An Ontario boss of Italy’s powerful ’Ndrangheta Mafia and his cocaine importer were both sentenced to extra long prison terms because of their mob ties, concluding an ambitious probe that featured a colourful mobster working as a double agent to betray underworld colleagues.
Giuseppe Ursino, 65, of Bradford, Ont., who is known as Pino and named as the boss of a mob clan, was sentenced to 12½ years while his co-accused, Cosmo Dracea, 42, of Toronto, known as Chris was sentenced to 10 years.
“Their motive was greed. The product they trafficked and conspired to import is a blight on society,” Judge Brian O’Marra said Thursday when sentencing the pair.
Organized crime convictions add a premium onto sentences and Ursino had 6½ years added to his six-year drug sentence because of his Mafia involvement; Dracea had four years tacked on to his six-years for his drug conviction.
Both then had a year subtracted because of their time spent in custody and on strict bail conditions waiting for trial.
More important than the two sentences imposed in Ontario Superior Court in Toronto, however, is the court’s declaration that the ’Ndrangheta — as notorious for its secrecy and inaccessibility as it is for its power and danger as a global crime threat — is a criminal organization active in Canada.
Accepted as fact by the court was that the ’Ndrangheta is a highly structured criminal organization that formed in the Calabria region of southern Italy and spread throughout the world, including to Canada.
The ’Ndrangheta has cells in the Toronto area and in Thunder Bay that are autonomous in their criminal activities but accountable to higher underworld authority in Calabria, court accepted.
The ’Ndrangheta is built around families related by blood and marriage and there is “significant overlap between the criminal family and the blood family,” court accepted as fact.
“It is a monumental achievement,” said Crown prosecutor Tom Andreopoulos, deputy chief federal prosecutor, after sentencing.
“This conclusion crystallizes for the first time in Canadian judicial history the compelling characteristics of the notorious international organized crime group at work in Canada, the ’Ndrangheta.”
It is a monumental achievement
Andreopoulos said it is the fruit of years of commitment by the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, an RCMP-led joint police anti-mob task force, “to bring this to the attention of the Canadian public.”
In Ontario, the ’Ndrangheta is considered the top of the underworld food chain but is often overlooked in the public’s mind by outlaw bikers, the Sicilian Mafia and street gangs.
The case featured riveting videos secretly recorded by police of the accused men, and others, meeting with a veteran mobster who agreed to cooperate with police for a $2.4-million payout.
Carmine Guido, 47, who switched allegiances and wore a wire for the RCMP during hundreds of meetings with senior mobsters and associates for nearly two years, was the star witness who gave often-lurid testimony highlighting underworld life.
He is now in the witness protection program, living in an undisclosed location under a new name.
“The key witness for the Crown was a paid agent of the RCMP. He is a career criminal who surprisingly has no criminal record. From a relatively young age he has engaged in crimes including frauds, threats and intimidation to collect debts, carrying firearms and incidents of domestic violence,” O’Marra said in his decision.
“The imposing physical stature and criminal reputation of the agent gave confidence to both accused that they were dealing with a serious criminal player.”
Ursino introduced Guildo to Dracea and they started hatching drug smuggling schemes in 2014 and 2015, including bringing cocaine from Jamaica, Costa Rica and Dominican Republic into Canada hidden between layers of paper pressed into cardboard, stuffed inside frozen fish and in barrels of spicy jerk sauce to throw off drug-sniffing dogs.
Court heard they worked with Richard Avanes and others to import the drugs. Avanes pleaded guilty at a separate trial to importing cocaine and conspiring to import cocaine and was sentenced to 14 years.
Other charges against Ursino and Dracea related to possession of criminal money. In Ursino’s case it was $1,000 Guido gave him as a tribute for introducing him to Dracea; in Dracea’s case it was $60,000 Guido gave him for nearly a kilo of high-grade cocaine.
At trial, Ursino testified the money was just a friendly gift and had nothing to do with drugs. He denied being a boss or even a member of the ’Ndrangheta and said he spoke like a mob boss on the recordings only because he got caught up in feeling important.
Dracea testified he made up the importation schemes based on movies and things he read so he would look like a big player. While he earlier pleaded guilty selling a brick of cocaine to Guido, he denied he was part of any organized crime conspiracy.
Neither the jury that convicted the pair nor O’Marra who sentenced them believed their denials.
“Based on the evidence at trial, Giuseppe Ursino is a high-ranking member of the ’Ndrangheta who orchestrated criminal conduct and then stepped back to lessen his potential implication,” O’Marra said in his decision. “Cosmin Dracea knew he was dealing with members of a criminal organization when he conspired to import cocaine.”
Neither man has a prior criminal record.
The police probe was codenamed Project OPhoenix.
The outcome from long and difficult Mafia cases that can span years and international borders is often cumulative, Andreopoulos said.
“I have worked on major projects over the last dozen years or so, and have been attached to CFSEU for about that time,” he said after court.
“This case represents a jewel of all those collective efforts and the hard work, determination and cooperation with all stakeholders, including my office and Italian authorities.”