York Regional Police say they have arrested 15 people and seized $35 million worth of homes, sports cars and cash in a major trans-Atlantic probe targeting the most prominent wing of ‘Ndrangheta mafia clan in Canada.
Responding to spike in shootings, arsons in Vaughan and the surrounding area in 2017, police started “Project Sindicato,” targeting a group accused of operating illegal backroom gambling dens in various cafes.
It resulted in what is believed to be the largest mafia bust in Ontario’s history.
Det. Sgt. Carl Mattinen said the group would lure in gamblers, push them to exhaust all of their money, loan them money at exorbitant rates of interest, and then threaten and harm them if they did not pay up.
“People in this cycle were gambling away their life savings,” he said. “The intimidation including shootings and arsons.”
Over the last 18 months, officers surveilled 11 cafes across the GTA, along with the homes of alleged members of the organization and businesses associated to them.
They also followed alleged mobsters to various casinos across Ontario where they would launder the proceeds of their efforts.
“Surveillance officers witnessed $30,000 to $50,000 gambled per night at Ontario casinos," Mattinen said.
They estimate the group earned as much as $70 million over the last several years, with some money filtered through legitimate real estate, construction and financial services businesses.
Mattinen said the investigation also linked the operation to members of the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria, Italy.
A group of York Regional Police detectives went to Italy to meet with Italian State Police in an attempt to coordinate raids against the group.
On July 14 and 15, as many as 500 officers raided 48 homes and businesses across the GTA.
Fifteen people were arrested, but Mattinen says nine of them can be considered major players.
The officers seized 27 homes worth $24 million, and 23 cars, including five Ferraris. They also seized $2 million in cash and jewellery.
Police said as many as 500 separate bank accounts were frozen as part of the raids.
Mattinen accused a suspect he identified as Angelo Figliomeni, 56, of Vaughan of leading the Canadian operation.
On Wednesday night, Italian State Police Director Fausto Lamparelli said a further 12 people were arrested in Calabria, including some wanted for a homicide.
“Last night in Italy, the operation arrested 12 dangerous offenders,”Lamparelli said through the help of a translator. “They are closely associated to the Canadian branch of the operation.”
He added that the accused in Canada are alleged to be members of ‘Ndrangheta, but have the autonomy to make their own decisions.
Police identified others charged in the probe as Vito Sili, Nick Martino, Emilio Zannuti, Erica Quintal, Guiseppe Ciurleo, Rafael Lepore and Francesco Vitucci.
Another man, Giacomo Cassano, is sought on a warrant for allegations of involvement in illegal gambling dens.
The group faces charges for tax evasion, participation in a criminal organization, some firearms offences, and loan sharking.
Mattinen said the millions worth of goods and properties seized will be liquidated to fund grants for special projects by Ontario police services.
He said the investigation targeted the sources of the group’s revenue, as opposed to individual criminal acts, because of the high volume of documentary evidence the business side of the criminal organization generated.
“Math is not afraid, documentary evidence is not afraid, we can enter that into court without any worry of recanting in court,” suggesting gathering witness testimony in these investigations can be difficult due to the fear of reprisals.
He added that there are other gambling houses investigators have in their sights that have not yet been raided.
“They know that we know and they know our team will be coming.”