On June 2, 2015, with the arrest of 19 people, the two year-long code-named Project OPhoenix closed. The Project, conducted by the Combined Special Forces Enforcement Unit for the Great Toronto Area (GTA), significantly hit, resuming the words, during its presentation, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Supt. Keith Finn, “two key cells of the 'Ndrangheta” in GTA of which a sufficiently appropriate definition was given: “The ‘Ndrangheta is a specific confederation of Mafia families that originated in southern Calabria, Italy, and has since spread to various international regions, including Canada”.
Infiltration of the ‘Ndrangheta
An undoubted success even more so for the ability of the Unit to have been able to manage an infiltrated turncoat for the entire duration of the investigation. The extremely dangerous job of this man allowed, in 2019, at the end of the relative judicial proceedings, to have Giuseppe "Pino" Ursino (left), 65, of Bradford, one of the ninety pieces of the ‘Ndrangheta in GTA, sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison, together with his associate Cosmin Dracea, 42, of Toronto (10 years), both for trafficking cocaine and conspiracy to import cocaine related to a criminal organization.
Previously (Jan. 2018), longtime cocaine trafficker Diego Serrano, 69, of Vaughan, had already been sentenced to four years, six months. The Project identified him as a “significant facilitator” for the ‘Ndrangheta, a qualification that however was not sufficient to deserve the aggravating circumstances related to belonging or relations to a criminal organization.
In any case, on March 14, 2017, the attempted murder of one of his sons, Saverio, 42, injured but alive unlike his girlfriend, Mila Barbieri, 28, shot to death while they were together inside a parked car in Vaughan, foreshadowed involvement in very rough games (thanks to some relevant video surveillance images and wiretaps, police are convinced that they have identified the hired hitman of this homicidal action and two of his accomplices, all of whom were from Hamilton, the same ones who would have murdered also Angelo Musitano, brother of the Hamilton mob boss Pat Musitano, on May 2, 2017, but not yet the relative instigators).
The 7 “locali” that make the “Crimine” of Toronto’s ‘Ndrangheta
So, we repeat, a successful investigation, but certainly partial, considering that only two of the probably seven Locali (crime families belonging to the ‘Ndrangheta; Locale, in the singular) that make up the Crimine of Toronto (title of a peripheral governing body whose possession means the formal recognition by the superordinate Crimine located in Calabria), were affected. A proportion that then had to be reduced, compared to the nine Locali present in the entire Ontario. This latter number to consider certain thanks to a fundamental secret recording of a phrase contained in the Italian Project Crimine (2010), “In Toronto [to be understood as Ontario] there are nine of us…”, recorded in 2009 during a visit of Rocco Etreni, high rank of the Locale of Thunder Bay, to Giuseppe "The Master" Commisso (right), supreme boss of Siderno, inside his laundry mat that served as cover for him.
And, moreover, two Locali, probably the only ones within the Crimine of Toronto, which do not depend on the mother-Locale of the town of Siderno (the term mother-Locale, adopted by both Italian and Canadian judicial authorities, indicates the Locale that, from Calabria, directs all its dependent Locali scattered throughout the world), but on the near mother-Locali of the towns of:
❶ Gioiosa Jonica, headed by Antonio Ursino, brother of Giuseppe “Pino” Ursino, above mentioned, can be supposed, top boss of his Locale, called Capo Locale, in Toronto, strong of the position of the brother in Calabria with whom, over long distance, he maintained close contacts. An assumption that would find an important confirmation in a story reported in the more recent (2014) Italian Project Morsa sugli appalti (Vise on contracts), according to which, in 2010, the other bosses of the 'Ndrangheta, first of all Giuseppe "The Master" Commisso, were deeply irritated with Antonio Ursino because he had granted a higher rank of ‘Ndrangheta to his brother living in “America” (to be understood as Canada), Giuseppe "Pino", without informing anyone of them. A lack that the Ursinos would have committed to remedy by presentation of Giuseppe “Pino” in front of the Crimine of Toronto for the relative, formal recognition of the highest rank received in secret in Calabria.
