By the Other Guy | May 21, 2020
The City of Montreal in Canada has a current population of almost 1,800,000 people. It is the most populated city in Quebec province, and the second most populous city in all of Canada. Its broader metropolitan area encompasses over 4,000,000 residents.
The largest ethnic groups are French, followed by Italians. French is the city’s official language. In 2017, Montreal was ranked the 12th most liveable city in the world by the Economic Intelligence Unit.
It is and has always been a thriving and vibrant metropolis, chock full of entertainment and nightlife, professional commerce and a wide variety of industries.
Only 60 miles from the closest United States border into the town of Plattsburgh, and slightly further to other major American destinations, Montreal has become a major hub of commerce between the two countries for upwards of 100 years…and rife with opportunities.
It was a fact not lost on the underworld of those two countries!
Both the American and Canadian underworld, as well as the Sicilian Mafia and Calabrian N’drangheta, have also utilized this nexus to conduct their illegal “commerce” as well.
And although there have been many independent criminals, loosely formed gangs, and highly organized criminal groups that have traversed its borders through the years, arguably no group had even come close to duplicating what the Cotroni Crime Family, in partnership with the American Mafia, ever accomplished.
As it would turn out, it was a city custom-built for the mob!
THIS IS THEIR STORY!
Hailing from the town of Marina, in the Reggio Calabria region of Southern Italy, the Cotroni brothers were brought to North America as children when their parents immigrated by the mid-1920s. As adults, they would become naturalized Canadian citizens.
The Cotroni’s would reside and operate their entire lives from their home base in the Montreal, Quebec section of the country. Their large family brood included four brothers: Vincenzo (Vic the Egg), Giuseppe (Pepe), Francesco (Frank), and Michele (Nick).
In later years, several of their sons, nephews and in-laws would join their elders in support of the “family business”.
By 1940, they had become a lawless bunch whose surname would eventually become notorious and synonymous with big-time organized crime and specifically international narcotics trafficking, not only in Canada but throughout the United States and into France and Italy as well.
The leader of the “Cotroni Family”was their oldest brother Vincenzo (Vic), aka “Vic the Egg”.
Born on November 10, 1910, he had FBI # 415374D, and Montreal Police FPS # 183003. He resided at 4800 Pie Neux Blvd., in Montreal.
Among favored spots he frequented abroad was The Sea Gull Hotel on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, Fla., and the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba.
Vic Cotroni was a small-framed but handsome man at 5-feet 5-inches tall and weighed a solid 165 pounds. He had jet black hair and blue-green eyes with a dark complexion.
He was married to Maria (nee Brisciani) and they had one daughter together named Rosina.
His arrest record started in 1928 and had entries for false pretenses, counterfeiting, theft, criminally receiving, felonious assault, and narcotics conspiracy.
Vic Cotroni listed his business as the legitimate owner of two eateries and nightclubs: Chez Paree and Vic’s Cafe, both of which were notorious hoodlum hangouts.
He was also listed as the Vice President of Servet Agencies, Ltd., a pharmaceutical importing firm (this company was later suspected of being a cover for narcotics smuggling).
His closest aide and partner was his brother Giuseppe aka “Pep” or “Pepe”, whom he would later appoint as his “acting caporegime”. He was born on February 22, 1920, also in Reggio Calabria, Italy.
FBI # 164790D, RCMP # 608
His residence was listed as 3615 Ridgewood Street, Unit #104, which was an apartment in Montreal.
Pepe was a “Bon Vivant” along the Montreal entertainment district. He frequented the Metropole Club, the Bonfire Restaurant and the Jacques Cartier Hotel and Lounge among other Montreal nightspots.
When visiting New York City on “business”, he stayed at the Hotel Edison or Hotel Lexington, both in midtown Manhattan.
He was observed on several occasions visiting the Vivere Lounge in downtown Manhattan along Second Avenue. This locale was a notorious watering hole owned by the young Genovese soldier Cosmo (Carlie) DePietro and frequented by Genovese, Lucchese and Bonanno members, most of whom were known drug traffickers.
