Montagna's Epic Potential to Be Montreal Godfather

In the fall of 2011 at around 3:30 p.m. a black BMW X5 pulled into the Tim Hortons' parking lot on Montreal's Lafontaine Boulevard.

A black-and-grey Ford Flex was seen nosing its way into the parking lot a short time later. The SA Sûreté du Québec -- the Quebec Provincial Police -- had put a surveillance team there specifically to watch whoever participated in the meeting, called following an attempt on Raynald Desjadins' life.

Montagna could sit back and grow wealthy and prosperous, with the Ndrangheta and some pretty violent Mexican Cartels backing him.
Montagna dared to make a huge power play.

The tempers of many violent members of a once-solid Mafia faction were inflamed after an alliance was torn asunder; the result weakened a syndicate formed solely to mount a hostile takeover of the Montreal Mafia from loyalists of Vito Rizzuto, who was absent from the milieu to serve a prison sentence for his role in a brutal triple homicide that set the course for New York's Bonanno crime family.

On that fall night in 2011, Domenico Arcuri Jr. emerged from the BMW.

The Arcuris were longtime Rizzuto loyalists whose roots extended back to the same Sicilian town from which both Vito and Domenico's father had hailed: Cattolica Eraclea, a municipality in Sicily's Province of Agrigento founded in medieval times.

Salvatore "The Iron Worker" Montagna got out of the Flex.

The two headed inside.

Arcuri Jr. and his brother were born into Mafia life. They owned Crème Glacée Ital Gelati Inc., an ice-cream business based in St-Léonard. Their father, Domenico Arcuri Sr., had acquired the business from Paolo Violi, the former Calabrian boss who headed up Montreal's organized crime group, which included Sicilians.

Only the Sicilians, under an agitating Nicolo Rizzuto, killed Violi in 1978, allowing for the rise of the Rizzuto Cosa Nostra clan.

By the fall of 2011, when Arcuri Jr. met with "The Iron Worker," it was widely known that the Arcuris were aligned with Montagna, who'd joined with Raynald Desjardins, Vito's former right-hand man, as well as Raynald's brother-in-law, the respected Montreal gangster Giuseppe "Joe" Di Maulo.

Desjardins supposedly turned on Vito over a long prison term he'd served. The seemingly untouchable Vito never got ensnared in the case.

Desjardins' true motive however was likely jealousy, coupled with opportunism. Joseph Massino was a government informant. At the American government's urging, Vito was arrested in Montreal. No one was around to mind the shop -- or at least no one perceived to be effective enough following the Project Colisee roundup. (Desjardins was not nabbed in that bust because he'd been in prison during the years-long investigation.)

Some very tough gangsters had joined with Desjardins due to the seething anger they felt at the Rizzutos, a syndicate that, frankly, had killed a wide swath of mobsters to fuel its rise in the underworld, creating quite a few widows and orphans. One mobster in particular blamed Rizzuto for the loss of his two daughters who his own wife (and the girls' mother) had murdered due to mental illness. But blaming another person is easier than blaming oneself for bad decision making, like choosing to be an outlaw.

The Desjardins and Montagna camps united and were poised to take control of the rudderless Rizzuto organization.

Montagna decided to throw in his chips with Desjardins. What had fueled Montagna's decision to rebel against the Sicilian organized crime clan in Montreal was the fact that he'd cultivated a false sense of security based on an incorrect perception: the fact that Nicolo Rizzuto and Nick Rizzuto Jr. had been killed with total impunity meant Vito was finished, Montagna was incorrectly led to believe.

Now it seemed the grand alliance was on the verge of total collapse when Montagna met with Arcuri at Hortons. 

Someone had fired shots at Desjardins and his bodyguard in September 2011. Desjardins had survived, however, and held no doubts that Montagna had ordered the shooting. He'd been carefully avoiding "The Iron Worker," deciding not to even meet Montagna at the doughnut shop. (It was widely known that surveillance was spread thickly around the place.)

If Desjardins wasn't willing to meet the former New Yorker, then it was a simple matter of time before he'd issue his own orders.

Montagna must have realized, when he saw Arcuri there without Desjardins, that it was all over, that he'd be the one who'd die now. Still Montagna never lost hope; he decided to launch a non-stop campaign of words and actions designed to convince Desjardins that he hadn't issued the order and that Desjardins could trust him.

Montagna devoted himself to this campaign to such an extent it likely made him an easy target. The reason: Montagna knew he was a dead man anyway and that he had nothing to lose.

The missing Desjardins was not lost on members of the surveillance team either, who texted headquarters that the meeting was beginning without Raynald...

Desjardins may have won the battle with the Iron Worker, but he never touched Vito. He watched, helpless from his cell, while Vito Rizzuto slaughtered his allies.

From the surveillance team's viewpoint, the former Bonanno acting boss appeared to be making a quite impassioned argument, dedicating all his powers of persuasion to convince Domenico Jr. that he had no reason to want Desjardins dead.

Montagna confided that he knew the true villain was the “family.”