❷ Marina di Gioiosa Jonica, its top-ranking members include the Coluccio brothers who had settled in GTA in 2005. The first born and most authoritative, Giuseppe, cl. 1966, involved in major cocaine trafficking from South America to Europe, was arrested in a luxury condo on Toronto's waterfront on August 7, 2008. The second, Salvatore Coluccio, cl. 1967, lived in Richmond Hill. The third and younger brother, Antonio, cl. 1969, resident in Richmond Hill too, left voluntarily Canada in 2010; his father-in-law, Carmelo Bruzzese, cl. 1949, another top boss, was deported from Canada to Italy in October 2015. During his stay in GTA, Antonio worked in close and constant contact with Vincenzo Tavernese, cl. 1955, of Thornhill, as Project Crimine documented: “Coluccio Antonio of Richmond Hill, in the organization of whom, strictly linked to that of Tavernese, would also operate Verducci Carmine”; “the family of Tavernese – Adrianò Giuseppe, brother of today’s investigated Emilio, would work in close symbiosis with the Coluccios and would have solid relations with Bruzzese Carmelo and the Aquinos of Marina di Gioiosa Jonica. Bruzzese, father-in-law of Coluccio Antonio, has, in Canada, a wide circle of relatives who have been living there for years").
Gambling and bars, restaurants, cafes
Within the Locale dependent on Marina di Gioiosa Jonica in GTA, the Capo Locale was likely Carmine Verduci (right), cl. 1957, of Woodbridge (suburban community in Vaughan with a very high Italian-Canadian density), wanted in Italy on charges of mafia association and, together with other formal members and associates with it, one of the main targets of the Project OPhoenix. In any case, the handcuffs were not applied to him because in the meantime, on April 24, 2014, shot dead in a parking lot of a café, the Regina Sports Café, in the same Woodbridge.
Based on the secret recordings contained in another Italian Project called Acero (Italian for “maple”, demonstrating the links among men of ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria and Canada) – Krupy (Sept. 2015), antimafia investigating magistrates suggested that "the elimination of Verduci was planned and determined by the brothers Angelo and Cosimo Figliomeni [residents in GTA, but from Siderno], called the Brigants, currently fugitives in Italy for mafia association", due to the disappearance of a cache of weapons belonging to the Figliomenis, “with consequent responsibilities also ascribed to the boss Giuseppe Coluccio”. The murder, actually probably the result of the explosion of a struggle for supremacy inside the ‘Ndrangheta of Toronto, was a heavy blow to the mother-Locale of Marina di Gioiosa Jonica and to its dependent Locale in Toronto and in particular to the Coluccio brothers who, by now back in Calabria, lost one of their main points of reference in Canada (the implications of this fact of blood were many and such that Giuseppe "Pino" Ursino, to precise questions of the infiltrated turncoat during Project OPhoenix, evidently specially prepared by his controllers to obtain clues, was careful not to reveal anything significant: “But then … Verduci did something he was not supposed to do …. something serious though”, Ursino told turncoat).
So, on the one hand, Antonio Coluccio (right), the turncoat always said during the Ursino’s trial, ordered the closure of the Regina Sports Café after the murder (“They said close it for respect for Carmine, and they closed it…”). An example of the control exercised in various forms by the ‘Ndrangheta on bars, cafés, restaurants, social clubs, within which they manage illegal gambling, useful for feeding loan sharking, certainly one of its “core business”, in particular to the detriment of the most hardened players.
In this regard, better than many abstract descriptions, it’s worth reporting the very precious testimony of a hard-hitting player gathered by Jeremy Grimaldi on Vaughan Citizen, December 11, 2017; the player, codename Mr. Palazzo: “... estimates there are about 50 gambling cafés and bars in Vaughan. All of them, he says, are run by organized crime…”; “He says 50 illegal gambling locations in Vaughan is a conservative estimate and their patrons are losing thousands and paying interest charges of up to 200 per cent per year…”. Situation, moreover, well known to the police: “Palazzo said he met two RCMP investigators in the back of a van. The detectives knew the names he shared with them, he said, had photos of them in a binder”. “We know what these guys are doing to you, they exploit people like you all the time,” they told him. They asked if he’d wear a wire, but he refused out of fear for his life”.
