Francesco Carbone, casino mogul in $112M lawsuit, heard plotting murder on secret tape
Charges dropped when con man who made recording flees | WARNING: STORY CONTAINS EXPLICIT LANGUAGE
A Canadian businessman at the helm of a chain of Caribbean casinos appears to plot the death of his own company's president in a secret audio recording obtained by CBC News and the Globe and Mail as part of a year-long investigation.
The man in the recording is said to be Francesco Carbone of Vaughan, Ont., and can be heard discussing the killing. He seems to suggest doing it outside of the Dominican Republic because news of the homicide would appear "in every f—ing paper" there.
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"Can we whack him in the Dominican?" a convicted con man known as Sasha Visser, who made the recording, asks in the audio.
"No," Carbone replies.
"We can't kill him in the Dominican?" Visser repeats.
"Kidding me, bro?" Carbone says. "Here it's a regular f—ing builder, big f—ing deal. Over there, it's the president of Dream Corporation."
The recording was allegedly made at a bakery on Rutherford Road in Vaughan in May 2013 — just as a bitter underworld spat was erupting over the Dream Group, a chain of casinos, sports betting parlours and lottery kiosks in the Dominican Republic, which is majority owned by Carbone, 47, and his brother, Antonio Carbone, 39.
Their business partner, and the target of the alleged murder plot, was company president Andrew Pajak.
Francesco Carbone denies the authenticity of the tape, saying in an interview that whatever is on it is "spliced and cut." CBC News had it verified by a forensics expert who could find no evidence of it being tampered with.
By 2013, the Carbones and Pajak had been opening betting facilities in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic for the previous 2½ years, hoping to establish a gaming empire that would rival Las Vegas and be worthy of the Fortune 500.
Funding for the venture came from Canadian billionaire and philanthropist Michael G. DeGroote.
As the CBC/Globe investigation found, each of the men DeGroote financed has had ties to organized crime, though there's no evidence he knew it at the time of his initial loans.
In the 1980s, Pajak, now 62, was briefly connected to a police investigation into a notorious garbage business named Super Disposal, which was described in court as "a mass of criminal activity from bottom to top."
In a separate secret recording filed by the Carbones in an Ontario court as part of the sprawling legal fight over the Dream Group, Pajak himself is hearing saying that "I used to take care of all, a lot of the mob's money."
Pajak did not reply to repeated requests for comment.
The Carbones have their own shady history. The CBC investigation found evidence they were behind a gambling website known as Don Carbone Sportsbook and Casino, or DCSC.com, until it wound up in 2010. The brothers deny this.
The site was affiliated with a bookmaking enterprise called Platinum Sportsbook that a combination of police forces in southern Ontario took down in a massive raid in 2013.
Two years earlier, the Carbones were each convicted of possessing an illegal handgun. One of the guns, found loaded by police, had its serial number filed off.
The Carbones said in an interview that they bought the guns "to protect ourselves and our family" after receiving a threat involving bullets sent to them in the mail.
Now, however, the alleged conspiracy to murder Pajak has kicked off a new whirl of machinations, as part of the dispute over the Dream Group casinos.
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First to enter the picture was Visser, with his claim that Francesco Carbone ordered up a hit on Pajak.
A Mafia associate, who an Ontario judge once labelled an "inveterate thief," Visser is officially known to law enforcement as Zeljko Zderic, 44.
But he is also known as Canadian passport holder Sasha Vujacic, 61; Croatian citizen Pavle Kolic, 55; and British subject Alexander Visser — or, to his chums, simply Sasha.
When Visser met with Carbone in May 2013, he was secretly recording on his iPhone — not the first or last time he would do so.
Earlier that month, he had recorded another meeting he had arranged with another party to the Dream Group dispute, the billionaire DeGroote.
Believing he had been fleeced of the $111.9 million he lent to the company, DeGroote was suing the Carbones and was looking for help from people like Visser to collect evidence.
Visser told DeGroote that the Carbones despised Pajak.
"They hate the cocksucker. They want him killed," he said, according to a transcript filed in court. "And here, I'll do you one better. I can get that on wire, not to go to the cops, but for you to use whatever leverage that would help you."
And so later that month, Visser ended up at a strip mall bakery in Vaughan with a man he calls "Frank" on the tape.
"Am I gonna be able to do f---head soon?" Visser asks.
"Soon, very soon," Carbone is heard replying.
Then later, "What do I have to make [it] look like? Like just a shooting?"
"It doesn't make any difference," Carbone says.
Criminal charges dropped
DeGroote was alarmed enough by what he'd heard to go to police.
And so on July 30, 2013, another plot unfolded. Plainclothes surveillance officers hid out in a room by the DeGroote family's upper-floor condo at the luxury Ritz-Carlton residences in downtown Toronto.
DeGroote had summoned Visser to bring him a copy of the recording, but Visser sent others in his place.
They opened up a laptop with the audio and played it for DeGroote, as the police covertly listened in. Once the officers had heard enough, they pounced, seizing the laptop as evidence.
A week later, Francesco Carbone was charged with counselling murder. He was released on $250,000 bail.
The criminal case went nowhere, however.
Facing a number of arrest warrants on other matters, Visser fled to the Dominican Republic the day after the police seized the recording. With no other witnesses to the conversation, the Crown dropped the remaining charges against Carbone on Dec. 2, 2013.
Carbone is now suing the police for wrongful arrest.
"To be honest with you, I didn't say anything on the tape. I believe the tape was spliced and cut," Carbone said in an interview in October. "And that's what the police got."
With files from CBC's Joseph Loiero and Harvey Cashore