Before May 4, 2007, Montreal's Vito Rizzuto was often referred to as the Canadian Teflon Don.
Photograph by: Phil Carpenter, Gazette File Photo
Gazette journalists share their memories of 2012.
MONTREAL - Before May 4, 2007, Vito Rizzuto was often referred to as the Canadian Teflon Don.
It was a reference to how for decades, nothing police and prosecutors alleged about Rizzuto would stick, including a major drug trafficking case tossed out in 1990 when defence lawyers were informed their conversations had been illegally recorded by police.
But on that day in May five years ago, Rizzuto stood in a court in New York and admitted to taking part in the 1981 murders of three Mafia captains in a social club in Brooklyn. The guilty plea, to a racketeering charge involving the three murders, put an end to Rizzuto’s reputation as a man capable of sidestepping the law.
However, the sentence he received as part of a plea bargain seemed light in comparison to others arrested by the FBI in January 2004 in an operation a New York tabloid dubbed the Bonanno Bonanza because it was a major blow to that New York-based crime family.
More than two dozen associates of the Bonanno crime family were arrested the same day Rizzuto was in Montreal. Many were charged with racketeering involving other murders and some eventually received sentences ranging between 15 and 20 years.
By 2007, Rizzuto was one of the last to enter a guilty plea. And when the judge presiding over the hearing heard the joint recommendation was 10 years, he seemed unimpressed.
“Why should I accept his plea and accept a 10-year sentence when he could be sentenced to 20 years? People have gone to jail for the rest of their lives, as a practical matter, because of their involvement in these crimes,” Judge Nicholas Gauraufis said at the time. The judge ultimately agreed to the sentence after Rizzuto reluctantly admitted he was armed when the three men were murdered.
Rizzuto’s release from a penitentiary in Colorado, and immediate deportation to Canada, on Oct. 5 this year, served as a reminder he might have benefitted, to some degree, from his conviction and sentence in the U.S.
When Rizzuto was first arrested, in January 2004, very few people knew at the time that he was the main target of Project Colisée — an RCMP-led investigation that had just begun and two years later would produce the arrests of several people working underneath him. A majority of the most damning evidence against Rizzuto’s organization was gathered while he was detained and challenging his eventual extradition to the U.S.
The argument can be made that if Rizzuto hadn’t been indicted in the U.S., he probably would still be behind bars had he remained in Canada and continued to lead the other people arrested in Project Colisée. Francesco Arcadi, 59 — the man who appeared to take on the role as the top decision-maker in the organization’s day-to-day operations in Rizzuto’s absence — is behind bars serving the equivalent of a 15-year prison term. Arcadi received the sentence 18 months after Rizzuto received his, which was the equivalent of a 10-year term.
Rizzuto’s conviction involved the murders of three men, while Arcadi admitted to acting as a leader in several conspiracies, including drug trafficking and illegal gambling. Yet, while Rizzuto is a free man, Arcadi remains behind bars, eligible for parole early in 2014. Also, two years of probation attached to Rizzuto’s sentence in the U.S. cannot be applied in Canada, whereas if Arcadi is granted parole in 2014 he will likely see severe conditions imposed on his release until Oct. 16, 2019.
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