As noted in Business or Blood:

Montagna suggested that new Rizzuto leadership had now been established: Vito’s mother, Zia Libertina. As he described it, all power flowed from the octogenarian. If Montagna was telling the truth, this was a development to be feared, not laughed off. Zia Libertina was a Mafia don’s daughter, and she had recently lost both her husband and her eldest grandson to gunmen while her only son rotted in an American prison cell. 
It sounded absurd, that the acting boss of a New York Mafia family could be afraid of the wrath of a great-grandmother, but Mickey Mouse (as Montagna was by then known) was clearly nervous. Montagna described Desjardins as the only ally he could count on in Canada. Montagna’s men would be happy to meet him anywhere. Montagna nervously tapped his hand as he made his pitch.
Arcuri likely was privy to certain decisions already made. Or perhaps he realized that some things, once broken, can't be repaired. Maybe he simply felt sorry that Montagna had made the wrong move. It's also possible he himself believed whatever Montagna said was truthful.

But Arcuri, who's father would die one year later in a highly suspicious accident in the U.S. (in Florida), knew the limitations of his own influence.

A member of the surveillance team would later say he thought he'd seen tears in Arcuri’s eyes.

Montagna begged and pleaded in the doughnut shop. He swore to Arcuri that he had nothing to gain from Desjardin’s death.

As Business or Blood noted:
As the American told things, now, more than ever, the Desjardins and Montagna sides needed to stick together. 
Clearly, the New Yorker was rattled. The fact that Desjardins chose not to meet with him spoke volumes: it was easy to conclude that the hunter and the hunted had shifted roles. Montagna seemed almost relieved by the heavy police surveillance.
Montagna's Evolving Perceptions
Only one year earlier, "The Iron Worker" freshly moved into a nondescript home owned by his cousin in Saint-Hubert, a town north of Montreal, walked with a low-key swagger.

Montagna first visited the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), including the waterfront steel-making town of Hamilton, where he met with members of the local ’Ndrangheta. Ever since Giacomo Luppino had settled in Hamilton, the Calabrian Mafia had been planting flags all over Ontario.

Montagna also made several trips to Toronto, where he met with Paolo Violi's relatives, along with Moreno Gallo, who'd later be killed in an Italian restaurant in Acapulco, shot to death during dinner.

Overall Montagna seemed focused on bolstering his ties to the ’Ndrangheta and old-school Canadian mobsters. Oddly, he did not bother visiting with local Sicilian mobsters. A Sicilian himself, Montagna knew he was breaking basic protocol.

By the time of Montagna's arrival the GTA-based Ndrangheta had use for him. They and their Mexican Cartel partners already controlled the back door to the New York drug market (through Ciudad Juárez). If Montagna could help them gain control of the Port of Montreal, they could then enter North America through the front door as well.

Montagna did have the option to drift into anonymity by becoming a member of the Ndrangheta in Ontario. In fact he had family members living in Woodbridge, just north of Toronto, which presented him with the opportunity to settle there. He supposedly could've joined up with the Coluccio Ndrangheta cell established nearby.

But the former street boss of one of New York's storied Five Families didn't seem pleased with the idea of fading into the background. He didn't speak French, which he considered a major problem staying around the Ndrangheta in Ontario. He also supposedly wasn't a small-town guy. Montreal seemed the more inviting place for Salvatore "The Iron Worker" Montagna.

Overall, Ontario promised Montagna a degree of prosperity and personal safety. The Calabrians had tolerated the Rizzutos in Montreal but were more than willing to turn against him if they could make a more prosperous arrangement with another Godfather in Quebec.

These cues the Ndrangheta passed to him seemed to have stimulated Montagna to start formulating plans. He'd clearly decided to seize power in Montreal as part of an alliance with the Ndrangheta in Ontario. By giving the Ndrangheta access to America's front door, Montagna then could sit back comfortably and grow fat and wealthy. He'd have the Ndrangheta and some violent Mexican Cartels backing him. He'd be a major player in Canada, the de facto drug lord of a vast Ndrangheta-based narcotics empire stretching from Ontario to Montreal that literally pumped drugs into New York every which way.

Montagna wasn't cooking up an Easy Bake oven treat, however, and he knew it. The Cuntrera–Caruana group, the Mafia's key financiers, had been aligned with Vito’s syndicate, a quite profitable relationship. The family had a strong presence in Toronto, though. So while Montagna would need to win them over, the job wouldn't have been overly difficult to pull off. He'd be able to capitalize on the goodwill built between the Cuntrera–Caruana group and the GTA Ndrangheta.

At the time, the Ndrangheta was supposedly meeting with other groups with an interest toward redeveloping opportunities in Cuba -- just like the American Mafia had done in its heyday, prior to Fidel Castro's takeover.

Both Ndrangheta and Sicilian Cosa Nostra clans had been investing throughout the Caribbean and often traveled to some island-nations, including Cuba. Rizzuto himself traveled to Cuba on vacation, and also had interests there himself. (It was reported that corruption at Cuban airports was rife enough to make the Communist island a good place to drop off narcotics.)

