Rizzuto influence was weak before assassination
MONTREAL - The murder of 86-year-old mafia don Nicolo Rizzuto means the Rizzuto family has lost its turf war for Montreal, according to organized crime expert James Dubro.
"It's the end of the Rizzuto family as a major force on the street level in Montreal," said Dubro.
However Dubro cautioned that members of the mafia family could still be involved in lucrative money laundering and international drug trafficking schemes.
Nicolo Rizzuto was shot and killed Wednesday afternoon in his Cartierville home.
Police say a gunman hid in the woods behind the Antoine Berthelet street home, avoiding surveillance cameras until the opportunity to kill Rizzuto presented itself.
Rizzuto was preparing dinner with his wife and daughter when the assassin shot through two panes of glass and put a bullet in the mafioso's head.
Rizzuto was taken to hospital where he was confirmed dead.
His wife and daughter, who were in the house when the bullet was fired, are being questioned by the major crimes unit.
Quiet the day after on "Mafia Row"
Police were combing the area Thursday, the morning after Rizzuto was felled in his living room by an assassin's bullet.
By mid-afternoon, however, the police tape was gone and life appeared again to be normal -- at least from the outside -- on the street dubbed "Mafia Row."
The only outward sign of turmoil were the visitors, filing in to pay their respects at a neighbouring home, one of several houses on the street belonging to the Rizzuto clan.
The 86-year-old don spent his final moments in that comfy back room.
On Thursday, there were still three chairs arranged along the windows, an espresso maker on the nearby counter, and a religious statue sitting on the table to the left.
There was also a bullet hole about one metre off the ground, between two of the chairs.
A crew from a private cleaning company showed up Thursday afternoon to get to work scrubbing down the room.
Nicolo not involved in day-to-day operations
Denis Mainville, commander of the Montreal police department's organized crime unit, says Rizzuto had not been actively leading the day-to-day operations of the mafia family.
"Since a few months he was not involved in any kind of leading that we see in the field," said Cmdr. Mainville.
"There were a few members related to the family, they were pulling big studies outside," but he was still a respected figure.
The Rizzuto clan's influence sank abruptly in 2004, when Vito Rizzuto was arrested and deported to the U.S.
He is currently serving a ten-year sentence for conspiracy to commit murder.
Last year his son Nick Jr., who reportedly had taken over the day-to-day criminal operations, was shot and killed in NDG.
That's when Nicolo Rizzuto reportedly once again took over the reins, despite serving a suspended sentence for possession of proceeds of crime for the benefit of a criminal organization.
"I was quite surprised, not shocked, but surprised they would go after the old don," said Dubro.
"For them to kill someone that old is sending a very potent message to everyone in that family that they're finished. This is the strongest message they've sent yet to Vito Rizzuto that his time is over."
Vito is expected to be released in 2012, but at that time he will likely face more charges in Canada and Italy.
Antonio Nicaso, a Toronto-based journalist and author specializing in the Mafia, said the fact that Nicolo was killed in his own home is significant.
"They could have killed him in any other place," said Nicaso.
"Killing him infront of his wife and daughter was a punishment they could have avoided."
Nicaso cites three lessons from the murder.
First, some group wants "to burn all the ground around (Nicolo's son) Vito," so that there's nothing left when the current boss gets out of a U.S. prison in 2012.
Second, the killing of an 86-year-old great-grandfather proves "retirement is not an option in the Mafia," Nicaso said.
And, finally, he said it suggests there is no statute of limitations on revenge. Over several decades, the Rizzutos made powerful enemies -- along with allies -- in many places.
Rizzuto's killing has generated attention beyond Canada's borders.
Italy's major newspaper websites all carried reports of the murder, with some media and blogs interpreting the impact it might have on the underworld.
"With the death of its historical patriarch the clan from Sicily has suffered a blow that could prove fatal," said one news report from Italy's Ansa agency.
"After 30 years of dominance, the power of the Rizzutos on Montreal's organized-crime scene has been called into question over the past year."
One of those same newspaper websites, the Corriere della Sera, also carried a report on 40,000 people attending a recent anti-Mafia march in Calabria and denouncing the pervasive criminal presence in the country.
- with files from The Canadian Press