The bloody war to be ‘the next boss’ after mobster Vito Rizzuto’s death
Reporter Peter Edwards offers an analysis of ongoing tensions and unsolved incidents in the aftermath of the death of Canada’s most powerful mobster.
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Mobsters are jostling to fill the vacuum left by the death of an organized crime mega-boss, resulting in about a dozen unsolved violent incidents this year in Ontario — shootings, explosions and killings.
After Vito Rizzuto, considered by police to be Canada’s most powerful mobster, died in Montreal in December 2013 of reportedly natural causes, a vacancy at the top opened up. And the results have been bloody.
“Everybody wants to be the next boss now that Rizzuto is gone,” said Paul Manning, a former undercover officer in Hamilton. “There’s a lot of infighting over who will be the next boss.”
This evolving picture of organized crime in southern Ontario is drawn from interviews with a variety of sources — both investigators and those connected to organized crime — across southern Ontario and Quebec. Most declined to speak on the record for professional reasons.
The leadership vacuum has attracted tech-savvy newcomers from Ontario and Quebec who are eager to challenge the old guard. It has also triggered vicious infighting inside what’s left of the old Rizzuto organization in Ontario.
That infighting may explain the murder of Angelo (Ang) Musitano, 39, who was shot at close range May 2, 2017 in the driveway of his suburban Hamilton house in mid-afternoon with his wife and three young children inside.
It was what Hamilton police Det.-Sgt. Peter Thom called “a very deliberate and targeted attack.”
Before he went to jail, Musitano’s 49-year-old brother, Pat, was considered to be a long-standing Niagara Region associate of Rizzuto, with a keen interest in illegal gambling, according to a report by the Criminal Intelligence Service Ontario, a multi-jurisdictional police organization.
Angelo Musitano reportedly found religion since he and Pat pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in the 1997 gangland hit on Carmen Barillaro at the front door of his Niagara Falls home. They were both sentenced to 10 years in prison and were released on parole in October 2006 after serving two-thirds of their terms.
Illegal gambling has been particularly contentious over the past few years since Rizzuto’s death and the 2013 dismantling of Platinum Sports Book, an illegal internet-based gambling network.
“Everyone’s fighting for control of the sports book,” said a GTA police source who specializes in organized crime, but was not authorized to speak on the record.
Early on the morning of June 27, someone opened fire on the Hamilton home of Pat Musitano.
The gunman, or gunmen, apparently wanted to send a loud message, as there were about 20 shell casings found in front of the upscale home on St. Clair Blvd.
Manning suspects it was a message to Pat Musitano that he should shelve any plans of avenging the murder of his younger brother.
“It’s a warning to leave it there,” Manning said, adding that when Rizzuto was alive he would resolve such disagreements inside his organization like a stern but fair father.
“Usually, there would be a sit-down, an apology.”
Some of this year’s violence is blamed on an ongoing culture clash between the old and the new. On one side are the aggressive young computer-friendly newcomers from B.C. and Quebec allied to a gang called The Wolfpack Alliance. On the other side are the old guard — the GTA arm of the traditional ’Ndrangheta family of Cosimo (The Quail) Commisso of Siderno, Italy.
The Wolfpack Alliance was formed in British Columbia about a decade ago. The alliance pulls together members of existing crime groups, some of which are organized along racial lines, according to Kash Heed, former B.C. solicitor general, minister of public safety and West Vancouver Police chief.
It’s a rapidly evolving group of organized crime disrupters. Their members don’t have blood or ethnic ties or a code of conduct or a rigid hierarchy. They’re generally young and tech savvy. They have gold pendants with a wolf’s head gold medallion to show membership.
“It’s a collective of very successful wealthy organized crime guys working together,” Heed said.
By contrast, the ’Ndrangheta is steeped in a highly structured, quasi-religious criminal tradition that reaches back more than a century to the southern Italian region of Calabria.
The ’Ndrangheta carries itself like a state within a state, with various councils and titles, like “capo-crimine” for minister of war and “contabile” for treasurer.
While its titles may sound archaic, the ’Ndrangheta’s profits surpass those of many modern multinational corporations. Italian investigative journalist Giulio Rubino wrote earlier this month that the ’Ndrangheta made $70.41 billion (U.S.) worldwide in 2013.
