'Ndrangheta Clash in Toronto: When The Wolfpack Stood Up To Siderno

By Andrew Machin
The criminal life of (members of the) ‘Ndrangheta is born and develops in the Locale. It’s for the economic interests and for the prestige of (their) own Locale that every single affiliate commits crimes."--Direzione Nazionale Antimafia, Yearly Report, December 2012

Michael “Big Mike” Leventis
Michael (Big Mike) Leventis

It is helpful to view the ‘Ndrangheta—the Italy-based organized crime organization with global reach—as an octopus, to borrow the metaphor used by turncoat Rocco Varacalli (see Ndrangheta Governing Body in Greater Toronto Area: Latest Developments), with its head located in Calabria, Italy, and its tentacles inhabiting various countries across the globe, including Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, and Canada. In some regions, it has more than one tentacle.

The ‘Ndrangheta competes with rival criminal organizations wherever it has sought to plant a flag. Only in its home base, the southern Italy region of Calabria, does the group enjoy supremacy, with a powerful grip on the economy as well as on virtually all aspects of life there. Rival criminal groups seeking to gain a foothold in Southern Italy face annihilation. (The 'Ndrangheta [pronounced "en-drahng-eh-ta," the first syllable silent unless immediately preceded by a vowel] attained criminal hegemony in Calabria for various reasons, including the seaport town's ineffective and corrupt politicians and port officials and the absence of strong law enforcement. Also, for much of the 20th century, the organization benefited from law enforcement's focus on the more well-known Sicilian Cosa Nostra. See 'Ndrangheta, the Most Powerful of Italy's Mafias.)

The 'Ndrangheta's ruthlessness in Calabria, however, is not lost on some of the criminal organizations it competes with outside Italy. 

In every foreign location where it settles, the ‘Ndrangheta entities invariably tend to reproduce the same criminal structure present in Calabria; they also maintain close ties to the "home office" while entering the local criminal context. 

Canada is one region where the 'Ndrangheta has successfully planted tentacles, specifically, in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), where seven Locali now likely operate. (Locali are crime families belonging to the ‘Ndrangheta; the word Locali is the plural of Locale, a Locale is the name of a single 'Ndrangheta-based crime family). As for the entire Ontario province, there are as many as nine Locali, with each Locale operating on its assigned territory. (We know about the Locali/Locale terminology from secret recordings made by Italian police in 2009 during a visit to Calabria by Rocco Etreni, who in the wiretaps also described himself as a high-ranking member of the Locale of Thunder Bay, which is subservient to Giuseppe "The Master" Commisso, the supreme boss of Siderno: “In Toronto [to be understood as Ontario] there are nine of us [us, meaning the Locali]….” The Etreni wiretap recordings are a landmark in Ndrangheta studies.) The majority of the Locali in the GTA depend on the mother-Locale of Siderno. So, the Locali of Toronto are gathered around a Crimine, formally recognized by the supreme Crimine resident in Calabria. 

While the Ndrangheta has built a formidable presence in GTA, that hasn't made the group immune to clashes with rivals who can emerge from external groups but also from within the Ndrangheta itself (internal ‘Ndrangheta clashes are often between two or more Locali, when not within a same Locale). 

The organized crime scene in Canada revolves around the three major metropolitan poles of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. In each region the Ndrangheta faces various rivals, a number of which are significantly powerful and aggressive and are of both Italian and not-Italian origin. 

Generally, rival organizations exhibit the highest deference towards the ‘Ndrangheta, especially in Toronto. Even members of the powerful Hells Angel MC will not go out of their way to offend members of the Locali there. We know this based on the testimony of undercover agent Carmine Guido. In March 2018, during the trial resulting from Project Ophenix, he testified about his experiences with eminences Cosimo Commisso and Giuseppe “Pino” Ursino (see previous article). During his undercover stint (mid 2013- mid 2015), he learned the extent to which the Hells Angels perceived the reputation of the Calabrians. The slightest physical gesture of a Ndrangheta boss was enough to persuade the MC to "forgive" a significant gambling debt: “Guido told court that he also asked Ursino to cut him some slack regarding his personal gambling and drug debts. After that, Guido said that Commisso put his arm around him at a banquet hall. When some local ex-Hells Angels saw this, they quickly relented on trying to collect a gambling debt of $10,000 owed by a family member, Guido said. Guido said one of the former Hells Angels said words to the effect of: “You know what? Don’t worry about the $10,000. You don’t owe that to us anymore.” (P. Edwards, The Star, Mar. 26, 2018). 

