The Bonanno Boss Who Tried To Take Over Montreal And Was Slain On Thanksgiving

You know what today is, right? One of the only Thursdays you won't find a new Gang Land News column because J.C. takes Thanksgiving off....

Salvatore (The Iron Worker) Montagna
 Montagna beside the Assomption River after shooting.  

Well, Gang Land more than earned a Thursday off when it reported last week that Anthony (Gaspipe) Casso⸺the former Luchese crime family underboss serving the life sentence slapped on him in 1998 for 14 of the more than 30 murders he admitted to⸺had his attorneys file a longshot motion seeking a compassionate release from prison. Casso, 78, whom we recently profiled, is seeking to use the First Step Act of 2018, which allows certain elderly and sick inmates serving life sentences to win release for "extraordinary and compelling reasons." Casso's lawyers asked Brooklyn Federal Judge Frederic Block to reduce Casso's prison term to "time served" and allow him to spend what life he has left "under home confinement."

So far, Block ignored a request to schedule an expedited hearing and ordered prosecutors to respond by November 24, noting that he will decide Casso's fate via court filings rather than a hearing in these COVID-19-stricken days.

Even if Casso doesn't get out of prison, on the bright side of things, at least he is alive. Where there is life, there is a trope, or whatever. The trick is never giving up, yada yada yada, if you have a breath left. So in the grander scheme of things it's better to be Gaspipe Casso than, say, Salvatore (Sal The Iron Worker) Montagna, the former acting boss of the Bonanno family who was slain almost 10 years ago on Thanksgiving after he inserted himself into an ongoing mob war in Montreal, Canada.

In 2006, imprisoned Bonanno boss Vincent (Vinny Gorgeous) Basciano named Montagna acting boss, tapping him at the age of 36 to lead the Bonanno crime family. 

Montagna had been born in Montreal. His parents moved to Sicily, where he spent his childhood and early teen years, then the Montagna family relocated to New York. He got that nickname because of a small metalworking company he founded called Matrix Steel Co.

Montagna was tasked with returning the Bonanno family to power and profitability. (That he seemed to be an old-school "Sicilian" who belonged to the Bronx crew and was a Basciano loyalist helped fuel his rise.) But Montagna had troubles from the beginning and had to start carrying a pistol. Some Bonanno wiseguys were unhappy about Montagna's rise. The Iron Worker, relocated his wife and three daughters from the Bronx to Elmont, on western Long Island near Queens, New York, and set about a troubled reign that lasted a few years only.

Raynald Desjardins
 Raynald Desjardins, former partner of Sal The Iron Worker.

When he suddenly faced deportation in 2009 (the Feds likely used deportation because they couldn't indict him) due to an earlier contempt conviction, Montagna decisively lost the reins of the Bonannos. He could move to Canada or Sicily. Montagna chose to hurl himself into the increasingly chaotic atmosphere of Canada's underworld, where two Mafias, the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and Calabrian Ndrangheta, had established separate historical roots. The two groups were engaged in a messy shooting war when Montagna showed up in the land of his birth in 2009. 

Montreal Mafia War
The war erupted after Montreal Cosa Nostra boss Vito Rizzuto was arrested in 2004 for his role in the 1981 Brooklyn murders of Bonanno capos Alphonse (Sonny Red) Indelicato, Phillip (Phil Lucky) Giaccone, and Dominic (Big Trin) Trinchera. What happened was all those Bonanno wiseguys, starting with Frank Coppa, started flipping until the boss, Joe Massino, also flipped, something that was unheard of. Massino knew intimate details about the three capo murders because he himself helped order them(Since the 1930s, the Montreal Cosa Nostra entity had been part of the New York Bonanno family. Likewise Mafia groups in Toronto had once been part of Stefano Magaddino's Buffalo-based crime family.)

Rizzuto was arrested along with the Bonanno crime family's street hierarchy, including Anthony (Tony Green) Urso and Joseph Cammarano.

Vito fought extradition while his organization was under attack. He lost the legal battle and was driven to the airport on August 17, 2006, and put on a plane to the US. (Vito warned of trouble in Canada, saying his acting boss was not capable of leading the family in his absence.) Vito was sentenced to 10 years. He would only have to serve a five-and-a-half year bid. It was enough time for Rizzuto's rivals to do him major damage.