Pepe Cotroni stood 5-feet 6-inches tall and weighed a solid 200 pounds. He was bald on top with dark brown hair on the sides and had dark brown eyes.
His arrest record dated to 1937 on such charges as theft and criminal receiving, burglary and grand larceny, theft with violence, and possession of stolen bonds.
In 1959, he was also finally convicted of violating Canadian narcotics laws. He listed himself as a restaurant owner-operator in Montreal.
They were augmented by brother Francesco or “Frank” in English. And although all the Cotroni’s were “capable” as the term goes, Frank came to be known locally as the main “enforcer” for the group.
As time passed, and they grew in power and influence, they were aided by a supporting cast of followers who read like a “who’s who” of the Canadian underworld.
Men whose surnames would in time become synonymous with Canadian organized crime. Fellow Calabrians and Sicilians alike, Frenchmen, Corsicans, native Canadians, as well as men of Jewish, Irish and other lineages…to be sure, the Cotroni’s were not prejudice or snobbish when it came to making money and attaining their underworld goals.
It is well-documented that during the early 1950s a contingent of hoods allied with New York City’s Bonanno Crime Family made a pilgrimage up to Canada to “scope out” the territory. A “virgin land” ripe for the taking as it were.
Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of criminals, organized and not, operating up there dating back to pre-prohibition times. But the Sicilian Mafia was not a dominant player back then.
It seems that among the plethora of hoodlums and racketeers active which included English, Irish, Jews, among others, Italians were most prominently represented by Calabrese nationals.
Early Calabrian powers included such names as Rocco Perri, Rocco Violi, and Giacomo Luppino. Each of whom were major players in the area’s bootleg alcohol, extortion, counterfeiting, prostitution and gambling rackets.
In their early days, the fledgling Cotroni’s operated as well.
These Calabrians had formed their own organizations. Many of these Calabrese groups owed allegiance to the “mother” Families back in Italy. Some were stand alone gangs.
Others more like glorified “decinas” or “locales” as they are referred to back in Calabria, similar to single “regimes” of the more formally structured Sicilian-style Cosa Nostra or Mafia.
In the old days, Calabrian organized crime groups were called Societa Honore or “The Honored Society”. In recent decades they refer to themselves as the “N’drangheta”.
But with the arrival of Bonanno’s representatives, specifically his trusted underboss Carmine (Lilo) Galante and a small crew of inducted borgata soldiers, Canada’s underworld quickly took notice.
A notorious mafioso in both reputation and deed, Lilo Galante, or “The Cigar” as he was known, soon whipped Montreal’s loosely scattered hoods, racketeers and gamblers into line…forcing them to toe-the-line!
Galante would become the glue that would bind these independent criminals to the Bonanno Family flag.
He allied with the Cotronis, quickly forming a partnership of sorts. This alliance became pivotal to their mutual international heroin trafficking interests, and the linchpin to the largest known smuggling network of its kind in the world at that time.
Upon spotting or learning of an independent heist guy, drug dealer, bookmaker or gambling operative, Lilo would invite the man for a cup of espresso and a quick chat with him…it didn’t take long for the local underworld to get the message…no independent operators allowed.
All would “kick up” a percentage of their illicit earnings to the Bonanno’s for the privilege of operating. In this way, they “organized” the city of Montreal under the Cotroni’s, and ultimately under the Joseph Bonanno Crime Family of LCN.
After reportedly spending months up in Canada on several different occasions coordinating operation,s the die was cast. This territory was now under the “Bonanno Flag”.
Boss Joe Bonanno authorized his underboss to officially tap Vic Cotroni as their resident “capo di decina” to lead a newly formed “regime”.
Although Calabrian, or maybe because of it, Cotroni and his brothers was all formally indoctrinated into the “Sicilian Brotherhood” using the time honored “blood and fire” oath of Omertà.
Over time, they in turn initiated another 10-15 trusted associates to become formal members or “soldiers” in this new regime. Technically speaking, all became made members of New York’s Bonanno mob, but operated primarily on Canadian soil.
