells Angels and the Rock Machine began fighting for control of Montreal’s lucrative drug trade. For seven years, the gangs ambushed each other, set off bombs, and torched bars affiliated with the other gang. More than 160 people died, including innocent victims.
Weakened by the battle, the gang joined the larger U.S.-based Bandidos in December 2000.
See also: Bandidos, Maurice “Mom” Boucher, Cazzetta Brothers, Dark Circle, Stéphane “Godasse” Gagné, Hells Angels, Dany Kane, Nomads, Paul Porter, Red Zone .
Rondeau, Pierre: Murdered Prison Guard – On Monday September 8, 1997, the prison guard, along with fellow guard Robert Corriveau, pulled up in an empty prisoners’ van for a coffee at a Tim Hortons doughnut shop near Bordeaux Jail in Montreal.
Hells Angels hit men Paul “Fon Fon” Fontaine and Stéphane “Godasse” Gagné had been waiting in a nearby bus shelter for someone from the jail to drop by. It didn’t matter who that person was, as long as he or she was a jail guard. Rondeau was simply the next convenient target, and when Fontaine saw him, he pumped several shots from his .357 revolver into the stranger. Gagné’s semi-automatic 9 mm pistol jammed as he stood at the passenger door and, even when it did work, he was able only to wound and not kill Corriveau.
The Hells Angels followed up that attack with the murder of fellow Bordeaux guard Diane Lavigne, a mother of two. More than two thousand prison guards walked off their jobs in protest. Within two days, the province announced that guards could wear bulletproof vests and carry guns when they transported prisoners.
See also: Michel Auger, Maurice “Mom” Boucher, Stéphane “Godasse” Gagné, Diane Lavigne, Nomads .
Ross, Allan “The Weasel”: West End Gang Leader – His ties weren’t just to outlaw bikers, the Medellín cocaine cartel, the Montreal Mafia, or the Irish Mobs of Boston, although that was scary enough.
He also had a pipeline directly into the top ranks of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
That became clear the week before December 1992, when Insp. Claude Savoie, forty-nine, took out his service revolver at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa, wrapped it in his jacket sleeve to muffle the noise, pressed the barrel to his head, and squeezed the trigger. The twenty-seven-year police veteran left no note.
The suicide came just before RCMP officers were about to confront the former RCMP drug-squad chief about his links to Ross, who headed the city’s West End Gang. Savoie had headed the force’s drug squad from 1989 to 1991, and was assistant director of the force’s Criminal Intelligence Service.
Allan “The Weasel” Ross
Earlier that week, Savoie had heard he was going to be questioned by internal-affairs officers about allegations that he funnelled information through Mob lawyer Sydney Leithman to Ross. Montreal detectives investigating the 1991 murder of Leithman questioned Savoie about three meetings he had with Leithman and Ross at Leithman’s office building.
At the time, Ross was in a Florida prison after being convicted in the spring of 1992 for importing more than 22,000 pounds of cocaine and 300 tons of marijuana. He had been sentenced to three life terms, with no chance of parole.
His path to the Florida prison began in the 1960s, when he was in his twenties, and little more than an errand boy in Montreal’s loosely knit West End Gang. He rose up to become a lieutenant to the gang’s leader, Frank Peter “Dunie” Ryan, and his loyalty to Ryan was heartfelt. When Ryan was murdered on November 13, 1984, it took Ross just two weeks to track down and kill two of the men responsible for the hit.
He suspected that West End Gang member Edward Phillips also played a part in the Ryan murder. In March 1985, Phillips was about to get into his car when a hit man pumped several shots into his back, and a final shot into his skull. The gunman climbed onto the back of a motorcycle, driven by David Singer, another member of the West End Gang.
Singer moved to Florida to escape the police attention, but Ross had his doubts whether he could handle the pressure. Two West End Gang members were dispatched to silence him permanently.
Meanwhile, Ross had picked up Ryan’s network and contacts, which included sending large shipments of cocaine to Europe, for distribution by the Sicilian Mafia.
When Ross was arrested in October 1991 in Fort Lauderdale, police said he offered an agent a $200,000 bribe, which was refused.
American law enforcement officials were troubled that Ross seemed to have a pipeline to police intelligence, including who was under investigation and the locations of investigating officers.
At the end of his drug-trafficking trial, Ross sucked on a candy as he heard himself sentenced to life imprisonment and a $10-million fine.
Next, he was put on trial for the Singer murder and conspiracy to traffic in cocaine. One government witness said Ross agreed to pay members of the Hells Angels $13,000 if they killed John Quitoni, a corrupt former New Jersey detective and Ross associate, who was now the prosecution’s star witness.
He was acquitted of first-degree murder, sparing him the electric chair. However, he had two thirty-year-terms tacked on to the three life terms he was already serving.
See also: Sydney Leithman, Gerald Matticks, Frank Peter “Dunie” Ryan, West End Gang .
