Authors: Peter Edwards
Locked up in Colorado, Vito would have been keenly aware that a great deal was happening that he wasn't hearing about, though he was no doubt hearing enough to keep him worried. For instance, on September 17, 2009, a man connected to the powerful Commisso crime family of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) had flown to Montreal to meet with wealthy cafÃ© owner Vittorio (Victor) Mirarchi, among others. Mirarchi was barely thirty years old but reputedly a force, although a quiet and mysterious one who had never been convicted of a crime. Born in Montreal on October 10, 1977, he traced his family roots to Isca sullo Ionio in the province of Catanzaro in southern Italy. That part of Calabria was considered another 'Ndrangheta hotbed.
His father, Antonio Mirarchi, had been a friend of Vito's old ally Raynald Desjardins, and also had close ties to the Quebec Hells Angels. In the summer of 2001, Antonio Mirarchi knew his ailing heart wouldn't last much longer and he asked Desjardins to look out for his boy. Desjardins agreed. As anticipated, Antonio Mirarchi died young, at age fifty-one. Desjardins honoured his promise and took the younger man under his wing.
There was a time when Vito would have looked to Desjardins for help in a time of crisis. Now he considered him with suspicion, perhaps even fear. They had known each other since the early 1970s, and within a decade Desjardins was like a younger brother to Vito, much as Vittorio Mirarchi now seemed like a younger sibling to Desjardins. Back then, Vito and Desjardins brought in literally tonnes of hashish from Lebanon and Spain through Newfoundland and then washed the profits in Swiss banks. For at least a decade, the terms “loyal” and “right-hand man” precisely described Desjardins's relationship to Vito.
Now the former cabaret waiter was a force in his own right and possibly also a deadly enemy. Desjardins had maintained a close relationship with charismatic bar owner Giuseppe (Joe) Di Maulo since the early 1970s, a man whose confidence and charisma rivalled Vito's own, which helped explain why he and Vito were the
s two great mediators.
Di Maulo had managed to stay out of jail since beating three murder charges at age twenty-eight, cultivating friendships and charming potential enemies as he rose to become a mainstay of the city's Calabrian faction of the mob. In November 1973, Desjardins drove Di Maulo to New York City so Di Maulo could attend a leadership meeting of the Bonanno crime family, at which Phil (Rusty) Rastelli was installed as acting boss.
Di Maulo was also tight with Paolo Violi at the time Violi sought permission from the Bonanno family to have NicolÃ² Rizzuto assassinated. Di Maulo and Violi travelled together to New York in 1974 to a Bonanno meeting, when Violi was acting head of the Cotroni crime family. After Violi's murder in 1978, Di Maulo made a decision to go on living and reached a dÃ©tente with the new masters of the Montreal
underworld, coexisting with NicolÃ² and Vito. With time, he even became an amiable member of Vito's golf foursomes. It made good business sense for Vito to tolerate the former Violi associate, but could he ever really trust him?
For his part, Desjardins had helped Vito forge ties with the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club and French-Canadian gangs. He ran a vending machine business in the 1980s with Di Maulo and Nicodemo Cotroni, the son of Vic the Egg's younger brother, Frank (The Big Guy) Cotroni. The mob had made considerable money in jukeboxes in the 1960s, followed by vending machines and then online games. They were all easy businesses to run, once the competition was scared away, and since they were cash driven, income was easy to hide from Revenue Canada.
Vito and Desjardins clicked on a business level. In 1984 they were seen together in Milan, organizing the importation of 3.5 tonnes of hash. Their schemes only got bigger. In 1987 police believed the pair were organizing a 30-tonne shipment. Later that year, Desjardins and Vito were charged with smuggling 16 tonnes of hashish via a small island off Newfoundland. Charges were dropped when the RCMP was caught hiding an unauthorized recording device in a lamp at a restaurant table frequented by the two men's lawyer.