On the other side, Giuseppe Coluccio, meanwhile out of prison after having spent over four years in Italian special regime of tough detention (called in short “41 bis”) following his arrest in Toronto in 2008, was ready to organize an immediate retaliation using WhatsApp messages, always the Project Acero-Krupy interceptions told.
A retaliation that probably took place on June 24, 2015, when a solitary armed man attacked the Moka Café, always in Woodbridge, causing two deaths (including a woman, Maria Frascà, named as a cousin of a Figliomeni by Italian authorities, who was employed there) and two injured.
Although the author of this homicidal action, the Afro-American with a long criminal career Jason Hay, was soon identified by surveillance video positioned right before the Café entrance and convicted (50 years without chance of parole), it has not yet been possible to trace his eventual instigators for his refusal to cooperate in the investigations, evidently fearful of retaliatory actions against him and his family members.
It’s finally possible that this struggle has had a queue: the firebombing of the Grotteria Social Club in Woodbridge, in November 2015, which was registered to Giuseppe Adrianò, of Vaughan, already mentioned above as a close companion of the couple Antonio Coluccio – Vincenzo Tavernese (as again the Project Crimine documented, he is the one who, in the company of Antonio Coluccio, the day after the arrest of Giuseppe Coluccio in Toronto, spoke by phone with Vincenzo Tavernese, at that moment in Italy, to inform him of what had happened and ask him to return urgently to Canada).
In this context, and considered that, at any latitude, hostilities are endemic within the ‘Ndrangheta, in the opinion of the writer, this struggle between Locali belonging to the Crimine of Toronto was possible due to the power vacuum that occurred inside the mother-Locale of Siderno.
A lack of proper authority caused by the arrest not only of its supreme boss, Giuseppe “The Master” Commisso (Jul. 2010), but also, a few months later, of Riccardo Rumbo (Dec. 2010) and Antonio Galea (Mar. 2011), who had probably succeeded him and who were the direct hierarchical superiors of the Figliomeni brothers. A relation of subjection dictated by the fact that the Rumbo-Galea-Figliomeni families make up one of the ‘Ndrine, sub-units of the biggest Locali (‘Ndrina, in the singular), however subordinate to the bosses of the Locale, in this case the Commisso blood family, but in turn with its own internal hierarchy. Some dynamics within this ‘Ndrina, which demonstrated once again the close connections of the ‘Ndrangheta between the two shores of the Atlantic, were revealed in December 2010 thanks to another Italian Project called Bene Comune (Common Good, 2010). It, in its own denomination, resumed the words addressed by Riccardo Rumbo to the Figliomeni brothers to stop contrasts inside their same ‘Ndrina (the two Figliomeni brothers from one side; Antonio Galea, Domenico Giorgini and Tito Figliomeni on the other) about the opening of a bar in an area of GTA that did not fall under their competence, for the pursuit of the “common good”.
These arrests would then leave the field free for the Figliomeni brothers. In particular, exempting them from asking their mother-Locale the necessary, in normal times, prior authorization regarding an excellent murder like that of Carmelo Verduci who, based on depositions of the infiltrated turncoat during the trial of Ursino, was a member of the Camera di controllo (board of control), the “board of directors” of the Crimine in Toronto, “It’s the board that makes all of the final decisions”. An action of strength that, for the reason here above, had probably been accomplished in disagreement, or, at least, without the support of the other Locali dependent on Siderno, closer and aligned to the bosses of their mother-Locale.
Significant elements support this hypothesis.
In particular, the secret recordings of phrases within the already mentioned Project Acero-Krupy between Vincenzo Crupi (right), husband of Concetta Macrì, daughter of Antonio Macrì, historical supreme boss of the ‘Ndrangheta of Siderno, assassinated in 1975 during the First War of ‘Ndrangheta (1974-1977), and her brother, Vincenzo Macrì, arrested in June 2017, after about a year and a half on the run, at the Sao Paulo airport while he was headed to the capital of Venezuela, Caracas, where he lived for some time using a false identity.