Russo, Louise: Wrong Place, Wrong Time – On April 21, 2004, Louise Russo, then a forty-five-year-old Bell Canada clerical worker, was standing at the counter of a California Sandwiches shop in North York, Ontario, while her fifteen-year-old daughter, Krista, waited in the car. Russo had been at a school board meeting advocating for special needs students and Krista was marching with the Air Cadets, and this was their first chance for supper. Russo had only been inside for thirty-four seconds when a van pulled into the parking lot and two passengers, Hells Angel Paris Christoforou and Mob rounder Antonio “Jelly” Borrelli, opened fire on the shop with a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun.
Their target was Michele Modica, a Sicilian Mafia member with an unpaid online gambling debt, who was also in the sandwich shop. They missed him, but a bullet fragment tore into Russo’s spine, paralyzing her from the waist down.
The RCMP -led Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit was able to crack the case with wiretaps and recordings made by mobster Raffaele Delle Donne, who was motivated to become a police agent after almost being shot in California Sandwiches that same night.
Aside from her own horrific injuries, the shooting left Russo with worries about how to care for her seventeen-year-old daughter, Jenna, who required around-the-clock care for a rare genetic disorder. Inadequate victims’ compensation programs brought about a novel plan to raise money for Russo’s care. Once suspects were convicted of the shooting, negotiations began between defence lawyers and the Crown about how to compensate her. Eventually, the government approved a scheme in which the underworld figures involved in the botched hit delivered $2 million in cash for Russo’s care.
Opposition Conservative MPP Bob Runciman blasted the deal, saying: “This is dirty money and this is a horrible, horrible precedent.” Meanwhile, victims’ rights advocate Priscilla de Villier praised the extraordinary attempt to raise money, saying: “It’s a red-letter day for victims.”
Online gambling kingpin Mark Peretz drove the van holding the gunmen on the night of the shooting. He received a ten-year sentence on top of a year in custody. Christoforou, who didn’t hit anyone with his bullets, was sentenced to nine years on top of a year in custody. Borrelli got ten years in prison, on top of time already served.
For their part, the Central Canada Hells Angels issued a statement immediately after the shooting saying the club “extends our heartfelt sympathy” to Russo and her family. The statement described the shooting as an “indiscriminate dreadful action” and continued that the club was “sickened by the senseless act of violence that has violated Mrs. Russo’s life.”
See also: Pietro “Peter” Paolo Scarcella .
Ryan, Frank Peter “Dunie”: West End Gang Founder – Things started rough for Dunie Ryan, and seemed to go downhill from there.
His father and namesake abandoned the family when Ryan was just three, and, by the age of sixteen, Ryan was a school dropout who regularly stole racks of garments from trucks and grabbed coats from the Montreal fur district.
By his early twenties, he had served two years in St. Vincent de Paul Penitentiary for theft with violence and, shortly after he got out, he was convicted of burglary and possession of stolen goods. The next year, 1965, he was free, but accidently killed a drunk with his Pontiac Bonneville convertible. The year 1966 saw no improvement. Ryan was convicted, along with four other Montrealers and a Boston gangster, for a bank robbery in Massachusetts.
He was paroled in December 1972 and married a beautiful redhead from the Gaspé named Evelyn Lemieux.
Ryan was now making a living robbing jewellery stores and loansharking, and exploring the narcotics business with a few friends. First he imported hashish, then he moved on to heroin and cocaine. By the late 1970s, his mostly Irish crew was called the West End Gang, and they made most of their money through hashish.
Anglophone sons of poor Irish families, the gang members used to inhabit the ramshackle streets of Pointe St. Charles and Griffintown, and were at the top level of Montreal organized crime in the 1970s, along with the Dubois brothers and the Italian Mafia.
Their strength was controlling the city’s waterfront, which allowed them to smuggle large quantities of hashish and cocaine into the city. They were content to be wholesalers, supplying outlaw bikers and street gangs, and staying out of the battles for distribution turf.
Frank Peter “Dunie” Ryan
It wasn’t long before Dunie was rumoured to be worth $20 million. Perhaps the figure was inflated, but he was clearly rich. He was also disrespectful, both to the criminal and non-criminal worlds. When told that one of his group had offended the Mafia in the United States, Ryan reportedly said, “Mafia, pafia. If there’s a war, we’ve got the IRA.”
He was considerably more sensitive about insults directed toward him. Hughie McGurnaghan, a member of his own gang, suggested that Ryan had cheated him out of drug profits. Ryan hired Hells Angels hit man Yves “Apache” Trudeau to make an example of him, and McGurnaghan was blown up while stepping into his Mercedes in Westmount.
Ryan clearly didn’t want to share his wealth with the Cotroni family or the Hells Angels, reportedly saying, “If your tap was flowing $100 bills, would you turn it off? I’ve got three hundred guys working for me. What are they gonna do?”
On November 13, 1984, Dunie was in his Montreal office at Nittolo’s Jardin Motel, in St. Jacques Street West, which he owned, when he was approached by Paul April, a French-Canadian mobster. April told Ryan that he had an attractive young woman waiting for him in one of the hotel rooms. Ryan let his guard down and followed him into the room.
