Onetime Montreal Boss Paolo Violi's Sicilian Sojourn

The so-called mental dullard Carmine Galante swiftly perceived Montreal's strategic importance for large-scale narcotics trafficking.

First off is the Quebec province's proximity to New York, the world's premier market for anything of value, including illegal products, such as narcotics.

Port of Montreal 

Then there's Montreal's extensive array of port facilities, which made it the perfect platform from which to smuggle European-synthesized drugs into North America. (It was a lot easier to smuggle drugs into Montreal than into New York.) And from the Empire State, the drugs easily could be brought to cities across the continental United States.

The drugs didn't necessarily have to cross the border in New York. In fact, the Mafia likely used many of the same smuggling routes used during Prohibition, which also is likely when elements of organized crime in America and Canada began forming alliances.

After the January 16, 1920 passage of the Volstead Act, heralding Prohibition, the early Mafia clans began to profit off the sale of booze by running their own clandestine distilleries. The problem was the police kept raiding them. In the long run, the gangsters decided the easier and more profitable route was to buy liquor in other countries, then smuggle it into America. Canada, of course, was the closest to America's major mob--ridden urban centers (New York, Chicago, Detroit, etc.). In fact so much Canadian liquor was smuggled into America that only 20 percent of the liquor distilled in Canada was consumed domestically.

Following Galante's blood-drenched reorganization of the Montreal underworld in the 1950s, the Cotroni clan was left in power to represent the Bonanno crime family's interests. They were "the bridgehead between the drug producers of Corsica and Marseilles and the huge market of users in New York, making Montreal one of the world’s most important waypoints for narcotics at the time."

Whether Galante knew that the Cotroni clan consisted of a combination of Calabrian and Sicilian mobsters is unknown. Joseph Bonanno seemed to know this -- and even used this knowledge to his benefit.

Bonanno "gave Cotroni the edge," as Lee Lamothe and Adrian Humphrey's reported in The Sixth Family. This balance of power by Bonanno established two decades of peace and prosperity.

The Cotroni brothers, Vincenzo and Frank, ruled the Montreal underworld for decades. Montrealers knew them well as the Cotroni crime syndicate often made the front pages of Montreal's newspapers. It still does -- the Rizzuto family is an evolutionary offshoot of the Cotroni organization.

In 1979 (see below video) Vincenzo Cotroni, amazingly enough, stood still long enough for a couple of Canadian journalists to lob some basic questions at him (he easily ducked all of them).

When asked how he earned his living, he humbly submitted he made the pepperoni toppings for pizzas.

The Montreal Mafia crew was formally made part of the Bonanno crime family in 1931, when the Mafia Commission was founded. (Interestingly, when Vito Rizzuto pleaded guilty for his role in the three captains murder plot in 2005, he told the court he was a soldier in the Bonanno family.)

In the 1970s, a new Montreal law enforcement entity was established to investigate organized crime in Montreal, called the CECO (The Commission on Organized Crime was established in September 1972).

"Its explosive revelations were devastating for the Calabrian clan; the police wiretaps and bugs had brought to light the serious rifts between Montreal’s Calabrian and Sicilian Mafiosi. The resulting strife would lead to a bloody denouement,denouement, with a series of settlings of accounts that culminated in January 1978 with the dramatic execution of Paolo Violi."

The Calabrians, led by Vincenzo “Vic” Cotroni, were from Italy’s southern mainland. Violi also hailed from Calabria. Born on February 6, 1931, in Sinopoli, he was the child of the man considered by Italian law enforcement to be the local Ndrangheta boss. Domenico, Violi's father, was ostensibly a shepherd. Paolo seemed to take a shine to his father's criminal lifestyle and earned for himself the classification of "delinquent" while barely a teenager. A 1947 Italian police report described the then 16-year-old as “a dangerous person with an impulsive nature, capable of anything because of his propensity for violence.”

The Cotroni family's Sicilian faction was from Siculiana and Cattolica Eraclea and included such Mafia luminaries as Nicolò Rizzuto and Cuntrera-Caruana family members. Vast numbers of Sicilians from these two towns arrived in Canada in the mid-1950s and mid-1960s; they also established branches in South America and one of a more covert nature in the United States.

Nicolo Rizzuto, in the middle...

Paolo Violi arrived in Canada in 1951 at age 20. In 1955 he killed another Calabrian, Natale Brigante, in what law enforcement determined to be an act of self-defense following a parking lot altercation. (Though according to law enforcement intel, the killing may actually have been a hit ordered in Calabria.)

Violi was taken under the wing of Southern Ontrario's Calabrian crime family boss, Giacomo Luppino, who was a close friend of Violi's father.

Violi had eyes on eventually running the show; Giacomo likely saw him as a possible heir to the throne, especially when Violi married Luppino's daughter, Grazia, in 1965. Violi had by then moved to Montreal to help back Vic Cotroni, the Calabrian boss in Montreal who had decided he needed more Ndrangheta support when his "partner" Luigi Greco formed an alliance with Nicolò Rizzuto.

Vito's Father, a Legendary Mafia Figure in His Own Right

It all began with Nicolò Rizzuto. The man seemed to have issues with authority figures. Or perhaps this was the case when those authority figures were Calabrians.

Whatever Nicolò's personal reasons, he was simply unable to follow Cotroni's few key regulations, such as occasionally appraising him of what money-making ventures Rizzuto was working on, as well as his travel itinerary. Rizzuto simply ignored their inquiries.

