Mafia expert reveals mob secrets at Quebec inquiry

Quebec's corruption inquiry hears a detailed history of the Italian Mafia — with everything from its secret codes, its origins and the scope of its reach to how it got into the construction business.

Charbonneau corruption commission hears how crime families make billions

Italian Mafia expert Valentina Tenti testifed at the Charbonneau commission Tuesday. (Radio-Canada)

Quebec's corruption inquiry heard a detailed history of the Italian Mafia on Tuesday — with everything from its secret codes, its origins and the scope of its reach to how it got into the construction business.

The inquiry was even shown the so-called "Ten Commandments" of the Sicilian Mafia, the list of rules under which members must supposedly live.

The rules include not staring at a fellow mobster's wife; not hanging out in bars and clubs; and not being seen talking to a police officer. They were listed on a document found by Italian police, according to Tuesday's testimony.

Such information came from Valentina Tenti, who holds a doctorate in criminology and is an expert in the Italian Mafia.

The Italian-born scholar, who is doing post-doctoral work in Montreal, was the first in a series of law enforcement and academic experts who will testify at the Charbonneau inquiry about organized crime in the coming weeks.

The inquiry hopes to uncover wrongdoing in the province's construction industry, and its links to organized crime and political corruption.

Crime families adapt

Tenti provided context about the Mafia in Italy and how its various groups evolved over time, from rural entities to empires with a worldwide reach.

They have survived, she said, thanks to a highly structured makeup and an ability to adapt and spread into legitimate businesses such as construction.

Key players

Read profiles of the some of the big names that have come up or likely will at the inquiry into Quebec construction-industry corruption.

In a 100-page report for the commission on how the Mob infiltrated construction in Italy, Tenti noted that Mafia was largely localized in rural communities but capitalized on the building boom following the end of the Second World War.

European countries devastated by the war — including Italy — had received billions under the U.S. Marshall Plan.

In an example of just how influential the Mafia was, Tenti said the Sicilian city of Palermo authorized some 4,000 building permits during the boom in the 1950s.

But 2,500 contracts went to just three people — none of whom knew anything about construction. They were frontmen for Mafia-backed companies.


Mafia-led businesses can be controlled directly or indirectly by crime groups and they resort to violence as a business tactic, Tenti said. The companies also have access to funds from illegal activities and that can give them a competitive edge, she said.

Tenti told the commission that the problem is bad enough in Italy that she helped create software that evaluates the risk of Mob infiltration for public contracts doled out there.

Money is a major part of what drives the Mafia, but not the only thing, she said. Since the 1970s, the illegal drug trade accounts for the majority of money raised, while legitimate businesses and construction are also integral, she said.

But sometimes power over a given territory can, she said, be more important than money.

The practice of the "pizzo," or protection payments from businesses, remains prevalent.

She cited a 2007 study that suggested the Sicilian Mob managed to raise 160 million euros in "contributions" from businesses on that island. It said about 70 per cent of Sicilian businesses paid the pizzo — with each business dishing out an average of $63,500.

Presence in Toronto, too

During her presentation, Tenti spoke at length about Italy's three biggest traditional organized crime groups: the Cosa Nostra (in Sicily), the Camorra (Naples) and the 'Ndrangheta (Calabria).

The Cosa Nostra has long been the dominant Mafia group in Quebec. She said 181 Cosa Nostra families still existed in Sicily in the early 2000s and they remain powerful and "scary."

While there are some romantic myths about the Cosa Nostra she said the 'Ndrangheta, while less known and less visible than its Sicilian counterpart, is no less influential. She said that Calabrian group has a strong presence in Canada — particularly in Toronto and Thunder Bay, Ont.

They are just as successful financially, she said. She cited a study suggesting that group made $56 billion from various criminal activities, primarily through the drug trade with Colombia.

"That's almost 2.9 per cent of the gross domestic product of Italy," Tenti said.

A total of 50 witnesses are expected to be heard this fall, including many law-enforcement experts. CBC's French-language news service has reported that former FBI agent Joseph Pistone, who infiltrated New York's Bonanno mafia family for five years under the cover name Donnie Brasco, will be among them.

The Ten Commandments of the Cosa Nostra

The Ten Commandments of the Cosa Nostra were discovered in a document seized during a police raid in Italy in 2007.

It is being presented at the Charbonneau commission as part Tenti's testimony.

1. I swear to be faithful to the Cosa Nostra. If I  betray my flesh must burn — as this image burns.

Rights and Duties

2. No one can present himself directly to another of our friends. There must be a third person to do it.

3. Never look at the wives of friends.

4. Never be seen with cops.

5. Don’t go to pubs and clubs.

6. Always being available for Cosa Nostra is a duty — even if your wife is about to give birth.

7. Appointments must absolutely be respected.

8. Wives must be treated with respect.

9. When asked for any information the answer must be the truth.

10. Money cannot be appropriated if it belongs to others or to other families.

Individuals who cannot be part of the Cosa Nostra

  • Anyone who has a close relative in the police.
  • Anyone with a two-timing relative in the family.
  • Anyone who behaves badly and doesn’t hold to moral values.

With files from CBC News