‘Ndrangheta Dynamics In The Greater Toronto Area: The Story Of An Internal Mafia Clash (Part 3.1)

By Andrew Machin

It is not often that the media, when reporting news of the murder of a leading member of organized crime, immediately and in unison, indicate the organization suspected of being responsible as well as the motive.


In the case of Carmine Verduci's murder (on Apr. 24, 2014; see Part 2), all this happened. And it happened largely for one reason: because there were different police sources who all suggested the same line of inquiry. We refer to a set of opinions expressed by anonymous officers that, considering their authoritativeness and competence, journalists understandably reported and developed. 

These opinions could be summarized as follows:              

The killing was to be attributed to the Rizzuto crime family (Montreal Family), which had eliminated a high-ranking member of the 'Ndrangheta rooted in the Greater Toronto Area, right in the heart of its territory.

Verduci’s fault would have been to have joined the attempt (2009-2011), headed by Salvatore Montagna, to overthrow the leadership of the same Montreal Family (Montagna would have been killed as part of an internal feud within his crime syndicate on Nov. 24, 2011; in the above picture, he is shown in surveillance footage on the day of his murder).

 The outcome of the attempt has now passed into the history of North American crime. Despite the very high human losses suffered by the Rizzutos, it was a failure (which was made definitive by the departure from the scene of its principal promoter mentioned above), not without the same amount of bloody consequences.

Indeed, after the release of the supreme boss Vito Rizzuto from a US prison (on Oct. 5, 2012, after a total of nine years of imprisonment), a relentless work of revenge started that continued even after his death on Dec. 23, 2013 (due to natural causes).

Thus, over time, those who had participated or supported in the attack on the Family paid with their lives. The same fate that befell some who merely had not openly sided with it.

Therefore, in this context of events, the proposed motive for the killing of Verduci could appear coherent and plausible, if it was not for a small detail: that it was almost certainly wrong, at least based on subsequent acquisitions by the Italian authorities, in particular within a Project code-named Acero-Krupy (Sept. 2015), however not yet proven in court (we will deal with them carefully in the next Part 4).

But what we want to highlight in the present article is that noteworthy news and information, already known at the time of Verduci's murder, all together could and should have contributed to casting doubt on that investigative hypothesis, given by all the questioned police sources as the most likely. Indeed, this news and information reported unequivocal, historical, and documented relationships between the Rizzutos and the Coluccio Clan. We have already dealt extensively with the latter in this explanation (see in particular Part 1). Therefore, we know that it was a relevant component of the mother-Locale of Marina di Gioiosa Ionica (supreme boss Rocco Aquino) and its dependent Locale rooted in the GTA.

Carmine Verduci belonged to the Coluccio Clan and the Locale on Canadian soil, where he had settled for many years. Probably, at the time of his assassination, of this Locale, following the previous deportations of its other leading exponents to Italy, he held the position of the supreme boss (Capo Locale), as argued in Part 2.

Hence the doubts - that should have arisen - about the convenience for the Coluccios, and consequently for the mother-Locale of Marina di Gioiosa Ionica, to waste such close and valuable ties with a criminal organization as powerful as the Montreal Family. All this to embark, along with others, on a risky adventure that indeed ended, as we have already noted.

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But let's proceed in order. Firstly by quoting opinions of police sources as they were reported, at the time, by the major newspapers focused on the Greater Toronto Area (Toronto Sun, National Post, and Toronto Star). As we will see, these opinions guided the judgments, hypotheses, and narratives of their specialized journalists.

The first contributions that we propose are those of R. Lamberti and C. Doucette and only of R. Lamberti (Toronto Sun). A very evocative narrative characterized them:

 

“Mob boss Vito Rizzuto is dead but his vendetta lives on.

Carmine Verduci, 56, was gunned down outside a private Vaughan social club, police said Friday.

Verduci is a suspected Toronto-area ‘Ndrangheta clan mob hitman described as a “bona fide psycho-killer.”

It’s proof the Vito Rizzuto vendetta continues, sources believe.

“It’s not over,” a “source said. “This is a direct result of Montreal. This is a message to the Calabrians. This is a settling of accounts.”

(…)

Police in Ontario and Quebec were uncertain as to how the settling of accounts stood after Montreal mafia chieftain Vito Rizzuto died of natural causes on Dec. 23, 2013.

The 67-year-old Mob boss was on a rampage, seeking revenge for the assault on his family that began in 2009 with the deaths of his son, his father, and family members and friends who were senior members of this crime clan.