As a team, Vito and Desjardins flooded the country with drugs by air as well as by water. In May 1989, they were behind the flying in of five hundred kilos of cocaine from Colombia. Their ongoing relationship was clearly a profitable one. Despite his humble beginnings in the service industry, Desjardins began to collect vintage automobiles and cruised the St. Lawrence in a forty-foot yacht. Sometimes he made his way up the river to ChÃ¢teau Montebello, the opulent log hotel where Winston Churchill and other Allied leaders met during World War II. Desjardins was the highest-ranking QuÃ©bÃ©cois in the Montreal mob, but he still remained an outsider of sorts in the world of the Italian Mafia. For all his trappings of success, Desjardins also remained a junior partner to Vito. In contrast, the growing link between Desjardins and Di Maulo transcended business and friendship to become one of family when Di Maulo married Desjardins's sister. Together, they ran a disco
bar that was almost always empty of real customers but provided a comfortable venue for criminals to meet.
Then Desjardins was the fall guy in the massive cocaine-smuggling plot that sent him to prison for more than a decade while Vito enjoyed golf, cafÃ©s and southern vacations. Vito simply carried on with a string of new right-hand men, including his childhood friend Valentino Morielli and lawyer Joseph Lagana. Like Desjardins, they eventually went to prison for their dealings with Vito, while Vito kept gliding along. Soon the media was calling Vito “The Teflon Don,” a moniker first used for John Gotti, boss of New York's Gambino crime family, back when he seemed impossible to convict.
The press repeatedly made the mistake of calling Di Maulo a Calabrian, when in fact he was from the province of Campobasso on the Italian mainland near Rome, far north of Calabria. This lent him a position in the Montreal underworld that Desjardins could sympathize with to a degreeâthat of an outsider. But at least in Di Maulo's case, being Italian, his neutral origins along with his affable nature made him a natural mediator particularly in disputes between Sicilians and Calabrians. Such talks often took place at a downtown restaurant on Sherbrooke Street or in a buffet in Saint-LÃ©onard.
Di Maulo was never comfortable around drugs, despite the enormous profits to be had, while at the time of Nick Jr.'s murder police suspected Desjardins was moving seven hundred to nine hundred kilograms of marijuana a week into New York, and also transporting Venezuelan cocaine through California into Montreal. Perhaps thanks to his bitter years in prison, Desjardins had learned he could function just fine without Di Maulo or Vito.
His new right-hand man, young Vittorio Mirarchi, was reaping the benefits of his mentor's independence. In just his early thirties, Mirarchi purchased a fortified house in Sainte-AdÃ¨le in the Laurentian Mountains and a condo in the bunker-like development at 1000 de la Commune Street in Montreal's Old Port. He could often be found at his business, CafÃ© Luna, which was considered a popular meeting spot for Raynald Desjardins's allies. Sometimes Mirarchi travelled in a sport-utility vehicle owned by the Hells Angels, and seldom did he travel
alone. There were trips to Ontario, where the young man sat down with well-established 'Ndrangheta members. If Desjardins was looking to overtake his former friend Vito, using his protege to reach out to the Ontario Calabrians was one way of doing it. No one was going to confront Vito head-on. Far better to forge a strategic alliance with the low-profile 'Ndrangheta and keep his quiet manoeuvring in a corner where prying eyes seldom got a good look.
As he sat in his Colorado prison cell, Vito must have wondered about possible links between Desjardins and Mirarchi and the Ontario 'Ndrangheta. He would have been curious to hear details of a daytime meeting in a yellow brick home on a gently winding street in Woodbridge, just north of Toronto, on Wednesday, October 7, 2009. The host of the meeting was Carmine Verduci, considered a loyal member of the 'Ndrangheta by Canadian and Italian police, with ties to senior members of the Coluccio-Aquino crime family in Canada and Italy. At the time of the meeting, Verduci had been making frequent forays onto Vito's turf in Montreal.
Pear-shaped but physically powerful, at six feet and 265 pounds, Verduci was known on the streets as “The Animal.” His criminal record included assault with a weapon and weapons possession, but he was believed by police to be guilty of far more serious things, including murder.
He ostensibly leased cars for a living, but he also directed a street crew that worked in the GTA and Hamilton. Police believed he graduated from street-level heroin dealing to arranging heroin shipments from Mexico and multi-kilo shipments of cocaine that travelled from Mexico to BC to Toronto. He was also believed to be smuggling AK-47 assault rifles into Toronto from the States through the Akwesasne First Nations reserve. Moreoever, his reach extended to Toronto Albanian mobsters and the Gambino crime family in New York.