They, under the cover of companies dedicated to the import and export of flowers and plant nursery products, from their offices near Amsterdam (therefore a short distance from the large port of Rotterdam), directed, together with Vincenzo Crupi's brother, Giuseppe, separated from his wife Gisella Commisso, sister of "The Master", the internal structure of the Locale di Siderno, direct emanation of the Commisso family (also understood, for the described family crossings, Commisso-Macrì-Crupi Clan), which dealt with the traffic of large cocaine shipments from South America to the ports of Northern Europe (cocaine then reached Italy in small lots, max 10 kg, hidden in the trucks that carried the flowers).
By far, the most profitable activity of this, like so many other mother-Locali of ‘Ndrangheta, alone or associated to finance purchases at source, although no longer having as natural port of landing only the port of Gioia Tauro, “controlled” by the equally very powerful Locali of Rosarno and of the same Gioia Tauro, due to the increasing number of police checks. An activity that has developed enormously over the years thanks to ever closer relations with all the major Latin American drug cartels, made possible also by the stable presence of men from Calabria in the producer countries for the organization of the loads, for whom the specific term of cocaine broker was coined.
This specialization has made the Calabrian mother-Locali that world criminal power now known to all, from which, however, the Canadian Locali are excluded for a geographical question, being off the relative sea routes, besides of course for reasons of prudence.
On their own
Condition that forced these last to organize, like the other more articulated Canadian criminal organizations, autonomous drug trafficking through their own contacts to satisfy the domestic demand, as the same legal proceedings against Diego Serrano and Giuseppe “Pino” Ursino have clearly documented.
All that through the right connections and collusions in ports (preferably in Halifax, not being subjected to extortion on the transit like Montreal by the strong local mafia, according to the opinion of the mafia expert Antonio Nicaso) and airports, but also through the overland supply route, from Mexico via the United States into Canada. The latter normally used by the Mexican drug cartels, as in the case of one of the largest drug trade ever carried out in recent years, handled by a “consortium” of six network's ringleaders of not Italian origin, located in Quebec and dismantled by the Project code-named Loquace in 2012.
Tensions in Toronto
In this context, returning from a trip to Canada where his children reside, from February 26 to March 9, 2015 (thus after the Verduci’s murder, but before of the Moka Cafè attack), Vincenzo Crupi reported to Vincenzo Macrì the state of very strong tension that existed at that time in Toronto Area, predicting in a certain sense what a few months later it would have occurred at the Moka Café: “There they will shoot themselves, Vi’ [Vincenzo]….”; “See that they don't stop there now Vi’ [Vincenzo]! These combine something Vince’ [Vincenzo]”. “I told my kids not to go to the bar [of the Figliomenis] anymore. Don't go any more, I told him, let them fuck ... ". Phrases that express strong concern, but also contempt and indifference and no solidarity with the Figliomenis, how could anyone have expected, depending on the same mother-Locale of Siderno. For the reason that they were moving independently of the indications of the highest-ranking members of their mother-Locale, all of them detained under the regime of tough detention (the first objective of this special prison regime is precisely that of not allowing bosses to direct their organizations even from prison). A situation that advised the Crupis, probably in agreement with the bosses of the other Locali of Toronto dependent on Siderno, not to interfere in those dynamics, deprived of the authority of the supreme bosses to impose some solution and too busy managing an activity that, for no reason in the world (much less so because of an internal “peripheral” struggle), had to be put at risk, but to think only of the safety of their close relatives resident there.
The exposure developed by the murder of Verduci ends here.
In this regard, only one last consideration: despite some media reports, the speculations about a possible involvement in this murder of the Rizzuto crime family instead seem to be unreliable considering the historical relationships between the Montreal Family and the mother-Locale of Marina di Gioiosa Ionica and in particular with Carmelo Bruzzese and Giuseppe Coluccio.
Not by chance, there isn’t a single clue suggesting an involvement of this Locale, neither of Verduci individually, in the internal war that shook the Montreal Family starting in 2009. Much more plausible is instead that one, or more Locali dependent on the mother-Locale of Siderno have supported the local faction that tried, without success, to take control of the Montreal mob.