While Vito Rizzuto settled into the routine at a federal prison in Colorado, all hell seemed to break lose in Montreal, with the battle lines drawn between Cosa Nostra members loyal to Rizzuto and those who were not and were backed by the Ndrangheta. Among the elite high-ranking members of the Rizzuto Cosa Nostra organization who were slain in war-related fighting were Vito's son and namesake, Nick Jr., who was killed in a brazen daytime ambush in December 2009, and almost a year later, in November 2010, Rizzuto’s father, Nicolo (Zio Cola) Rizzuto, was killed by a single bullet fired into his head from a sniper's rifle. (Vito had succeeded his father as boss of the Montreal crime family or the Rizzuto family, which had once been the Montreal crew of the New York-based Bonanno family). 

Montagna Meets Fate
Montagna planned to replace Rizzuto, with backing from the Ndrangheta in Ontario. If the Iron Worker couldn't be Bonanno boss, then he'd take over the Montreal Mafia and be the big shot there. He had much going against him, however: He didn't speak French, he was arrogant, even for a wiseguy, as well as ineffective and bumbling. And he was unlucky: Canadian police, probing war-related murders in Montreal, managed to monitor Montagna the entire time he appeared to be making moves to take control of the Mafia in Montreal.

Tbe Iron Worker entered into an alliance with Raynald Desjardins, the former right-hand man of Rizzuto, who was leading a group also allied with Ndrangheta clans in Ontario. Desjardins has been described as "the most influential non-Italian in the Montreal Mafia" in recent times. Desjardins and Montagna plotted to move  against the rudderless Rizzuto organization.

But the alliance between Montagna and Desjardins was in danger of collapsing not long after it started. A dispute had erupted between the factions and an attempted hit was made when someone fired shots at Desjardins and his bodyguard in September 2011.

Desjardins survived, however, and it didn't take long for him and his cohorts to figure out that Sal The Iron Worker was very likely behind the attempt.

"He thought he was a lot smarter than he was," one mobster involved in the fighting once said of Montagna.

Montagna tried to convince Desjardins otherwise and that Desjardins could trust him. Mickey Mouse (as Montagna was by then known) grew clearly nervous, as Canadian law enforcement learned via surveillance. 

Montagna met with a Desjardins associate at a donut shop and described Desjardins as the only ally he could count on in Canada. Montagna made impassioned arguments about how he had had nothing to gain from Desjardin’s death.

Montagna seemed to be willing to do almost anything to convince Desjardins he was a loyal partner, even if it meant putting himself in the dangerous position of traveling to the middle of nowhere by himself to meet with another Desjardins associate. Which Montagna did....

The Iron Worker was attending a morning meeting at the Canadian home of Jack Simpson, a Desjardins confidant, in Île Vaudry, a working-class/commuter neighborhood on an island on the L'Assomption River about 30 miles north of Montreal. A Simpson neighbor reported hearing possibly two loud cracks -- gunshots -- fired in quick succession followed by the sounds of shattering glass. Montagna had likely been shot inside Simpson's home and had crashed through a plate-glass window to escape. The critically wounded Iron Worker was then seen by witnesses running toward the nearby Assomption River. He dove into the icy waters and swam to the other side.  

The Repentigny police were called at 10:08 a.m. that morning by a witness who reported hearing gunfire. Investigators arrived at the scene and  found Montagna—still nicely dressed in the suit he'd worn to that snakebit meeting—floating in the river. They pulled him onto the snow beside the river, his blood coloring the snow beneath his body. 

The Bonanno family's onetime acting boss was pronounced dead at Le Gardeur hospital. The Surete du Quebec, the police for the Canadian province of Quebec, took over the investigation into the murder..

Montreal Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto
Montreal Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto died Christmas week 2013.

Arrested in 2011, Desjardins watched from a prison cell as Vito returned to Montreal—defying the speculation of many law enforcement observers—in a vendetta kind of mood. He rallied the troops and systematically returned fire. Unbeknownst to many outside his inner circle, Vito was racing against a personal clock to cross names off the hit list he'd written. Bodies turned up as far away as Sicily and Mexico as Rizzuto avenged the murders of his father and son and allies.

Then, just as he was seemingly winning the Montreal Mafia war, Vito Rizzuto shocked friend and foe alike by dying during Christmas week 2013. Unlikely enough, natural causes had claimed him. It was later learned that while ordering all those hits after his return to Montreal, Rizzuto was undergoing chemotherapy for aggressive lung cancer. (And that has to be as hardcore as it gets.) Vito Rizzuto had died of pneumonia at age 67 on December 23, 2013, in a Montreal hospital where he'd been rushed while having severe breathing difficulty. 

In 2016, Desjardins was sentenced to a 14-year prison term for his role in the plot to kill Sal Montagna..