Inside was Robert Lelievre, another French-Canadian gangster, who waited with a shotgun. The plan was to tape Ryan to a chair and force him to say where he kept his money. Ryan swung a chair at them and Lelievre responded with a shotgun blast.
The killers bragged about the murder for about two weeks. Then on November 25 – twelve days after Ryan’s murder – April, Lelievre, and two other men were blown up in a downtown apartment.
Ryan was forty-two when he died. He had once boasted to a girlfriend that he planned to “live fast, love hard, and die young.” Considering his philosophy, it was a wonder he lasted as long as he did.
See also: Gerald Matticks, Sydney Leithman, Allan “The Weasel” Ross, West End Gang .
Ryan, Norman “Red”: Captured in Literature – Red Ryan always had a hard time keeping his hands off of other people’s things. He began his criminal career in 1907 at age twelve by stealing bicycles, and a year later, he found himself in reform school for stealing chickens. By 1914, Ryan was on his second prison term at Kingston Penitentiary when he was released to become a soldier. Wartime didn’t change his stealing ways, and he spent much of his time overseas in lockup for robbing stores.
So it was really no great surprise to those who knew him when, in 1923, Ryan was in prison serving twenty-five years for a string of bank robberies in Hamilton. He impaled a jailor with a pitchfork when he and other inmates broke out of prison, and a young writer for the Toronto Daily Star was sent out to cover the story. The reporter, Ernest Hemingway, had been stripped of his byline because editors feared he was getting too big for his britches and considered himself too much of a writer.
The story offered a foreshadowing of what would become Hemingway’s lean vivid prose, as well as introducing readers to Ryan, and includes this passage:
It was at ten o’clock yesterday morning that a great cloud of thick, yellow-white smoke began to pour from the barn just inside the east wall of the penitentiary. It was the thick dense smoke of a burning straw stack and as it rose it cut off the view of the guard standing with his rifle in the watchtower overlooking the burning barn.
Five men, in the grey prison clothes, ran out of the barn toward the twenty-foot, steep wall. One of them carried a long two-by-four in which spikes had been driven at intervals. The fat man carrying the long scantling leaned it against the wall and a slim kid, his prison cap pulled down over his eyes, swarmed up it to the top of the wall. He carried a length of rope, which he fastened to the end of the scantling. He made the rope fast and then slid down the other side of the wall.
A big husky with a heavy undershot jaw followed him over. On his heels came a little runt who scrambled up the scantling like a monkey. He was followed by a thick-set, ham-faced man who scrambled awkwardly over the wall.
Standing at the foot of the scantling, while they all went up was a thick, freckle-faced man whose prison cap could not hide his flaming head. It was “Red” Ryan.
Ryan and his accomplices were finally caught in Minneapolis. Not surprisingly, they had been robbing banks there. If not for his charm and acting abilities, the story would have ended with Ryan in Kingston Penitentiary serving out a life term for bank robbery. However, Red impressed a Catholic prison chaplain, and invented what he called a pick-proof lock for post-office mail bags.
Reporters were drawn to him, and soon the Toronto Daily Star was hailing him as a poster boy for prison reform. He told reporters he was using his stash of hot money to help his sister, dying of tuberculosis. In 1929, a story headlined, “ FAMOUS BANDIT PROVES TENDER NURSE IN PRISON ” described Red working in the prison hospital, sweeping floors, feeding prisoners, taking their temperatures, and even scrubbing them. When not helping prisoners, he was an altar boy, and soon the prison chaplain was joining the Daily Star in campaigning for his release.
On July 23, 1934, Prime Minister R.B. Bennett showed up for a surprise inspection of the Kingston Penitentiary, and he made a point of spending forty-five minutes in private with Ryan. Bennett was clearly impressed, stating, “I was greatly impressed by what he said to me … I can only say that his demeanour, his clothes, his sleeping cot and surroundings were calculated to stimulate him to renewed efforts for usefulness. The minister charged with responsibility in such matters is at the moment absent. When he returns I will speak to him about this matter.”
The prime minister pushed for his release, and within the year, Ryan was free. The Toronto Daily Star loved the story. Hemingway was long gone by now, and so they hired Ryan himself to write stories about being the author of his own misfortune. When not scribbling for the newspaper, Ryan made a living as a greeter for a Toronto hotel and car dealership.
That should have been the happy ending to the story, but one night early in 1935, a Sarnia police officer was shot dead trying to stop two armed men from robbing a crowded liquor store. The officer managed several shots, and hit both robbers. When the shooting stopped, near the bodies of the police officer and a petty criminal lay Red Ryan, celebrity do-gooder by day and killer and their by night.
The prison chaplain who advocated his release went into a deep depression and lived the rest of his life in a seminary, while Daily Star reporter Athol Gow, who had written passionately that Ryan was reformed, burst into tears when he heard the news. Then he went and got drunk. Two years after his death, in 1937, Ryan appeared in print again, this time as the fictionalized character Kip Caley in Morley Callaghan’s novel More Joy in Heaven .
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