(This column was published in the North Shore News on Mar. 22, 2000)
Crime family far from dead
By Leo Knight
A couple of weeks ago in this space, I told you the story of the arrest and conviction of the top echelon of the largest drug dealers in the world, the Cuntrera-Caruana crime family in Toronto.
At the time of that writing I wanted to celebrate what appeared to be a victory in the fight against organized crime. But alas, the information published in media reports of the plea bargain deal fell far short of telling the whole story.
The Cuntrera-Caruana crime family was headed by Alfonso Caruana, his brother Gerlando, and Augostino Cuntrera, boyhood friends and the inheritors of their fathers' crime syndicate built in the small town of Siculiana in Sicily.
The current vestige of la famiglia arose from the ashes of a car bombing in Ciaculli, in 1963, which claimed the lives of seven police officers.
That's the genesis of these type of people -- cop killers. Granted, the intended target was some Mafiosi nobody named Salvatore Greco. The cops were an unfortunate byproduct of that hit.
The Italian government had decided that the murders were more than they could take. They ordered a purge of the known Mafia-types in the area, which drove the thugs to join relations elsewhere.
Since the '50s, Pasquale and Liborio Cuntrera and their pal Leonardo Caruana had fled Italian justice and became Canadian citizens despite their outstanding indictments on double homicide charges. Nice to know little has changed with another Liberal government 45 years later.
Other parts of the family, specifically Alfonso, his brother Gerlando and Augostino Cuntrera, set their sights on Venezuela. From there they set up their criminal empire.
After making family alliances, through marriage, with Pablo Escobar, the supply line for the world's biggest cocaine ring was forged and with it, the Cali Cartel.
The families solidified their power and their networks by inter-marrying and assuring a long line of loyalty.
From Venezuela, the Cuntrera-Caruanas controlled much of the estimated $1 billion-plus cocaine trade emanating out of South America. They had the established networks and the Colombians had the coke. It was a marriage made in heaven.
In the interim, the Cuntrera-Caruana family, under the leadership of Alfonso, had firmly established a foothold in Canada. Alfonso moved to Canada, following the murder of Mafia capo, Paul Volpe, into a quiet suburb of Toronto, where he was to later claim he was a simple car-wash attendant. In reality, he controlled the largest drug dealing network in the world.
Italian newspapers described the Cuntrera-Caruana organization as the "Rothschilds of the Mafia." Some car wash attendant. It should also be noted that the Italian government had been trying to get Caruana extradited for years, but met with little co-operation from our government.
It was in this atmosphere, that they were considered untouchable by much of the world's law enforcement. Then the Mounties in Montreal got a break in an investigation into a courier that was to launch Project Omerta -- an international investigation into the top levels of the Rothschilds of the Mafia.
By mid-July 1998, following the seizure of 200 kilos of pure cocaine in Houston, Texas, warrants were issued for the main players, including Alfonso Caruana and his brother, Gerlando, the number two man in the family.
Unfortunately, police didn't get Augustino Cuntrera. Nor did they get a significant stash of cocaine at his coffee company in Montreal, said to be as much as four times the amount seized in Texas.
But, still, the news was good. Last month, after the plea-bargained sentences were announced, claims were made that the organization had been destroyed and the heads were effectively out of commission for a very long time.
The reality seems somewhat different.
Gerlando Caruana, the second in command of the family, was on parole at the time of his arrest in 1998. He'd been sentenced to 20 years for the same offences in 1986.
He was granted parole in the fall of 1996. The full term of the sentence expires in the year 2006.
Sources tell me that after three months of negotiation to arrive at the plea bargain, Gerlando Caruana was given a deal for an 18-year sentence, the same as his brother Alfonso.
The convictions were registered on charges of conspiracy to import cocaine and conspiracy to traffic in cocaine. The sentences were to run concurrently. Unfortunately, the judge was never asked to stipulate the sentences were to run consecutive to or as "stand alone" to the 1986 conviction.
In other words, because of the judicial omission, he was legally eligible for parole a year and a half before he was arrested on the new charges.
Since the convictions, the media in Toronto and Montreal have been serving up the pablum spoon-fed to them by spin doctors, saying the Cuntrera-Caruana family has been dealt a death blow, so to speak.
Well, it hasn't. One police officer specifically said to me "that's hogwash."
The family is now being run by Augustino Cuntrera and has barely missed a beat. The Rothschilds of the Mafia are still in business and would rank in the Fortune 500 were they legit. Gerlando Caruana, who may be considered eligible for parole by Corrections Canada, is still in custody largely because he hasn't asked for a parole hearing. Yet.
It is believed he'll wait six months or a year, so as not to attract unfavourable public attention on the sentence he received, not what was announced publicly.
When he gets out, he'll take control of the family from Augustino, the caretaker "Don."
The investigation to take these guys down cost over $8 million. The police did their job against huge odds and in the face of international naysayers. The Crown put the case together properly and forced plea bargains saving the huge cost of a trial. So what the hell happened?
Is it any wonder Antonio Nicasio, author of nine books on the Mafia, called Canada a "laboratory for organized crime."