Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cash, kisses exchanged in video at Quebec probe

Inquiry looks at Mafia-construction industry ties

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MONTREAL -- Hours of police video of Mafia backroom dealings, of the sort more normally seen in Hollywood films, was played at a public inquiry into corruption Wednesday.

The memorable scenes included the one-time don of the country's most powerful Mafia family, the late Nicolo Rizzuto, at meetings with construction-industry players where he received wads of cash and stuffed them into his socks.

Quebec's corruption inquiry has promised to examine ties between organized crime, the construction industry and political-party financing.

After months of anticipation, it witnessed video evidence Wednesday of financial links between the underworld and the construction world.

The images were gathered by the RCMP as part of surveillance operations in 2004 and 2005 -- and they were largely ignored until now.

Construction-industry bosses were seen handing cash to Rizzuto or other Mafia types. There were also scenes from a Christmas party where businessmen and senior members of the Cosa Nostra exchanged affectionate, two-cheek kisses as they milled about a snack table.

At one point, a high-level Mafia captain is seen giving a gentle tap on the face to a man involved in Montreal-area municipal snow removal.

"In the Italian culture, you don't do that with someone you don't know," was how Eric Vecchio, a Montreal police officer, summed up the scene while narrating the video from the inquiry witness stand Wednesday. "The ties are close."

The scenes were gathered by cameras hidden at an east-end Montreal "social club" that served as the Mafia's headquarters.

Significant amounts of cash, sometimes as much as $20,000 at a time, changed hands.

The money was often divided into five parts, with different amounts sent to the five senior members of the Rizzuto clan. After one deal, a mobster complained he wasn't getting a fair share. Another told him he hadn't done much to earn it.

The videos were shot during Operation Colisée, a five-year investigation culminating in mass arrests in 2006 in the largest sweep against the Italian Mafia in Canadian history.

The operation helped precipitate the decline of the Rizzuto empire, many of whose members are now in jail or dead. The deceased include people in the videos shown Wednesday, such as Rizzuto, who was killed in his own home by a sniper's bullet in 2010.

But the RCMP say they never used the evidence it gathered on the construction industry because it wasn't pertinent to their drug investigation.

In some cases, the sound quality is terrible, and in others, the microphones were shut off because the subjects were not of interest to the RCMP, Vecchio noted.

Rizzuto is heard referring to one construction boss by the affectionate moniker "Ciccarello," a variation on a popular southern Italian nickname for Francesco.

The officer testifying says that showed a bond between the two.

"We see a relationship, which I think is a friendship, between the two men," Vecchio said.

There were also recorded conversations between Paolo Renda -- the Rizzuto family consigliere, who went missing in 2010 -- and two other men about a birthday party for a construction boss.

The Rizzuto brass couldn't make it, but they agreed to chip in their share for a $4,500 cigar humidor for the man. Renda mentioned his name should be on the card, as well as that of several other mobsters, including Nicolo Rizzuto and his son, Vito. Vito Rizzuto, the most powerful member in the family when he was arrested in 2004, will be released from a U.S. prison on Oct. 6.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2012 A9

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