It’s believed a confederation of Ontario ‘Ndrangheta clans and turncoat Quebec mobsters launched the assault while Rizzuto was in a Colorado jail serving a 10-year sentence for his role in the 1981 murders of three Bonanno captains who were apparently planning a coup.

But shortly after his release and return to Canada, Rizzuto began his vendetta.

He reached out to Italy in the slaying of his former Ontario captain Juan Fernandez, known as Joe Bravo, to Mexico to kill Moreno Galo, and to the GTA with the shooting murder of hitman Salvatore “Sam” Calautti. They were but three who were eliminated.

Rizzuto, however, ran out of time as he died of natural causes in December and Ontario-based ‘Ndrangheta clan members thought they didn’t have to look over their shoulders. They body guards that travelled with them and their family members were set aside.

Police knew his vendetta wasn’t complete but investigators were unsure if it would continue past his death or if a balance of power would be reached. Thursday’s assassination of Verduci shows the vendetta continues, a police source said.

Police were waiting to determine if the Rizzuto vendetta had stopped and it appeared to be quiet on the Mob front.

“This is the big drop,” the source said. “This is a big message. It ain’t over.”

 (R. Lamberti - C. Doucette, Toronto Sun, Apr. 25-26, 2014). 

 

The city  [Woodbridge] is where many of Ontario’s ‘Ndrangheta members feel safe. It’s their home turf. But the incursion by assassins, who police strongly believe were sent by those who have taken over Vito Rizzuto’s Montreal crime family, is sure to strike fear.

In a world often marked by symbolic maneuvers, the hit on Verduci is a significant move by the Montreal Mob.

It was Montreal’s reminder that Rizzuto’s vendetta — his quest for revenge in the murders of his father, his son and other family members in an attempted coup — didn’t end with the capo’s Dec. 23 death of natural causes.

Police sources say Verduci’s death could signal that the next targets could be higher in stature.

“This is basically putting it in their faces,” a police source said. “Verduci had huge influence” within the Calabrian underworld.

It’s the second recent venture by the Montreal mob into Woodbridge.

Calabrian mob assassin Salvatore “Sam” Calautti, a 41-year-old father of two who owned a Dufferin St. restaurant, was assassinated in an ambush last July 12 as he sat in his car outside a Vaughan banquet hall attending a stag. His killer or killers knew Calautti would be there.

The same seems to be true for Verduci. His killers knew where he would be and patiently waited for their moment.

(…)

Woodbridge is the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta’s power base and “killing a guy like Verduci is like saying” that none among them is safe.

“Clearly, someone needed to be held to account and (Verduci) was on the vendetta list,” the source said, who believes the hits are expected to continue.

“He is a central figure in the power base,” the source said. “They know Verduci is a guy who gets things done for them.

(…)

When the guns were turned on the Rizzuto clan, the Calabrians started by killing low-level members such as the street drug dealers. They slowly moved up the hierarchy until they reached Vito Rizzuto’s father Nicolo, his son Nick Jr., and other family members who were also senior level leaders.

“The same thing is happening here,” the source said. “I think this is the message we were waiting for, everyone was wondering what was happening after Vito was gone.

“There’s going to be a lot of nervous people.”

 (R. Lamberti, Toronto Sun, Apr. 26, 2014).

 

Identical concepts were also reaffirmed a few months later (Dec. 2014), as can be inferred by the same title of the article (“Mob vendetta spree expected to continue in new year”):

 

“A police source says the vendetta spree that began in 2012 shortly after Vito Rizzuto returned to Canada after serving a 10-year prison sentence in Colorado for racketeering-related charges is expected to continue. The natural death of Rizzuto, 67, last December didn’t stem the vendetta.

There are apparently still a few “Calabrian Mob opportunists and Sicilian traitors” that need to be dealt with by the Rizzuto crime family, the source says.

 (…)

Verduci was killed in a precise strike against him outside a cafe frequented by ‘Ndrangheta members in the city where they felt safe.

The message was loud and clear: For those who opposed Rizzuto, there is no safe haven.”

(R. Lamberti, Toronto Sun, Dec. 28-29, 2014).

 

A. Humphreys (National Post) developed the theme of the alleged revenge of the Rizzutos less than the others did. However, he also reported the opinion of a police source who always proposed the same “scenario”:

 

“His [Verduci’s] position within the Calabrian clans of Toronto would make him an attractive target to Sicilian rivals in Montreal looking to make a stand, a police source said.

