Raffaele Delle Donne is surprisingly relaxed, considering the mob and the Hells Angels want to kill him.
He's sitting at a small table in a motel room with the blinds pulled down, sipping black coffee. A stocky man wearing a baseball cap, polo shirt and designer jeans, he might be a nightclub DJ -- not a gangster, or a police agent. Both of which he was.
In April of 2004, Mr. Delle Donne was a willing participant in an infamous botched mob hit: a Toronto restaurant shooting that paralyzed innocent bystander Louise Russo.
The bullets that shattered Mrs. Russo's life narrowly missed Mr. Delle Donne. That night he turned to police and, in an undercover operation that stretched over a year, betrayed four members of Toronto's most fearsome gangs to win justice for their victim. "I had to make them pay," he says.
He refused to accept government money, or protection, in return.
He has agreed to meet a Globe and Mail reporter at this remote Canadian location, on a sunny morning in early October, after an exchange of messages through an intermediary. Now, as he sits in the shadows of Room 112, his criminal past comes rushing out: most of it street hustles, rather than organized crime. It wasn't until he bought a new house in the wrong neighbourhood -- a quiet street in the predominantly Italian suburb of Woodbridge, where a mob boss happened to live around the corner-- that he was finally drawn into the underworld he had tried to rise above.
"Then the trouble started," he says. "You know, once you get in, you can't get out."
But Mr. Delle Donne did escape, guided by a personal code of ethics that nobody -- not even the mob -- predicted.
He is running for his life now, and has not seen his wife and two sons for more than a year. He shuns his friends and siblings for fear of leading them into crossfire, and so he leads a life of isolation, a 36-year-old man with survival on his mind.
He has surfaced now, he says, for one reason: To tell his family, and the families of the gangsters he betrayed, why he ruined their lives in order to help a stranger.
"I'm a bad person, okay. That's not going to change now because of what I did," he says. "I just did the right thing at the right moment. And that's all I want people to know: Why I did it."
"I don't want no medal for it. I don't want no awards. And I don't want people to think I'm a hero, because heroes are only a few people in this world, and one of them is that lady in the wheelchair."
As a boy, Raffaele Delle Donne raced his moped through the narrow streets of Naples, hawking fake $2 Gucci belts for 25 times their worth in order to buy fuel. Even as a child, shootings and beatings seemed normal sights, he says, in a city where "basically, the government and the cops work for the mob."
In 1980, the year he turned 12, a massive earthquake killed more than 2,500 people and flattened 30,000 homes, including the seventh-floor apartment where he lived with his parents and four siblings. In the winter of 1981, the family landed in Toronto.
In Grade 8, after his parents split, the boy quit school to work in a glass factory. By his late teens, he was making $10,000 every couple of weeks selling fake Armani suits from the trunk of his car. "It's a survival thing. You hustle. Instead of selling drugs, you sell clothes, and you don't get caught," he says.
At the age of 21, he married an Italian-Canadian girl and soon they had two sons. His wife, a primary-school teacher, hated his criminal income. "So I got a job at the post office," he says, and delivered mail in the St. Clair Avenue West area, Toronto's Corso Italia neighbourhood, for 10 years.
But the straight life was an uncomfortable fit. And by the time he was 28, Mr. Delle Donne was snorting an ounce of cocaine every couple of days -- a habit that lasted eight months, but took even longer in rehab to kick.
The Italian community, Mr. Delle Donne says, labelled him a "junkie." He was so angry at the dealer who supplied him that he eventually went to Toronto police and turned informant in order to bring him down. "He got two years -- it was nothing," he says.
Looking for a fresh start, his wife found a newly built, two-storey brick house in Woodbridge. "We're moving up from the city to the suburbs. Supposedly no trouble around," he says. "Little did I know that I move onto the street where the sister of the gangster is there. Behind my house there's a hit man."
Woodbridge, he says, has another name: Little Naples. He kept his distance for two years, refusing dinner invitations from the major mob players. "You're a hustler. You don't live by the laws, so they're going to recruit you. They're going to make it easier to say yes," he says.
In 2002, he cracked, for the same reason so many others do: money.
