Saturday, January 30, 2016
Rocco Zito: The Life and Death of the Former Toronto Mob Boss
But the 87-year-old father of five grown daughters who lived in a non-descript bungalow on Playfair Ave. was also a powerful Toronto mobster. He was a founding member of the La Camera de Controllo, the governing board Toronto’s Calabrian underworld of ‘Ndrangheta clans.
He always kept a low profile and when he died Friday night, he was still a man of great influence and respect among the current leaders of the ‘Ndrangheta.
“For sure, absolutely,” Zito remained a man of influence among Mob bosses in the GTA, said a police source.
“In theory, in practice, it should work that way” as the old world ‘Ndrangheta ways of southern Italy operate here, the source said.
Zito was one of the elders “consulted” to arbitrate disputes among current leaders, the source said.
And Zito would have an interest in the disputes as many of the clans are linked by inter-marriage including his.
Zito was on the first board formed by Hamilton’s Giacomo Luppino in 1962. Police discovered the board’s existence in 1968.
Unlike other mobsters assassinated in the recent past, Zito appears he’s the victim of an apparent deadly domestic dispute on Friday. His son-in-law Domenico Scopelliti surrendered to police and is now charged with first-degree murder.
But because of Zito’s history and Scopelliti’s lineage, questions of motive linger.
Zito was born into a ‘Ndrangheta crime family in Fiumara, Calabria, in 1928.
Italian authorities knew his father Domenic as a member of the Vincenzo Crupi clan, described to the Assizes Court of Reggio Calabria as a band of criminals formed in 1930, involved in smuggling, rustling and extortion.
Domenic had weapons convictions in an incident when he defended the gang’s accountant from rebels. He was also convicted in Italy of delinquent association to a criminal group, of which he served four years.
Although later declared rehabilitated, Domenic’s criminal history would be something Canadian authorities would use to later deny him entry into Canada. Rocco’s uncle, also named Rocco, was the head of a gang known as the Furci Cosca (family).
Rocco Zito, one of six sons to Domenic and wife Angela, tried twice to immigrate to North America illegally, once as a stowaway on a ship headed to New York City in 1947, and two years later trying to enter Texas at Galveston through Mexico. Both times he was caught and deported.
A murder charge against Rocco in Italy was dropped in 1952 before he entered Canada legally through Montreal three years later. In 1961, he lived on Brock Ave., in the Bloor and Dufferin Sts. area, when he got involved in a Montreal mafia-bootlegging scheme.
Police found a still in Zito’s home during a raid and it led to his first conviction with a fine of $108, including court costs. A year later, he was spotted at a meeting at Luppino’s home.
Police also spotted him at the home of the Hamilton’s don members of the Stefano Magaddino La Cosa Nostra family of Buffalo.
He’d remain under surveillance by intelligence officers since that meeting.
MANSLAUGHTER AND JAIL
Zito managed to avoid jail until he was sentenced to 4.5 years jail in 1986 for manslaughter in the vicious beating and shooting death of Toronto photo studio owner Rosario Sciarrino, 60, for not being able to pay back a business loan at crippling loan shark rates.
Sciarrino’s body was found frozen and wrapped in garbage bags in January 1986 in the trunk of his car off Airport Rd. in Brampton.
An autopsy showed Sciarrino was shot in the head and chest, and suffered a dozen facial fractures during a meeting in a Brampton meat company on Jan. 13, 1986. He had apparently also insulted Zito as well as fallen behind on his payments, which amounted to $9,000 a month in interest on a $20,000 loan.
Zito vanished after the shooting but surrendered four days later to Peel homicide detectives. He limped in from a gunshot wound to the leg, telling police that “I, Rocco Zito, was shot on Monday, Jan. 13th, by persons unknown.”
Police long suspected the wound was self-inflicted to instill legal doubt in the initial second-degree murder charge in Sciarrino’s slaying.
Affidavits filed to the Supreme Court of Ontario in the 1980’s described Zito as “a capo (leader/boss) of a Toronto ‘Ndrangheta group. He is also believed to be a member of the ‘crimini’ and has been since 1962.”
Police officers in an unrelated case involving stolen construction equipment were also targeting Zito.
That case, led by York Region’s fraud detective Chris Barratt, merged with an ongoing multi-jurisdictional investigation dubbed Project Otiz, Zito spelled backwards.
He was sentenced to 2.5 years in 1987 for possessing stolen goods and proceeds of crime.
THE FINAL YEARS
Police knew in 1985 at least two dozen men kissed his hand at an Eglinton Ave. W. party. He was, along with other crimini members, a pallbearer at Toronto mob boss Michele Racco’s 1980 funeral.
Police spotted him and a convicted heroin trafficker meeting New York mobster Paolo Gambino, who was setting up a heroin pipeline to Toronto, at a Toronto hotel on May 4, 1970.
Zito’s dealings with people within the Italian community were based on old-world traditions, offering advice as well as loans. Police didn’t try to fit Zito within boxes of boss or underboss, but as a person of influence in organized crime circles and the general community.
Police spotted Zito often rambling through Toronto’s Little Italy regularly in the 1980s, meeting with other Mafiosi like Montreal’s Frank Controni. Police also knew Zito was aware of listening devices and used a soft voice and hand motions to communicate.
A police source says Zito is believed to have been involved in five or six murders dating back to the 1970s, either by his hand or by order.
“The myth is true,” the source said. “That most Mob leaders won’t die in bed.”
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