“We might find it was meant as a message to the Calabrians from the Sicilians, that ‘this ain’t over, we haven’t forgotten.'”

If that scenario is true, then hope of peace after Mr. Rizzuto’s death seems unlikely.”

(A. Humphreys, National Post, Apr. 25, 2014).

 

Lastly, we report some excerpts from the article by P. Edwards (Toronto Star). Already from the title: “Rizzuto revenge suspected in murder of GTA mobster Carmine Verduci in Woodbridge”, it is possible to understand that he also speculated the same motive:

 

“The brazen daytime slaying of GTA mobster Carmine Verduci is a blunt message from Montreal’s underworld: The war with Vito Rizzuto’s old crime family isn’t over.

(…)

Rizzuto, Canada’s top Mafioso, died in bed from what were reported to be natural causes in December, in the midst of a gang war that pitted members of the Montreal mob against GTA criminals.

At the time of his death, Rizzuto was bent on revenge against at least a half dozen GTA mobsters, police sources say.

Verduci’s murder is a loud message to his old associates in the GTA and Hamilton underworld, police officers who specialize in organized crime said Friday.

“To me it’s a huge message,” one officer said. “It’s not over just because Vito’s dead... Certain people have to die before business gets done.”

(…)

The slaying comes after several visits to the GTA from two senior members of the old Rizzuto crime family this year.

Verduci was a prime target for Montreal assassins because he tried to encroach on turf which the Rizzutos considered their own, a police source said”.

(P. Edwards, Toronto Star, Apr. 25, 2014).

 

However, Edwards' article had the merit of continuing by also providing some interesting additional information and in particular:

 

“He [Verduci] was a frequent visitor to Montreal during the mob wars of the past five years, police say. Rizzuto’s eldest son and father are among the victims of unsolved gangland murders during that time”.

“During the fight to steal turf from Rizzuto, police say Verduci was part of a group that became involved with Sal Montagna, head of the Bonanno crime family of New York City.

Montagna was murdered near Montreal in November 2011”.

(ibidem).

 

So, according to this latest news directly from the police:

Verduci had traveled frequently to Montreal during the ongoing mob war in that city.

He had openly sided with Salvatore Montagna.


Needless to say that it was information of great importance. We do not know how the police collected it. The only access to its archives would allow us to understand this.

 

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However, we can make assumptions based on at least one diagram (see Figure 1.) identifying steps and methods of collecting crime intelligence information. The diagram represents and develops the content of the following clear sentence: in order to carry out his activities, a member of a criminal organization must meet personally with other members, mainly from his organization, but also from other different ones, with whom to decide and plan, and potentially carry out in person, certain crimes.

Even more so, in a situation of constant fear of wiretapping that imposes an absolute ban on talking about criminal affairs by phone. This well-known dictate reminds us that law enforcement agencies carry out a typical intelligence activity. Therefore, it is usual for the mobsters, aware of the danger, to oppose the relative counterintelligence. Usually, it is not particularly sophisticated, but this does not mean that it is ineffective. 

In addition to the first rule that is, as we said, not talking about criminal affairs by phone, examples of counterintelligence measures (which altogether constitute a code of conduct that distinguishes a real mobster from a street criminal) include: 

(+) Using the method, widely employed by all mafia organizations of Italian origin, of the so-called ambasciate (transl. embassies): the high-ranking mafia member does not expose himself personally, but he makes a trusted person go to communicate (embassy), verbally or by written notes (to be destroyed immediately after reading them), orders, news, and appointments to the intended recipient. This method tries to undermine precisely the investigative scheme we are dealing with since it reduces the opportunities for meetings, which could be monitored, and, at the same time, avoids much of the possible electronic interception of communications.

(+) During conversations, never use people's names; at most, only nicknames or other names other than real ones. Moreover, mix English, Italian and closed dialects, thus making it more difficult for eventual police eavesdroppers to understand the dialogues (in a possible criminal proceeding, this expedient then often allows defense lawyers to challenge the correctness and interpretation of the translations).

