Peter Scarcella, the man accused of orchestrating the shooting that left Louise Russo paralyzed, is alleged to be a high-level organized crime figure who was trying to defend his turf against a recently arrived Italian mobster.
Mr. Scarcella is connected to Vito Rizutto, the alleged kingpin of the Montreal Mafia who is known as the Teflon Don, sources told The Globe and Mail. Mr. Scarcella controls much of the illicit gambling in the Toronto region and was worried his business was being threatened at the time of the Russo shooting, they allege.
Ms. Russo's life was forever altered when a stray bullet hit her as she waited in line at a late-night sandwich shop in North York on April 24, 2003. Doctors have told her she will never walk again.
On Thursday, police announced the arrest of four men including Mr. Scarcella and a full-patch member of the Hells Angels. They are charged with conspiracy to commit murder and other offences.
Police believe it was a paid hit that went disastrously awry.
Several months before the shooting, a man called Michele Modica arrived in Canada. He was wanted in Italy on charges of belonging to the Mafia, an offence under Italian law. He is alleged to be an important member of the Sicilian Mafia based outside Palermo.
Mr. Modica and a Sicilian man whose identity is not known were avoiding Italian authorities by hiding out in Vaughan, Ont.
"They used to live at the Marriott Hotel," one source familiar with the investigation said.
"And they were trying to recruit local people to compete with the Scarcella organization in activities such as gambling."
While he was there, Mr. Modica was also visited by a high-ranking figure from the New York Mafia involved in the narcotics trade.
Mr. Scarcella, the source said, did not react well to the incursion.
"[Mr. Modica]was trying to organize a network in Toronto and he challenged Scarcella, or just invaded his territory. When you have a territory, you must be visible. Everybody has to know that you're in charge of that territory and you're the person everybody has to deal with if they want to run gaming activities."
The sudden appearance of well-connected Sicilian mobsters in Mr. Scarcella's back yard signalled the possibility of a turf war, but that should have been the last thing Mr. Scarcella wanted, the source said.
"In a situation like that, you're trying to avoid a final confrontation. You don't want to kill someone . . . and the best way to do that is to let people know that you're aware of them and you're in charge."
Mr. Scarcella has a reputation for being an intelligent operator. Despite his years of association with known criminals, he has never before faced serious charges. But in this case, he's landed in hot water, the source said.
"He made a complete mess. He overreacted, maybe because he was so furious that someone would challenge him."
Mr. Scarcella, 54, was born in Sicily and came to Canada with his parents, two brothers and three sisters, another source said.
In the early 1970s, he worked at a parking lot in downtown Toronto where one of Paul Volpe's brothers used to park his car. That was how he established a connection to Mr. Volpe, described by James Dubro, author of several books on organized crime in Toronto, as the last true don of the Toronto mob.
According to a source, Mr. Scarcella rose to a position of trust in Mr. Volpe's organization. He became his personal driver, and as Mr. Volpe moved to further insulate himself from his operations, Mr. Scarcella acted as his go-between with their street-level associates.
In 1980, Mr. Scarcella was charged in connection with a commissions scam at a disposal company and was found guilty of writing phony invoices.
At the same time, major shifts were occurring in the world of organized crime. The Buffalo Mafia, which had traditionally controlled organized crime in Rochester, Toronto and Hamilton, was weakened by the death of its leader. Mr. Volpe took the opportunity to distance himself from Buffalo, as did leaders in the other cities.
In an attempt to regain control of the lucrative Toronto market, the Buffalo Mafia made an arrangement with the Commisso family of Toronto to kill Mr. Volpe and Mr. Scarcella.
The Commissos hired Cecil Kirby of the Satan's Choice motorcycle gang to carry out the hit. But the plot was foiled when Mr. Kirby turned informant for the RCMP.
Mr. Scarcella continued to be an integral part of Mr. Volpe's organization, having a hand running the gambling and loan-sharking operations that were crucial to their bottom line while also serving as a high-ranking official in a construction union.
A source who has studied organized crime said Mr. Scarcella worked with Mr. Volpe on a scheme whereby they would be paid kickbacks from both the union and the developers for negotiating construction contracts.
In 1983, Mr. Volpe's rivals finally turned on him. He was found dead in the trunk of his wife's BMW as it sat in an airport parking lot. His slaying remains unsolved.
Mr. Scarcella was one of the last people to see Mr. Volpe alive.
After Mr. Volpe's death, Mr. Scarcella remained an important figure. He forged closer ties with the Montreal Mafia, eventually controlled by Mr. Rizutto, also a Sicilian, whose links are with the Bonnano crime family in New York. Before that, most high-ranking organized crime figures in Canada were from Calabria, Italy, a source said.
Mr. Scarcella continued to run the operation in a style similar to Mr. Volpe's, a source said.
Over the years, several of his close associates, including Enio Mora, Eddie Melo and John Papalia have been killed, but Mr. Scarcella has survived and earned a reasonable living.
A source said he has a wife and two children and they lived in a comfortable, large home near Weston and Rutherford Roads.
He runs his operation in a hands-on manner, sitting in local social clubs, sipping cappuccinos and going for walks with his many business associates.
He is described as having the public image of being a nice man, very soft spoken and gentle, but who runs his organization with the necessary ruthlessness.
"It's going to be interesting to see what happens as a result of this [shooting]incident. It's certainly going to influence his perception among his peer group, what with the shoddy way it was handled. I don't think it reflects well on him at all," a source said.
Mr. Modica and his associate left Canada six months ago and were picked up by Italian authorities. But that doesn't mean this feud is over, the source said.
"There's no border with these criminals," he said.
For the defence
The four men charged in connection with the shooting that left Louise Russo paralyzed have assembled a Toronto version of a defence counsel dream team.
It features veteran Toronto defence lawyer John Rosen, whose most high-profile client was Paul Bernardo; James Lockyer, best known for his work on behalf of the wrongfully convicted; and Joseph Bloomenfeld, whose clients have included Eddie Melo, a Toronto boxer and enforcer who was killed in 2001, as well as former resaurateur Harold Arviv.
Rounding out the team is Azam Murji, the former lawyer for Harjit Singh, the illegal immigrant who managed to stay in the country for 13 years and whose allegations against Judy Sgro cost her the job as immigration minister.