Some friends called Verduci “Ciccio Formaggio,” referring to his love of homemade cheese, bread, grappa and wine. Aside from his Woodbridge home, he also owned a sprawling farm in Caledon, with a farmhouse, barn, tractor-trailers and several large dogs. He enjoyed hunting with a shotgun and working the hobby farm, where the phone was set up to not accept incoming calls.
Verduci was a Canadian citizen but had been born in Oppido Mamertina in Reggio Calabria province. Italian police noted he had recently attended high-level 'Ndrangheta dinner meetings in Reggio Calabria. At one of these meetings, in September 2009, he learned that a boss based in Milan wanted to run his own independent group. A month later, that upstart boss was murdered.
That year, Verduci also attended the annual 'Ndrangheta world summit in the Calabrian sanctuary of Polsi. At one summit, his voice was captured by a police interception device saying he was concerned about a brother who was in jail. He was reassured that “the jail never bites anyone who's a good Christian.” The declaration of faith was code: everything would be okay as long as his brother kept his mouth shut. Verduci was known to detest publicity, which made him a logical host for the 'Ndrangheta gathering.
The eight or so men who gathered at Verduci's home that afternoon wouldn't have struck the public as particularly threatening, more like members of a seniors' gardening club than criminal conspirators. Despite their benign appearance, the police who were filming them knew these men wielded considerable clout in the underworld; according to police, they were members of the GTA
camera di controllo
, a network that moderated disputes between the nine Toronto-area 'Ndrangheta clans. Like Verduci, his visitors habitually drew minimal attention to themselves.
It wasn't the full board of the
in attendance, but it was a strong cross-section and included members who were active in gambling, drugs and stock manipulation. Easily the most senior member of the group that afternoon was Cosimo Stalteri, whose door was opened and closed for him as he climbed in and out of a Toyota SUV, a show of respect for the octogenarian Mafioso.
members were all well aware that the ground beneath their feet was in the midst of a seismic shift. The underworld abhors a vacuum as much as nature does, and the hole left by Vito's departure to the Colorado prison was being filled by a new alliance. Desjardins and Mirarchi now seemed in sync with some members of the Toronto area 'Ndrangheta and some heavy-duty Quebec Hells Angels.
Police witnessed two senior members in an animated argument on the street before they climbed into their cars and drove away. The reason for their sharp words remained a mystery, as police had no listening devices inside or outside Verduci's house. What was clear was that Vito's crime family appeared ripe for attack. There is never a clear announcement when a mob war begins or ends. It just happens. And it was starting to look as if it was happening now.
t was tempting to wonder if the answer to Nick Jr.'s murder lay behind the walls of the Gibralter-like condominium development near the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. Prestigious, posh and secure, 1000 de la Commune Street was home to millionaire hockey players, socialites and also some mobsters. Owning condos there were Vittorio Mirarchi; Haitian street-gang veteran and convicted pimp Vick SÃ©vÃ¨re Paul; Hells Angels Normand (Casper) Ouimet and Salvatore Cazzetta; and Ducarme Joseph, co-founder of the 67's street gang and the Blue gang alliance.
Nick Jr. had been involved in turning the old refrigerated warehouse into the massive complex it is now. The location was inviting: it had a prime view of the St. Lawrence River, and sat close to the earthy thrills of the Main (Saint-Laurent Boulevard) and the boutiques of Old Montreal. The condo project had originally been headed by Montreal developer Tony Magi. When it seemed to be teetering near financial collapse in 2002, some of its investors turned to Vito for help. They didn't seek Vito's money. Vito had moved beyond simply pumping money into a project to launder his drug proceeds. It was his arbitration skills among investors and contractors that were needed to keep the project moving. For Vito, it was an obvious opportunity. A police wiretap picked up his reply to a businessman complaining about the financial direction of the project.
“If we get somebody who can help him out either by finance, private finance or finding finance for him to continue the project, he's willing to give us half of the project,” Vito says. “You get it?”
Vito was a man who could get others to do things on a deadline, with a minimum of haggling. Plumbing, electrical, hardwood flooring and other work could be farmed out to firms with whom he had a friendly relationship. Naturally, he expected that work done at a considerable discount.
Vito displayed his knack for mediation shortly after midnight on May 29, 2003. Someone stole the Cadillac Escalade SUV of one of the project's investors, who had left it near a Dorval restaurant. A police wiretap picked up the investor's call to Vito. He told Vito that the Escalade was less than two weeks old, but he didn't really care about the vehicle.