(+) Using encrypted mobile phones. On the black market, members of criminal organizations can find cell phones specially configured to avoid surveillance. They are usually standard phones (among which BlackBerry devices traditionally stand out), then suitably modified. In particular, they are often deprived of all the principal and usual functions such as microphones, cameras, and GPS antennas. There is no internet browsing and no regular messenger apps pre-installed too. In return, they have a secure-communications software to send encrypted messages through servers located in offshore countries. In addition, devices can be remotely wiped if authorities seize them. Concerning the contrast to this kind of communication service when it is deliberately functional to the commission of crimes (in particular, international drug trafficking), we can mention the court cases against two companies, curiously both based in Canada, Phantom Secure (its case became known in 2018; see: https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/phantom-secure-takedown-031618), and, even more recently (Mar. 2021), Sky Global (see: https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdca/pr/sky-global-executive-and-associate-indicted-providing-encrypted-communication-devices).

(+) Continuous replacement of the cell phone SIM cards, possibly from other countries, and registered in the name of figureheads. Furthermore, especially during particular movements, it is essential for mobsters not to bring along their mobile phones or exchange them with accomplices to confuse possible controls of investigators (we refer to the traceability of mobile phone numbers through the analysis of the cellphone towers information).

 (+) Always in communications, using cryptographic codes, which usually associate a number with a letter of the alphabet (see the picture belowfrom an Italian investigation that ended in Sept. 2021, code-named Crypto, against the ‘Ndrangheta rooted on the Tyrrhenian side of the province of Reggio Calabria and engaged, as usual, in international drug trafficking). 

(+) Periodically inspecting premises and cars for bugs or GPS devices and, at the same time, manning and monitoring them continuously to prevent the police from sneaking in and installing these types of devices. Interception activities by law enforcement otherwise should be feared at all times. ‘Ndrangheta high-ranking members are very vigilant in this regard.

By way of example, we can recall the words of Vincenzo Muià from Siderno during his stay in the GTA in Apr. 2019 (he had crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the hope that the Figliomenis would provide him with information about the perpetrators of the murder of his brother Carmelo, killed in Siderno on Jan. 18, 2018; see the second article of this series): “Even outside they [law enforcement agents] hear you,” “You [they] put the directional and hear what you say.” (…) “In my opinion, that home [a house in Vaughan, a city just north of Toronto, where Vincenzo had been a guest for a meal] is a bomb,” “That house, full of bugs. He says no, [but] I told him … If they want to hear you, they hear you.


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Then, returning to the diagram represented in Figure 1, police can rely on or act as follows:

Collecting information directly.

Using informants’ confidences.


Figure 1.: Investigative techniques




Confidential informants are often extremely valuable. In particular, in cases where they provide an initial indication that consent to identify a line of inquiry to pursue.

In our case study, it can therefore happen that an informant in some small part can:

Report a mobster to start investigations.

Inform what illegal business he deals with and who his crime partners are.

Report where he goes and who he meets beyond the topics covered in one or more of his meetings.

However, it is necessary to be very careful. Indeed, news from informants is not always reliable as it mainly serves their convenience. For this reason, any information from them must always be carefully verified and cross-referenced.

The figure of the confidential informant, who is, at the same time, a high-ranking member of an organized crime group, is particularly significant and delicate to manage (evidently, always by an exchange pact of mutual benefit). According to the journalists F. Séguin and E. Thibault in their book “La Source” (Les Éditions du Journal, 2020), the notorious mobster Andrea Scoppa, shot to death on Oct. 21, 2019, in Montreal borough of Pierrefonds (see Part 1), belonged to this category.

On the other hand, operating directly means that, after selecting a target, the police investigators will employ their specialized operating units capable of carrying out physical and electronic surveillance activities (we remember that, in the present context, the target can be defined as an individual, not necessarily placed at the highest levels of a criminal organization but having at least some key role or particular qualities, whose monitoring promises interesting investigative developments).

Specifically, we are referring to stalking and surveillance, including a series of integrated technical activities such as: photographing; filming; data analysis of GPS trackers; analysis of the cellphone towers information; wiretapping (which, in any case, remains a fruitful tool for monitoring movements and knowing the circle of relationships of a target).

However, stalking a person and finding out where she goes and who she meets is much easier than knowing what is said during her meetings. At the same time, the latter is indispensable knowledge since meeting one or more people in itself means nothing in front of a criminal court. Intercepting conversations (indoors or outdoors) is, therefore, the only way to obtain it, excluding from this examination the informative contributions of undercover agents and government witnesses that are both outside the strictly operational context.

Note that the contents of a meeting can be captured live or ex-post, meaning the interception of a conversation (for example, inside a car) in the course of which usually a high-ranking mafia member tells his trustworthy not present subordinate or relative of what was discussed.

