Membership in Mafia ‘better than gold,’ landmark trial of two mobsters hears

TORONTO — Even in Canada, membership in one of the world’s most powerful criminal organizations is a currency “better than gold,” a landmark mob trial heard.

The secrets and inner workings of the ’Ndrangheta, a Mafia association imported from Italy, were laid bare at the trial of a mob boss and an underling.

The uniqueness of these convictions and the importance of the pending sentencing were highlighted Thursday in court.

Despite the notoriety of the ’Ndrangheta as one of the most powerful and dangerous global crime threats, this case is the first in Canada of a superior court finding it to be a criminal organization since anti-gangsterism legislation was adopted 20 years ago.

“This is the first time, in a public way, that this insidious and sinister group has been brought to light and revealed and shown, how it operates in Canada,” said Tom Andreopoulos, deputy chief federal prosecutor.

He argued sentences for the men must reflect the pivotal role of the mob in orchestrating and facilitating crime at the highest level.

The global and national concerns of a shadowy group worthy of Hollywood seemed a far cry from the pair before the court.

Giuseppe Ursino, known as Pino, a quiet, 65-year-old grandfather whose lawyer was worried about him having access to heart medication, was named as a boss of a Toronto-based clan of the ’Ndrangheta. Cosmin Dracea, known as Chris, a jovial, 41-year-old doting father of two from Romania who works in a restaurant, was named as a mob-linked cocaine smuggler.

Neither man has a prior criminal record.

After often lurid testimony from the government’s star witness — a mob turncoat named Carmine Guido who wore a wire for the RCMP during meetings with senior ’Ndrangheta bosses and mob associates — a jury convicted the pair in April.

Ursino was convicted, among other charges, for trafficking cocaine and conspiracy to import cocaine related to a criminal organization; Dracea was convicted for simple trafficking of cocaine as well as conspiracy to import cocaine related to a criminal organization.

The accused: Giuseppe Ursino, left, and Cosmin Dracea. File

It is the “duality” of their lives — their hidden, secret lives in the underworld — that shows the power of the mob in the criminal world, Andreopoulos said.

A criminal organization like the ’Ndrangheta animates the criminal transactions in its sphere, draws credible criminals together and makes high-stakes crime possible.

“We’re talking about structured organized crime. We’re talking about a political entity, almost; a culture of crime that colonizes across the sea from Italy to Canada,” said Andreopoulos. “This is one of the most sophisticated criminal organizations in the world.”

The jury saw and heard the words and actions of the players at trial, as the police informant met with police targets in his car, in restaurants and cafés.

For men like Ursino, Andreopoulos said, the Mafia looms large.

“It’s a way of life. It’s a state of being,” he said.

“The Mafia is Mr. Ursino’s milieu. It defines who he is. It delineates his role, his responsibility. This is the milieu of murder … extortion, protection, vouching, retaliation … importation, trafficking, collections, sitdowns, a board of control, secret societies, omerta.”

Andreopoulos reminded court of the evidence before the jury, that the group was preparing to import hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from three countries through three methods without being asked to provide money or securities up front.

This is one of the most sophisticated criminal organizations in the world

He said it was because of the strength of the criminal organization they represented.

“The ‘Ndrangheta provides the security. The reputation of that criminal organization is better than gold.

“Mr. Ursino is the impresario. He lays out all the roles, splitting the profits … Once he brings the criminal forces together … he retreats back into the shadows, insulated from the heat.

“It is difficult to reconcile his public face — a family man, a loving man, a doting grandfather — and then the hidden face, the duality face of the criminal boss,” said Andreopoulos.

“This is strategy.”

He is asking for a 16-year sentence for Ursino and 14 years for Dracea.

Cosmin (Chris) Dracea meets with a mob turncoat working with police who was the star witness at the trial of Dracea and Giuseppe (Pino) Ursino. Court handout

Dragi Zekavica, Ursino’s lawyer, rebuffed the high-level Mafia arguments against his client, suggesting the criminal organization Ursino was convicted of was simply Dracea and the police agent.

He said his client’s role was minimal — merely introducing the various players. He said his client is a quiet, family man who spent 28 days in custody after his 2015 arrest followed by strict house arrest without any further offenses.

Zekavica had further material to present on his client’s health and a date has been set to complete the sentencing hearing. He asked for a seven-year sentence.

Lydia Riva, Dracea’s lawyer, said her client’s life with his two young children will be devastated by a lengthy prison sentence. She asked for a five-to-seven-year sentence and said it should be less than Ursino’s since her client’s role was less senior in the conspiracy.

Judge Brian O’Marra will hear more evidence on Jan. 9, 2019, before issuing his sentence.

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