Suits, cigars, and socks stuffed with cash: Portrait of Mob at Charbonneau Commission
Published Wednesday, September 26, 2012 9:56AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 26, 2012 7:00PM EDT
Suits, cigars, and socks stuffed with cash.
That's the portrait of the Mafia that Montreal police officers are illustrating this week at the Charbonneau Commission into organized crime.
The memorable scenes included the onetime don of the country's most powerful Mafia family, the late Nicolo Rizzuto, at meetings with construction-industry players where he received wads of cash and stuffed them into his socks.
Quebec's corruption inquiry has promised to examine ties between organized crime, the construction industry and the world of political party financing.
After months of anticipation, it witnessed video evidence Wednesday of financial links between the underworld and the construction world.
The images were gathered by the RCMP as part of surveillance operations in 2004 and 2005 -- and they were largely ignored until now.
Construction industry bosses were seen handing cash to Rizzuto or other Mafia types; there were also scenes from a Christmas party where businessmen and senior members of the Cosa Nostra exchanged affectionate two-cheek kisses as they milled about a snack table.
At one point a high-level Mafia captain is seen giving a gentle tap on the face to a man involved in Montreal-area municipal snow removal.
Montreal police officer Lt. Detective Eric Vecchio took the stand Wednesday, presenting the series of audio and video recordings that police made during wiretap operations.
"In the Italian culture you don't do that with someone you don't know," was how Eric Vecchio, a Montreal police officer, summed up the scene while narrating the video from the inquiry witness stand Wednesday.
"The ties are close."
Many of the videotapes show well-known mafia members and known associates carrying bundles of cash in socks, then sitting down at tables and counting bills.
They also include the heads of several construction firms: Frank Catania; Giuseppe (Joseph) Zappia; Domenic Arcuri; Alex Sciascia
Frank Catania and Associates has been investigated several times for fraud.
Zappia was acquitted of falsifying construction costs at the Olympic Village, and in 2005 was charged and convicted in Italy with trying to launder money.
Sciascia is the owner of Pavages ATG.
Police have long said that Arcuri was a member of the Mafia, and in 2009 he attended a breakfast fundraiser for then-Liberal environment minister Line Beauchamp.
In recent months several establishments owned by Arcuri, including the Ital Gelati factory, have been hit by firebombs.
The videos were shot during Operation Colisee, a five-year investigation that culminated in mass arrests in 2006 in the largest sweep against the Italian Mafia in Canadian history.
The operation helped precipitate the decline of the Rizzuto empire, many of whose members are now in jail or dead. The deceased include people in the videos shown Wednesday, like Rizzuto who was killed in his own home by by a sniper's bullet in 2010.
But the RCMP says it never used the evidence it gathered on the construction industry, because it wasn't pertinent to its drug investigation.
The Mounties even fought in court, unsuccessfully, to keep from sharing the evidence at the public inquiry. Quebec's Charbonneau Commission won that court battle to access the footage.
In some cases the sound quality is terrible and, in others, the microphones were shut off because the subjects were not of interest to the RCMP, Vecchio noted.
Rizzuto is hear referring to one construction boss by the affectionate moniker "Ciccarello," a variation on a popular southern Italian nickname for Francesco (or "Francis," in English).
The officer testifying says that showed a bond between the two.
"We see a relationship," Vecchio said, "which I think is a friendship between the two men."
There were also recorded conversations between Paolo Renda -- the Rizzuto family consigliere, who went missing in 2010 -- and two other men about a birthday party for a construction boss.
While the Rizzuto brass couldn't make it, they agreed to chip in their share for a $4,500 cigar humidor for the man. Renda mentioned that his name should be on the card -- as well as that of several other mobsters, including Nicolo Rizzuto and his son, Vito.
Vito Rizzuto, the most powerful member in the family when he was arrested in 2004, will be released from a U.S. prison on Oct. 6.
There has been ample speculation in Montreal about whether he will return to the city, or seek refuge elsewhere, and whether he will attempt to claw his way back to the position he once held. His father, son, and some of his best friends have been killed since he went to prison for a 30-year-old U.S. murder case.
The language spoken on the videos is mainly a Sicilian dialect, which caused issues for investigators trying to follow, Vecchio said. The room bugs also picked up a lot of the background noise in the coffee shop, making it difficult for investigators.
"It was difficult to hear, but we followed as best as we could," Vecchio said.
With a report from The Canadian Press