Hamilton’s changing face(s) of organized crime

These days, it ‘looks like your next-door neighbour’

By Bill Dunphy
Hamilton's old Mob didn't die with the passing this week of Daniel Gasbarrini, a developer and a reputed key player in La Cosa Nostra's southern Ontario operations.
Nor was the broad daylight parking lot execution of his childhood friend Johnny "Pops" Papalia some kind of final nail in the coffin of traditional organized crime back in 1997.
Ditto for the 2009 peaceful passing of Vincenzo "Gimi" Luppino and the equally peaceful death 22 years earlier of his father, Giacomo Luppino, heralded as the last of Canada's old-style Mafia godfathers.
The truth is, organized crime is a lot like any other successful entrepreneurial enterprise: opportunistic and nimble, flowing with the times rather than standing against them.
Rocco Perri's gang ran rum, but they also traded in counterfeit bonds. His successors shook down bakeries, but also planned stock scams and mortgage frauds. And these days, their minions may mule horse and crack across the borders, but they launder the profits through real estate flips, construction projects and food services.
"Organized crime has become very fluid and agile," RCMP Inspector Steve Martin says.
"Because of that fluidity, they can go to where the best return on investment is going to be. They're not restricted by ethnicity or economic cast (anymore) — they will hook up with anyone."
Martin, the officer in charge of the Mounties Hamilton/Niagara Regional Detachment, says the region's proximity to the border and its access to major markets makes this attractive territory for organized crime of all types — drugs, financial crimes, human trafficking, fraud and tax evasion.
When police say "organized crime," most of us think of the Mob, or maybe bikers. But the legal definition is much broader: any crime committed by any group of at least three people co-operating to commit a serious crime for profit.
By that measure, Hamilton has its share: from the Gravelle crime family's repeated plots to import, grow and sell marijuana (and it's byproducts) to the multipronged abuses of immigrants arranged by human traffickers like the Domotor-Kolompar organization, to the small Latin American-based Stoney Creek cocaine importation ring busted last October.
Organized crime, Martin says, "looks like your next-door neighbour."
"Look at that human trafficking ring (the Domotor-Kolompar group)," says Martin. "Who would have thought that would be happening in the 'sleepy hollow' of Ancaster? People lived right next door and had no idea.
"It's not just mobsters and cocaine cowboys."
But, the mobsters and cowboys are here as well. The Hells Angels proudly fly their insignia on Barton Street and there are reports that the rival Outlaws are making a renewed effort here, recruiting via their Black Pistons "farm team."
And longtime Mob-watcher and crime reporter Rob Lamberti warns that we'd be foolish to discount the various Mafia branches.
"The Italian authorities consider (the Calabrian Mafia, the 'Ndrangheta) to be the No. 1 organized crime group in the word — they seized billions of euros in assets from just one clan, the Commissos, recently. They have incredible wealth."
And while internecine warfare has weakened the Montreal-based Rizzuto clan and its allies, he feels we'd be foolish to ignore them.

Pointing to Rizzuto's infiltration and corruption of Quebec's construction industry, uncovered by the Charbonneau Commission, Lamberti says "if anybody thinks this is only happening in Quebec, they're dreaming in technicolour."