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Friday, May 23, 2014: Mafia murder spree in the Great White North

By Scott M. Deitche

On the afternoon of April 24, 56-year-old Carmine Verduci was walking into the Kappa Sports Bar and Grill in Woodbridge, Ontario, about 30 minutes north of Toronto. Witnesses saw a man shoot at Verduci and speed away in a gray sedan. Verduci died at the scene. He was known to authorities as a member of a faction of a Canadian cell of the ‘ndrangheta.

The ‘ndrangheta is a Mafia organization based in the Calabria region of Italy. Though not as well known as the Sicilian Mafia or the Neapolitan Camorra, over the past 15 years the ‘ndrangheta has emerged as the most powerful and wide-reaching Italian criminal syndicate. Italian authorities estimate its annual revenue at more than $70 billion. Canada is high on the group’s list of targets for its operations.

The killing of Carmine Verduci was not an isolated gangland hit. It is believed that this was the latest in a volley of killings in Canada over the past five years. Since late 2008, more than 40 mobsters and associates have been killed, as well as a number of attempted hits and arson attacks. Most of the assassinations and arsons have occurred in Montreal, though there have been other incidents across Canada, as well as in Sicily (Juan Ramon Fernandez in April 2013) and Acapulco (Moreno Gallo in November 2013).

American readers familiar with the five Mafia families of New York and Chicago’s Al Capone might be surprised to learn that there is a vibrant — and violent — Mafia presence in Canada, not usually a nation associated with this type of crime. In fact, the Mafia presence dates back to the early 20th century, mirroring that of its American counterparts. And some families, such as the Buffalo Mafia and Bonnano family in New York City, had outposts and soldiers on both sides of the border. But while the Mafia’s power has declined in America, the opposite seems to be true in Canada.

It would take a month of blog posts to delve into the various theories and factions involved in the current Canadian Mafia war, but at its base level it is about power and control. When Montreal Mafia godfather Vito Rizzuto (also a member of the Bonnano crime family) was sent to prison in the United States in 2007 for racketeering and murder, it left a power vacuum in the Montreal underworld. Various factions, including the Calabrian ‘ndrangheta and rival gangsters, started flexing their muscle. It was quickly apparent that they were making a big move against Rizzuto’s crime organization. Rizzuto’s son and father were killed, and his brother-in-law was abducted, presumed dead.  Rizzuto was released from prison in October 2012 and sent back to Canada.

In the months following his release, more than 10 of his enemies were taken out, including Joe DI Maulo, who was thought to be behind the campaign against the Rizzuto family. Vito’s freedom and his campaign of revenge were short lived.  He died on December 23, 2013, from lung cancer.

The Verduci hit was the first major activity since Rizzuto’s death.  And less than a week later, a few more mobsters were taken out, only this time it was by law enforcement.

On April 30, 28 people, including members of the Montreal Mafia and a Mohawk organized crime syndicate, were arrested as part of a crackdown on the trafficking of tobacco across the U.S. border. The tobacco was purchased in North Carolina by mobsters and trucked up to the Kahnawake reserve, about 15 miles south of Montreal. According to authorities, the Mafia split the take 60-40 with the Mohawk gang.

The Mafia connections went through 53-year-old Saint-Leonard resident Nicola Valvano, who, according to law enforcement, is an influential Mafia figure in Montreal. Also arrested was Carlo Colapelle, the brother of Giuseppe “Closure” Colapelle, who was ironically killed on April 30, 2012. Closure was killed sitting in his car outside a reported Mafia hangout in Montreal.

It’s apparent that the death of Rizzuto has not calmed tensions in the Montreal underworld, and for now it looks like the hits may keep coming.

Scott M. Deitche is the author of five books on organized crime. He is the senior writer for Tampa Mafia magazine, and has also written dozens of articles on organized crime for local and national magazines and newspapers.  Scott has been featured on the Discovery Channel, History Channel, A&E, C-SPAN and both national and local news and radio shows. Deitche is scheduled to speak at The Mob Museum at 1 p.m. Aug 9. Click here for more details on the event.