The man widely believed to be the leader of Montreal’s mafia walked free from a Montreal jail Thursday evening after receiving a four-year sentence for possessing the proceeds of crime and gansterism.
Nicolo Rizzuto, 84, has spent the past two years in jail. Because pre-trial custody counts as double under Canadian law, he is considered to have already served the four years.
Rizzuto was sentenced along with five other members of the Montreal mafia, who plead guilty to charges of importing and exporting drugs, running illegal gambling, extortion, corruption and possessing the proceeds of crime. The charges came after a four-year investigation led by the RCMP, dubbed “Project Colisée.” The investigation included wiretaps, and hidden camera surveillance of the mafia’s headquarters, the Consenza Social Club in St. Leonard.
According to prosecutor Yvan Poulin, there was not enough evidence to link Rizzuto directly to the most serious crimes.
“I know he is reputed as the head boss of the mafia in Montreal, but the evidence that was gathered by the RCMP during the four years of the investigation doesn’t show that,” he said. “The evidence showed he possessed the proceeds of crime in, an unknown amount. The investigation doesn’t show the source of the money he received . . . and that is why considering his limited role, considering his age and his health conditions, we decided to suggest to the court a sentence of four years incarceration.”
“The evidence shows the main players in all the crimes that were committed by the organization are Mr. Arcadi, Mr. Giordano and Mr. Del Balso. They were involved in the importation of cocaine through the airport, by container and all the most serious crimes,” said Poulin.
Francesco Arcadi, Francesco Del Balso and Lorenzo Giordano, who pled guilty along with Rizzuto, each received 15-year sentences, minus pre-trial detention.
Francesco Arcadi, Francesco Del Balso and Lorenzo Giordano, who pled guilty along with Rizzuto, each received 15-year sentences, minus pre-trial detention. The three were directly involved in importing thousands of kilograms of cocaine through the Montreal airport, with the help of Air Canada employees and a corrupt customs officer. Other organized crime groups, including the Hells Angels, paid a “tax” to the Mafia for the right to use their airport connections.
Concordia political science professor and former lawyer for the Hells Angels, Marcel Danis said the other mafia members were careful about what they said around Rizzuto.
“The wiretaps about importation of drugs, about bribing people at Dorval airport, and discussions within the group of those issues were always done without Rizzuto being present,” he said. “Every time Mr. Rizzuto walked in the guys stopped talking about whatever they were doing. None of the crimes were mentioned in his presence.”
Despite the overwhelming evidence gathered by police in the course of the multi-million dollar investigation, the prosecution defended their decision to accept the plea-bargain, rather than go to trial. “This is a mega trial,” said Poulin. “There was more than a million conversations intercepted in this file, a lot of conversations are in Italian. The trial of the six people that was to be held today would have required the testimony of approximately 30 translators that translated the conversations from Italian to French or English. It would have been a difficult task.”
Danis agrees, “it would have been just an extremely costly and lengthy trial.” He said that even if the case had gone to trial, it would have probably ended with guilty pleas anyway. “A guilty plea at trial for those offences probably would have given 20 to 22 years for the guys that got 15 and in Mr. Rizzuto’s case, probably in the range of six years, and he got four. So I would agree with the crown that it would not have been a wise move to have a trial, it’s better to play it safe, give them a little bit less, but get them found guilty.”
Poulin maintains the sentences are still significant. “They are significant because we’re speaking of 15 years in detention for the three main players in this file, they plead guilty, we see these kind of sentences after a long trial. But today they plead guilty, they accepted to serve 15 years in jail and they accepted to serve half of that sentence before being released. So it is a significant sentence.”
Normally prisoners only have to serve one sixth of their sentence before they are able to apply for parole, as part of the deal, the mafia members must serve half their time before applying for parole.
Two other mafia members were also sentenced on Thursday. Paolo Renda received six year, minus pre-trial detention, while Rocco Sollecito received eight years, minus pre-trial detention.
In addition to the prison terms, the Crown also seized almost $4 million in cash and property from the group.
“Part of the deal was that they had to pay the police a fine of roughly $3 million,” said Danis. “And somebody delivered a suitcase last week with $3 million in it. Now that’s something that you do not see very often . . . it’s rare that the crown will accept payment like that, without asking where the money comes from.”
“In this case part of the deal was that no questions would be asked where the $3 million would come from,” he said.
Danis said he thinks the mafia agreed to the deal as a way to get Rizzuto out of jail. “To me the operation of the guilty plea was to get the leader out, the rest of them tough luck, and I don’t think they would complain, it’s a very disciplined organization.”
While Danis said this has dealt a blow to the Montreal mafia, especially to their operations at the Montreal airport, he doubts the organization sometimes known as the “sixth family,” a reference to the “five families” of the New York mafia, has been broken.
“They’re not as visible as they used to be, but police officers will tell you that they always exist. They control the importation of cocaine, which is the thing that makes the most money for organized crime,” he said. “It’s very difficult to kill the mafia, you can hurt them, they get weaker, but they always seem to come back.”
While the mafia leaders have been sentenced, other members and associates of the group are still awaiting trial for their roles.
“Today was the sentencing of only six of the players. In the next few months trials will be held for 50 other people that were charged in relation with Project Colisée,” said Poulin.