Montreal's alleged 'godfather' pleads guilty in U.S. court

Vito Rizzuto has pleaded guilty to U.S. racketeering charges in connection with the murder of three Mafia leaders.

Vito Rizzuto, the man the RCMP called the "godfather" of the Montreal Mafia, pleaded guilty Friday to U.S. racketeering charges in connection with the murder of three Mafia leaders in 1981 in exchange fora 10-year sentence.

Police havealleged Rizzuto, 61,is Canada's most influential member of the powerful Bonanno crime family of New York.

Rizzuto was arrested in Montreal three years ago and extradited to the U.S. last year. His U.S. lawyer, John Mitchell, told CBC News outside the court that his client will spend at least five more years in jail with credit for time already spent behind bars.

"It's pretty hard to turn that deal down," Mitchell said.

Initially, Judge Nicholas Garaufis didn't seem to want to accept Rizzuto's plea Friday morning in the Brooklyn courtroom.

The judge demanded that Rizzuto explain his role in the 1981 shooting at a New York social club.

"Why should I accept a specific sentence when I don't know what he did?" Garaufis said. "Was he the driver? Was he one of the shooters?"

Rizzuto consulted with his lawyer, then told the court he was at the scene of the crime and he admitted he was armed.

"My job was to say, 'It's a holdup!' so everybody would stand still," Rizzuto said.

He said his accomplices then opened fire, killing Dominick (Big Trin) Trinchera, Philip (Philly Lucky) Giaccone and Alphonse (Sonny Red) Indelicato —three captains in the Bonanno family who wereplotting a coup within the organization.

Thejudge then accepted theguilty plea to the racketeering charges.

Could have faced up to 20 years

Rizzuto did not face murder charges because the statute of limitations had run out on the crime.

Ifhis casehad gonetotrial andRizzuto wasconvicted,he could havefaced up to 20 years inprison.

Antonio Nicasso, an expert on organized crime who is writing a biography of Rizzuto, said the mobster is getting off easy.

"He took partin a shooting in an ambush of three persons, and to serve only 10 years, that's a really good deal," Nicasso told CBC News Friday.

Rizzuto will have to wait another couple of weeks before he finds out whether he will serve his sentence in the U.S.

Arrest led to extradition battle

Rizzuto was the only Canadian arrested among 28 members of the Bonanno/Massino family in a massive sweep in 2004. All the others were arrested in New York.

Immediately after his arrest, American officials asked for Rizzuto's extradition to the U.S.

Rizzuto's lawyers fought the extradition order all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing U.S. prosecutors waited too long to charge Rizzuto and the statute of limitations for the alleged crimes had expired.

After considering the case, then Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler went ahead and ordered the extradition. The Supreme Court refused to hear Rizzuto's appeal of the ruling, clearing the way for him to be taken to New York last August.

Rizzuto is the oldest son of Nicolo (Nick) Rizzuto, who was arrested last November and charged in connection with Operation Colisée, an international probe that police believe dismantled a major organized crime and drug operation based in Montreal.

With files from the Association Press