As per recent investigations, the Hells Angels are allied with the ‘Ndrangheta. (Project Hobart, Dec. 2019) One specific alliance involves the Figliomeni crime family (already damaged by Project Sindacato, Jul. 2019, see previous article) and the Hell’s Angels Chapter of London (Ont.), in illegal gaming operations. In the criminal circles the struggles, before or after, are inevitable. And when they break out, even for the ‘Ndrangheta the success can never be taken for granted. Situations can be adversely affected by a structural weakness, which we will deal with later, but also by evaluation errors. In a sense, what we are about to tell is probably just the story of a serious evaluation error of a Locale of ‘Ndrangheta originating from Siderno that cost it two human losses (plus a third, a not involved young woman, only guilty of being together with one of the two victims when blood was done), against one belonging to the opposite group and composed of drug dealers residing in Montreal. A position probably born of an act of arrogance, typical of the culture of the men of the ‘Ndrangheta, maybe wanted and calculated (we will foreshadow this eventuality very briefly at the end of this story about the murder of Sukhvir Deo), consisted in the non-payment by them of a drug seizure, evidently trusting, erring, on their criminal reputation. An overestimation of own strengths or, conversely, an underestimation of their interlocutors, difficult to understand considering that:

① The mere fact of being buyer, and not seller, of one or more large drug seizures, means that who sells owns such an organization capable in what the buyer evidently is not able to do (it’s indeed true that the Calabrian clans are the largest importers of cocaine for the European market; but the shipping routes of these trades follow a direct line from South America to the ports of Northern and Southern Europe, without too risky intermediate stops in North America). 

② In the underworld environment, someway, the strength and danger of this group of drug dealers from Montreal had to be known; in fact, it was almost certainly an emanation, evidently still operational, of that “consortium” (police definition), based in Quebec and in connection, if not an integral part, of the Wolfpack Alliance (alliance of different criminal groups originally cemented in British Columbia indicatively starting from the year 2011), defeated by police forces in November 2012 (Project Loquace), which was able to import huge amounts of cocaine into Canada thanks to direct relationships with Mexican cartels. 

Evidently, the men of ‘Ndrangheta did not expect that, from Montreal, this group would have had the audacity to move into enemy territory to advance its payment claim and, not getting results, to move to the factual ways. On the contrary, after the drug purchase, it’s hypothesized, but absolutely in no way proven, on initiative of the duo Cosimo Ernesto Commisso of Woodbridge (not to be confused with the aforementioned Cosimo Commisso, cl. 1945) and John Ignani of Toronto, the Montreal group would have refused to accept the economic loss and it would begin to insist with the two buyers to get the relative payment. 

In the face of continuous refusals, Montrealers would then have would decide to take action, assassinating Ignani, in that moment 33-year-old, in an underground parking garage of his condo in downtown Toronto, on Aug. 21, 2016. 

Only after the clash had developed, journalistic reports provided a fairly significant profile of the victim, most likely just an associate, but not a full member, of a Locale of 'Ndrangheta: “Ignagni had a criminal record for threatening death in connection with a kidnapping after three victims said they were held against their will over unpaid drug debts. Ignagni was described as the son of a former president of the Vagabonds Motorcycle Club, considered an outlaw biker club by police.” (A. Humphreys, National Post, Jun. 29, 2018), including a secure connection between Ignani and Cosimo Ernesto Commisso, well known surname of a blood family originally from Siderno. Indeed: “At the time of Ignagni’s murder, police towed a BMW motorcycle and a Porsche sedan from the underground garage. The Porsche was registered to Commisso, police said. Commisso and other members of his family attended Ignagni’s funeral. Also at the funeral were many crime figures.” (Ibidem). 

But even after the Ignani’s murder the Montreal group didn’t give up. One of its men, Anastasios “Tassos” Leventis, had already been sent to Toronto with the precise aim of obtaining the payment: “Leventis was connected to the Wolfpack Alliance, even if he wasn’t a member. Leventis moved to downtown Toronto from Montreal more than a year ago to collect drug debts owed to Montrealers, the police source says.” (P. Edwards, The Star, Jul. 30, 2017). 

A description of Tassos was also provided, exactly corresponding to the characteristic profile of the Wolfpack members, known to be aggressive young computer-friendly newcomers from British Columbia (B.C.) and Quebec: “Leventis was an enthusiastic gambler who trained as a computer programmer.” (Ibidem). “A court document issued in 2009 described Anastasios Leventis as a computer technician who was the “principal supplier” of large quantities of marijuana to a group of smugglers arrested in an RCMP investigation dubbed Project Cancun.” (P. Cherry, Montreal Gazette, Mar. 15, 2017). The details provided on the latter Project were as follows: “The RCMP-led operation targeted drug traffickers in the Mohawk communities of Kahnawake, Akwesasne and Kanesatake. Anastasios Leventis’s organization delivered marijuana to American clients via the Akwesasne reserve. The marijuana was often packed in hockey bags and the smugglers used boats in the summer and snowmobiles and trucks on ice bridges in the winter, police said.” (P. Edwards, The Star, Jul. 4, 2018). 