In any case, skills that are not common to the special police units employed in this type of operation are required. Indeed, according to the circumstances, they must:

Know in advance the place chosen for a meeting.

Elude the eventual continuous control of a place precisely to prevent intrusions by the police (we have already mentioned this counterintelligence measure here above).

When it is time to act, implement an outer protective belt. For instance, in the case of homes, it is essential to activate surveillance for all residents to avoid being surprised by sudden, unexpected returns.

Apply specific technical skills to enter the place (the typical way is to get or make a copy of the door or car key) and hide and power listening devices and cameras, all while leaving no traces of their passing. The latter ability is of paramount importance. In any case, it must be said that it is practically impossible to completely eliminate the risk of burning an often unrepeatable opportunity, however great the attention paid. Let’s not forget that expert criminals are trained to notice the differences as well as use expedients (always definable as counterintelligence measures) to detect possible police intrusions.

By way of example, we can recall the case of the wife of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo, at that moment still at large and for this reason actively sought by the police throughout the Palermo area (he will be arrested on Nov. 5, 2007, after 24 years as a fugitive). The woman, the first natural target of the investigation, purposely left a layer of dust on top of her car dashboard. One day, thanks to it, she noticed some fingermarks, thus realizing that the police had entered to install a listening device. Soon after, she was seen and filmed handing over the car to an auto wrecker.

As for this type of special police operation in Canada, it is worth mentioning a still relatively recent press article by D. Renaud ("Procès de Claude Gauthier: comment entrer chez un Hells Angel en catimini", La Presse, Aug. 12, 2020). He reported the deposition of an operational officer of the Escouade nationale de répression du crime organisé (ENRCO) during the trial of Claude Gauthier, 53 (below), a full-patch member of the Hells Angels (Trois-Rivières chapter), for drug-trafficking in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Québec (on Apr. 9, 2021, he was sentenced to a prison term of nine years). The officer described problems and techniques used during house intrusions. When a team acts after dark, one of the main problems is the need to operate with very little light so as not to run the risk of attracting random attention from the outside. Instead, the technique they use to make sure they put everything back in its exact place is, before starting to search and hide listening devices, to film all the rooms, both in their entirety and in particular. In this way, in case of doubts, it is always possible to double-check any original position. However, it is essential to note even the smallest detail. The officer gave the example of a wad of banknotes, easily discovered inside Gauthier's home. A rubber band held it tightly, but they noted another rubber band strangely inserted under the first. It had probably been deliberately positioned that particular way only to allow the suspect to detect any possible tampering.


 In the absence of interceptions and possible contributions of undercover agents or government witnesses, the only other way to know the contents of a meeting between full mafia members is to rely on the information revealed by one or more confidential informants.

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After briefly outlining the operational framework of reference, let us now return to the events of our interest.

We can therefore assume that the statement: "He [Verduci] was a frequent visitor to Montreal during the mob wars of the past five years", was truthful since direct or indirect surveillance of him by law enforcement was undoubtedly possible.

On the contrary, it seems much more complicated to determine the reasons (which could have been more varied) for such visits to confirm the other very important information provided by P. Edwards in his article (“During the fight to steal turf from Rizzuto, police say Verduci was part of a group that became involved with Sal Montagna, head of the Bonanno crime family of New York City”).

As we have already said, we are not in a position to know based on what evidence the police came to such belief that evidently directed the investigations related to Verduci’s (still unsolved) murder.

Instead, what we know from the content of some interceptions within the Italian Project code-named Acero-Krupy is that, almost certainly, the homicide in question was inserted into a completely different context. To be precise, a context of war/clash between two Locali of ‘Ndrangheta located in the GTA, therefore, recalling the categorization proposed in the fourth article of this series, falling into Cat. 1 sub.2.


These investigative results of the Italian authorities, about a year and a half after the killing, consequently dropped the motive that would have consisted in Verduci’s involvement alongside Salvatore Montagna and his partners in crime. However, already in the aftermath of the murder, specific elements were known which did not support this hypothesis presupposing a type of war/clash falling into Cat. 3 sub.1 (war/clash between one or more Locali of ‘Ndrangheta located in the GTA and one or more other “distant” criminal organizations with Italian origin). Indeed, these elements described such long-lasting and close relationships between the first command line of the Montreal Family and the principal exponents of the Coluccio Clan that it was rather unlikely that the latter would suddenly change sides. Nevertheless, they were not taken into adequate consideration by the police sources consulted by the journalists.


(Continued on Part 3.2).

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