Hypothesis reinforced by the murder of Salvatore Calautti, 40, formally restaurant owner in North York, gunned down together with his associate James Tusek, 35, outside a banquet hall in Vaughan, on July 12, 2013.
Salvatore Calautti (right) was a well-known figure in the GTA's underworld. Probably, a formal member of one Locale dependent on Siderno, suspected of having had an important role, among many, in the slaying of Nicolò Rizzuto Sr., father of Montreal Mafia godfather Vito Rizzuto, in November 2010. Role that would have cost him a contract killing, reserved for hitmen certainly not improvised and signed by the same Vito Rizzuto in person, to the perfect success of which he had the satisfaction to see, before he passed away from cancer in December 2013.
A heavy involvement of at least one Locale of Toronto, probably to be extended to large part of the archipelago of the Locali from Siderno under the undisputed direction and authority of the Commisso brothers (Cosimo, Rocco Remo and Michele), residents in GTA and cousins of the “The Master”, which would be confirmed by a report of Peter Edwards (July 30, 2017, The Star) according to whom: “… There was enormous bad blood between the Rizzutos and local ‘Ndrangheta at the time of Rizzuto’s death. They were on opposite side 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.”.
Unfortunately, this double murder is still completely unsolved.
“They have patience”
And also the attempts by the infiltrator turncoat within the Project OPhoenix to get information from Ursino didn’t produce useful results. Who, if he had spoken only in vague and general terms about Verduci’s homicide, concerning those of Calautti offered a motive, but that had the taste of misdirection. In fact, he linked it to a murder perpetrated, in his opinion, by Calautti in 1996, for which the relatives of the murdered person, the bakery owner Francesco Loiero, well 17 years later, would get revenge. “These people don’t have nothing to do. They have patience.”, with this pearl of mafia mentality stated to the turncoat, who appeared doubtful given the long time spent, Ursino closed the argument.
In any case, a misdirection or, in simpler words, a spread of false rumors in the underworld, as indeed happens frequently. But, in this case, a diversion by Ursino that seemed to show the profound sign left by that loss. A blow to the ‘Ndrangheta of Toronto and in particular to the Locale, one of those dependent on Siderno, which had perhaps lost his most valiant man of action. Locale that, in turn, was probably unable to organize a retaliation. Too much in fact the disparity of forces in terms of economic availability to unleash teams of professional killers in enemy territory, even in that particular historical moment, in which the Rizzuto family was no longer extraordinarily strong as before, but in any case it had already overcome the storm of the internal war started in 2009, even if at the cost of heavy losses.
Then, the fact that the Locali dependent on the mother-Locale of Siderno, which have always exercised a sort of majority dominance over the others in GTA (for example, can be supposed, claiming the right of nomination of the Capo Crimine, the boss of the bosses of Toronto, to whom however, more than the supreme command, the custody, only in his memory, of the ritual formulas and the rules including the surveillance of their compliance is delegated, especially as regards the control over the rank progressions), came out unscathed from the Project OPhoenix and that, after it, no other investigation against the 'Ndrangheta has been concluded, shows how much it’s still long way to go to defeat this organization that continues to make secrecy its fundamental strength.
Secrecy guaranteed, in the first place, from the historic absence of government witnesses among its formal members, the only ones able to reveal the articulated structure of the organization, as well as the individual criminal responsibilities of many members and associates.
We refer to:
For instance, an equivalent of what was, in the '80s, Tommaso Buscetta for Sicilian La Cosa Nostra.
A great deal of information, clues and evidence that not even the most capable of infiltrators (currently the main successful instruments of police investigation into the fight against organized crime not only in Canada, but also in the U.S.) can offer, in reason of the narrowness of the sphere of knowledge within which the associates are held by the formal members, precisely in order to provide the minimum number of information to external subjects.
