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It was a Quebec-based crime family with a transnational reach, one that infiltrated Montreal's Pierre Trudeau International Airport, bribing a federal customs agent and luring Air Canada and food-service employees into its cocaine smuggling plots.

Another customs agent was also bribed in an operation to bring cocaine by train from the United States. Other trafficking schemes brought cocaine from countries such as Colombia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti or Venezuela.

And another cell engaged in illegal online bookmaking in the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve, south of Montreal.

Those allegations are outlined among more than 1,000 criminal counts filed yesterday against 90 people the police identified as associates and underlings of Vito Rizzuto, the man court documents describe as the godfather of the Montreal Mafia.

Ending a four-year investigation by several police forces, 700 officers fanned out across Quebec, as well as Halifax and Toronto yesterday, arresting more than 70 people and seizing homes and bank accounts.

The RCMP said police have struck at the heart of one of the top criminal syndicates in Canada.

While the lion's share of members came from the Italian-based underworld, the criminal enterprise extended into the outlaw biker world as well as aboriginal communities, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Raf Souccar said in an interview.

The organization managed to co-opt federal employees and airport staff because it needed "facilitators" to help import drugs through different ports of entry. "You corrupt with money," he said.

The crackdown came as the Montreal Mafia is facing a leadership vacuum, with Mr. Rizzuto in detention in New York, awaiting trial on racketeering charges.

Among those arrested yesterday was Nicolo (Nick) Rizzuto, his 82-year-old father, and Paolo Renda, 67, his brother-in-law.

Wearing a fedora and dress shirt, the elder Mr. Rizzuto was led in flex-cuffs away from his home on Antoine Berthelet, the north-end street where the Rizzutos and the Rendas own luxury homes.

Other people portrayed in past court files as close associates of Vito Rizzuto were also arrested, such as Francesco Arcadi, 53, and Rocco Sollecito, 58.

About $3-million was also seized as proceeds of crime.

Police say the criminal organization had succeeded in infiltrating Montreal's airport and co-opting a dozen airport employees as well as a federal customs agent.

An Air Canada spokesman said a number of employees in Montreal -- up to five, according to one report -- had been suspended after they came under police investigation.

A customs officer, who worked in the border agency's regional headquarters in Montreal, was "corrupted" by the organization to help import cocaine into Canada through shipping containers, the RCMP said.

Police said the drugs were moved through a U.S. port and were to be smuggled into Canada by train. Officers intercepted the delivery, seizing 300 kilograms of cocaine last year, which they said was the first part of a 1.3-tonne consignment.

Police also said they dismantled operations of a cannabis route toward the United States via the Akwesasne Mohawk Reserve, which straddles the Canada-U.S. border.

While it has been alleged in past court cases that the mob has insiders within the Port of Montreal, it is the first time the spotlight has been put on the alleged corruption of agents at Pierre Trudeau Airport.

An official with the Canadian Border Services Agency said it co-operated fully with police once the allegations came to light. "We can assure the public we take this very seriously," said Amélie Morin, a spokeswoman for the agency. "It's always unfortunate for an organization. But we have over 7,000 officers who perform their duties with professionalism."

Experts say the arrests hit the heart of the Sicilian Mafia in Canada, striking at the figures who were emerging to fill the gap left by Vito Rizzuto's extradition to the United States.

"This is a significant blow," said Toronto author Antonio Nicaso, an expert on organized crime. "They've practically arrested all the people that were leading the organization after the extradition of Vito Rizzuto . . .. The top people that were on the police radar were all arrested."

He described Nicolo Rizzuto as "one of the last untouchables" in the criminal organization. "Nobody could have expected to take down Nicolo Rizzuto at the age of 82."

The struggle for control of cocaine importation through Montreal is crucial because the city is the continental "port of entry" for cocaine. "By controlling Montreal, you control the cocaine market in all of North America," Mr. Nicaso said.

Police said investigators used telephone wiretaps, electronic surveillance and "other methods" to track the organization methodically for four years.

"We were able to observe the acts of the groups' members and obtain evidence in places where the organization felt safe," said RCMP Superintendent Richard Guay, who heads the force's criminal operations in Quebec.


Who's who

Nicolo (Nick) Rizzuto, 82

The patriarch of the Rizzuto family came to Canada in 1954 from the small Sicilian town of Cattolica Eroclea.

By 1975, he was identified in a public inquiry as a lieutenant of the Cotronis, the family of Calabrian origin that controlled Montreal's Mafia.

During the power struggle for control of the Montreal Mafia in the late 1970s, he was forced into exile in Venezuela, police wiretaps show. The 1978 assassination of the leading mafioso Paolo Violi enabled him to return, signalling the rise of mobsters of Sicilian origin affiliated with the Rizzutos over their Calabrian rivals.

Mr. Rizzuto served five years in jail in Venezuela for cocaine possession in 1998.

Although his son Vito is described in court filings as the current godfather of the Montreal Mafia, other judicial documents indicate that he defers to his father.

Paolo Renda, 67

Another native of Cattolica Eroclea, he is the son-in-law of the elder Mr. Rizzuto. President of Renda Construction Inc., he lives on the same north-end stretch of luxury homes as the two Rizzutos.

Mr. Renda has a criminal record for arson, in the same incident that marked Vito Rizzuto's last criminal conviction, for setting fire to Mr. Renda's barber shop in 1972 for insurance purposes.

Francesco Arcadi, 53

Local news reports described him as a potential successor to the exiled Vito Rizzuto. He has a record for running a gambling house. He has often been seen by police at mob funerals and weddings in the company of the younger Mr. Rizzuto. In 2001, police foiled an assassination plot by a construction entrepreneur who targeted the two because he was owed $2-million.

Rocco Sollecito, 58

Another man often seen in the company of Vito Rizzuto, Mr. Sollecito was named in an Ontario civil suit as a middleman in a scheme by Vito Rizzuto to invest $1.5-million in undeclared revenue in a junior Alberta mining company.

Investors claimed that stockbroker Arthur Sherman improperly sold for his own use their shares in the mining company. The judge ruled instead that the investors were just a front for Mr. Rizzuto.

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