At 7.30 on an October morning, Friday the 5th, in 2012 the gates to America’s highest-security ‘supermax’ prison, ADX Florence in Colorado were opened. After spending six-years in prison Vito Rizzuto was once again a free man.
On January 20th, 2004 28 members of the Bonanno family, this included Vito Rizzuto in Canada, were arrested and hit with a number of indictments which included the 1981 triple murder of three Bonanno capos Alphonse ‘Sonny Red’ Indelicato, Philip ‘Phil Lucky’ Gianconne and Dominick ‘Big Trin’ Trinchera.
After the July 12th, 1979 murder of Carmine Galante at Joe and Mary’s restaurant, 205 Knickerbocker Avenue, Brooklyn and with Bonanno boss at the time, Phil Rastelli in jail Sonny Red felt the time was right for change at the top. However, he didn’t want an unnecessary war so organised a sit-down with Dominick ‘Sonny Black’ Napolitano, which never took place. Then on May 5th, 1981 Sonny Red, Phil Lucky and Big Trin were lured to their deaths by fellow Bonanno capo Gerlando Sciascia at the Embassy Terrace, 2148 West 5th Street, Brooklyn. FBI records suggest that following the triple murder Vito Rizzuto was officially inducted as a capo in the Bonanno crime family and had full control of the families interests in Montreal. Future Bonanno boss Joseph Massino was concerned about Sonny Red’s son, Anthony Indelicato, exacting revenge for his father’s murder so put out a contract on him. It was this contract, given to Benjamin ‘Lefty’ Ruggiero and his sidekick Donnie Brasco aka FBI agent Joseph Pistone that forced the FBI to unveil Donnie Brasco as an undercover agent.
Following Vito’s arrest in 2004:
“U.S. officials immediately ask for Rizzuto’s extradition to the U.S., where a conviction could send him to prison for 27 years. Rizzuto’s five lawyers said U.S. prosecutors waited too long to charge Rizzuto, claiming the statute of limitations for the alleged crimes had expired. They ask for Rizzuto to be released from jail and financially compensated. Their fight against the extradition order lasts almost three years, and ends in Supreme Court.
Vito Rizzuto’s arrest marks a major loss for the family’s business, experts say. A skilled mediator, Rizzuto was recognized for birthing a strategic alliance between the Mafia and other criminal organizations, including the Hells Angels, Rock Machine and street gangs. Mafia watchers suggest Nick Rizzuto was forced to resume a more active role in the family business in his son’s absence.”1
On August 17th, 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear Rizzuto’s appeal. He was removed to the US soon after. Then on May 4th, 2007 (a day before the 1981 anniversary of the murders) Vito Rizzuto, as part of a plea bargain negotiated in October 2006 pled guilty in a New York court. Rizzuto’s original prepared statement was deemed insufficient by Judge Nicholas Garaufis who said, “Why should I accept a specific sentence when I don’t know what he did? Was he the driver? Was he one of the shooters?”. However, after some legal wrangling the judge finally accepted Vito’s plea after he had admitted “I was one of the guys who participated in this. I said it was a hold-up. The other guys came in and started shooting”. Rizzuto subsequently received a 10-year prison term of which he served six years before being deported back to Canada on his release.
Several family members of Vito Rizzuto died or disappeared while he was incarcerated:
- His eldest son, Nicolo Rizzuto, Jr., was gunned down on December 28, 2009, in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough of Montreal;.
- His brother-in-law and consigliere Paolo Renda disappeared on May 20, 2010, also in Montreal, and is believed to be dead.
- His associate Agostino Cuntrera was executed in broad daylight ten days later on May 30, 2010 in the Saint-Leonard borough of Montreal.
- His father, notorious crime boss Nicolo Rizzuto, was killed by a sniper through his kitchen window in November 2010, at the age of 86.
Shortly after Vito Rizzuto’s release, several men were killed in what is suspected to be retaliation for the hits on his family:
- Drug dealers Emilio Cordileone, Tony Gensale, and Mohamed Awada were eliminated in back to back killings in November 2012 for their alleged implication in the 2008 abduction of a Rizzuto ally.
- Joe Di Maulo, an influential mobster who was suspected of having orchestrated the hits on the Rizzuto clan was executed in the driveway of his home.
- Prior to Christmas 2012, a gunman entered the coffee shop of incarcerated Rizzuto rival Giuseppe De Vito, killing one man, Dominic Facchini, and critically wounding another.
- In January 2013 Gaétan Gosselin, was murdered in front of his home, as was Vincenzo Scuderi, an alleged associate of Giuseppe De Vito.
- More recently Salvatore Caluatti and Moreno Gallo, each of whom had a falling out with Rizzuto, were murdered. Caluatti was shot in the head and killed while sitting in his car. Gallo, a former influential member of Rizzuto’s organization, was shot dead outside a restaurant in Acapulco, Mexico.
- Another 21 related murders also remain unsolved.
