Hamilton

Exploring the killings that shine light on Canada's underworld power struggle

These are the incidents that are leading experts to believe that some form of upheaval is happening right now in Canada's criminal underworld.

3 Hamilton shootings in the past 2 years targeted victims with some link to the mob

Det. Sgt. Peter Thom of Hamilton police is heading up the investigations into multiple killings in Hamilton linked to organized crime. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

After years of relative calm, police in Hamilton and across Ontario suddenly have their hands full with brazen attacks on people with connections to organized crime.

Cece Luppino's shooting death this week marks Hamilton's third killing in two years where the victim has some link to the mob. All of shootings were similar, with the victim gunned down at home.

Police have said a recent surge of violence in the Toronto and Montreal areas seems to be connected to a power struggle, as different organized crime factions vie for position, and old scores are seemingly settled.

Here's a look at the incidents experts and investigators believe point to upheaval happening right now in Canada's criminal underworld.

The death of the 'Teflon Don'

Though not a violent incident, experts say the death of the former head of the Montreal Mafia Vito Rizzuto seems to have opened the door for the violence being seen in Ontario.

The 67-year-old died back in 2013 after being hospitalized for pulmonary problems — just over a year after his release from an American prison.

Vito Rizzuto was the most powerful mob boss in Canada before his death in December 2013. (CBC)

In 2007, Rizzuto pleaded guilty in an American court to racketeering charges in exchange for a 10-year sentence in connection with the 1981 murders of three alleged gang leaders at a New York social club.

Rizzuto's death paved the way for upheaval in the underworld, says Antonio Nicaso, a Mafia expert who teaches courses on organized crime at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

"There's a power struggle left from the vacuum from Rizzuto," he explained.

Angelo Musitano gunned down

The ripples of that power struggle first hit Hamilton in 2017, when notorious mobster Angelo Musitano was repeatedly shot outside his suburban home. The Musitano family was aligned with Rizzuto, which offered protection — until his death.

Musitano was gunned down just before the 20-year anniversary of the famous hit on the fearsome Johnny (Pops) Papalia, to which he was forever linked. At the time of Musitano's death, friends described him as someone who found God and spent time caring for his young family.

But Musitano had also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and once thrived in gangland life. The way he died pointed to Musitano being undone by his past, despite apparent efforts to forge a new future.

Organized crime expert James Dubro, who has written extensively about the Mafia in Ontario, previously told CBC Musitano's supposed turn to God "doesn't mean much for gangsters."

Angelo Musitano (right) and Pat Musitano leaving Provincial Court for lunch in 1998. (Hamilton Spectator)

"It's very hard to break away from that," he said.

"Found religion? Maybe. But it doesn't erase the past, if he did."

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

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

A Hamilton man is now facing a murder charge in connection with Musitano's death. Police have also issued Canada-wide warrants for two more suspects who investigators believe may have fled to Mexico.

Mila Barberi's death

That same man is also facing a murder charge in connection with the death of Toronto woman Mila Barberi.

Investigators announced in early last year that several characteristics linked the shootings of Barberi in March 2017 and Musitano two months later.

Jabril Hassan has been arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Angelo Musitano and Mila Barberi. Michael Cudmore and Daniel Tomasetti are wanted on the same charges, but police believe they've fled to Mexico. (Hamilton Police Service)

Barberi, 28, was killed while she sat in a BMW SUV parked outside a business in the middle of the afternoon in an industrial area of Vaughan, Ont. She was picking up her boyfriend, Saverio Serrano, 40, who police say has connections to organized crime and may have been the intended target.

Pat Musitano's home shot up

Just weeks after Angelo Musitano was killed, his brother received a message of his own, when someone fired bullets into his home.

No one was hurt, but detectives said at the time that they believed the home was specifically targeted.

Bullet holes could be seen in one of the front windows of Pat Musitano's home. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Al Iavarone killed in 'targeted attack'

Then, last September, 50-year-old Al Iavarone was shot as his home in Ancaster. Police said it was a "targeted attack," and revealed Iavarone was associated with people involved in organized crime.

Police say Iavarone's wife and two adult children were at home at the time of the incident. The shooter drove a silver vehicle onto the street, parked it, got out, then hid in the bushes. 

Al Iavarone worked out of Royal LePage's Hamilton office for 10 years. (RoyalLePage)

When Iavarone got home, the shooter approached him and fired.

Investigators said at the time that Iavarone was a real estate agent and had no criminal record, but added he was known to police.

Mobster's son shot dead

Which brings us to Luppino's death. The son of mobster Rocco Luppino was gunned down at a Hamilton home owned by his father on Wednesday, in what police said appears to be yet another "targeted" killing.

The Luppino family was once a powerhouse in organized crime in the region. Court documents filed by the RCMP show the Luppino family is connected to a web of organized crime stretching from Hamilton to Buffalo, N.Y.

The documents, which were filed as part of the drug trafficking case against Domenico Violi and his brother Giuseppe (Joey) Violi, link the two families together. The RCMP also say the Luppino-Violi family is a faction of the Todaro crime family in Buffalo that is run by Joe Todaro, Jr.

Police say Luppino was 43-years-old. (Facebook)

Both Rocco Luppino and his brother Natale are "made" members of the Buffalo family who operate in Hamilton, police say.

Giacomo Luppino, Cece's grandfather, was a heavyweight in organized crime circles in Hamilton several decades ago, said Nicaso.

"He was in charge in Hamilton in the '60s and '70s," Nicaso said. "Giacomo was a very powerful boss."

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