ADRIAN HUMPHREYS | January 14, 2016
Tyler Anderson/National PostMafia bosses and members have a long history of using cafes or social clubs as meeting places and hangouts. Above, the Moka Espresso Bar & Gelato in Woodbridge, home to an illegal gambling operation, where two people were shot dead last June.
TORONTO — A special anti-organized crime unit in Ontario is conducting a series of coordinated raids on Italian social clubs and cafes in Toronto and York region, Thursday, seizing illegal gambling machines, cash and making 15 arrests.
Although the raids are part of ongoing illegal video gaming machine probes, the momentum behind the search warrants is violence associated with organized crime often linked to the illegal gambling establishments, police said.
Dubbed Project Oeider and run by the RCMP-led Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, police searched 11 cafes or social clubs and one home in a joint operation with the Ontario Provincial Police’s Organized Crime Enforcement Bureau, Illegal Gaming Unit and the Toronto Police Service.
Seventy-four illegal gaming machines were seized and 15 people were arrested, with three arrest warrants outstanding, police said.
According to police, gaming machines were seized from the following premises:
– Via Consenza Bar Café, 14 MacKay Ave., Toronto
– 1248 Café, 1248 St. Clair Ave. W, Toronto
– Capri Café, 1703 St. Clair Ave. W, Toronto
– York Centre Café, 2408 Dufferin St., Toronto
– Azzurri Social Club, 2184 Eglinton Ave. W, Toronto
– Per Tutti Café, 1988 Eglinton Ave. W, Toronto
– Tre-Sette Social Club, 1974 Eglinton Ave. W, Toronto
– In Tre Café, 351 Marlee Ave., Toronto
– Cafe 513, 513 Marlee Ave., Toronto
– Prima Tazza Sports Bar, 1310 St. Clair Ave. W, Toronto
– Cafe Corretto, 120 Winges Rd., Vaughan
RCMP handoutSome 74 machines were seized.
The machines, similar to slot machines at casinos, allow customers to gamble without government sanction, often in the backrooms of cafes or social clubs. Typically, only known, regular customers are allowed to play for money on the machines.
Approximately $200,000 is cash was also seized. The names of those charged have not been released pending police file the information in court.
It is likely the arrests targeted the “keepers” at each establishment, the people deemed responsible for deciding who is trusted enough to play for money, paying out any winnings and collecting, or reporting for other collectors, from those falling into debt. It also seems likely a distributor of the machines to the clubs, perhaps even one person or group who supplied all of the machines, was targeted, perhaps accounting for the presence of a home on the list of raid targets.
‘Over recent years there has been a marked increase in serious acts of violence, including targeted murders, at such establishments’
“The presence of organized crime groups brings an element of criminality to our communities that is not acceptable. Illegal gaming lines the pockets of organized crime groups and puts our citizens at risk,” said Supt. Keith Finn, Officer in Charge of CFSEU and Serious and Organized Crime in the GTA.
“Cafes or social clubs that house illegal gaming machines have far too often been a focal point in criminal investigations associated to organized crime,” said Sgt. Penny Hermann, an RCMP spokeswoman. “Over recent years there has been a marked increase in serious acts of violence, including targeted murders, at such establishments.
“Criminal violence, sometimes unreported in any formal complaint to police, also flows from the illicit gaming occurring within. Illegal gaming machines are a major source of revenue for organized crime groups and this revenue facilitates further criminal activities that pose a pervasive threat to Canadian communities.”
The raids are designed to nip the flow of money from the machines to the mob.
Although there have been a number of high-profile shootings and arsons in recent months at or near cafes or social clubs that are frequented by mobsters, Hermann said the raids are not specifically linked to the investigation of those incidents.
Mafia bosses and members have a long history of using cafes or social clubs as meeting places and hangouts, often using them as a headquarters for their activities.
In Toronto, Carmine Verduci, 56, a mobster described as a transatlantic go-between for gangsters in Italy and Canada was shot dead outside Regina Sports Café in Woodbridge in 2014. Last June, two people were shot dead at Moka Espresso Bar & Gelato in Woodbridge, home to an illegal gambling operation, police said.
In November, Grotteria Social Club in Woodbridge was firebombed. Its owner has long been linked to the Mafia and over decades police watched a who’s who of mobsters meeting and greeting at the club.
In Montreal, the Rizzuto Mafia family used a café named after the Sicilian hometown they are originally from as a headquarters.
Last year the Charbonneau commission into corruption in the construction industry of Quebec showed secretly recorded police video surveillance inside the café of the leaders of the Montreal Mafia meeting major construction company bosses who passed over large wads of cash. The mobsters are then seen dividing it up and stuffing it into their pockets or into their socks.
After Montreal’s powerful Mafia boss, Vito Rizzuto, was arrested, the first public signs of an underworld revolt were a series of firebombings targeting mob-linked cafés.