Pubdate: Fri, 24 Nov 2006
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2006 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell, John Duncanson, Staff Reporters


Toronto Car Dealer Went to York Police After Repaying $500,000 Loan 
To a Lawyer With Links to a Montreal Crime Family

It was an unpaid $500,000 debt that a Toronto car dealer owed to a 
dealer in Montreal that eventually led to one of the biggest 
investigations into the Mob in Canada, various sources say.

Over the years, there had been numerous police efforts to shut down 
the Rizzuto clan. But it was a squabble that started in Toronto in 
2001 that gave the police a starting point that five years later 
would lead to the arrests of alleged Mafia kingpin Nicolo Rizzuto, 
82, and dozens of others suspected of being connected to the vast 
Montreal-based criminal organization.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are being tight-lipped about their 
investigation, including the genesis of the probe. But several 
sources indicated that it was a failed attempt by the Rizzutos to 
collect the debt on behalf of a Montreal luxury car dealer named 
Frank Martorana that got the ball rolling.

The scenario was outlined in The Sixth Family: The Collapse of the 
New York Mafia and the Rise of Vito Rizzuto. The book says Martorana 
was owed $500,000 by an unnamed Toronto car dealer. He needed the 
money to pay off another debt and approached the Rizzutos to collect 
- -- "certainly a more alarming debt to be holding," the book says. 
There is no suggestion that Martorana did anything wrong.

A lawyer "with links" to Vito Rizzuto, who is the son of Nicolo, 
accepted the money -- a transaction that disgusted the Toronto car 
dealer, who made a "flippant remark" about contacting the Quebec bar 

"The money was returned. Rather than face possible exposure, the 
Montreal men immediately stepped away from the deal. This was not the 
way it was supposed to happen; rarely did things turn so sour in 
Montreal," authors Lee Lamothe and Adrian Humphreys wrote in their 
recently published book.

The Toronto car dealer reported the incident to York Region police, 
who passed on the information to RCMP investigators in Montreal. That 
eventually led to Project Colisee and culminated in Wednesday's 
arrests, most of which took place in Quebec. Two of the accused live 
in the GTA.

Reports show Martorana was abducted last year from a barber shop in 
Montreal. He was pistol-whipped, forced into a sport utility vehicle 
and driven away. When he resurfaced six days later, he called police 
and told them he was home but wasn't interested in pressing charges.

This week's arrests mark a period of uncertainty in the changing 
landscape of the underworld. Earlier this year, Vito Rizzuto, who 
took over from his father, was extradited to the United States on 
racketeering charges. It's alleged he was involved in the gangland 
slayings of three Bonanno crime family members in 1981 in New York.

There are competing theories on the impact of a weaker Montreal Mob. 
Some believe it will give more power to Mafia figures based in 
Greater Toronto. But Mob expert Antonio Nicaso says the GTA-area 
Mafia are not organized enough to be like their counterparts in Montreal.

"I don't think they have the people to deal with a complex reality 
like Montreal," he said yesterday. "Toronto Mafia are local people 
with not a lot of credentials -- not a lot of profile to take over 
the Montreal market."

The head of Montreal's multi-agency organized-crime unit said more 
charges will almost surely follow as investigators sift through 
evidence obtained in a series of raids at the homes and businesses of 
suspects -- including four grocery stores and a technology firm.

"We've been able to establish that through intimidation and 
corruption, this organization infiltrated legitimate businesses," 
said RCMP Insp. Michel Aubin.

Police also revealed more details about how the organization, with 
the help of at least two employees of the Canada Border Services 
Agency, was able to ensure safe passage into Canada for a truck 
containing cocaine smuggled into North America from Venezuela through 
the port of Newark, N.J.

More drugs were brought into the country through the Montreal airport 
with the help of baggage handlers who knew how to identify the bags 
containing contraband, police allege. Food-services workers also hid 
bundles of cocaine in airline commissary carts, and a border agency 
employee provided customs documents that meant that bags carried by 
drug mules were never searched.

An official maintained the border agency is ensuring strict security 
controls in the country's airports, even as he acknowledged 
employee-screening procedures will be reviewed in the wake of the 
arrest warrants against the two workers.

The investigators also talked about the global scope of the 
organization, which one characterized as one of the largest cocaine 
importers in eastern Canada, with links to distribution networks in 
Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.

It's also estimated the organization made $25 million from an illegal 
online sports-betting operation whose servers were based in the 
Caribbean and on the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve, south of Montreal.

Police said 17 of the 90 people identified as suspects in the probe 
remain at large.

With files from Sean Gordon in Montreal
- ---
MAP posted-by: Elaine