The organized crime ring with Mafia connectionsbroken up by police this weekwas running a multi-million dollar online sports betting racket and a slick cocaine trafficking ring at the Montreal airport, the RCMP say.
Seventy-threepeople arrested Wednesday during extensive police raids had some link to both illegal businesses that allegedly netted the notorious Montreal-based Rizzuto crime family tens of millions of dollars, the Mounties said.
Another17 suspects remain at large, and five others have been contacted by police, the Mounties said.
In a seven-month period in 2005, police seized more than 1,300 kilograms of cocaine smuggled into the Montreal airport via containers, suitcases and food carts.
With the collaboration of agents with Canadian Border Services, the organization was able to run a steady stream of cocaine shipments from Venezuela and Haiti, in what RCMP Insp. Michel Aubin called a "continuous operation."
"The organization gave [drug] couriers passes from customs and excise so that they could cross the border without any problem," he said.
The bookmaking operation, worth about $26 million over the past 18 months, involved an internet site where people could place online sports bets. The site was once hosted on a server in Belize, but had moved to the Kahnawake reserve west of Montreal in 2005. Some 820,000 online bets were made between 2004 and 2006, according to the RCMP.
The organization also ran a marijuana smuggling operation that acquired dope in the Laval and Montreal regions, and used the Akwesasne Territory to ship the illegal substances to Florida, the Mounties said.
Rizzuto family hit hard
As of Thursday afternoon, those in custody included key members of the Rizzuto family: Nicolo Rizzuto, 82, father of former mob boss Vito Rizzuto; Francesco Arcadi, 53, the man believed to have replaced the younger Rizzuto; Paolo Renda, 67; Rocco Sollecito, 58; Francesco Del Balso, 36, and Lorenzo Giordano, 43.
They are charged with conspiracy to import, drug trafficking, conspiracy for the purpose of trafficking, gangsterism, bookmaking, extortion, and possession of proceeds of crime.
Giordano was also charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault in connection to a 2004 incident at the Globe Restaurant on St-Laurent Blvd. in Montreal.
Nicolo Rizzuto played an important role in the family's business, after his son Vito was extradited to the U.S. on racketeering charges, according to Mafia expert and author Antonio Nicaso.
The elderly Rizzuto was "practically forced to take charge of the organization" after his son's arrest and extradition, Nicaso told the Canadian Press.
Border agent sought
Thirty-eight people face charges relating to the cocaine smuggling at Trudeau airport, including current and former airport employees who worked for food and border security services.
Police are still searching for a Canadian Border Service agent who remained at large Thursday evening.
Six people face charges related to cocaine trafficking, and 24 others have been charged with the export of marijuana.
Ten people were charged in connection with the online betting scheme, police said.
The 73 suspects in custody weren't arraigned until late Wednesday night because of several hours' delay at the Montreal courthouse. Several were formally charged via video from the Bordeaux prison north of Montreal.
The RCMP seized several properties in Laval belonging to the alleged ring leaders, as well as $3 million in Canadian cash, $250,000 US, bank accounts, jewelry and furniture.
Revenue Canada said it is considering pressing tax evasion and tax fraud charges for an estimated $3.3 million in undeclared revenue, spokesman Denis Meunier said.
Airport workers at risk of corruption
The raids raised questions about security at Montreal's international airport. The union representing airport workers said employees, whether they work for cargo or food services, are vulnerable to corruption.
"We work in places where we're exposed to this kind of phenomenon, where we are offered money to do things. Unfortunately, in some rare occasions, our guys fall into the trap," said Jean-Pierre Fortin, a union spokesman.
Stockwell Day, the federal minister of public security, insisted there is nothing amiss with Montreal's airport security, saying workers are carefully screened prior to hiring.
"When somebody applies for a job that has security status to it â¦ they're checked out by CSIS and the RCMP. At that point in time, all of these people, including these individuals, their record was clear," Day said.
The three-year undercover probe was the most extensive operation of its kind in Canadian police history, officials said, involvingpolicefrom several nations, includingthe United States, Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Italy, Belize, Cuba, Mexico, Switzerland, England, the Bahamas and Germany.