They should've just killed Rizzuto -- which probably was one of Violi's last thoughts before he was blasted with a shotgun.

For whatever reason, Violi decided to build something of a consensus before striking out at Rizzuto. (Which doesn't mean he would've been successful even if he'd built his consensus first.).

Violi's problem was that the mob guys in New York kind of liked Nick Rizzuto. He had balls. And Violi probably appeared weak to them with his constant griping over Rizzuto....

“Violi said that Rizzuto had been jealous of him since Luigi Greco had given him control of operations on Montreal’s West Island, which prevented Rizzuto from wielding greater influence within the Cotroni decina,” an RCMP intelligence brief reads.

Violi soon learned that Rizzuto, a mere soldier in the Cotroni family, had had the gall to bad-mouth him all the way back in New York!

The one thing Paolo Violi had going for him, however -- admittedly, it was a pretty big thing too -- was the simple fact that out of all his lieutenants, Vic Cotroni favoured Paolo Violi. So while Violi planned to succeed Cotroni one day, Rizzuto know full well he'd continue to be the Calabrians' second-fiddle. Still, Violi continued to feel threatened by the wily Sicilian.

“How could discipline be ensured, when one of their members refused to follow orders?” Violi would whisper to any of his compadres who'd care to listen.

Ever the consensus builder, Violi flew to Calabria (and Sicily) as part of his campaign to build support for the removal of Rizzuto.

He met with Antonino Calderone, once a powerful Mafia boss in Sicily's Catania province. When he arrived and at the sitdown with the respected Don, he was "greeted... with contempt" by Calderone, who later flipped and informed on the Sicilian Mafia.

Sicilian boss who flipped. Wasn't crazy about Calabrians...

As fate would have it, he also wrote a memoir in which he detailed his gnawing hatred of the Calabrians, especially the ones he characterized as "like Violi."

"There are no Cosa Nostra families or men of honor in Calabria,” he noted in Men of Dishonor: Inside the Sicilian Mafia.

"Paolo Violi didn’t make a great impression on me. He was a braggart, a big, fat man who didn’t seem to have much upstairs. In any case, he was going to Calabria because he thought there were “men of honor” there. Things are different, in fact, in America. American “men of honor” aren’t just Sicilians, but even Calabrians and Neapolitans. It doesn’t matter. At this point one could ask: if Violi was Calabrian and an important Mafioso, how is it possible that he didn’t have a direct channel, that he didn’t personally know ’ndranghestiti [members of the ’Ndrangheta] of Calabria? … Well

"Sicilians, however, did not make Calabrians men of honor … And then the Calabrians would talk, talk, talk. They talked all the time. Not to others, of course, but among themselves. They would have endless arguments about their rules, especially in the presence of us men of honor. They felt uneasy because they knew that in reality they were inferior to the Cosa Nostra, and they would try to confuse men of honor with all those quibbles and verbal snares..."

Violi later in the trip met with Sicilian boss Giuseppe Settecasi, the capomafia of Agrigento Province.

"Settecasi listened patiently as his guest rattled off his grievances about Nicolò Rizzuto. Then he decided to go to Canada to investigate for himself."

He also took the opportunity to attend the May 16, 1972, wedding of Don Giacomo Luppino’s son Domenico in Hamilton, Ontario.

The ceremony gave the impression that relations between Sicilian and Calabrian criminal factions were amicable, since the guest list included Cotroni as well as Montreal-based Sicilians Giuseppe Cuffaro, Antonio Caruana and Emanuele Ragusa.

Settecasi refused to take sides.

On the one hand, he felt a far greater kinship with Nicolò Rizzuto, a paesano from Agrigento. On the other, he didn’t want to risk offending the Americans and touching off hostilities by backing Violi.

So Violi turned to New York -- and the result was, five years later, in 1977, Paolo Violi was dining with some friends when an assassin rushed into the restaurant and blasted him in the head with a lupara.

The double-barreled sawed-off shotgun is known to have been favored by Sicilian Cosa Nostra members seeking to permanently solve a problem.

Mobsters, less so today in America, are occasionally cut down in their prime, usually by gunfire (see above).

Frank Cotroni, Vic's younger brother, and Joseph Bonanno shared a certain distinction. Both lived long lives and died of illnesses typical to people of advanced years, aka natural causes. Bonanno met whatever awaits us on the other side of consciousness on May 10, 2002. He'd been living in his longtime Arizona retreat. Because he wrote an incriminating autobiography, no Bonanno member or associate attended the funeral.

The family's boss at the time had even begun a stillborn effort to rename the crime family after himself. Frank Cotroni, who died on Aug. 17 2004, of brain cancer, was laid out at the Loreto funeral home as well as at the Church of the Madonna della Difesa, on Dante Street in Saint-Léonard. Very few members of Montreal’s Sicilian Mafia attended the funeral ceremony.

Vito Rizzuto’s father, Nicolò, however, did pay his respects.

Nicolo himself had six years left before a sniper ended his life on a cold November's eve in 2010.

Inside his luxurious family mansion in northwest Montreal, Rizzuto likely felt safe and cozy, though who knows. He was eating dinner with his family when quite suddenly he was shot in the head right where he sat at the dinning room table at around 5:40 p.m. ET.
Rizzuto, considered the most powerful figurehead of Montreal's Sicilian Mafia, was 86.

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