The Mafia may be in serious decline in the U.S., but its counterpart in Canada is doing brisk business – in drugs and murder.
Police in Palermo, Sicily, have arrested two people in connection with the gangland killings of two Canadian mobsters in what appears to be the spillover of a dangerous turf war across the Atlantic.
The incinerated bodies of Juan Ramon Paz Fernandez and Fernando Pimentel – two Canadian gangsters -- were found near a trash dump in the countryside outside Palermo last week, in response to an anonymous tip-off.
Their bodies had been hit by at least 30 bullets.
Palermo police characterized the killings as an “old-fashioned” Mafia-style execution and believe the murders were ordered by Fernandez’s enemies in Canada.
“We believe the order to kill him came from Canada. We are sure of it,” an Italian officer said, according to Canada’s National Post newspaper.
Fernandez, 57, was the Spanish-born, Canada-reared enforcer for Vito Rizzuto, the head of the Montreal mafia crime family and one of the most powerful criminals in the world.
Fernandez, known as “Joe Bravo,” was deported from Canada last year after serving 10 years in prison for conspiracy to murder another mobster.
According to the Guardian newspaper, last summer Fernandez moved from Toronto to Sicily, where he was suspected of establishing a massive drug trafficking pipeline between Palermo and Canada with help from the Sicilian Cosa Nostra.
Pimentel came to Palermo only a few weeks prior, reportedly to help Fernandez (who was fronting as a martial arts instructor in order to disguise his mob activities).
“[Fernandez] was taking over in the Cosa Nostra family of Bagheria [a town outside Palermo] due to his tight links with the [local] boss, Sergio Flamia,” an Italian prosecutor told the National Post.
The National Post noted that although as a Spaniard (and not Italian), Fernandez could never be a made member of the mob; he was indispensable to Rizzuto and served as his “right-hand man.”
The two men arrested in connection with the double murder, brothers Pietro and Salvatore Scaduto, are also closely tied to the Canadian branch of the Mafia.
The Scadutos moved to Canada in 1989 after their own father was killed in a mafia war in Sicily. Pietro Scaduto apparently worked for the Rizzutos before returning to Sicily.
The Post reported that Fernandez and Pimentel were lured to their deaths by the Scaduto brothers who offered to discuss a drug deal on the outskirts of Palermo. Apparently, Fernandez knew and trusted the Scadutos, having made their acquaintance in Canada. The ruse worked, leading to an ambush, a hail of bullets and death.
It is unclear what relation, if any, the Scadutos have with the Rizzuto clan now, or if they represent a breakaway faction of the family.
Agence France Presse reported that the murders may have been related to efforts by a French-Canadian gangster named Raynald Desjardin to wrest control of the Montreal family away from Rizzuto.
On a broader scale, Italian authorities now believe that Canadian-based Mafiosi are expanding their drug pipelines to Sicily after other Italian organized crime entities, i.e., the Camorra of Naples and the ‘Ndrangheta of Calabria, had supplanted the Cosa Nostra as the principal drug traffickers between Europe and North America.
“There’s four guys at an important Mafia murder in Sicily and three of them lived in Canada. That says a lot about the Mafia here [in Canada], their mobility, their relationships internationally,” an Ontario organized crime investigator told the Post in connection with the latest killings.
At the center of this sordid and epic tale lies Vito Rizzuto, a name largely unknown to the U.S. public but very familiar to Canadians.
Rizzuto, who ruled (and perhaps still rules) the Montreal family, became a global player in the 1980s by entering into an alliance with the Bonanno crime family, one of the fabled Five Families of New York City, to import drugs from Sicily to North America.
Vito Rizzuto, son of crime boss Nicolo Rizzuto, was released from prison in the Unites States in October 2012, after serving only five years of a 10-year sentence in connection with one of the most spectacular U.S. mafia killings in history.
In 1981, Rizzuto was reportedly recruited by Joey Massino, a senior member of the New York-based Bonanno crime family, to help in the planned assassination of three capos, Philip Giaccone, Dominick Trinchera and Alphonse Indelicato, who were suspected of conspiring to seize control of the family from then-boss Phillip Rastelli.
Massino, who eventually became a government informant to avoid the death sentences, fingered Rizzuto as one of four gunmen who shot the three Bonanno captains to death. But this did not happen until 2003, more than two decades after the triple murders. Rizzuto was able to evade and delay justice until he was finally extradited to the U.S. in August 2006.
Now, with Vito Rizzuto returning to his native Montreal home, the killings have again resumed.
The Montreal Gazette reported that between October 2012 and February 2013, at least seven murders and two attempted murders took place in Montreal – some directly related to Rizzuto’s return.
One of the most prominent victims was Joseph Di Maulo, a 70-year-old Mafioso who allegedly wanted to take control of the Montreal family away from Rizzuto.
“While he [Rizzuto] was in jail, he still had an army, a large army that stayed loyal,” a police source told the Gazette.
However, it is unclear if Rizzuto is actually orchestrating these killings or if he is an innocent bystander.
Pierre De Champlain, a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police analyst and an author of Mafia books, told the paper: “Since [Rizzuto’s] return, we appear to be seeing a return to force of the Sicilians and you have to ask if it isn’t playing in the favor of Vito Rizzuto. But this remains to be seen. I don’t think Vito Rizzuto is in control of the situation as it stands now. But it seems that things are turning in his favor. No one could have foreseen this about a year ago. I think that Rizzuto has the support of people who were underestimated. It really is an unexpected reversal.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.