A mob-affiliated fraudster named Michael Marrese, who had a reputation as the king of mortgage frauds, took Mr. Delle Donne under his wing. Mr. Marrese, who was recently released from jail after serving time for a fraud conviction, used him as a chauffeur, errand boy and scout for potential properties. Helping on his first fraud, he made $2,000, and $50,000 on the second.
(Court documents from March of 2006 say Mr. Marrese "has been, and continues to be involved in fraudulent land and mortgage transactions.")
"It was easy," Mr. Delle Donne says of their work. "I figured we were just doing deals. Paperwork. Nobody gets hurt."
In January of 2004, a turf war erupted in Woodbridge, forcing members of the "family," as Mr. Delle Donne calls it, to divide their loyalties.
In one camp was Peter Scarcella, the blue-eyed father of three who police say is one of Toronto's top mob figures.
Undermining him was Michele Modica, now 51, a Sicilian mobster with a long history of drug-running convictions, who had slithered into Canada illegally a year before.
Mr. Delle Donne's boss, Mr. Marrese, sided with the newcomer.
Hoping to avoid the conflict, Mr. Delle Donne spent a few weeks in Montreal. But soon after returning to Woodbridge, Antonio Borrelli, a childhood friend, asked to meet at a Coffee Time in north Toronto. As they were speaking, a third man sat down at the table: Mr. Borrelli's uncle, Peter Scarcella.
He had a question for Mr. Delle Donne: Will you spy on Mr. Marrese and Mr. Modica?
"He says that you're the only person that's going to help. They trust you. And you're going to bring them out for us," Mr. Delle Donne recalls.
"I didn't like that idea, and I told him, I don't like betraying my friends, because you're going to think one day that I'm going to back-stab you."
"That's when he says: 'Think about your family.' "
Mr. Delle Donne understood. "So I became the inside man. Snitching. Double-playing. Risking my life already," he says.
It lasted two months, until Mr. Modica enraged yet another gang by cheating a couple of Hells Angels out of a $130,000 gambling debt.
Mr. Modica went into hiding, fearing for his life. But the bikers, who were friendly with Mr. Scarcella, knew just the man to flush him out.
At 10 o'clock on the night of April 21, 2004, Mr. Delle Donne pulled open the glass door of California Sandwiches, a North York restaurant, and walked toward the man he'd set up for death.
You're late, Mr. Modica said. Also at the table were Mr. Marrese and two associates.
Outside, hiding in a blue minivan in the dark parking lot, packing four handguns and an automatic rifle, were Mr. Borrelli and bikers Mark Peretz, 36, and Paris Christoforou, 32. Mr. Delle Donne had led them there after setting up a meeting with Mr. Modica.
The plan was for the trio to wait for Mr. Modica to leave in his Ford Escape, trail him to a nearby industrial area, and blast him. At least, Mr. Delle Donne thought so. "I didn't even walk in two minutes and they started shooting," he says.
(Police say the gangsters mistook four Italian men smoking outside the restaurant for Mr. Modica and his three associates.)
With the van cruising slowly past the restaurant, Mr. Borrelli, seated in the back, unleashed a spray of bullets in a wide arc, terrorizing nine people trapped inside.
". . . I saw the lady jump up and then just fall on her face. I thought she was dead," Mr. Delle Donne recalls.
She was Louise Russo, a 45-year-old mother of three, who had been ordering a veal sandwich for her daughter, Krista, 15, who was waiting outside in the car.
Mr. Delle Donne took cover in a nearby storage closet. When the gun blasts stopped he came out, then rushed to Mrs. Russo's side.
"She was saying 'my daughter, my daughter' . . . she was worrying about her daughter," he says. "She kept telling me, I can't move my legs. As soon as she said that, I knew her legs were gone."
Mr. Delle Donne seethed. In his mind, his accomplices had fired without regard for him -- and now this. "No innocent people were supposed to get hurt. That was not supposed to happen," he says.
He vowed revenge. "I wanted to go whack the guy who did it," he says. But he's not a killer, he says.
Before leaving the restaurant, Mr. Delle Donne grabbed a notebook from a police officer. He scribbled down his name, and the name of the police detective who was his handler when he informed on the drug dealer.
"Tell him to call me," he said, then left the scene.
