(This column was published in the North Shore News on Mar. 1, 2000)


Inaction helping organized crime flourish

By Leo Knight

“You can’t have organized crime without the politicians who help out.”

 - Brian McAdam, ex-Foreign Services Officer.

THE conviction in Toronto last week of Alfonso Caruana was a stunning victory for Canadian law enforcement in the fight against organized crime.  


Caruana was the top guy in the Cuntrera-Caruana mob family. After Paulo Violi was found stuffed into the trunk of his own car in 1978, victim of a struggle for control of Toronto's underworld, Caruana began moving his assets from his base in Venezuela to Canada. The alliance with the Cuntreras allowed Caruana to elbow the pretenders aside.  


With an established drug supply line (his sister married the brother-in-law of Pablo Escobar, kingpin of what was to become the Medellin Cartel) the die was cast for him to change the face of the Mafia in Canada.  


For years the Gambino crime family from New York controlled the Mafia in Canada. (The Gambinos were one of the five New York families who made up the nucleus of the infamous "Murder Incorporated.")  


Vincenzo "Vic" Cotroni was described in a 1973 Royal Commission on crime as the "Godfather of Montreal." Together with brothers Pepe and Frank, the Cotronis built a fortune with the backing of the Gambinos.  


They had their fingers in many things: unions, ports, loan-sharking, gambling, protection rackets. But, moreover, they were the first of the traditional organized crime families to recognize the gold mine that heroin represented.  


Frank Cotroni was only a young man when he helped set up the so-called "French Connection" links to get Far Eastern opium, processed in labs in Marseilles and Lyon, and then muled into the great waiting markets in North America.  


Political connections to the Mafia in Canada were underlined when, in 1964, a federal deputy minister tried to bribe a U.S. assistant district attorney with $20,000 not to oppose the bail of Lucien Rivard, a notorious underworld figure and business associate of Frank Cotroni.  


The resulting scandal forced the resignation of a cabinet minister and very nearly toppled the government of Lester Pearson.  


With the pressure put on the Cotronis throughout the latter part of the '70s, and with the murder of Paulo Violi in 1978, the Cuntrera-Caruanas stepped into the opening.  


And with them came a new way for the mob to conduct business. The old guard -- the Gambinos, the Bonnanos, Johnny "Pops" Papalia in Hamilton -- were still the traditional La Cosa Nostra (this thing of ours).  


Joey "Bananas" Bonnano retired to Arizona. John Gotti, the erstwhile Teflon Don (who had taken control of the Gambinos in the old-fashioned way, killing his boss, Paulo "Big Paul" Castellano) got put away for the rest of his life by the FBI after a 10-year investigation. The Vancouver connection, Joe Gentile, Frank D'Angelo and Jimmy Sanseverino, faded into retirement.  


A new order settled into place controlled by the Cuntrera/Caruanas in Toronto and the Rizzuto family in Montreal.  


They began investing their drug money in stock markets as a method of laundering their ill-gotten gains. They placed their own people in stock market trading companies, primarily in Vancouver, and turned the money taps on.  


Now, instead of shooting up the streets and making war on each other, they act as shareholders and invest in legitimate companies. They form partnerships.  


In Montreal, the drug trade is controlled by the so-called "Consortium" an unholy alliance between the Irish West End Gang, the Hells Angels and the Sicilian Mafia in the guise of the Rizzutos.  


They try to keep a low profile knowing that making blood run in the streets only attracts unwanted police attention -- something the Chinese gangster learned here in the mid '80s and early '90s and the upstart Vietnamese have yet to learn judging from what's going on in the streets of Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.  


A notable exception to all this, of course, is the war between the Quebec Hells Angels and the Rock Machine, who are looking to upstage their biker brethren. But that seems unique to the Quebec situation and thus far has not spread across Canada. Yet.  


It is the veneer of legitimacy that gives the mob their opportunity to access the corridors of power. This is what makes the arrest and conviction of Alfonso Caruana all the more amazing. For more than a decade the word in law enforcement circles was the he was "untouchable."  


Equally, the Chretien government has shown little appetite to go after organized crime. It has slashed and trashed policing budgets to save comparative pennies while it continues to dole out huge money under the guise of "job creation" grants.  


Antonio Nicaso, who has written nine books on the Mafia, said his research has shown that, "Canada is a laboratory for organized crime."  


There's no question that organized crime has been allowed to flourish in this country. From the heroin rings of the Vietnamese gangsters on the Island, to B.C.'s Hells Angels, (the richest in the biker world and with them the resurgence of the Italian Mafia in this city), to the huge drug-funded empire of the Cuntrera/Caruana family and the Consortium in Quebec. Not to mention the Chinese gangsters who are stronger and more numerous than the rest combined.  


Watching the federal budget announcements this week and thinking about the corruption (and there is no other word to describe it) which permeates the Liberal party in Ottawa, as evidenced by the "Shovelgate" scandal, I didn't see anything to show me they give a fig about the problem of organized crime.  


And why not? You have to understand that these people are so powerful and rich they could, if they were so inclined, collapse the economy of this country in a heartbeat simply by causing a run on the Loonie.  


The answer lies in the quote at the top of this column. Read it again.







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