Vito Rizzuto’s first recorded arrest took place in 1965 when he received a $25 fine for the low-level crime of breach of the peace. However, in 1972 a conspiracy to commit arson, for which he was arrested alongside his brother-in-law Paolo Renda, would see Rizzuto sentenced to his first jail time. In 1968, Rizzuto and Renda for setting fire to a hairdressing shop owned by Renda for a failed insurance fraud. Rizzuto received 2 years and Renda 5 years. Rizzuto left behind his wife, Sicilian Giovanna Cammalleri (who he married on November 26th, 1966) along with their two sons. Nicolo Jr. born 1967 and Leonardo born 1969. Their third child, a daughter, Libertina was born 1973 while Rizzuto was in prison. When he was released, after serving 18 months, a war was raging between the Calabrian and Sicilian factions of the Montreal Mafia. Leaving his wife and children once again Vito temporarily joined his father Nicolo in Venezuela.
Vito’s next arrest, along with 5 others including Raynald Desjardins, took place in March 1988. The previous October (1987) a ship containing 16 tonnes of hashish was seized off of the north-east coast of Canada. However, during the subsequent trial the RCMP were caught wiretapping conversations that Rizzuto was having with his legal team in a restaurant and the Newfoundland Supreme Court dismissed the case. Rizzuto was arrested again for a different hashish conspiracy charge soon after, 32 tonnes this time through the harbour of Sept-Îles in Quebec, but was acquitted the following year after a state witness was deemed unreliable. Normand Dupuis was about to turn state’s evidence against Rizzuto when at the last-minute he telephoned Rizzuto’s lawyer with a deal, for $1 million he would not testify, but Rizzuto’s lawyer, Jean Salois recorded the conversation and Dupuis was charged with obstruction of justice.
Then, following a RCMP sting operation called ‘Project Compote’ in 1990, Rizzuto who was named as a co-conspirator in a currency exchange scam, did not have enough evidence against him to be charged with an offence. “…during an RCMP investigation into money laundering, an undercover officer heard a suspect, Dominico Tozzi, confide that Mr. Rizzuto instructed him to launder $2-million. Tozzi told the undercover agent that the Italian big boss never touches anything; he is very well known to police and cannot be noticed by them. The RCMP operation, in which undercover officers ran a phony currency-exchange counter, ended with 46 arrests, including a Rizzuto confidant, lawyer Joseph Lagana, who was convicted for laundering $47-million.”2
In an ironic twist in 2001 Quebec police saved, or potentially saved, Rizzuto’s life after they uncovered a plot to assassinate him. The Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada published the following story on July 16th, 2001:
“The reputed head of Montreal’s Mafia may owe his life to the police. With arrests that required the intervention of a police tactical team, Quebec provincial police say they have stopped a plot to kill Vito Rizzuto and two of his associates.
Christian Deschênes, 44, of Lorraine, and Denis-Rolland Girouard, 50, of Saint-Sauveur, were charged Saturday with conspiracy to murder Mr. Rizzuto and another man, Francesco Arcadi. The two suspects were also charged with conspiracy to kidnap a third acquaintance of Mr. Rizzuto, Frank Martorana. Searching the home of Mr. Deschênes, police say they found an arsenal: one Kalashnikov-style automatic rifle, two 9-mm pistols, one .357 magnum revolver, two bulletproof vests and several ammunition clips and walkie-talkies. Mr. Deschênes’s girlfriend, Céline Côté, 48, was charged with possession of a prohibited weapon and three restricted weapons. Mr. Deschênes is described by police as a construction entrepreneur from a small-town north of Montreal. Investigators aren’t clear why anyone would dare conspire to kill such a notorious target as Mr. Rizzuto.
Mr. Rizzuto is “the godfather of the Italian Mafia in Montreal,”
according to court documents filed by Revenue Canada, which accuses him of failing to declare more than $1.5-million in revenues. In a recent court hearing, Montreal police testified that, thanks to an informer wearing a wire who had infiltrated the Hells Angels, they had evidence that the Mafia supplied the biker gang with cocaine and agreed with them on resale prices. At the same time, relations between the two organized-crime syndicates were uneasy.
After six years of turf war against other biker gangs, Quebec’s Hells Angels last year had virtually eliminated all other rivals. Police say that the Hells Angels found that the Mafia was the only criminal group standing in the way of their desire to have a monopoly over Montreal’s illegal drug trade. But before anything erupted between the two sides, the top leaders of the Quebec Hells Angels were arrested last March in a massive police operation. Mr. Deschênes and Mr. Girouard were being followed by police when a tactical team arrested them Friday night as they were driving in separate cars, following each other, in the St-Leonard district, in north-end Montreal. Police believe the two men were on their way to a nearby café, reputed to be a hangout of Mafia members.
“They weren’t armed. They were going to check out the place,” said Sûreté du Québec Constable Pierre Robichaud, a provincial police spokesman.
Police say they also discovered 300 marijuana plants at Mr. Girouard’s residence. The two arrested men had been under the surveillance of the provincial police for three months. The investigation began after the Montreal Urban Community police tipped off the provincial police about several potential holdups. While checking that information, provincial police investigators discovered the plot to kill Mr. Rizzuto, police said.”3
Slightly over a year after being released from prison, after becoming ill at a party, on Monday December 23, 2013 Vito, who was born February 21, 1946 in Cattolica Eraclea, Sicily passed away at the Sacré-Couer Hospital in Cartierville, Montreal. Although Vito’s death was officially recorded as natural causes, strangely an autopsy didn’t take place.
1 https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/the-rizzuto-family-1.899385. Accessed 16/04/20.
- Associated Press
- Court transcripts
- FBI Vault
- National Crime Syndicate
- National Post
- The Transnational Institute
- Montreal Gazette
- The Globe and Mail, Canada