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

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Police lose track of alleged soldier in the mob, until Canadian Tire tussle

André Roy, an in-house investigator for Canadian Tire, was scanning images from the store’s live security cameras last November when a customer in the automotive aisle caught his eye. He says the man, dressed head to toe in black, looked left and right before removing some packaging and shoving an item inside his trench coat.
Nicola Cortese is said to have shoplifted $250 worth of merchandise, including a handgun holster, an ammunition pouch and a balaclava.
Nicola Cortese is said to have shoplifted $250 worth of merchandise, including a handgun holster, an ammunition pouch and a balaclava.

For half an hour, Mr. Roy watched the short, stocky customer moving from one department to another, discarding packaging and pocketing merchandise. As the man headed toward the cash register to pay for a flashlight, Mr. Roy and his assistant manager moved in.
The suspect, according to Mr. Roy, put up a fight, and it took four employees to subdue him until police arrived. To Mr. Roy’s amazement, a thick wad of $100 bills totaling more than $3,000 fell from the shoplifter’s pocket during the scuffle. He also noticed the man’s Rolex watch and diamond ring. “I was asking myself why someone with so much money would be committing such a petty theft and reacting so violently,” Mr. Roy testified in Quebec Court last week.
The mystery would only deepen following that Nov. 13 arrest.
Court documents and testimony show that the alleged shoplifter was not the unilingual Italian-speaker named Vincenzo Sestito he pretended to be. A fingerprint check after his arraignment revealed he was Nicola Cortese, a cousin and former business partner of an alleged Toronto Mafia boss. Mr. Cortese, who is considered by police to be a trusted soldier in the Calabrian mob, had vanished in 2008 as police in Ontario searched for him on drug, theft and fraud charges.
Among the items he is alleged to have grabbed from the Canadian Tire were a handgun holster, an ammunition pouch for 12-gauge shotgun shells, a black balaclava and a rubber car part that a police source said could double as a silencer. His true identity and his alleged shopping list have led Montreal investigators to question whether his presence in the city last fall could be connected to the sniper attack that killed the patriarch of the Sicilian Mafia, Nicolo Rizzuto, two days before Mr. Cortese’s arrest.
“Concerns were raised about his presence here, but there is nothing particular that we know about,” a source close to the investigation said. A second police source said Mr. Cortese has been asked about the Rizzuto homicide.
“It is certainly of great interest to me that someone like that is in Montreal at that time,” the source said.
One motive police are investigating for the attacks on the Rizzuto family is a power struggle between Toronto’s Calabrian mobsters and the Sicilian Mafia in Montreal.
On Feb. 9, at the conclusion of a two-day preliminary hearing, Judge Pierre Labelle ordered Mr. Cortese, 47, to stand trial on three charges of theft with violence related to the incident at Canadian Tire. He has chosen a trial before a judge alone, and a date has not been set.
Mr. Cortese is also facing eight charges in Montreal alleging fraudulent use of a credit card and a debit card and possession of a forged Italian passport and a fake Ontario driver’s licence. The charges allege that his first use of the stolen credit card in Montreal was on Oct. 25. It was used there again on Nov. 1. Additional charges filed at the Montreal courthouse allege that he obstructed a police officer by providing a false identity and breached a court order related to outstanding charges in Ontario. After pleading not guilty to all charges, he waived his right to a bail hearing and will remain in custody until trial.
Mr. Cortese remains on the Halton Regional Police most-wanted list for a multi-million-dollar mortgage fraud and for failing to appear at a 2008 court date. He is also wanted by Niagara Regional Police in relation to the 2008 bust of a $15-million marijuana grow-operation.
For more than two years he remained off the radar until his visit to Canadian Tire. Three store employees testified last week that Mr. Cortese reacted aggressively after Mr. Roy flashed his store detective’s badge. When the employees tried to handcuff him, he fought back and bit one of them on the finger, court heard.
“I was next to him. I saw my manager’s finger in his mouth,” Mr. Roy testified. Mr. Cortese released the finger when the manager punched him in the jaw.
