Murder of alleged mafia heir rattles Montreal

AFP American Edition
December 30th, 2009
CRIME Montreal Hit

The murder of a Montreal mafia leader’s son could unleash a bloody struggle over control of the criminal group, Canadian experts said Tuesday.

Nick Rizzuto, whose father Vito Rizzuto is currently imprisoned in the United States, was shot dead at close range in broad daylight on a Montreal street near his car on Monday.

Nick Rizzuto, 42, was the organization’s heir apparent and experts said his supporters would likely respond in kind to the murder.

“It’s the first time a crime family is on the defensive” against their rivals, said Antonio Nicaso, author of several books on the Canadian mafia.

“It’s an unprecedented challenge,” he added. “It arrives at the weakest moment for them since they took power after Paolo Violi’s assassination in 1978.”

The group’s patriarch, Nicolo Rizzuto, 85, arrived in Canada from Sicily in 1954 and settled in Montreal. He was linked to existing Italian mafia groups, and is accused of playing a role in the assassination of Violi, a member of a rival group.

That assassination cleared the way for the Rizzutos to take control of the city’s mafia, and their hold was consolidated by Nicolo’s son, Vito, a charismatic and diplomatic criminal operative.

“No one challenged Vito, who was the architect of the consortium with Hells Angels, Irish gangs of West End, Colombian cartels, street gangs — he used to include some street gangs,” Nicaso said.

But the family operation was compromised in 2004, when Vito Rizzuto was arrested on US racketeering charges, leaving his father Nicolo to run the group along with several trusted lieutenants.

In 2006, he was extradited to the United States and prosecuted in connection with the 1981 murder of three Bonanno crime family members, earning a 10-year sentence.

Then in November 2006, Canadian police launched a massive crackdown dubbed “Operation Coliseum,” which led to Nicolo Rizzuto’s arrest and conviction.

He was sentenced to four years in prison and sent to jail along with a number of his associates, though he has since been released under strict monitoring.

With the family’s patriarchs behind bars or under intense scrutiny, the leadership role fell to Nick Rizzuto, though observers noted that the man dubbed the “prince of the mafia” lacked credibility with the organization.

Unlike his brother and sister, who are both lawyers, Nick Rizzuto did not go to college, choosing instead to go into loan sharking and money laundering, with a sideline in real estate.

“He was a performer” who passed messages to his father and oversaw street-level criminal operations, said Pierre de Champlain, a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) intelligence analyst in Ottawa, cited by Cyberpresse.

Experts are entertaining two theories about Nick Rizzuto’s murder.

One suggests he may have been the victim of a street gang that took advantage of the clan’s weakness to kill their leader because they no longer wanted to share the profits of their criminal undertakings.

Or, more likely, he was caught up in the mafia’s internal conflict over their relations with street gangs.

“Recently there was a disagreement in the mafia about sharing the profits with the street gangs,” according to Nicaso. After Vito’s arrest “there was no boss accepted by all… and there were frictions.”

A series of Molotov cocktail attacks against Italian restaurants in Montreal may be related to the conflict, Nicaso said.

“In my opinion,” de Champlain said, the murder “is the concrete result of open warfare within the mafia.”

In the next days “we will see whether they (the Rizzutos) can strike back,” Nicaso said.

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