For two years from inside a Canadian prison, Carmelo Bruzzese denied being a Mafia boss from Italy who was a link between powerful criminal clans in both countries, but his appeals ended Friday with an unappreciated flight to Rome where Italian police were waiting to arrest him.
That ending is now called a new beginning; authorities say the case is a successful test of enhanced cooperation and a renewed push by Canada and Italy against mobsters who work as if the ocean and borders don’t exist.
It comes at a time when links between the Mafia in both countries are more pronounced, revealing they are two working parts of the same machine.
“There was a strong will by the Canadian government and good cooperation with Italian authorities to solve the problem. We started with Mr. Bruzzese, maybe we continue with others,” said an Italian government source familiar with the case. “There are others similar.
“I think the times are changing.”
Bruzzese, 66, denies being a mobster, saying everything he knows about the Mafia he learned from newspapers.
“This is a big lie,” he earlier told the National Post.
However, evidence against him was accepted by the Immigration and Refugee Board as the more likely truth and his emergency motion to the Federal Court of Canada to delay his removal was rejected Tuesday.
Bruzzese was escorted onto a plane in Toronto Friday and arrested by Italian police after landing at Leonardo da Vinci airport in Fiumicino, a suburb of Rome.
His lawyer in Canada, Barbara Jackman, said details of his removal were kept secret from her and even the court.
Jackman said Bruzzese should not have been taken before his court appeals had been heard.
“The judge, on the interim motion to let him stay until a judge fully considered his arguments of unfair treatment, said there were serious issues about the unfairness of the process but still decided removal could occur before any of those issues were fully decided,” she said.
If Bruzzese wins his case in Canada, no Canadian judge is able to order his release from an Italian prison, she said.
In Italy, Bruzzese is named as one of the most important bosses among the ’Ndrangheta, the proper name of the Mafia in Italy’s Calabrian region.
Authorities say he is an important link between powerful clans in Italy and in Canada.
Born in Italy, he came to Canada in 1974 and married a Canadian woman in 1976. He became a permanent resident here but not a citizen and returned to Italy in 1977.
He then travelled back and forth between countries, maintaining close ties in each.
In Canada he was “living in the shadows,” the IRB found.
In Italy authorities say he is the crime boss of Grotteria. The neighbouring towns along Italy’s Ionian Coast are home to some of the most historically important mob clans, all of which have strong connections to Canada.
When police in Italy raided Bruzzese’s home looking for him, they instead found a sophisticated bunker hideout in his basement. It allowed someone to slip inside through a sliding wall behind a bar and stay for long periods with stocked food, water and an air-filtration system.
But Bruzzese wasn’t there.
At the time, he was living in Vaughan, Ont., with his Canadian wife. That’s where Canada Border Services Agency officers found him on Aug. 23, 2013. He was not charged criminally here, instead deemed a non-Canadian inadmissible on grounds of organized criminality and jailed pending his removal from the country.
Bruzzese accused the government of doing a back-door extradition — sending him to Italy to be arrested on charges that he would not normally be extradited for.
The case showed smoother cooperation between Canada and Italy than has often been the case.
During IRB proceedings — despite objections by Bruzzese’s lawyers — a police officer from Italy testified extensively over the telephone about Bruzzese, the case against him in Italy and about the Mafia in general.
“He assumed the most important roles and decisions. He gave the orders,” Major Giuseppe De Felice, a commander with the Carabinieri, a national paramilitary police force, told the IRB. “The ’Ndrangheta is a global phenomena. It is a huge organization. In Canada there are many families from Calabria that belong to the ’Ndrangheta.”
The lifeblood of ’Ndrangheta, De Felice said, is “cocaine, cocaine, cocaine.”
Adding to Bruzzese’s woes, he was also named last week in Italy as a wanted fugitive after a large probe targeting the Mafia “elite” — some of the strongest and wealthiest mob clans involved in drugs, weapons and financial crimes as well as black market deals in tulips from the Netherlands and chocolate from Switzerland, prosecutors said.
On Tuesday, the Post revealed 12 men in Canada were among those wanted for arrest in the probe, including Bruzzese and his son, Carlo, 30, one of Bruzzese’s five adult children.
The CBSA did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.