So when Montagna arrived in Canada there seemed to be opportunities of historical proportions seemingly in the works. Still, every mobster working on creating this new Mafia-friendly version of the world had one major problem hanging over his head. Vito Rizzuto would be coming home -- and every gangster worth his salt knew there'd be hell to pay. Blood would spill not only in Montreal. 

The message was made clear to Montagna: if he was going to take over the Montreal Mafia he'd better do it quickly. He needed to lock it up -- get the proper alliances together and build loyalty with the right groups, the ones strong enough to be willing to fight to the death for him.

In response, Montegna started visiting Montreal to raise his profile among the Sicilians of the Rizzuto organization. He made all the rounds, shaking hands and trying to forge relationships.

He entered into an alliance with Raynald Desjardins, Vittorio Mirarchi and Joe Di Maulo. This group also was allied with Ndrangheta clans in Ontario. It's unknown whether both groups were affiliated with the same Calabrians. It may have been tightly organized or not. But Montagna appears not to have had room in his world for Desjardins.

In Montreal, Montagna tried to  shake down construction companies -- asking for 5 percent of their profits, nearly double the previous rate. He also concocted a plan to target the relative of a wealthy businessman with high-level political and banking connections.

Montagna even met with Nicolo Rizzuto to tell him that his reign was over -- that it was now time for him to bow gracefully and depart the stage.

Montagna seemed to believe he was on the verge of becoming the godfather of Canada, period.

Nicolò Rizzuto, however, didn't reach the heights of the underworld because he was stupid. He considered himself more than up to the task of besting any coalition built by Montagna.

He told Montagna, a man less than half his age, "I'm not going anywhere."

Nicolo knew what had happened to Paolo Renda as well as his own grandson. All he could do
 was make sure that he didn't walk into the same traps.

Nicolo, 86, installed additional security systems and cameras on his property. His motion sensors detected the slightest movement on the street outside his spacious home.

Nicolò wasn't trapped inside a prison however. It was a quite palatial estate in which he and his family lived. He particularly enjoyed the view his kitchen window presented, a wondrous glimpse of nature in all its woodland glory.

Whatever Nicolo had been planning for Montagna, we'll never know. A sniper took Nicolo's life at the dinner table in November 2010. Rizzuto Senior's beloved kitchen window view proved to be his violent downfall. It was the one chink in the elder Rizzuto's armor through which an assasin's bullet could fatally arrive.

Watching "Nancy" and His Crew
By the middle of 2011, Giuseppe "Closure" Colapelle was tasked with spying on Salvatore Montagna and his camp.

Colapelle respected the former Bonanno acting boss -- but only to his face. Behind the New Yorker's back was another story. Colapelle called him, under his breath, "Nancy"— a kind of insult based on “NY” for New York, apparently. 

But in terms of the serious Mafiosi -- the men who recalled names like Magaddino, Bonanno, Galante -- Montagna's status as a former Bonanno acting boss meant something.

In the end, they couldn't save him from himself however.

Brief Backgrounder
Canada's crime families were historically subservient to their American brethren, though today this has changed; relationships likely still exist if they are mutually beneficial. 

Also it's this blogger's opinion that the Mafia in Canada, including both the Ndrangheta and Cosa Nostra, is larger and more powerful than the American Mafia. Chalk it up to American law enforcement; the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) need a Canadian version of the RICO act, it would appear. But the RCMP has the FBI beat in at least one respect: An undercover RCMP officer got his "button" -- he was inducted into the Mafia.

Montagna had set some monumental goals for himself.  He was at the right place at the right time, but was he the right man? 

As Business or Blood noted:

Vito’s absence presented Sal Montagna with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to gain control of the all-important Port of Montreal, although he would need to pull together a coalition to do it. 
... Vito had been the man controlling the spigot. If Montagna were able to put his hands on that, he'd reap untold fortunes and raised the power and prestige of the Bonanno crime family. The crime family once known for never giving the government a single rat was now like a sinking ship with a seemingly ceaseless stream of turncoats jumping ship as the Feds continued to shred the family, even flipping its previously much-vaunted official boss, Joseph Massino, who went to them hat in hand and still had to earn [his ticket to the show]...

If Montagna had the chops to pull it off, he'd also be putting the Bonanno crime family back on the map as a power in New York. It's conceivable he even believed he could unite the New York Bonannos with the Montreal Mafia as Joseph Bonanno had done. Bonanno, of course, had a massive asset in thuggery in the form of one Carmine "Lilo" Galante, whom Bonanno sent to Montreal to make sure bookies and others populating the underworld understood that they could pay Bonanno tribute or they could be brutally murdered.

"The Iron Worker" had epic potential within his grasp.

There'll be one more part, at least....

Business or Blood, Mafia Inc., The Sixth Family and numerous newspaper articles had information regarding Montagna's life in Canada. My one regret:  I don't have the updated version of the Sixth Family.