Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The death of reputed Mafia boss Nicolo Rizzuto

On Wednesday, reputed Montreal Mafia boss Nicolo Rizzuto, who, in the words of National Post reporter Adrian Humphreys, “forged the most powerful and successful criminal organization this country has known” was shot and killed inside his luxurious Montreal mansion.
Below, an edited version of a live Q & A with Adrian Humphreys, author of The Sixth Family: The Collapse of the New York Mafia and the Rise of Vito Rizzuto, on Rizzuto’s death, the potential for war inside Montreal’s criminal underworld, and the possible power vacuum at the top.
Who was Nicolo Rizzuto?
Nicolo Rizzuto was the patriarch of both the Rizzuto biological family and of the vast criminal organization that bares his name. Over decades and from his base in Montreal, Nicolo built a criminal enterprise that surpassed anything we had ever seen in this country and, in fact, almost anywhere. Readers might be aware of the notorious “Five Families” in New York City, the American Mafia organizations that most of the Hollywood movies are based on – the families that gave us such legendary mob bosses as John Gotti and Carlo Gambino and “Lucky” Luciano. Well, it is my contention that man-for-man, dollar-for-dollar the Rizzuto organization exceeds any of them.
Nicolo Rizzuto

This is a good photograph of Nicolo — it shows us exactly what he was like — very traditional, very formal. This is pretty much what he always looked like, and how I always saw him, whenever he was going into his hangout, a cafe in Montreal, or visiting stores or restaurants or colleagues.
Can you recap what happened on Wednesday night in Montreal?
On Wednesday at dinnertime, someone with a gun set up outside the beautiful Montreal mansion that Nicolo shares with his wife of 65 years, Libertina Manno, and fired through a rear window, striking Nicolo. After a 911 call and the arrival of an ambulance, he was taken to hospital but declared dead.
The scene outside Rizzuto's mansion on November 10, 2010

This photograph shows part of the luxurious strip of homes the Rizzuto clan own in the Cartierville neighbourhood near the waterfront. Vito Rizzuto, Nicolo’s son, lives in the largest. Beside him are his father, Nicolo’s home, and his brother-in-law, Paol Renda’s home.
I once sat with an Italian cop ouside the houses and he was outraged — he said his family came here and broke their backs in manual labour just to send their kids to college so they could have a better life and there, he said, pointing at a mansion, is what you get through crime.
Reader question, from bmf403: Was this “hit” inevitable?
In many ways, it seemed more impossible than inevitable.
Nicolo was so powerful for so many years that attacking the family so directly would have been a death sentence. Their presence on the streets of Montreal was so thorough.
From another perspective, there are fewer and fewer targets available for anyone wanting to hurt the organzation. Maybe Nicolo was seen as the last target of meaning that is not in prison.
Reader question, from ZachMontague: Is it not safe to say this war is over and the Rizzutos have lost?
There has been great expectation of a response from the Rizzuto organization. When Nick junior fell, it seemed impossible that there would not be a response.
Sometime, though, there are responses that we don’t always know about. Since we don’t actually know who is dong the shooting, or even if it is all orchestrated by the same people, we wouldn’t know right now if some of the other shootings WERE the response instead of a continuing attack.
What kind of leader was Nicolo Rizzuto, and why was his death so significant?
He believed in the iron-fist approach. Modern mob leaders understand the value of spreading money around to keep them happy. My sense was very much that Nicolo hated to spread money very far away from his family.
It is significant in many ways, not the least of which: Hitting Nicolo Rizzuto challenges the last claim the clan had to being in control of Canada’s or even Montreal’s underworld.
It signals the end – at least for now, for this generation – of the Rizzuto hegemony as the pinnacle of crime. In essence, if someone can kill him in his home, then no one in the organization will feel safe. It tells people on the street that the organization is a spent force. Weakened.
What kind of reaction has there been to Nicolo Rizzuto’s death?
Shock and sadness. First of all, his family — his biological family — is deeply devoted to one another. They are extremely close. Like most families, there will be unbelievable sadness.
Whatever sins they may be accused of, a lack of devotion to one another is not one of them.
From the perspective of police and the public, including organized crime specialists and observers, this is stunning in many ways: Nicolo has been a boss for two generations of Montreal street hoods. His name was mythic. The mere mention of it would settle disputes among some of this country’s most feared killers and crooks, even the Hells Angels.
But beyond the power he held in the past, it is his current circumstances that bewilder. He was an old man – 86 – and in poor health. A virtual shut-in. His days were decidedly numbered.
You write that his death “is the strongest signal yet that the reign of the beleaguered Sicilian Mafia family is all but over.” Why?
The Rizzutos have been under siege for the past six years. In 2004, Vito Rizzuto, Nicolo’s son, was arrested in his mansion, next door to where Nicolo was shot. He was eventually extradited to the United States where he was forced to admit in court that he was a member of a criminal organization and that, as such, he helped murder three rivals in Brooklyn back in 1981. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
In 2006, the rest of his organization learned that they had been thoroughly compromised by Canadian police who had planted secret video cameras and tape recorders inside their headquarters on Jarry St. E in Montreal. Nicolo and five other of the clan’s senior leaders were arrested and more than 80 others who were involved. It was a real blow. That likely showed a weakness that their enemies were waiting patiently for.
The blows have been unending since:
• August 2009, Fredrico Del Peschio, Nicolo’s former cellmate in Venezuela andclose friend was killed in Montreal
• December 2009, Nick Rizzuto, Nicolo’s eldest grandson is gunned down and killed;
• May 2010, Paolo Renda, Nicolo’s son-in-law disappears, presumed to be kidnapped and unlike to be found alive.
It is the toughest challenge the organization AND the family have ever faced. And they have faced many over the decades.
Reader question, from bmf403: Why go at an 86 year old man with failing health? Was he still making decisions or was he just the face of the family?
It is perplexing — either he was perceived as rallying the troops to make a last stand or it is an attack of such spite and hatred by someone who could not live with the possibility that Nicolo would die a peaceful death in bed. I’m leaning towards the latter. I think Nicolo Rizzuto was a murder purely of highly symbolic value.
So what’s next?
Until Vito Rizzuto is released from prison in two years time, it is hard to see who would have what it would take to regain control of this faltering organization. Whomever has led this bloody crusade clearly has an eye to filling that void. One wonders if they have what it takes.
Is Vito ever expected to return to Montreal?
His wife and what remains of his family is here. And Vito will always want to be with his family. How the city will react to his return, and how he will react to the new reality, will be fascinating. The Montreal he will return to in 2012 will be a very different and less comfortable place for him than the city he left.



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