But Tassos was not just a subject with a profile very distant, for culture, from that of a typical belonging to the ‘Ndrangheta. He was above all brother of Mihale “Big Mike” Laventis, from Montreal, alleged boss of high caliber, one of the six leaders of a criminal “consortium” (“a consortium and not just a sole criminal organization – several organizations that pooled together their resources and contacts and shared the risks", how it was defined during the police press presentation of the Project Loquace that dismantled it with an operation unleashed on Nov. 1, 2012) operating in Quebec, but with fundamental grafts from B.C., from which three of the six identified bosses came (Larry Amero, Shane Maloney and Rabih Alkhalil, defined "key figures in B.C.'s gang conflict,"). Consortium able to import enormous quantities of drugs thanks to the fact that it had optimized the cocaine trafficking chain at the highest levels. In particular: ❶ buying directly from Mexican cartels; ❷ making the drug shipments pass through the border between the United States and Canada by land, using trucks; ❸ reselling at retail through very ramified organizations in Quebec like the Hells Angels and the West End Gang, which were directly represented among the consortium, and like the Italian mafia (Rizzuto crime family, also known as the Montreal Family). 

Consortium that we could also call alliance, maybe just the Wolfpack Alliance, which, although born in B.C., perhaps was really realized and structured managing this huge drug trade (the numbers declared by the police were impressive: the consortium was able to sell up to 75 kilograms of cocaine a week, netting $50-million in revenues, only from May to October 2012). 

Mihale Laventis has been detained since his arrest in December 2012 (note that Mihale Laventis resided in a luxury condo next to the Old Port of Montreal built by the real estate developer Tony Magi, known business partner of the Montreal Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto; old accounts that had yet to be settled and dating back to power struggles within the Montreal Family probably led to his murder on Jan. 24, 2019). 

So, it’s likely that it was Tassos himself, one day in September 2016, who went to Cosimo Ernesto Commisso’s family restaurant always to claim the due payment: “The victim’s family owns a restaurant and bar in Woodbridge that was shot at last year. As Dimmi Bar & Trattoria was closing one night in September, a man fired a gun into the restaurant, grazing a waiter in the head and causing a minor injury.” (A. Humphreys, National Post, Jun. 29, 2018). “Investigators believe Commisso was an associate of John Ignagni, 33, who was killed in an ambush in the parking garage of a downtown Toronto condominium in 2016.” (Ibidem). 

The news that reported this fact were partly conflicting. On the basis of some of them, on that occasion, Commisso had beaten and kicked off Tassos who had shown up at his restaurant. The meaning of the event is however the same: the Montrealers continue to press heavily to obtain the agreed payment. 

At that point, it’s supposed, the involved Locale of ‘Ndrangheta was forced to take the initiative, not being able to continue to suffer the insistence of the group of Montreal. It called the 39-year-old Tassos to a mid-afternoon meeting on Jan. 30, 2017. It’s likely that he was worried about what could have happened during that meeting. But he probably didn’t expect that the hitmen would have anticipated the times by shooting him to death on the street, into the crowd, just out of an apartment building where he lived in downtown Toronto, while he was on his way to the appointment. "The victim knew his killers" a police officer said. "The killers were waiting for him outside his condo. He was chased down the street”. Two handguns were found at the scene. 
Ndrangheta hit in downtown Toronto.

But not even this murder closed the dispute. Also because now, for someone locked up in the Montreal Detention Centre, it had probably become a matter of personal revenge too.

In the following months there were reports of threats to members of the Commisso family: “The Star has learned that police have warned two York Region men who are considered to be senior members of Commisso’s family that there are credible threats on their lives. The warnings came over the past month and the men declined police protection.” (P. Edwards, The Star, Jul. 30, 2017).

A situation of strong tension already noticed a few weeks earlier also by R. Lamberti on the columns of the Toronto Sun who reported the words of one of his sources (presumably a police officer) which centered on the context of reference: “There’s this new breed of drug dealer filling in the void, working with the Rizzutos [a detail that is certainly not insignificant] and pushing back against the Calabrians here in Toronto,” the source says. “You can call it as much as an all-out drug war as you can get.” (R. Lamberti, Toronto Sun, Jul. 3, 2017,). Then, Lamberti continued reporting a prediction that would not have been incorrect: “The source believes it’s likely there will be further murders in the GTA related to the feud. “The issue is that you have vendettas going on, drug rip offs going on, you have so much going on,” the source says.” (ibidem).

This is how, on Jun. 29, 2018, at about 12:40 a.m., the accounts were definitively settled, when, along a driveway in front of the parents' house in Woodbridge, hitmen killed Cosimo Ernesto Commisso, 33, and his female companion, Chantelle Almeida, 26, who was in the car with him at that time.

