Judge rules rights violated, acquits alleged mobster Leonardo Rizzuto

It’s the second court decision in a little more than a year to nullify evidence gathered in a police investigation dubbed Project Magot.

Leonardo Rizzuto at the Montreal courthouse on Monday. “I’m just glad it’s over,” he said following his acquittal. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

Alleged Montreal Mafia leader Leonardo Rizzuto was acquitted Monday on charges related to a police operation in which two guns and five grams of cocaine were found inside his home.

The decision by Quebec Court Judge Julie Riendeau is the second in a little more than a year to declare that evidence gathered in an investigation dubbed Project Magot violated the accused’s constitutional rights. 

Riendeau also ruled that the violation to Rizzuto’s rights did not outweigh the seriousness of the nine charges he faced and that a well-informed person would not lose faith in the justice system if evidence obtained illegally were excluded from a trial. 

“The impugned conduct (of the police) is serious and has a great impact on (Rizzuto’s) constitutional rights. The importance to see that similar conduct is not condoned advocates in favour of excluding the evidence,” Riendeau said as she read from a 21-page decision.

Faced with the decision, prosecutor Marie Christine Godbout announced the Crown had no more evidence to present in Rizzuto’s trial and asked that he be acquitted.

Riendeau acquitted Rizzuto, 49, with no hesitation.

“I’m just glad it’s over,” was all Rizzuto would say as he exited the courtroom.

On Nov. 19, 2015, police searched Rizzuto’s home in Laval’s Ste-Dorothée district as part of a lengthy investigation into three organized crime groups operating in Montreal, including the Montreal Mafia and the Hells Angels.

The investigation resulted in the arrests of Rizzuto and roughly 18 other people, including Loris Cavaliere — at the time a lawyer who owned a firm in Little Italy.

Rizzuto, also a lawyer, listed Cavaliere’s firm as his place of work with the Barreau du Québec.

On the same day the arrests were made, the Sûreté du Québec alleged that Rizzuto and his longtime friend, Stefano Sollecito, 51, were considered to be leaders in the Montreal Mafia.

Rizzuto and Sollecito were charged with committing a crime under the direction of, or in association with, a criminal organization and with conspiring to traffic in cocaine between 2011 nd 2015.

When the police executed the search warrant inside Rizzuto’s home, they found a loaded semi-automatic Walther P99 .40 calibre pistol and a Browning 6 mm pistol in a kitchen cabinet above a fridge. The serial number on the Walther pistol had been removed.

Police also found five grams of cocaine inside the pocket of a suit jacket as well as more than $30,000 in Canadian currency and $18,000 in U.S. currency.

On Feb. 19 last year, the Crown announced it would no longer prosecute either man on the gangsterism and conspiracy charges after Superior Court Justice Éric Downs ruled conversations secretly recorded by the police inside Cavaliere’s law firm violated Rizzuto and Sollecito’s constitutional rights because it was where Rizzuto practised as a lawyer and because Sollecito was consulting a lawyer who worked there.

As part of his written arguments that the search of Rizzuto’s home also violated his Charter rights, defence lawyer Frank Addario wrote that: “The basis for the search of the Rizzuto’s home was the intercepted communications at the law office, surveillance and some additional uncorroborated information from a confidential informant.”

Therefore, Addario argued, if the recordings made inside Cavaliere’s office were illegal they tainted the search warrant obtained to search Rizzuto’s home.

With the evidence of the conversations recorded inside Cavaliere’s law firm set aside, Riendeau was left to decide if there was other evidence gathered in Project Magot to support the issuance of a warrant to enter his home.

In 2013 an informant identified only as J.J. in an affidavit used to request the warrant told his handler that Rizzuto, Sollecito and two other men — Tonino Callocchia and Vito Salvaggio — were “decision makers” in the Montreal Mafia.

J.J. also alleged that Cavaliere and Rizzuto used their positions as lawyers to pass along messages among gangsters.

In subsequent conversations with the handler, J.J. did not mention Rizzuto as having influence among the group under investigation.

“The court concludes that the reliability of what J.J. said concerning the accused is not sufficiently substantiated to retain (the allegations in the affidavit),” Riendeau said.

The case will return to court in March for a hearing to decide what items the Crown will return to Rizzuto.