A technique that is achieved through one to one relationships, between an associate and only one formal member, so as to have only one damaged, and not more, in case of treason. From this point of view, Project Phoenix is a paradigmatic example: the infiltrator turncoat allows to have his direct contact member, Giuseppe “Pino” Ursino, indicted and sentenced, but no one else. In particular, not Cosimo Commisso, cl. 1945, cousin of "The Master" and resident with his two brothers in GTA for decades, who was also one of the original targets of this investigation, but not charged at its end. And this, though the infiltrator turncoat, during the trial of Ursino, had testified that he and Angelino Figliomeni were also members of the ’Ndrangheta, thus confirming the report contained in Project Crimine according to which they were among the top bosses of Toronto.
However, effectively, an enormously difficult decision to make for a formal member of the ‘Ndrangheta that of becoming a government witness. Because very often means going not only against his own criminal organization, but also against his own blood family, composed of brothers, fathers, nephews, brothers in law, cousins, etc., one or more, also men of the 'Ndrangheta with consequent breakdown of all family relationships (a Locale usually corresponds to a set of blood families among which there is one that by tradition, capacity criminals, force of numbers, family intersections through arranged marriages, dominates the others).
But this objective, regardless, would require the possibility to threaten to impose prison punishments of a much longer duration than is currently happening, also considered the usual reduced sentences (as it’s known, in the vast majority of cases, there are two reasons that can push a big criminal to turn: ① to avoid spending the rest of his life, or a large part of it, in prison; ② to escape a death sentence already issued by his own organization for any reason whatsoever).
A possibility not practicable currently.
Certainly because of an objective difficulty consisting of the increasingly frequent habit to hire hitmen. An expedient capable of canceling for the men of the ‘Ndrangheta the odds to have long prison sentences for the crime of murder, the longest that a penal code provides, if not as instigators, a role which is very hard to prove in a courtroom without the direct testimony of those who were in charge, never willing to put their and their families' lives at risk.
But also in absence of a specific offence of “mafia association”, that is the simple membership in a criminal organizations having mafia requirements, despite in Canada ‘Ndrangheta has reproduced in the same identical terms of how it’s organized and operates in the homeland (“The Locali outside of Calabria replicate the structure from Calabria, and are connected to their mother-Locali in Calabria”, the same Project OPhoenix statement of facts said; and continuing: “The authority to start Locali outside Calabria comes from the governing bodies of the organization in Calabria. The Locali outside of Calabria are part of the same ‘Ndrangheta organization as in Calabria, and maintain close relationships with the Locali where its members come from.”). The advantages deriving from the introduction of this specific offence would be obvious: ① more people could be prosecuted; ② the relative sentences would be of longer prison duration; ③ it would be possible to extradite those who, condemned in Italy for this offence, would find refuge in Canada, in addition to preventing new arrivals.
A legal question which also highlights how wrong it’s to consider the repression of the great criminal phenomena only as a police problem.
Canada was warned of the dangerous ‘Ndrangheta
Leaving aside the social aspects (it would be interesting to understand how it’s possible that in Canada there is such a high offer of criminal services on commission, absolutely horizontal among the different racial and ethnic communities, that exempt mobsters and high-level criminals from getting their hands dirty), recent history teaches that, in order to defeat or heavily hit certain particularly deeply rooted and structured criminal organizations, States must essentially combine a purely repressive activity with a coordinated series of actions and initiatives of political, legislative and judicial nature to provide new and more adequate tools for investigators and persecutors.
From this point of view, it does not seem that today Canada has yet fully embarked on this path, despite the past experiences, but also the warnings from outside.
It’s enough to remember the visit in Canada, now in the distant 2012, of the investigating magistrate Nicola Gratteri, the spearhead in the fight against the ‘Ndrangheta in Italy, just to warn of the danger of this organization and the too much freedom of action left to it, particularly in GTA: “For 10 years, we have been telling Canadians to pay attention because the ’Ndrangheta is very strong, especially in the Toronto region… ”. A reminder that it should have contributed to raise more than some important debate about an adjustment of the law enforcement instruments and instead it doesn’t seem to have been taken into due consideration. Or, at least, to establish a closer cooperation and information sharing among police forces and prosecutors of the two countries. Obviously, one of the keystones in heavily hitting this powerful organization that makes transnationality a fundamental point of strength, probably without equal in the world criminal scene.
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