Mr. Delle Donne was a dream for the Toronto police and RCMP officers assigned to Project OTIS: the Russo shooting investigation.
He led them to bullet casings, delivered a gunpowder-laced tracksuit worn by one of the shooters, and took careful notes after every late-night telephone call.
He wore a body pack at all times, goading the gangsters to talk about the shooting at every opportunity. "I was good at it," he says.
Sometimes, he would hold up newspaper articles about Mrs. Russo's months of painful recovery. "Look at what you did!" he would say. For Mr. Borrelli, it worked like a charm. He cried.
To gain Mr. Scarcella's trust, Mr. Delle Donne became one of his debt collectors, using every envelope stuffed with loan payments as an opportunity to chat.
When Mr. Scarcella said he put out a hit on Mr. Modica, who by then had been deported back to Italy on immigration charges, Mr. Delle Donne was there with his body pack. When he said he wanted Mr. Marrese bashed with a two-by-four, the tape was running, too.
As months passed, Mr. Delle Donne secretly raged.
"I had to swallow my pride and keep my head down. I had to wait and be patient," he says. "Eating at the same table as them during the investigations . . . it was the hardest thing to look them in the eyes and pretend that I was okay with it. Because I wasn't. I had the devil inside of me. I wanted to kill them."
On April 14, 2005 -- 11 months after Mr. Delle Donne became an official agent -- police descended on the homes of Mr. Scarcella, Mr. Borrelli and the two bikers and arrested them for the shooting and the ensuing conspiracy (Mr. Scarcella was not charged in the shooting.)
Mr. Delle Donne was cloistered in an Ottawa hotel, waiting to become a star witness for the prosecution.
But in March of 2006, all four men pleaded guilty in a controversial deal that took months for police, prosecutors and defence lawyers to negotiate. Of a maximum 25-year sentence, three of the accused -- Mr. Scarcella and the two bikers -- received 11 years. Mr. Borrelli, the shooter, got 12.
"I'd give them 25," Mr. Delle Donne says.
The deal also paid $2-million to Mrs. Russo -- compensation cobbled together from the gangsters' bank accounts.
Investigators say they couldn't have done it without their agent.
But in the end, there were two areas where Mr. Delle Donne never co-operated. Police offered him up to $500,000 for his work (pay is standard practice for police agents), but he refused, a move so rare that the investigators, who confirmed his refusal to take the money, still marvel over it.
"You don't sell out your friends for money," Mr. Delle Donne says. But more than that, he says he's torn by what happened to Mrs. Russo. "I didn't want anything, because I was just as guilty as them," he says.
He has refused to enter Canada's federal witness protection program. He says no one can protect him better than himself.
After the shooting, his wife left with their sons. He's back to hustling again to make ends meet. His life is worse than any prison sentence, he says, but adds that he has no regrets.
"Yeah, I have to walk away for the rest of my life knowing they're going to come after me," he says, smiling.
"But they've got to find me first."
A married mother of three, she cared full-time for her severely disabled daughter. Paralyzed by a stray bullet at the age of 45, Mrs. Russo has become a spokeswoman for victims' rights.
A Sicilian mobster living in Canada illegally, he triggered a turf war with Toronto mob boss Peter Scarcella, then cheated the Hells Angels out of $130,000. Both wanted him dead.
THE MOB BOSS
PETER (TRUMP) SCARCELLA
This soft-spoken, blue-eyed father of three, who police say ruled a Sicilian mob faction in Toronto, conspired to kill his rival (and former best friend) Mr. Modica in the months following the botched shooting.
Driving the van was a 36-year-old, BlackBerry-toting Hells Angels affiliate who was the brains behind a lucrative on-line gambling scheme. Mr. Modica owed him money.
Police say this married Mississauga roofer and Hells Angels enforcer blasted one shot from the van's passenger seat.
ANTONIO (JELLY) BORRELLI
The 28-year-old married father of one riddled the parking lot with bullets from a Colt automatic rifle.
RAFFAELE DELLE DONNE
The son of an Italian car salesman, he hocked fake Armani suits before getting into mob-tied mortgage scams two years before the shooting.
He transformed, in a mix of guilt and rage, from a low-ranking mobster into a self-described "snitch."