A mob boss once called the Man of Steel has met his downfall in a hail of lead.
Salvatore (Sal the Ironworker) Montagna, who once ruled a major New York crime family and appeared to be trying to seize control of Montreal, died Thursday in what one expert described as an “amateurish” hit in a Montreal suburb.
Mr. Montagna, one of the youngest men to rule over New York’s Bonanno clan, was found shot to death in the shallows of L’Assomption River, just off the northeastern tip of Montreal. Several area residents called 911 after hearing sounds they said resembled a crash and explosion. Some said it was broken glass and gunfire.
It appears Mr. Montagna fled on foot into the river before collapsing from gunshot wounds. Within minutes, police officers dragged him from the water and tried to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead in hospital.
“This is so sloppy, but the way Montreal is right now, it’s the amateurs who seem to hold the stage,” said Lee Lamothe, co-author of The Sixth Family, a book about Montreal’s mob scene.
Mr. Montagna was born in Montreal in 1971 but was not considered a player in Canada until recently. Instead he rose through the ranks of the Bonanno crime family in New York, where he moved as a teenager and where he founded the small steel company that would give him his nickname.
In 2009, U.S. federal authorities deported Mr. Montagna to Montreal after it emerged he had become the acting boss of the Bonanno clan. A conviction in 2003 for contempt of court made it a straightforward matter for authorities to deport him.
By the time he arrived in Canada in 2009, the grip of the Sicilian Rizzuto clan on Montreal was already slipping, but Mr. Montagna’s arrival appeared to accelerate matters. Over the next two years, most of the top-ranking men of the Rizzuto clan who were not already dead or in jail would be killed or wounded. (Several recent mob-shooting targets have survived.)
A stunning coup de grâce took place when family patriarch Nicolo Rizzuto was gunned down in his own home a year ago. His son, Vito Rizzuto, was already in jail in the United States. His grandson, Nick Rizzuto, had been murdered about a year earlier.
In their most recent edition of the book Mafia Inc., authors André Cédilot and André Noël describe how Mr. Montagna launched his play to run Montreal over the past 24 months with Ontario-based backers of Calabrian origin.
He made frequent pilgrimages to Hamilton and Toronto and gained favour with the operators of the Montreal cafes that are fronts for illegal activity before moving to gain control of the city.
“No longer reluctant to overtly wield his power, [Montagna]sought out Nicolo Rizzuto and tried to reason with him, telling the patriarch that his reign was over. Old Nick coldly rebuffed Montagna,” the authors wrote. Old Nick was dead within months, and now Mr. Montagna is as well.
“This looks like a new internal fight for power; Montagna was one of the key men in this realignment,” Mr. Cédilot said in an interview. “Perhaps they lack consensus and perhaps he became too big for the taste of the others.”
Before any realignment is complete, Mr. Cédilot said all eyes are looking south, where Vito Rizzuto will be released from prison next year. “We don’t know if he will seek peace or seek power. It’s a key question,” Mr. Cédilot said.
Mr. Montagna was far less flamboyant than many of the mob bosses who have gained notoriety in Canada and the United States. He was known in New York but managed to escape the major criminal cases that were the downfall of many a mobster and exposed intricate ties among them.
In 2002, Mr. Montagna was arrested on charges of illegal gambling and loan sharking. It’s not clear what happened with those charges, but about a year later he pleaded guilty to contempt of court for failing to answer questions before a grand jury.
In 2006, federal authorities in New York, backed by wiretaps, revealed Mr. Montagna was the new Bonanno boss. Many experts said the fact that a 36-year-old had become boss was a sign desperation. Senior members of the Bonanno family were said to have valued Mr. Montagna’s origins. He had spent much of his childhood in Castellammare del Golfo, the small Sicilian birthplace of many key mobsters. They believed he would put loyalty above all else.