Former Toronto-area man arrested in Italy, called dangerous Mafia clan’s ‘most important personality’

Adrian Humphreys 

At 4 a.m. Tuesday, a ring of police officers roused Antonio Coluccio from slumber inside a house in Siderno, a village on Italy’s picturesque coast that has stubbornly remained a stronghold for the Mafia, arresting him — again — and putting another dent in his hope of returning to his home and family in Canada.
Mr. Coluccio, 44, lived in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto, until he was pressured to leave in 2010 by Canada’s immigration authorities who said he was involved in organized crime, accusations he denied. He left behind his wife and five children, all Canadian citizens, planning to one day return.
His arrest this week will not aid his contention he is wrongfully accused of being a leading member of the ’Ndrangheta, the proper name of the powerful Mafia formed in the southern Italian region of Calabria.
His arrest is part of a large joint investigation by Italy’s authorities. Mr. Coluccio and 26 others are accused of muscling in on public works contracts for infrastructure and waste management along the Ionian coast, including school renovations and a dam construction, said a senior police officer involved in the investigation.
“Antonio Coluccio is an important figure. He is the most important personality in [his home town of] Gioiosa Jonica and in ’Ndrangheta,” said an official with the Polizia di Stato in Reggio Calabria who did not wish his name published.
He said Mr. Coluccio, as the only one of three Coluccio brothers not in prison, had become the family’s main figure in a three-clan alliance that became the most important crime organization in Italy’s south.
“He had an important role with Giuseppe Commisso and with Rocco Aquino. These are the most important families of Calabria, of ’Ndrangheta. There is an alliance with these families.”
The accusations include extortion and collusion between the mob and politicians, both in public procurements and in elections.
Antonio Macri, a politician and former president of Siderno city council, was among those arrested. The municipality was dissolved last year by the government because of accusations of Mafia infiltration.
Most firms in the area were victimized and under the clans’ control, authorities said.
“The firms were made to pay a bribe of 3% on the value of the work. The bribe dropped a bit in value because the companies bidding on the work were considered ‘friends’ of the men of the ’Ndrangheta,” officials said.
The investigation “highlighted the leadership of the Commisso clan that is capable of projecting its criminal activities transnationally, especially in Canada.”
After the pre-dawn blitz Tuesday, Mr. Coluccio and his co-accused were led out of a police station in handcuffs, one by one, and taken to jail to await court appearances.
Unlike the other accused men, who looked stoic or angry, Mr. Coluccio, dressed brightly in a yellow and black striped shirt, burst into a broad, beaming smile and gave an animated wave, made awkward by the handcuffs, to someone in the crowd of onlookers.
He is charged with Mafia association, as he was in 2010 shortly after he arrived back in Italy from Canada. He was acquitted of that earlier charge. The 2010 arrest came during a huge probe, Operazione Crimine, charging more than 300 men in an attack against the ’Ndrangheta, including several men with strong ties to Canada.
One of those men nabbed in 2010 was Vincenzo “Vince” Tavernese, 59, of Thornhill, Ont., who recently returned to Canada. Italian prosecutors said at the time he was the head of one of seven ’Ndrangheta clans in the Toronto area. On Thursday, however, Mr. Tavernese forcefully said he had been wrongfully imprisoned and expects compensation from Italian authorities.
“They find me not guilty. They find me not guilty, not guilty. Put that in the newspaper; I sue you people,” he said when approached for comment by the National Post.
“The case was dismissed, you understand, the case was dismissed for me,” he said. “They pay me, the government is going to pay me for real. For what I lose in Canada, [what] I lose in Italy, they pay me. I sue for $2-million,” he said before ending the interview.
The outcome of Mr. Tavernese’s case could not be independently confirmed prior to deadline.
Mendel Green, a Toronto lawyer who defended Mr. Coluccio in his immigration battles, said he was unaware of the recent arrest and has not heard from his client recently.
“He was cleared of all of that a few years ago. He was completely exonerated before,” said Mr. Green.
The three Coluccio brothers, Salvatore, Giuseppe and Antonio (the youngest), all moved to Canada in 2005 ahead of criminal charges against Salvatore and Giuseppe in Italy. They settled in Toronto, making waves within the senior echelons of the province’s underworld.
Salvatore returned to Italy, where he lived in hiding until found and arrested in a secret bunker, equipped with a generator, air conditioning and a large supply of food.
Giuseppe was listed as one of Italy’s most dangerous fugitives while living in a luxury condominium on Toronto’s waterfront. In 2008, he was arrested here and found with $1-million, said the Polizia di Stato official. He was deported and charged in Italy for masterminding a vast international drug-trafficking network.
In Calabria, the family owned property and businesses, including a $15-million luxury hotel, the Parco dei Principi, in Roccella Ionica. It was seized by the government in 2011.

Mr. Coluccio’s father-in-law, Carmelo Bruzzese, is also imprisoned, but in Ontario, where he is fighting against deportation after the Canada Border Services Agency accused him of being involved in organized crime.