Behind every homicide carried out in Montreal’s underworld is human suffering, and Francesca Montagna’s harsh words for a man who plotted her husband’s death are a reminder of that pain.
“I will regret you for the rest of my life, Mr. Desjardins. I will never forgive you. I tried, but I can’t. You will never know the harsh pain and struggle you caused us,” Montagna said during a court hearing in April. She was addressing Raynald Desjardins, who last year pleaded guilty to being part of the plot to kill her husband, Salvatore.
Desjardins, 62, played a leading role in the conspiracy. Montagna was killed on Nov. 24, 2011, in Charlemagne, just east of Montreal. The motive was revenge for a failed attempt on Desjardins’s life two months earlier, in Laval.
The two influential Mafia figures had formed an ill-fated consortium to wrest power from the Rizzuto organization. The alliance fell apart during the spring of 2011, when Montagna and Desjardins began arguing over control of such areas as loansharking and bookmaking in the city.
Dec. 20, 2011: Police officers arrest Raynald Desjardins (centre) in the death of Salvatore Montagna.
But the reasons behind the dispute were irrelevant to Francesca Montagna when she appeared before Superior Court Justice André Vincent on April 29 at the Gouin courthouse. She appeared before the judge via a video link-up from New York City, where she and Montagna had spent most of their time together before Montagna was expelled from the U.S.
American authorities, after realizing he wasn’t a citizen despite having lived there for years, gave Montagna the choice to be sent to his native Canada or to Italy, where he was also a citizen. At the time Montagna was ordered deported, he was the temporary boss of the Bonanno crime family in New York, which had links to Montreal dating back decades. So Montagna and his wife moved to Montreal, the city where he was born, in 2009.
It is almost unheard of for a relative of someone slain in an underworld settling of accounts to testify at a sentence hearing in a Canadian court — especially when it involves such influential mob figures as Desjardins and Montagna. But Francesca Montagna wanted Desjardins to know the harm he and his accomplices caused to her family.
“I don’t know how I’ve made it since (my husband was killed),” she said via video link from the offices of Canada’s Consulate General in New York. “When I stop and think where my life is now, I want to scream and let the whole world hear me.”
“I speak not only on my behalf but on behalf of my (three) daughters,” Montagna said with a thick New York accent. Despite being in Canada for a couple of years before the murder, one thing that remains foremost in her memory is that her husband was killed on American Thanksgiving. She said she wore black clothing for four years “to mourn my husband’s death before I realized that no matter what colour I wore, it made no difference.”
She said she and her daughters also kept a place for him at their dinner table, and blew out candles on his birthdays.
“My in-laws both recently died, I believe, from broken hearts caused by the death of their wonderful son. I often prayed that God would take me, too. But I realized I need to (move) forward to help and teach my daughters to live productive, happy lives. I decided to not have my daughters here today because I feared that this court proceeding would destroy them by coming face-to-face with their Papa’s killer, the one who has destroyed their lives. Please have patience with me today, it is very difficult for me to express my feelings (on) the destruction Mr. Desjardins has caused my dear family.”
Near the end of Desjardins’s sentence hearing, a prosecutor told Vincent that Francesca Montagna would be informed, by phone, of how six other people also pleaded guilty, on March 30, to being part of the conspiracy to murder Montagna. A seventh man pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to murder. The six men who pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge are scheduled to have a sentence hearing on Friday.
It was unclear in April whether Montagna’s widow intends to testify during the sentencing stage of their cases, as well. She had written her statement in February — weeks before the other men admitted to their roles in the plot.
“I will respect the sentence you will (eventually) hand down to Mr. Desjardins. However, in determining a just sentence I ask that you consider my pain, grief and suffering of my three young daughters’ broken hearts,” she said as she finished reading from the statement.
The next date in Desjardins’s sentence hearing is scheduled for September. The conspiracy charge he pleaded guilty to carries the possibility of a life sentence.