Jean-Philippe Chartré, an assistant manager, said the items Mr. Cortese is alleged to have stolen were worth about $250. In addition to the holster, ammunition pouch and balaclava, there was a screwdriver, an electronic deer call and a rubber muffler support.
Mr. Cortese is represented by the team of Richard Shadley, one of the city’s top defence lawyers, and his associate, Mathieu Corbo. Wearing designer glasses, the accused appeared relaxed in court, bowing to the judge as he entered the courtroom on one occasion and greeting him with a clear, “Good morning, your honour,” on another. Mr. Shadley declined a request for comment: “I would not like to comment at all on any case that is presently before the courts,” he said Wednesday.
Members of the Cortese family immigrated to Canada from Chiaravalle Centrale, a southern inland town in Calabria in the toe on the boot-like map of Italy.
Police have long considered Mr. Cortese to be an associate of his cousin, Vincenzo DeMaria, a Toronto businessman who is known as Jimmy.
DeMaria is a convicted killer who was named by Italian authorities as a mob leader with a seat on the powerful Camera di Controllo — a board of control for the Ontario clans of the ‘Ndrangheta, the proper name of the Calabrian Mafia.
He is on lifetime parole for second-degree murder after the 1981 shooting of a man who owed him $2,000. Canadian police say he is an influential underworld figure.
DeMaria’s relationship with Mr. Cortese was considered to be of such concern that DeMaria’s parole was revoked for seeing him.
In 1997, DeMaria was told he was breaching parole conditions by associating with Mr. Cortese, described by parole documents as a man “who had a criminal record with drug-related convictions” as well as continued involvement in criminal activity.
At the time, Mr. Cortese was listed as secretary in the corporate records of Invicta Financial Services, the Toronto company that DeMaria started in 1993 soon after his release from prison.
According to corporate records obtained by the National Post, on Aug. 26, 1997, Mr. Cortese signed a one-line letter tendering his resignation as an officer of the company. He transferred all of his Invicta shares to DeMaria and another official — 50 shares to each. Mr. Cortese was living in Mississauga, Ont., at the time.
In 2009, DeMaria was again arrested for an alleged breach of his parole conditions. Again, among the allegations was an association with Mr. Cortese.
Police alleged that DeMaria helped Mr. Cortese flee Ontario when he was facing arrest warrants. DeMaria has previously denied the allegations, saying he no longer has contact with Mr. Cortese. Not only is he not a member of the ‘Ndrangheta, he said, he did not even know the word. “I’ve got a problem, like you, pronouncing it,” DeMaria said at a 2009 parole hearing.
A police source who has tracked the organization for years said Mr. Cortese has been impeded by his “self-indulgence.” In photographs of him in a corporate setting for one of his business ventures, the Cortese Group, the opulent offices ooze wealth and success but the image is undermined by Mr. Cortese sitting behind the immense dark-wood desk wearing a leather jacket and loops of gold chains and medallions strung around his neck, dangling down over a tight-fitting T-shirt.
There are also photographs showing him standing inside one of his family’s Italian restaurants. The chain, San Antonio Bistro, once had four outlets west of Toronto, but two have burned down and the phone numbers for the other two are no longer in service. The cause of the fires has not been determined and they remain under investigation by the Halton Regional Police. The restaurant in Cambellville, which was destroyed by fire a year ago, had figured in an earlier drug bust.
In May 2008, Niagara police announced the discovery of the region’s largest marijuana grow-operation, with drug seizures valued at $15-million. One of the properties raided was a former church in Thorold owned by a numbered company. At the time, the St. Catharines Standard reported that the numbered company had the same address as the San Antonio Bistro outlet in Campbellville. A land transfer tax statement listed Mr. Cortese as having the authority to act for the numbered company, the newspaper reported.
Since failing to appear for an August 2008 court appearance on the mortgage fraud charges in Milton, Mr. Cortese’s whereabouts have been unknown. During that Milton hearing, his father, Antonio Cortese, told the court that his son couldn’t make it because he had broken his ribs on the way to the courthouse. According to a press report, Crown attorney Andrew Goodman advised the father: “Niagara Regional Police is also looking for your son. If you know where he is, he might want to turn himself in.”
The advice was never taken, but an ill-fated trip to Canadian Tire has delivered him to police.



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