BY ROB LAMBERTI, SPECIAL TO THE TORONTO SUN
Ontario’s underworld seems dormant as Quebec shows rumblings for more Mob violence.
But not all is quiet in Ontario, as the province is a key place for organized crime to transform into legitimate, lucrative businesses.
A southern Ontario police source who’s kept tabs on organized crime figures says he’s watched men who have worked their way up, from being poor, violent gangsters involved in various criminal trades such as drugs, cargo thefts, extortions and loan sharking, and morphing into polite, well-polished high-end auto and clothes retailers and financiers.
It’s getting harder for law enforcement to follow the dirty money, adds Mafia expert Antonio Nicaso, as reams of dirty money are parked offshore and used as collateral in legitimate businesses.
“The next step, you can sponsor, you can give money to politicians, you can give to charity, you can do fundraising ... and you build a social presence,” he says. “Who can challenge someone with suspicious Mafia past affiliations when he is involved with charity, fundraising events.
“In Canada, we have a long list of people that started in a very strange way ... and then they become big shots in the economy and financial world,” Nicaso says.
“Who can challenge them?” he asks.
Nevertheless that veneer of respectability fails to hide some who haven’t let go of the money the underworld promises.
“When you’ve started in a life of crime and you have a criminal enterprise that’s generating $10,000, $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 a week, I don’t give a shit what anyone says, you’re not going to turn it off,” the police source said. “If you’ve been making it for 10, 12, 14 years, why would you stop?
“All they do is insulate themselves. What are (their) kids going to do? Are they going to take over (their) legitimate businesses? Absolutely. Are they going to take over his criminal enterprises? Who knows what they’re going to do?”
The source says the media image of the thug-like mobster doesn’t always match the reality of an organized crime leader.
“Because if you look at the modern-day Mob or members of organized crime, how they are in Europe and how they evolved, the modern day criminal is someone who is highly educated, has a professional career and masks his criminal enterprise behind his professional public life,” the source said.
Projects Magot and Mastiff last year revealed connections between the Hells Angels, Quebec street gangs and the Rizzuto crime family. The source noted many in law enforcement never believed Leonardo Rizzuto, son of the late Montreal Mob boss Vito, would play a role in his father’s criminal enterprise because he’s a lawyer. Yet Quebec police arrested him and Stefano Sollecito, a son of long-time Rizzuto clan supporter Rocco, alleging they are leaders of the crime family and charging them with drug- and gangsterism-related charges. Those charges have yet to be proven in court and the accused have said nothing publicly about those charges.
Some ‘Ndrangheta leaders take offence when it’s suggested they can only succeed as drug dealers, loan sharks or thieves, the source said.
But, the officer said, the source of their money concerns police who increasingly feel they can do little to stop the alchemy of cleansing dirty money.
“It’s the whole idea of legitimization,” the source said. “They come here, they develop a criminal enterprise, they work with cash, they withhold taxes, they don’t declare proper income and they start making so much money, they get involved with accountants and lawyers.”
The Mob has billions at its disposal.
The 2008 annual report on the Calabrian crime group by an Italian parliamentary committee said one can’t understand “the strength of the ‘Ndrangheta, its diffusion, its roots in the region and the expansion of its activities to the north (in Italy) and abroad, if you do not grasp in depth the nature of (its) great economic and criminal holdings.”
The Italian government manages ‘Ndrangheta portfolios involving billions of euros, thousands of companies and tens of thousands of properties. Italian authorities, for example, seized last July about two billion euros in cash plus assets controlled by one alleged ‘Ndrangheta group that police say laundered money through gambling operations.
Most of the clans have strong family and business ties to southern Ontario. The Canadian government estimates between $5 billion and $15 billion are laundered annually in Canada by all crime groups, part of a $1 trillion global industry.
“They’re building plazas, buying car dealerships, they’re business people,” the police source said of Ontario’s ‘Ndrangheta. “They sit down and have business meetings. There does come a time when it’s not about holding a gun and robbing somebody.”
Organized crime in Ontario is too successful to stay illegal.
Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission revealed the intertwined relationships are between organized crime, business and politics and it would be folly not to expect similar links in Ontario.
“When you think of mafia, you can’t have the mafia without the politician who helps out,” says mafia expert Antonio Nicaso. “There is politics without mafia, there is corruption without mafia, but there is no mafia without politics, there is no mafia without corruption.”
Nicaso says Ontario is a safe haven for criminal organizations. While moving large sums of money and keeping low profiles, people on the whole aren’t afraid or perceive a problem — a perfect scenario to conduct business.
“The idea that there are no social alarms, no social issues, no one can say, ‘We have a problem with organized crime,’” Nicaso says. “Organized crime is not on the political agenda in Ontario, it’s not an issue.
“Inaction helps organized crime to flourish,” he adds.
Meanwhile, animosity between the crime groups in Ontario and Quebec festers as accounts remain to be settled in ongoing vendettas, a police source said.
“There are no surprises,” the source said. “They know exactly who killed what, who (they) did it for and for what reasons.
“If you’re going to keep control of the criminal enterprise, there are certain things that have to be done, it’s worth too much money.”