Sunday, April 27, 2014

Carmine Verduci — the man who exposed Mafia’s ‘Canadian cell’ — was gunned down near Toronto yesterday

The man shot and killed Thursday outside a cafe north of Toronto had the dubious underworld distinction of having accidentally alerted Italian police to the existence of a “Canadian cell” of the Mafia — about 40 mobsters who maintain close ties to colleagues in Italy.

Carmine Verduci, 56, was shot several times outside Regina Sports Café in Woodbridge. The gunman seemed to know what he was doing; police found the victim lying dead in the parking lot with no need for an ambulance.

Mr. Verduci’s downfall may be traced to Feb. 12, 2008, when Italian authorities noticed him in Italy at a meeting of the ’Ndrangheta, the formal name of the Mafia formed in the southern Italian region of Calabria. The presence of a Canadian there concerned authorities.

An investigation showed he was the ’Ndrangheta’s transatlantic messenger: He “had the task of travelling between Italy and Canada, acting as a carrier of news between the Italian group and the Canadians,” prosecutors said.

Following him, wiretapping his cellphone and tracing emails, authorities linked at least 40 people who were either Canadian citizens or current or former residents of Canada.

After a two-year probe codenamed Operazione Crimini, prosecutors in Italy unveiled sweeping arrest warrants for several of the men in 2010 which alleged there were seven dominant mob families in the Toronto area, each with a boss who sits on an influential board of control. The indictment made the names of the alleged bosses public for the first time.

On March 8, 2011, the National Post spoke with Mr. Verduci after Italian authorities issued an arrest warrant for him for Mafia association. When his friends around him in a café heard him say he was not involved in organized crime, they thought it was hilarious and spontaneously burst out laughing and guffawing.

He turned to them and curtly told them to shut up. Everyone instantly did.

Continuing the brief interview, he said he was not involved with the Mafia, had never heard of the ’Ndrangheta before and was not at all a bad man.

“I don’t know anything about this,” he said ending the conversation. “Bye, bye, bye.”

The charge against him in Italy meant he could not return there without arrest but did not bring any move for his extradition because Mafia association in not a crime in Canada.

But now, investigators will consider whether the embarrassing and damaging report became a death sentence from fellow mobsters.

The 2,656-page prosecutors’ report from 2010 revealed the ’Ndrangheta’s operations here.

“In the city of Toronto there existed seven crime families whose members were mostly of Calabrian origin,” says the prosecutors’ report, which was translated from Italian by the National Post.

“Each of these seven families in Canada would be active in drug trafficking; extortion, only among members of the Italian community; gambling; and the making and marketing of forged material. Many of them have reinvested the illegally obtained money in businesses, including bars and restaurants, not only in downtown Toronto but especially in Woodbridge, which is the new Italian quarter.”

The mobsters in Canada “alternate between attending meetings, travelling between Canada and Calabria, and, when they can’t attend, are kept informed,” prosecutors said.

The Italian report alleged the seven families were run by Vincenzo Tavernese of Thornhill; Cosimo Figliomeni of Vaughan; Antonio Coluccio of Richmond Hill; Cosimo Commisso of Toronto; Angelino Figliomeni of Woodbridge; Vincenzo “Jimmy” DeMaria of Mississauga; and Domenic Ruso of Brampton. The allegations have not been proven in court.

At the time, Mr. Commisso told the Post that the report was inaccurate, saying: “It is offensive to me to think that I would do anything like that… I’m not even boss of my house. My wife is the boss of my house.”

Mr. Verduci was born in Italy’s Calabria region on May 12, 1959, but became a Canadian citizen.

A large, barrel-chested man, he owned several properties, including a new-build suburban house in Woodbridge and a ramshackle farm in Caledon.

He also owned several social clubs and cafés in the Toronto area, opening and closing them frequently, moving them around the area. Police suspect illegal gambling, not coffee, was his cafes’ lifeblood. Many were semi-private or members only.

Mr. Verduci’s favourite saying was “everything alright,” but spoken as a statement rather than a question, said a man who did work – of the legal type – for Mr. Verduci.

“He was just arrogant to people, like he was better than everybody. Like, ‘I am the boss and you do what I want,’” the man said, asking his name not be published. “Once you got to know him he could act differently and joke around a bit. But for most of the time he had to play the part.”

Mr. Verduci’s longevity in the mob is signified by a secret police intelligence report from 1990: “The Mafia persons on the rise within their ranks and will be the Mafia men of the 1990s are,” it summarized, and then placed Mr. Verduci in the sixth spot.

More recently, photographs of Mr. Verduci — described as a “known offender” — meeting with alleged mob boss Jimmy DeMaria on Oct. 2, 2008, were used at DeMaria’s parole hearing to justify placing tighter parole restrictions on him.

And in 2010, Mr. Verduci was named as one of eight men in Canada “known to be members of traditional organized crime groups” who were linked with Antonio Coluccio at Mr. Coluccio’s deportation hearing. (Mr. Coluccio was one of three brothers from Italy, accused of being major mobsters running an enormous drug network there.) This year, his name also came up at the deportation hearings for Carmelo Bruzzese, a man accused of being an important mob leader in Italy who had relocated to Canada with his Canadian wife.

If the unintended fallout from Mr. Verduci’s trips to Italy is not behind his slaying, investigators will likely investigate whether his death might be a part of the war between the mob’s Calabrian faction, based in Toronto, and the Sicilian faction in Montreal.

The Sicilian faction was led, until his death in December, by Vito Rizzuto. The Rizzuto family suffered heavy losses in recent years, some of them likely by Calabrian rivals, police believe. When Mr. Rizzuto was released from a U.S. prison in 2012, police and gangsters alike braced for his revenge but instead of an aggressive assault against the rival faction, he seemed to focus on purging disloyal elements within his own.

Police will want to know if Mr. Verduci’s murder could be a sign of the Sicilian faction’s reorganizing and lashing out.

Mr. Verduci was well-connected to a long list of important and influential mobsters, not just in Toronto but also in Hamilton and Thunder Bay, according to authorities in Canada and Italy.

His position within the Calabrian clans of Toronto would make him an attractive target to Sicilian rivals in Montreal looking to make a stand, a police source said.

“We might find it was meant as a message to the Calabrians from the Sicilians, that ‘this ain’t over, we haven’t forgotten.’”

If that scenario is true, then hope of peace after Mr. Rizzuto’s death seems unlikely.

York regional police are looking for a grey or silver Honda Civic or similar car seen by witnesses leaving the scene of Mr. Verduci’s murder. Police say two white men are suspects, one short with a slim build and wearing a black or grey hoodie and dark-coloured baggy pants. There is no further description of the second.

Investigators ask any witnesses to contact police or Crime Stoppers.

The Italian probe targeted the ’Ndrangheta as it has eclipsed Sicily’s Cosa Nostra as Italy’s most powerful and richest Mafia organization, dominating Europe’s drug trade.

The role of Canada is so pervasive within the ’Ndrangheta that when a mobster in Calabria speaks of “America,” he really means Canada, prosecutors said.
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