Family, friends, onlookers and police descended on a church in Little Italy this afternoon for the funeral for the reputed head of the Montreal Mafia. 

Vito Rizzuto died on Dec. 23 at Montreal's Sacré-Coeur Hospital, a day after he was hospitalized for pulmonary problems. He was 67. 

More than a dozen black limousines, some heavy with elaborate floral arrangements, arrived earlier Monday afternoon as a steady stream of mourners filed into Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense church. 

Eight pallbearers carried the casket up the church steps before the start of the hour-long service. Media were not permitted inside the church. 

Rizzuto's body was then transported to the Saint-François d'Assise cemetery in St-Leonard, a predominantly Italian neighbourhood in Montreal’s east end.

Several Montreal police cars were seen parked outside the church and patrolled the area during the service. 

End of a dynasty

Rizzuto, who was released from prison in the fall of 2012, was for years described by law enforcement as the godfather of the Montreal Mafia. His death, the latest blow for the clan that has already suffered significant losses, has left many questioning what's next. 

"You’re not only burying an individual, you’re burying a Mafia leader, but also, in many ways, you’re putting to bed a dynasty," said Julian Sher, senior producer of CBC's the fifth estate.

"The Rizzuto dynasty had dominated not just the Mafia, but organized crime for something like three decades.

"The big question everyone inside the Mafia, the public and the police are asking themselves is, 'Who comes next and will there even be someone of that power and stature in the future?' We don’t have the answer to that yet."

His death comes only a few years after his son and his father, who were seen by many as the past and future of the clan's operations, were assassinated in separate shootings in Montreal. 

"Within the past few years, the family, the group has been really affected," said Michel Martin, a retired inspector with the Sûreté du Québec.

"This will mark a period of adaptation."

Deep roots in organized crime

Born in the Cattolica Eraclea area of Sicily in 1946, Rizzuto moved to Canada with his family when he was eight years old.

The Rizzutos are said to have risen to power after Paolo Violi, head of the Calabrian Mafia in Canada, was shot and killed while eating at a Montreal restaurant in 1978.

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A visitation for Vito Rizzuto was held Sunday at the Loreto funeral complex in St-Leonard, a predominantly Italian neighbourhood in Montreal. His funeral is Monday. (Radio-Canada)

Nicolo Rizzuto Sr. — the patriarch of the Rizzuto crime family — was assassinated at his Montreal home in November 2010 at age 86. His death came after a string of legal battles.

Vito Rizzuto had three children. His son Nick Jr. was assassinated in broad daylight in 2009. He is survived by his son Leonardo and daughter Bettina, both of whom are lawyers in Quebec.

Served time in U.S. prison

Once nicknamed Montreal's Teflon Don — a nod to the original Teflon Don, New York's John Gotti — Rizzuto walked free for much of his life despite numerous accusations launched against him over the years.

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Vito Rizzuto's son Nick Jr. and father, Nicolo Sr., were assassinated while he was incarcerated. All three of the men's funerals were held at the same church. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

However, a 2007 guilty plea on racketeering charges related to the 1981 murders of three alleged New York gang leaders landed him in prison in the U.S. for eight years.

"My job was to say, 'It's a holdup!' so everybody would stand still," Rizzuto said at the time of his plea.

He denied being the trigger man. 

Arrested in 2003 and extradited to the U.S. in 2006, he served the last six years of his sentence in a Colorado prison.

He returned to the Montreal area in late 2012, settling in the Laval suburb of Ste-Dorothée.

Organized crime experts say they expect to see a struggle over leadership of the Montreal Mafia now that the era of the Rizzutos appears to have ended. 

A surge of violence is possible as members of organized crime outfits in Montreal, Toronto and New York vie for Rizzuto’s territory, Humphreys said.

Rizzuto funeral a chance to ID associates

A visitation Sunday at the Loreto funeral complex in St-Leonard drew hundreds of people. Loreto is owned by the Rizzuto family.

Martin said wakes and funerals of people known to be members of the Mafia are often good opportunities to identify possible associates.

"They’ll be updating their photo album because these people, most of them, they’re very quiet, discreet, in their daily life. But, this event makes a very interesting opportunity for police," he said. 

"The most interesting of them, the ones that are under investigation or have [warrants for their arrest] will not attend this. They’ll have someone else representing them, but still some important actors will be at this funeral."