Ties between well-known construction entrepreneurs and the highest figures in the Italian Mafia have been laid out before Quebec’s corruption inquiry, where, after months of anticipation, the witnesses are starting to name names.
Construction bosses were seen bringing cash either to the acting leader of the Rizzuto family – Nicolo Rizzuto Sr., who was murdered in 2010 – or to his consigliere, who disappeared two years ago, the inquiry heard Tuesday.
These transfers were made at a notorious Montreal Mafia hangout while authorities quietly observed during a police surveillance operation several years ago, an RCMP officer testified.
RCMP Corporal Vinicio Sebastiano made only a brief reference to monetary transfers during Tuesday’s testimony and did not point the finger at any specific company bosses. But he did name a number of construction figures seen frequenting the hangout.
Rattling off the names of a half-dozen construction bosses in the Montreal area, he said they were often recorded showing up at the now-closed Cosenza Social Club, which was patronized by numerous Mob types and not popular with the general public.
Under questioning, Cpl. Sebastiano told the Charbonneau Commission that the visits were common while police taped and filmed during a massive Mafia operation several years ago.
Reading through an extremely detailed RCMP document of who came and went from the Rizzuto family hangout, Cpl. Sebastiano, who worked on the anti-Mafia operation, said it was clear the construction bosses weren’t there by accident.
Francesco Catania, owner of Catcan Inc., was seen at the club 19 times. Catania’s son, Paolo, was arrested in May by Quebec provincial police over a land deal. Another businessman, Nicola Milioto, who runs Mivela Construction Inc., was listed as having visited the club 236 times over two years.
Cosenza wasn’t your average neighbourhood coffee shop. The three-room establishment was located in an east-end Montreal strip mall and served as a drop-off point for money destined for the Mafia chieftains.
“It was open to the public, but regular folks didn’t go there,” Cpl. Sebastiano said. Police documented 192 “transactions,” with money being divided among heads of the Rizzuto clan.
The Quebec inquiry is looking into criminal corruption in the construction industry and its ties to organized crime and political parties.
Police did little with the information.
In fact, they essentially ignored it.
Cpl. Sebastiano said police were far more interested in evidence of drug crimes than in criminal ties to the construction industry.
“If it was about construction and there was no pertinence to the objectives of the investigation, it wouldn’t be listened to fully,” he said.
In the leadup to the inquiry, the RCMP battled inquiry lawyers in court to avoid having to share details from its landmark Operation Colisee, arguing that divulging them could compromise police work.
The Mounties lost their case – and the details began gushing forth Tuesday.
Cpl. Sebastiano told the commission that those entrepreneurs’ visits were classified as “non-pertinent” because they were not central to the RCMP’s anti-Mafia investigation, dubbed Colisee.
The Mounties intercepted 64,000 conversations at the club and shot more than 35,000 hours of video over four years. A total of 1,340 charges were laid as part of the vast probe, and 90 people were arrested in 2006.
While the tapes kept rolling when construction bosses were around, officers weren’t listening in on the discussions and didn’t dig deeper.
Under questioning, Cpl. Sebastiano said he’d never heard conversations about the illegal financing of political parties – a key aspect of the ongoing inquiry.
The Colisee operation, the biggest anti-Mafia sweep in Canadian history, foreshadowed the decline of the once-dominant Rizzuto family. In testimony earlier Tuesday, an RCMP analyst cited the 2006 arrests as a turning point.
A lawyer for the commission, Denis Gallant, said the inquiry will see Wednesday some of the video surveillance material collected during Colisee.
After hearing witnesses discuss the Mafia in Italy, Ontario and the United States, the inquiry finally turned its attention to its own backyard Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, an RCMP analyst who took the stand detailed the bloody rise of the Rizzutos in the late 1970s and early 80s.
Linda Fequiere said Vito Rizzuto was able to forge alliances and act as a peacemaker to solidify the clan’s power base in Montreal.
Those alliances included Calabrian groups previously tied to the clan that was violently deposed by the Rizzutos, the Violi family. She said he also brokered arrangements with other groups like criminal biker gangs and the Irish Mob.
“Vito Rizzuto worked as a mediator. He was someone who could find solutions when there were problems among different groups,” Ms. Fequiere said.
But the family fortunes changed.
Its troubles accelerated following Rizzuto’s extradition to the United States, where he is serving a jail sentence for a 30-year-old killing, and after Colisee. Numerous family members wound up dead or in prison.
The AFP newsire service reported on Tuesday that Vito Rizzuto is to be released from prison in the United States on Oct. 6. The report said is was not clear how soon he might be allowed to return to Canada.
Without naming any names, Ms. Fequiere said a faction of the Calabrian Mafia – which held power in Quebec for three decades before the rise of the Rizzutos – has taken over again.
Neither of the two RCMP officers on the stand would go into details about exactly who is in charge, saying investigations could be compromised.
“I’m not saying the Sicilian faction has completely disappeared – but there is a return of the Calabrian faction that happened after the arrest and extradition of Vito Rizzuto,” Ms. Fequiere said.
The Mafia in Montreal has re-organized and adapted, Cpl. Sebastiano said. He said the investigative techniques that worked wonders in Colisee likely couldn’t be duplicated.
Ms. Fequiere said investigations have shown that the Mafia in Montreal focuses on a few traditional staples: the drug trade, sports betting and illegal gambling, extortion and money laundering as its principal illegitimate money-makers.
It is also involved in numerous legal industries such as restaurants, construction companies and private security, she said. Vito Rizzuto’s brother-in-law and the family consigliere owned a construction company, Ms. Fequiere noted.
Because of the focus on Quebec’s bloody biker war during the 1990s, there was a void in Mafia-related intelligence that needed to be filled, Cpl. Sebastiano said of the anti-Mafia probe, which started in 2001.