Exactly one decade ago, Rocco Sollecito was part of a group of six men who seemed untouchable.
The six had been chosen to take charge of the Mafia in Montreal while its leader, Vito Rizzuto, was incarcerated in the United States.
Now, following Sollecito’s brazen killing on Friday – in broad daylight and within sight of Laval police headquarters – only two of those six men remain alive and they both were recently returned to federal penitentiaries out of concerns for their safety.
According to police sources, investigators have evidence that a man, described as being in his 30s and dressed entirely in black, was waiting at a bus shelter on St-Elzéar Blvd. and opened fire into the passenger-side window of Sollecito’s white BMW sport utility vehicle when it stopped at a stop sign at around 8:30 a.m. Several shots were fired into the vehicle and Sollecito, who was alone inside the SUV, was declared dead after being taken to a hospital.
The shooter appeared to know Sollecito’s morning routine, one source said, adding that, besides the shooter, investigators were also trying to track down the driver of a vehicle that moments after the shooting appeared to slow down as it approached Sollecito’s SUV and then continued on in the same direction the shooter is believed to have fled on foot.
Everything changed for Sollecito and those five other men in November 2006, when they were the main players arrested in Project Colisée, a Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit investigation that struck at the very heart of the Rizzuto organization. All six men eventually pleaded guilty to various charges in Colisée and received sentences of varying lengths. The investigation, coupled with Vito Rizzuto’s absence, left the organization in a weakened state.The first of the six to go was Vito Rizzuto’s brother-in-law, Paolo Renda, 70, who was abducted off a street in May 2010, near his home in northern Montreal, by men who appeared to be pretending to be plainclothes police officers. Renda has never been seen since and, in 2013, his family sought to have him declared dead in court.
Six months after Renda was abducted, Rizzuto’s father, Nicolo "Zio Cola: Rizzuto, 86, was killed in his home on Nov. 10, 2010.
On March 1 of this year, Lorenzo "Skunk" Giordano, 52, one of the younger members of that six-person committee, was fatally shot in Laval, not far from where Sollecito’s slaying was carried out on Friday.
Giordano had only recently reached his statutory release date on the 15-year prison term he received as a result of Colisée.
The other two men who were part of that group back in 2006 who have survived are Giordano’s close friend, Francesco "Chit" Del Balso, 46, and Francesco Arcadi, 62, a close lieutenant to Vito Rizzuto for years before Rizzuto died of natural causes in 2013. Both received sentences similar to Giordano’s and were released earlier this year when they also reached their statutory release dates. Following Giordano’s murder, both men were returned to federal penitentiaries out of concern for their safety.
Sollecito received a much shorter sentence than Arcadi, Del Balso and Giordano, in part, because the evidence gathered in Colisée indicated he apparently steered away from the large-scale drug trafficking schemes the other men were involved in.
Sollecito’s expertise was in bookmaking. On Sept. 24, 2004, with the Colisée investigation well underway, police secretly recorded a very revealing conversation between Giordano and Sollecito inside the Mafia’s headquarters, a café in St-Léonard. They were lamenting how the long summer had deprived their bookmaking operation of NHL games and they were eagerly awaiting the upcoming new season.
According to a summary of the conversation that was later presented as evidence in court, Giordano longed for the NHL season because of its steady stream of games offered on a nightly basis. Sollecito was recorded as saying that with hockey their bookmaking operation “never loses.”
During another conversation recorded inside the café on May 23, 2005, Sollecito explained how the committee worked to a Mafioso who was visiting from Italy. Traditionally, a Mafia clan operates with one leader and the visitor from Italy couldn’t figure out why the senior leaders; Sollecito, Nicolo Rizzuto, Arcadi and Renda, were splitting their profits evenly, with a fifth share going to Vito Rizzuto even if he was behind bars in the U.S.
“How do you see this? What do you think?,” the man from Italy asked Sollecito at one point.
“You have to look at it from the right side because we are splitting it in five and it is right that we split. You are coming from the other side (Italy) so therefore you are entitled to your opinion, the way you see it,” Sollecito said
Renda’s abduction and Nicolo Rizzuto’s slaying in 2010 were the clearest signs the Rizzuto organization was under attack from a group, led by Salvatore Montagna, a now-deceased mob boss from New York, that tried to take control of the Mafia in Montreal.
While some people very close to the Rizzutos apparently betrayed the organization Sollecito remained loyal throughout the conflict. In 2012, a few police sources speculated that it was Sollecito’s leadership that held the organization together before Vito Rizzuto returned from the U.S. in October of that year.
That loyalty was apparently rewarded when a new six-member committee was reportedly assembled after Rizzuto died of natural causes. Both Sollecito and one of his sons, Stefano, 48, were reportedly named as members of the new committee.
In November, the younger Sollecito was identified as a leader in the organization by the Sûreté du Québec when he and Rizzuto’s son, Leonardo, 46, were arrested in an investigation into drug trafficking. While the younger Sollecito was under investigation he was advised by the police that they had credible information that his life was in danger.
On Friday, Lt. Jason Allard, a spokesperson for the SQ, said it was too early in the investigation to begin discussing possible motives behind the shooting. He also cautioned that it was too early to say with certainty whether Sollecito was killed by only one gunman or how many shots were actually fired.
As he made the comments investigators and crime scene technicians were combing over St-Elzéar Blvd. looking for evidence and witnesses and slowly working their way back to Sollecito’s SUV.
Allard said the SQ will wait until a coroner has examined the body before the provincial police can confirm the victim was Sollecito. But he could confirm that the victim “was 67 years old and had ties to organized crime.”
The investigation was taken over by the SQ because of the organized crime element but, Allard said, “that means we work along with the municipal (Laval) police in the investigation. They know the area. It’s their investigators who will know what might have been going on. They will know the lay of the land.”