Vito Rizzuto, the former head of one of Montreal’s main mafia families.
Credits: PABLO DURANT/LE JOURNAL DE MONTRÉAL/QMI AGENCY
Ontario is the source of most of the wealth for organized crime while the violence for the most part remains in Quebec.
The province, according to investigators and an organized crime expert, is bankrolling European operations, often targets of tough money laundering and asset seizure laws.
The war in Quebec intensified when chieftain Vito Rizzuto returned home in early October.
It's a battle that has pitted Rizzuto against an alliance of underworld figures who have also sided with a group of opponents, some of whom are based in Ontario.
It has been a war of precise hits on both sides, where key members have been assassinated and, along the way, possibly a few internal squabbles were settled as well.
"The longer Rizzuto stays alive, the stronger he gets and the weaker the Calabrians get," a police investigator said. "So many people made so much money with him, including the Calabrians, things could return to the way they were."
The gauntlet was dropped in 2009 while Rizzuto was in a federal U.S. penitentiary in Colorado for his role in the 1981 assassinations of three Bonanno captains planning a coup.
While in prison, the Montreal mob boss lost his son Nicolo, his father Nicolo Sr., and other close members of his family to usurpers.
It also saw a former boss of the Bonanno family of New York - who agreed to leave the U.S. in April 2009 after being ordered deported - try to set up shop in Quebec while Rizzuto was in jail. But Montreal-born Sal "Bambino Boss" Montagna was whacked in November 2011 before he was able to solidify his role in the underworld.
Four men are charged in that murder.
Rizzuto returned to Quebec in October after serving his time in the U.S., and since his arrival, there have been a few hits police believe are related to the underworld power struggle.
The most significant murder since Rizzuto's return was the November shooting death of his one-time ally Joe Di Maulo, 72. Since Rizzuto was imprisoned, Di Maulo is believed to have abandoned the Montreal mobster and sided with Montagna and his brother-in-law Raynald Desjardins, who is now one of the men charged with Montagna's murder.
Mohammed Awada, 47, once charged but acquitted of kidnapping a Rizzuto soldier, was murdered in November.
Emilio Cordileone, a Rizzuto ally, was murdered in December.
Also in December, a Rizzuto bodyguard and driver, Giuseppe Fetta, was shot and wounded.
"There is tension," says one veteran police investigator. "There is no true leadership" and factions - including Eastern European crime groups - are struggling for the lucrative underworld market in eastern Canada.
At times, the violence within those groups are confused with the conflict between Rizzuto and the Calabrian mobs, some based in the GTA.
When Rizzuto was in charge, the investigator says, he applied his style of conciliation and control, he kept criminality in place and argued there was enough money for most of the players. One of his most valued members in Ontario, Gaetano Panepinto, was sacrificed in 2000 to a Calabrian clan to maintain the peace.
Ontario, meanwhile, is maintaining its role as the source of most of the wealth for organized crime while the violence for the most part remains in Quebec.
"Here in Ontario, it's the money-laundering capital of organized crime for the world," the investigator says. "Why upset the apple cart?
"That's Ontario's role," he says.
Mob expert and prolific author Antonio Nicaso agrees, and believes the wealth of the organized crime groups based here is bankrolling their European operations, which are targets of tough seizure laws.
"The importance of Quebec is mostly because of the port," Nicaso says. "Ontario is seen as a place for investment.
"They need to keep Ontario quiet, peaceful," he says, adding almost all major criminal organizations are investing money in Ontario. "Don't make noise where you invest money."
The Port of Montreal is a major transshipment point for drugs destined for the U.S. market, Nicaso says. It's a simple task for organized crime to use Native territory that crosses three borders without scrutiny to ship drugs or any other contraband into the U.S., he says.
And that's a role that doesn't appear will be challenged by law enforcement as there appears little initiative or pressure to investigate organized crime in Ontario as in Quebec. The Charbonneau Commission has exposed a number of corrupt practices between government, business and criminal organizations, which raises questions, but offers no answers about Ontario.
One investigator is concerned there have been no arrests in Ontario, noting that family members of organized crime groups are integrating into society, volunteering, donating to organizations and making social and political connections.
"The important note is the lack of bodies in the streets of Ontario does not mean the mob is not alive and well," he says.
Police and observers are also concerned that the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit - Ontario's primary multi-force organized crime agency which has a long history - is being reorganized, if not dismantled.
"The history of the mafia is a history of relationships," Nicaso says. Violence is not the norm but a symptom of an imbalance in power, he says.
"That's what we're seeing in Montreal," Nicaso says. For about 30 years, Rizzuto kept the balance and the corruption hidden. But as mayors fall along with a few bodies, discord will continue until a new balance is achieved.
"To me, it doesn't seem the victims are on one side ... and this is an indication that things are changing," Nicaso says. "Whoever wants to replace the Rizzuto family has to rebuild those political and financial connections or else they won't survive."