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Canada Storied Montreal mobster Richard Matticks, dead at 80, was a character in one of the biggest Quebec police scandals

A member of the RCMP drug squad stands guard over part of a 26.5 tonne hashish seizure at the Port of Montreal in 1994. Police called it one of the largest hashish seizures in Canada.

CP PHOTO

Richard Matticks, a storied Montreal mobster whose family name became synonymous with one of the biggest police scandals in Quebec history, has died.

Though his criminal record spans decades, Mr. Matticks and his brother, Gerald, became widely known to the public in the 1990s after a judge tossed out a major drug-trafficking case against them because the provincial police had tampered with the evidence. The ensuing uproar triggered a public inquiry and forced an overhaul of the Sûreté du Québec.

Mr. Matticks died Wednesday morning in a Montreal hospital, a relative said. He was 80.

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The cause of death wasn't known, but his lawyer had told a court hearing in 1997 that he had heart problems and was checked for a recurrence of lung cancer.

Richard and Gerald were the most famous of the 14 Matticks siblings who grew up in Goose Village, a neighbourhood in blue-collar southwest Montreal.

In the 1970s, Richard, Gerald and two other brothers, Fred and Robert, were named by a public inquiry into organized crime as being the leaders of a crew that specialized in truck hijackings and bank heists.

The inquiry said they worked for the West End Gang, a mostly Anglo-Irish, loosely structured crime group.

By the 1990s, police alleged, the brothers had become leading figures in the gang and controlled the port of Montreal, enabling them to smuggle large shipments of illicit drugs that were resold to criminal organizations who could retail them on the streets.

In 2004, at age 70, Richard was alleged by police to be a drug trafficking kingpin, according to a court ruling.

Richard Matticks was born on April 7, 1934. He and his 13 siblings grew up in an eight-room slum apartment, according to D'Arcy O'Connor's book, Montreal's Irish mafia : the true story of the infamous West End Gang.

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Their father worked a horse and buggy for the city of Montreal while their mother "spent most of her life pregnant," according to a 1996 profile of Gerald in The Gazette.

The Matticks' neighbourhood, at the foot of the Victoria Bridge, was an enclave of six streets populated mostly by Italian and Irish immigrants that was razed by the city in 1964.

By that time, the Matticks were already known as criminals.

Richard's first appearance in a newspaper came in 1957 when he received a two-year sentence for stealing merchandise from trucks. In his book, Mr. O'Connor noted that Richard was arrested several times between 1963 and 1969, for theft, assault and possession of stolen goods, though he only got fines or short jail time.

"Richard apparently could not break the habit," the book said. "In one month alone, between September 25 and and October 27, 1973, he and his brother Gerry were busted on 15 charges of truck hijacking, theft and possession of stolen goods, but again received only light sentences."

Truck theft also featured in 1979 when the brothers came to the attention of the Quebec Police Commission's inquiry into organized crime.

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The inquiry heard testimony from former members of the Matticks crew who described how the gang stole televisions, liquor or jeans by hijacking semi-trailers or through burglary.

The crew had a locksmith, a safecracker and even a specialist in electronics who could disarm alarm systems, the inquiry said in a report that described how the brothers drove around in a Cadillac, looking for trailer rigs or warehouses they could rob.

They also held up banks and even set off makeshift bombs to confuse police during one heist.

The brothers' proceeds were laundered by one Peter Ryan, the report said.

Peter (Dunie) Ryan was in fact the leader of the West End Gang.

He eventually shifted the gang's activities into the more lucrative business of cocaine trafficking. After he was murdered in 1984, Mr. Ryan was succeeded by Allan (The Weasel) Ross, who was arrested in Florida and received three concurrent life sentences for drug trafficking.

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Around the time Mr. Ross was sentenced, in the summer of 1992, Richard and Gerald were in Montreal, pleading guilty to stealing $150,000 in merchandise from a trailer-rig. They each received a 90-day sentence to be served on weekends.

Within two years, the brothers were involved in more ambitious projects, police alleged.

At the end of April 1994, a sharp-eyed customs agent spotted something suspicious in the paperwork for the Thor I, a Norwegian-flagged freighter that was sailing from South Africa to Montreal.

The customs agent noticed that some containers aboard the Thor I were destined for what appeared to be bogus shipping companies.

He alerted police, who intercepted a total of 26.5 tonnes of hashish as it arrived in the Port of Montreal.

When investigators went to the address for one of the suspicious shipping companies, they found an apartment that was empty, except for a phone. Police couldn't even find fingerprints.

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The janitor told police that a man came each month to pay the rent in cash. Shown photos of suspects, he identified the renter as Richard Matticks.

Investigators next arrested an import-export broker who had inquired about the shipment, Pierre Friedman. He said he had been hired by Gerald Matticks and agreed to cooperate with police.

Wearing a hidden microphone, Mr. Friedman met Gerald to talk about the shipments and claimed that he was worried about the police.

According to court testimony, Gerald went inside his office, then came out with Richard, who was holding a bag. They took out two wads of dollar bills, $10,000 in total, and handed them to Mr. Friedman.

The next day, the SQ arrested the brothers and announced that the force had struck a major blow against the West End Gang and its control of the Montreal waterfront.

Within a month, however, the case began to unravel.

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First, the Crown was told that the janitor now said he had lied to police and could no longer provide a positive identification of Richard.

Then, as the brothers' lawyers sifted through the documents that were seized by police, they found signs that someone had planted incriminating faxes.

The brothers were released and the provincial police was in turmoil for the following three years as it dealt with the fallouts of what became known as the Matticks affair.

By then, a bloody turf war had erupted between Quebec's two main biker groups, the Hells Angels and the upstart Rock Machine.

The brothers did business with both sides. Gerry was convicted for dealing drugs with the Hells Angels while Richard pleaded guilty in 1997 to selling cocaine to the Rock Machine.

Gerald, who was present when Richard was sentenced in 1997, maintained that his older brother was innocent.

"The only coke my brother touches is Diet Coke," he told a Gazette reporter.

"He shouldn't have gotten nothing, no time in prison." Instead, Richard had to serve his full three-year sentence because the parole board found he made no effort while behind bars to show that he would change his ways.

Though he didn't face further criminal charges, Richard still made cameo appearances in recent judicial proceedings.

In 2004, in an operation code-named Relève, the SQ targeted him as a drug trafficking kingpin, according to a 2008 court judgment in Sherbrooke.

Two years later, he was mentioned in a 2006 decision by Quebec's liquor-licensing board when it revoked the permit of a Montreal bar, the Do Drop In.

Richard was a regular patron at the Do Drop In, even getting personal calls from the bar telephone, the board said in a judgment that described the bar as a violent, troubled establishment where people got beat up, a man was shot dead outside and a pitbull roamed freely.

The brothers' names then resurfaced in 2013, in the New York court case against Jimmy Cournoyer, a Quebecker accused of importing a billion dollars' worth of marijuana into the United States.

The prosecution filed a long list of people alleged to be "co-conspirators" of Mr. Cournoyer. These included Gerald, his son, Donald, and Richard.

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