The violence between the newcomers aligned with the Wolfpack, and the old guard in the ’Ndrangheta, isn’t expected to end anytime soon, as the Wolfpack has aligned itself with enemies of the GTA ’Ndrangheta, sources say.
The Star has learned that police have warned two York Region men who are considered to be senior members of Commisso’s family that there are credible threats on their lives. The warnings came over the past month and the men declined police protection.
Two other men who investigators consider to be senior underworld figures in York Region have chosen to quietly leave town over the past month, sources say.
One of those departing is related to Commisso. The other is related to Agostino Cuntrera, a former leading member of the Rizzuto crime family in Montreal who was murdered in 2010.
There was enormous bad blood between the Rizzutos and local ’Ndrangheta at the time of Rizzuto’s death. They were on opposite sides of a mob war in the early 2000s that saw Rizzuto’s father and eldest son murdered.
At the time of his death, Rizzuto was believed by police to have drafted a “black list” of men in the Commisso family he wanted killed.
“People are watching their backs now,” the veteran investigator of organized crime said. “People aren’t being as open to meetings now. They’re getting nervous.”
Newcomer Anastasios (Tassos) Leventis, 39, of Montreal may have been nervous when he was called to a mid-afternoon meeting on Jan. 30, but he went anyway.
Leventis was connected to the Wolfpack Alliance, even if he wasn’t a member.
Leventis moved to downtown Toronto from Montreal more than a year ago to collect drug debts owed to Montrealers, the police source says.
Not long before his death, he had a confrontation with a York Region ’Ndrangheta Mafia boss connected to Commisso over a drug debt.
On the afternoon of his death, Leventis realized something was horribly wrong almost immediately after stepping out of the condo complex on George St. near Adelaide St. E. in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood. He bolted in front of students, passersby, construction workers and area residents.
Moments later, a gunman stood over him, pumping bullets into his body.
“The victim knew his killers,” the police officer familiar with the case told the Star. “The killers were waiting for him outside his condo. He was chased down the street.”
“He certainly got set up,” the police source said.
Toronto police investigators declined several requests to comment on the case.
Leventis was an enthusiastic gambler who trained as a computer programmer. Computer skills are vital as organized crime groups reach out across borders, journalist/ academic Luis Horacio Najera said in an interview.
Mexican drug cartels connect with the new small aggressive groups like the Wolfpack Alliance with encrypted messaging systems as they push into Canada.
“In today’s world, there’s a lot of resources as personal information, contacts, instant communications — even hiring a hit man, or buying guns — that you can access through the web,” said Najera, who worked as a journalist covering drug cartels in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico before he was forced to leave the country as a refugee.
Domenic Triumbari, 58, of Woodbridge, was related to the Siderno ’Ndrangheta boss Commisso, which meant he wasn’t a man to be trifled with.
Certainly, Triumbari didn’t appear to worry when he went out to play cards on the evening of March 31 in an industrial plaza that featured a social club and a banquet hall on Regina Road in Vaughan, less than five minutes drive from the Highway 7 and Martin Grove Road intersection.
“He loved to play cards,” said a police officer who knew him. “He was involved in a whole series of games.”
Despite all of the conflict around him, Triumbari seemed like a lucky man in the days before his murder.
The longtime York Region resident was basking in the afterglow of a $150,000 win at Casino Niagara when a gunman rushed out from a parked car in the plaza and shot him dead.
“He’s not a guy that you would just casually decide to take out,” a retired organized crime investigator said.
Violence hasn’t abated since the murder of Leventis six months ago. Much of it has been in York Region, and includes the massive explosion early in the morning of June 29 that knocked a wall out of the Caffé Corretto on Winges Rd. near Highways 400 and 7.
That blast showered brick and gaming machine bits down onto a nearby black BMW.
The café had been targeted in a police sweep of illegal gaming machines in January 2016.
This violence appears to be directed against the Commisso network, but no clear victor has emerged in the conflict, which isn’t expected to end any time soon.
Both sides are strong and motivated and there’s no one with the power of Rizzuto to order a cease fire.
“Everybody’s taking a hit,” the veteran police office said. “It was never like this.”
Peter Edwards is the author of 10 books on organized crime and writes regularly on the topic for the Toronto Star.
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