After months of anticipation, the witnesses are starting to name names, detailing ties between well-known construction entrepreneurs and the highest figures in the Italian Mafia at Quebec's corruption inquiry.
Construction tycoons were regular visitors at a notorious Montreal Mafia hangout several years ago while authorities quietly observed during a police surveillance operation, an RCMP officer told the Charbonneau commission on Tuesday.
In some of those visits, Cpl. Vinicio Sebastiano testified, construction entrepreneurs were seen bringing money to the acting boss of the Rizzuto Mafia clan — the late Nicolo Rizzuto Sr. — or his consigliere, Paolo Renda.
Several of the magnates who visited the place, known as the Consenza Social Club and later the Associazione Cattolica Eraclea, have received millions of dollars in public contracts from the City of Montreal.
"Were you able during your investigation to see construction entrepreneurs taking money directly to one or another of the bosses?" commission lawyer Denis Gallant asked.
"Yes," Sebastiano replied.
Rattling off names of well-known construction moguls in the Montreal area, the RCMP officer testified that they often showed up at the now-closed café that used to be frequented mainly by Mob types. Sebastiano told the Charbonneau commission that the visits to the Consenza Social Club were common while police taped and filmed.
Reading through an extremely detailed RCMP document of who came and went from the Rizzuto family hangout, Sebastiano said one construction company owner — Nicola Milioto, former president of Mivela Construction — visited the premises 236 times over two years. Mivela Construction is one of the top 10 recipients of City of Montreal contracts since 2006, having bagged at least $60.7 million in taxpayer-funded work.
Several others were seen there repeatedly, Sebastiano said:
- Francesco Catania, of Catcan Enterprises, a civil engineering firm that, along with its partner companies, has received $154.6 million in contracts from the City of Montreal since 2006. He made 19 visits.
- Accursio Sciascia, seen there 37 times.
- Michel Argento of Paramount Paving. He visited five times.
- Domenico Arcuri, former shareholder in Construction Mirabeau, which got $24 million in city contracts over the last six years. He made 45 visits. Businesses linked to him have been firebombed six times since Aug. 17.
- Tony Maggi, business partner of Nick Rizzuto Jr., the grandson of Nicolo Rizzuto who was gunned down in 2009. He made one visit.
Sebastiano made only a brief reference to the monetary transfers during Tuesday's testimony and did not point the finger at any specific company executives who handed over the cash.
RCMP ignored construction angle
The Charbonneau commission is looking into criminal corruption in the Quebec construction industry and its ties to organized crime and political parties.
The inquiry heard another surprising bit of testimony Tuesday: Sebastiano said police did not use the information gathered about the construction industry.
In the lead-up to the inquiry, the RCMP battled inquiry lawyers in court to avoid having to share details from its landmark Operation Colisée, arguing that divulging them could compromise police work. The Mounties lost their case — and details began gushing forth Tuesday.
Sebastiano told the commission that those entrepreneurs' visits a decade ago were classified as "non-pertinent" because they were not central to the RCMP's anti-Mafia investigation. Under questioning, he added that he never heard conversations about the financing of political parties.
Operation Colisée was focused mainly on the drug trade, Sebastiano said, as he shared details about that anti-Mafia sweep, the biggest in Canadian history, that culminated in more than 90 arrests in November 2006.
It was that police operation that ultimately foreshadowed the decline of the once-powerful Rizzuto clan, an RCMP analyst testified earlier Tuesday.
Commission lawyer Gallant said that on Wednesday the inquiry will see video surveillance from Operation Colisée where construction entrepreneurs were seen handing over money to the Mob.
Rizzutos' rise and fall
The inquiry turned its attention to Montreal on Tuesday after hearing from witnesses who discussed Ontario, Italy and the United States.
It was another RCMP officer who took the stand first, detailing the bloody rise of the Rizzutos in the late 1970s and early '80s.
Linda Fequière said Vito Rizzuto was able to forge alliances and act as a peacemaker to solidify the clan's power base in Montreal.
Those alliances included Calabrian groups previously tied to the clan deposed by the Rizzutos. She said he also brokered arrangements with other groups like criminal biker gangs and the Irish Mob.
"Vito Rizzuto worked as a mediator. He was someone who could find solutions when there were problems among different groups," Fequiere said.
But the family fortunes changed.
Its troubles accelerated following Rizzuto's extradition to the United States, where he is serving a jail sentence for a 30-year-old killing, and after Operation Colisée. Numerous family members, including Vito's father, Nicolo, and son, Nick Jr., wound up dead, while others went to prison.
Without naming any names, Fequière said a faction of the Calabrian Mafia — which held power in Quebec for three decades before the rise of the Rizzutos — has taken over again.
CBC's the fifth estate looked into the bloody war in Montreal's criminal underworld that has seen several mob bosses taken out in bone-chilling fashion, including Nicolo Rizzuto. Watch the episode here.
Fequière said she wouldn't go into details about who is in charge, noting that investigations could be compromised.
"I'm not saying the Sicilian faction has completely disappeared — but there is a return of the Calabrian faction that happened after the arrest and extradition of Vito Rizzuto," Fequiere said.
Rizzuto, currently jailed in the U.S., is scheduled to be released in a few weeks.
Fequière said investigations have shown that Mafia members in Montreal focus on a few traditional staples: the drug trade, sports betting and illegal gambling, extortion, and money laundering as their main illegitimate money-makers.
They are also involved in numerous legal industries such as restaurants, construction companies and private security, she said. Renda, Vito Rizzuto's brother-in-law, owned a construction company, Fequière noted. He went missing in 2010 and is presumed dead.
Several law-enforcement officials are to testify in the coming days about the Italian Mafia in Montreal — in particular about the rise and fall of the Rizzuto clan and the unprecedented police investigation into the Mob that helped precipitate the decline.