Police left to 'play catch-up' after mob murders, retired investigator fears

A retired Hamilton police investigator who specialized in organized crime said homicide detectives are left to "play catch-up" after events like Tuesday's murder of Ang Musitano, without a proactive, collaborative, multi-agency effort targeting organized crime.

Retired police investigator says it was a mistake to disband a joint forces unit focused on organized crime

Detectives Peter Thom and Jason Cattle confer at the Waterdown house where Ang Musitano was shot and killed on Tuesday. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

An RCMP-led joint forces unit that once proactively investigated organized crime in Hamilton and Niagara was disbanded several years ago. 

And a retired Hamilton police investigator who specialized in organized crime said that means homicide detectives are left to "play catch-up" after events like Tuesday's murder of Angelo Musitano, without such a proactive, collaborative, multi-agency effort targeting organized crime.

"Organized crime knows no boundary – provincial, continental, worldwide," said Ted Davis, a veteran Hamilton Police Service and RCMP intelligence officer who once led the province's organized crime strategy and ran the Golden Horseshoe Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit.

"Unless you join up with other police services, and Canada border security and everything else, and do it together as a joint unit, you lose," he told CBC News.

"You don't get that overall investigative insight into what's going on."

Davis would know.

We learned that from the  Papalia  homicide. We were caught with our pants down.- Ted Davis, retired Hamilton police and  RCMP  intelligence officer

He led Hamilton Police Service's intelligence division, and said at the time of Johnny "Pops" Papalia's death in 1997, police were left to "play catch-up."

That death and the murder months later of Papalia's lieutenant, Carmen Barillaro, launched the police into a collaborative Golden Horseshoe Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit.

But that unit was dissolved several years ago.

"That unit was never replaced," said Antonio Nicaso, a Mafia expert who teaches about organized crime at Queen's University.

"Law enforcement priority now is terrorism," he said, "not any longer organized crime."

And, Davis said, that may leave investigators starting from scratch after an event like Tuesday.

"I would hazard a guess that Hamilton (police) has not looked at traditional organized crime in five years. So where do they start as of [Tuesday]? What do they know? What are they going to do? Who are they going to look at?" Davis said.

"These are the things that if you're doing these things on a continual basis, you have those answers. We learned that from the Papalia homicide. We were caught with our pants down."

'Still trying to unravel'

Police forces are generally not inclined to discuss their covert intelligence-gathering tactics with the media.

So Hamilton police may very well be involved and in touch on a proactive basis with their compatriots in other jurisdictions where organized crime's tentacles reach. But no replacement for the formal, joint-forces, collaborative team to fight organized crime has ever been announced.

Neither Peter Thom, the detective leading the investigation into Musitano's death, nor media relations officers for the service, responded to questions Thursday from CBC News.

Angelo Musitano (right) and Pat Musitano leaving Provincial Court for lunch in 1998. Angelo was killed in a targeted shooting outside his home on Tuesday. (Hamilton Spectator)

A spokeswoman for the RCMP Ontario division confirmed the Special Enforcement Unit for the Golden Horsehoe was closed "due to restructuring." But Lousie Savard said a team of RCMP officers focused on "serious and organized crime" works out of that agency's Hamilton-Niagara regional detachment in Stoney Creek.

Savard said Hamilton Police Service is the agency investigating the Musitano murder.

"We offer assistance should they need anything," Savard said. She didn't answer whether Hamilton police have reached out to the RCMP on the Musitano case.

The GTA still has a Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, and Hamilton police were involved in a joint-forces investigation in 2015.

Musitano, 39, was shot and killed at close range on Tuesday in front of his Waterdown house, with his wife and three young children inside. Police are calling it "a very deliberate and targeted attack."

Thom said in a press conference Wednesday that police are "still trying to unravel" a theory of why Musitano was shot, and will be "reaching out to our policing partners to try to determine if there is any kind of connection" to other attacks in Ontario.

"I don't say it's a war; it's been fairly quiet," Thom said. "If this is an organized crime-type situation, we haven't had one in Hamilton for a very long time."

But Nicaso, the Mafia expert, said that "quiet" is not necessarily an indication that the mob isn't doing anything.

"Our problem is that we only focus on the organized crime when there is a murder, but the Mafia is stronger when there's no violence because they try to avoid police and media," he said. 

"If there is silence, if it's quiet, that's the perfect landscape for them to do anything they want," Nicaso said. "The Mafia is not just a violent criminal organization. What they used to do with guns they can now do with corruption."

A name associated with crime in Hamilton

Musitano's late father was Domenic Musitano, a well known Mafia boss in the city.

Brothers Angelo and Pat Musitano were charged with first-degree murder in connection with the brazen 1997 shooting of Hamilton crime boss Johnny (Pops) Papalia and one of his lieutenants, Carmen Barillaro.

The brothers reached a deal and pleaded to conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Barillaro. In turn, the charges against them in connection with Papalia's death were dropped.

They were sentenced to 10 years in jail. They got out in 2007, and Musitano had mostly flown under the radar ever since. 

But in recent years, Ang Musitano had found religion and seemed to be trying to forge a new life.

'If you're not following the bad guys'

Davis, the former joint-forces intelligence officer, said combined-force efforts can be expensive and hard on officers. It can be tempting to avoid the headaches by cutting the proactive investment, he said.

"It can be millions of dollars a year to do these investigations," Davis said. "If you're not doing them, you don't have to worry about it. And unfortunately those homicide detectives play catch-up, bigtime."

Hamilton police forensics investigators were on the scene after Ang Musitano was shot in Waterdown. (Dave Ritchie/CBC)

We'd have our resources in the other police forces feeding us information on a daily basis. And we'd know where to target, or at least where to start looking.- Ted Davis, retired Hamilton police and RCMP  intelligence officer

"But if [a murder] took place, and the joint forces was running, and the investigations were continuing, we'd have a place to start," Davis said.

"We'd have a feel for what was going on. We'd have our resources on the street. We'd have our resources in the other police forces feeding us information on a daily basis. And we'd know where to target, or at least where to start looking."