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October 1, 2012

Explosive testimony part of Quebec corruption inquiry

Ties between well-known construction entrepreneurs and the highest figures in the Italian Mafia are being described at Quebec's corruption inquiry where, after months of anticipation, the witnesses are starting to name names.

Construction bosses were regular visitors at a notorious Montreal Mafia hangout several years ago while authorities quietly observed during a police surveillance operation, an RCMP officer told the inquiry last week.

In some of those visits, he testified, construction entrepreneurs were seen bringing money to the acting head of the Rizzuto clan – the late Nicolo Rizzuto Sr. – or his consigliere, Paolo Renda, who has been missing since 2010.

Rattling off names of well-known construction bosses in the Montreal area, the RCMP officer testified that they often showed up at a now-closed cafe that used to be frequented mainly by Mob types and not the general public.

Under questioning, Cpl. Vinicio Sebastiano told the Charbonneau Commission that the visits were common while police taped and filmed.

Reading through an extremely detailed RCMP document about who came and went from the Rizzuto family hangout, Sebastiano said one construction company owner visited the premises 236 times over two years.

Several others were seen there repeatedly.

The Quebec inquiry is looking into criminal corruption in the construction industry and its ties to organized crime and political parties.

The inquiry heard another surprising bit of testimony: Sebastiano said police did not use the information gathered about the construction industry.

In the leadup to the inquiry, the RCMP battled inquiry lawyers in court to avoid having to share details from its landmark Operation Colisee, arguing that divulging them could compromise police work.

The Mounties lost their case – and details began gushing forth.

Sebastiano told the commission that those entrepreneurs’ visits a decade ago were classified as “non-pertinent’’ because they were not central to the RCMP’s anti-Mafia investigation, dubbed Colisee.

Under questioning, he added that he never heard conversations about the financing of political parties.

The Colisee operation was focused mainly on the drug trade, Sebastiano said, as he shared details about that anti-Mafia sweep, the biggest in Canadian history, which culminated in more than 90 arrests in November 2006.

It was that police operation that ultimately foreshadowed the decline of the once-powerful Rizzuto clan, an RCMP analyst testified earlier.

A lawyer for the commission, Denis Gallant, said that the inquiry will see some of the video surveillance material from Colisee.

The inquiry turned its attention to Montreal after hearing from witnesses who discussed Ontario, Italy and the United States.

Several law-enforcement officials are to testify in the coming days about the Italian Mafia in Montreal – in particular about the rise and fall of the Rizzuto clan and the unprecedented police investigation into the Mob that helped precipitate the decline.

Gallant said that surveillance video includes construction entrepreneurs seen handing over money to the Mob.

Meanwhile, it was an RCMP officer who took the stand at the Charbonneau Commission, detailing the bloody rise of the Rizzutos in the late 1970s and early 80s.

Linda Fequiere said Vito Rizzuto was able to forge alliances and act as a peacemaker to solidify the clan’s power base in Montreal.

Those alliances included Calabrian groups previously tied to the clan deposed by the Rizzutos.

She said he also brokered arrangements with other groups like criminal biker gangs and the Irish Mob.

“Vito Rizzuto worked as a mediator. He was someone who could find solutions when there were problems among different groups,” Fequiere said.

But the family fortunes changed.

Its troubles accelerated following Rizzuto’s extradition to the United States, where he is serving a jail sentence for a 30-year-old killing, and after Operation Colisee.

Numerous family members wound up dead or in prison.

Without naming any names, Fequiere said a faction of the Calabrian Mafia - which held power in Quebec for three decades before the rise of the Rizzutos - has taken over again.

Rizzuto, currently jailed in the U.S., is scheduled to be released in a few weeks.

Fequiere said investigations have shown that Mafia in Montreal focuses on a few traditional staples.

This includes the drug trade, sports betting and illegal gambling, extortion, and money laundering as their principal illegitimate money-makers.

They are also involved in numerous legal industries such as restaurants, construction companies and private security, she said.

Renda, Vito Rizzuto’s brother-in-law, owned a construction company, Fequiere noted.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2012

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