Double murder of which P. Edwards reiterated and clarified the relative context even better: “A Star investigation reported that there were two credible death threats against other men in the Commisso family in York Region last year, and that the men declined police protection from York Region police. The threats came as enemies from a group called the Wolfpack Alliance had aligned itself with enemies of the GTA ‘Ndrangheta, the Star investigation found.” (P. Edwards, The Star, Jul. 2, 2018).

However, the journalistic reports had to specify that Cosimo Ernesto Commisso didn’t have a criminal record and any known personal association with crime figures, even if it was mentioned he was related to at least one of those Commisso, originating from Siderno, indicated among the major exponents of the ‘Ndrangheta.

In conclusion, given that, to date, all the murders of which we have spoken are still unsolved, if this hypothesized reconstruction of the facts, starting with the motive, is correct, the involved Toronto Locale would come out with broken bones from the clash.

After all, the group of drug dealers was what remained of a “consortium”, rather than an “Alliance”, that probably, in a certain historical moment (during the months preceding the arrests within the Project Loquace which started on Nov. 1, 2012), according to P. Cherry (Montreal Gazette), had tried to take control of cocaine trafficking in Montreal while most of the Quebec-based Hells Angels were heavily affected by the Project SharQc (Apr. 2009) and the Rizzuto crime family was dealing with a leadership crisis awaiting the release from a U.S. prison (which will take place on Oct. 5, 2012) of the then-boss Vito Rizzuto (to note, demonstrating the shortcomings affecting the Canadian investigative and judicial system, the decision of a Quebec Court judge who, on Jun. 17, 2020, after 7 and a half years of preventive detention right in the context of the Project Loquace, decreed a definitive stay of proceedings against Mihale Laventis; the causes adduced have been due to delays of the Crown in the presentation of new circumstantial evidence as well as because it took the Crown too long to bring the case to trial; however, Laventis has not been released awaiting the extradition to the United States to respond to the accusation of large-scale importation of Canadian-grown marijuana).

Alongside the hypotheses about the toughness and consistency of this enemy group from Montreal, the story we have just told provides us with a further element of considerable importance for understanding the 'Ndrangheta in GTA. Ultimately, an element of substantial weakness that consists in the fact that the Locali are completely autonomous operationally and often competing with each other too. Namely:

① although in Toronto there is a Crimine formally recognized by the supreme Crimine of Calabria composed of all the Locali located in the GTA; ② although, probably in recent years, as emerged from the related Italian Projects called Canadian 'Ndrangheta Connection 1 and 2 (Jul. and Aug. 2019), a more restricted Crimine has been constituted, composed only and exclusively of the Locali, the majority, dependent on the mother-Locale of Siderno (Crimine of Siderno); a downsizing probably caused by the very serious disagreements that broke out between the Locali and resulted in the murder, in 2014, of Carmelo Verduci, boss of the Locale of Toronto dependent on the mother-Locale of Marina di Gioiosa Jonica (see previous article); ③ although, therefore, the Locali of ‘Ndrangheta, also in Toronto, has established stable "intermediate bodies" (so called by the Italian magistrates during the presentation to the press of the Project Canadian 'Ndrangheta Connection 1) for general coordination and control (control, however, which concerns specially the formal respect of the rules, in particular with regard to new affiliations and rank progressions to avoid uncontrolled proliferation); despite everything, each Locale jealously takes care of its businesses, not usually contemplating the sharing of resources, whatever they may be. So, as we said, an element of weakness in certain circumstances such as in this case; in the face of an external attack that, if faced by all the Locali in close union, and not by one alone, it would probably have had a different result.

Finally, one last note. On Jun. 7, 2016 (thus less than three months before the Ignani's murder), in midtown Toronto, two hitmen wearing construction vests shot to death the 34-year-old Sukhvir “Sukh” Deo while sitting in his Range Rover. Sukh wasn't just any character.  He was considered a leading member of the Wolfpack. In particular, when he lived in Metro Vancouver, as affiliated with the Independent Soldiers, one of the gangs “under the umbrella”, to use the words of a Vancouver police officer, of the Wolfpack Alliance. In 2013, he had moved from B.C. to the town of Oakville (part of the GTA) where he had purchased a luxury home for $3.3 million; home raided by tactical police officers in the early 2014 as part of an investigation for drug trafficking and possession of property obtained by crime (in that occasion, journalistic reports mentioned the seizure of a Bentley, Rolls Royce and Land Rover). Thus, a personage perhaps too cumbersome to be tolerated by the 'Ndrangheta in its territory. Initially, this wouldn’t have prevented it from doing drug-deals with him. Maybe until the last, ended with the murder of the supplier, just to avoid paying the relative compensation. An eventuality that would alter the count of the dead within the story we have just told, but not its frame of reference.