Italian probe reveals how ‘criminal blockchain’ gives Toronto-area mobsters international authority

When his brother was killed last year in an ambush, Vincenzo Muià became the boss of his Mafia clan in southern Italy. One of his first acts of leadership was to gather his loyal soldiers to plan their defence. His next was avenging his brother.

For that, he came to Canada.

“If I don’t know who killed him, how can I sleep peacefully? How can I sleep?” he lamented, according to a translation of a police wiretap that captured his conversations.

Unwittingly, Muià’s arrival in Toronto this spring to consult Mafia leaders living in Ontario came at a terrible time for the grieving boss. At that moment, York Regional Police had an ambitious anti-mob probe underway targeting the very people he had come to consult.

Murdered mobster Carmelo Muià. File

His presence in Canada, police in Italy say, helped investigators not only understand more about the murder of Muià’s brother but also a raft of other crimes, producing 12 arrests in Italy including one of a Canadian man born in Toronto.

It was the international counterpart to the large Toronto-area Mafia busts announced with fanfare last week, and its surprising findings highlight how important mobsters in Canada have become in the global underworld.

Italian police had their interest sparked on Jan. 18, 2018, when Carmelo Muià, known as “Mino,” was shot dead in Siderno, a Mafia stronghold in Italy’s southern region of Calabria, the toe on the boot-shaped map of Italy.

It was a significant event. Mino was the boss of his mob family, one cell of many in the ’Ndrangheta, the proper name of the powerful Mafia of Calabria. And the Muià family, in turn, is part of a confederation of ’Ndrangheta families in and around Siderno that is often called the Siderno Group, considered one of the world’s foremost criminal enterprises.

Muià was apoplectic over his brother’s murder.

He started deconstructing and analyzing the ambush, looking for clues, according to the Italian investigation. Who had known where his brother was going? Who would have had motive to kill him? Who was capable of being so bold?

It was an inopportune time for them to come

He settled on a chief suspect, someone with a sharp grievance — someone whose two brothers were killed during a previous mob feud involving Muià’s family. The wiretaps captured Muià’s complaints that the victors left a surviving brother who could someday seek vengeance.

“When you cut weeds out of the grass, if you don’t get them all, they will grow back,” he said in Italian, according to authorities in Italy. “When you do things, you have to do them right.”

Muià pulled family loyalists together and ordered them to rearm and get ready, authorities allege. He did not want to act rashly, however. He wanted proof.

And so this past April, Muià, along with Giuseppe Gregoraci, one of his alleged underlings, left for Canada to spend a week or two trying to confirm his suspicions.

“It was an inopportune time for them to come,” said Det. Sgt. Carl Mattinen of York police’s new anti-Mafia taskforce, which ran the probe called Project Sindacato. “We happened to be live (with wiretaps) when they traveled here.”

Angelo Figliomeni RCMP

Muià allegedly met with two brothers, Angelo Figliomeni, 56, and Cosimo Figliomeni, 54, collectively called  “u Briganti” (the Brigands), according to Italian authorities.

Police announced Angelo’s arrest in Vaughan, Ont. last week, the centrepiece of the York probe. Mattinen named him as the head of the Figliomeni crime family. Cosimo was not arrested.

Italian court documents refer to both Figliomeni brothers as “fugitives” in Canada, having left Italy ahead of Mafia-association charges.

The meetings in Canada, authorities allege, revealed Muià seeking answers and advice on the consequences of pursuing his brother’s murderer.

The meetings revealed something else, however — something that shocked even veteran Mafia investigators in Italy.

There has been a shift in the Siderno Group’s power structure, tilting towards Canada, authorities said.

For decades, the ’Ndrangheta families of Siderno operating in Canada — about seven of them — have been governed by a board of directors, called the “camera di controllo,” or chamber of control. The local board, as in other countries around the world and other regions of Italy where clans have spread, have all been subservient to the mother clans of Calabria, under a body known as “il Crimine di Siderno.”

Police in both countries now say the ’Ndrangheta’s Canadian presence has become so powerful and influential that the board north of Toronto has the authority to make decisions, not only in relation to Canada’s underworld, but also abroad, even back in Siderno.

Decisions might be taken in Canada first and arrive in Siderno later.

The Canadian board can have influence over the “entire ’Ndrangheta,” Italian authorities said.

“The governing body of the Siderno branch no longer operates only in Calabria, transmitting orders abroad, but also does so directly on Canadian soil, to give it a more effective and efficient command structure,” Italian authorities said in court documents, translated into English.

This shows that Canada’s mobsters are “more strategically powerful than we had thought before,” said Anna Sergi, a senior criminology lecturer at the University of Essex who specializes in the ’Ndrangheta.

“From the wiretaps it appears that — differently from the situation portrayed in (previous investigations) — the chamber of control in Toronto can extend its strategic resonance to Siderno as well, for the first time reversing the order,” said Sergi.

“Decisions might be taken in Canada first and arrive in Siderno later.”

It appears to be both a reflection of the realities of immigration and a strategic survival plan. A large number of respected and influential Calabrian mobsters have immigrated to the Toronto area, including some fleeing Italy’s anti-Mafia probes. However, if police make a decisive sweep against bosses in Italy, there is already a parallel structure operating with influence and international recognition that can keep the business running.

Investigators described it as a form of “criminal blockchain.”

Fausto Lamparelli, director of the Central Operational Service of Italy’s Polizia di Stato, a federal police force, said this level of ’Ndrangheta authority now concentrated in Canada is unprecedented.

“This is something we have never seen before,” he said.

That explains why Muià would seek counsel in Canada on a matter as important as accusing a fellow ’Ndrangheta member in Siderno of an unsanctioned murder, which could spark yet another Mafia war.

The arrests in Italy — where police called their probe Operation “Canadian ’Ndrangheta Connection” — included Gregoraci, who came to Canada with Muià. He was charged with Mafia association and financial crimes.

Muià faces charges relating to weapons, allegedly alongside Michelangelo Archinà, 42, who was born in Toronto.

Muià is also charged with interfering with the police investigation into his brother’s murder, not only by trying to ensure he finds the gunman before police do, but also by taking his brother’s cell phone from the scene of his murder to hide any evidence from police.

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