Cotroni also divided Montreal into two distinct and separate but aligned “gangs” that headed up different sections of the city. The “East End Gang” and the “West End Gang”.
A resident hoodlum, named Harry Ship, headed up the West End, which was comprised of Jewish and French Canadian elements, while the East End was headed by Italians such as Lou Greco, and later Vic’s brother Frank and Joe Cocolicchio. It was comprised mostly of Italians and to a lesser extent French-speaking followers.
Vic and Pepe Cotroni oversaw it all!
Among the newly budding “soldati” or regime soldiers were:
• Frank Cotroni – FPS #648079, after Pepe, Frank was considered the next in power among the brothers. Known for his temper and utilized as the prime enforcer for the regime. He was active in all their common racket pursuits.
• Luigi (Louie) Greco – FPS #225228, in the 1950s he was one of Galante’s top enforcers. Active in shakedown and extortion rackets, stock thefts and fraud, narcotics and gambling. He ran a spaghetti joint he named “Le Roi Du Spaghetti”.
He would become the “right arm” to Vic, until falling from favor in later years.
• Paolo Violi – FPS #820579, born in 1932 at Reggio Calabria as was the Cotroni’s. Aside from his brothers, Violi was probably Cotroni’s top man in the regime.
He was active in nearly all crew operations such as illicit alcohol traffic, gambling, counterfeiting, extortion and protection rackets, arson, land fraud, and narcotics.
In years to come, Violi would butt heads with Nick Rizzuto and his Sicilian contingent for influence as Rizzuto usurped Cotroni of power, Violi would lose the battle.
He was surprised by gunmen while playing cards at his business and shot to death at his Gelato Cafe.
• Rocco Violi – Paolo’s brother and his close side and associate. Active in gambling and currency counterfeiting.
Rocco was also killed by Nicola Rizzuto as he seized power of the Montreal underworld.
• Joseph DiMaulo – Another Calabrian and top soldier. In future years he became a close ally of the Vito Rizzuto faction of the mafia.
With Vito’s imprisonment in the 1990s DiMaulo joined a rebel group for control. He was later killed after he helped plan a coup against the Rizzuto’s.
• Frank (Frankie P) Petrula – FPS #389562, he was considered one of Lilo Galante’s top strong-arm men in the initial takeover of Montreal’s underworld. He would later disappear forever in 1956, never to be heard from again.
Numerous associates also grew the crew as the years went on.
• Michele (Nick) Cotroni – FPS #623532, born 1928 he was the youngest Cotroni brother and a top crew associate (possibly a soldier). Law enforcement considered him a primary enforcer of Cotroni edicts in tandem with his brother Frank.
• Harry Ship – FPS # 474777, a notorious bookmaker who ran a “edge” or “hedge-off” office from Canada servicing American bookmakers. He partnered with Peter Adamo and George Coe to run the West End Gang under Vic Cotroni’s overall leadership.
• Solomon (Solly Silvers) Schnapp – FPS #963768, FBI #413712D. He was also a well known bookmaker who operated in tandem with Ship as an “hedge” office for area gamblers. Suspected of engaging in major stock frauds.
• Leo Bercovitch – FPS #486134, a top Montreal gambler paying protection to Cotroni.
• Hyman Sternman – FPS #17851A, FBI # 108053A. Born in NYC, a large Cotroni protected bookmaker who also was employed as a s steel broker. He later got involved in a stock-construction swindle up in Canada.
• Joseph Cocolicchio – FPS #758891, a strong-arm enforcer working under Frank Cotroni. Helped the Cotroni’s run the so-called “East End Gang”.
• Peter (Petey Adams) Adamo – FPS #354597, active in horse-sports bookmaking, safe cracking, fencing stolen stocks and bonds. He ran the “West End Gang” for Cotroni.
• George Coe – Born in England, Coe was Ship and Adamo’s partner operating the West End Gang. He headed the shakedown of various area bars and nightspots for the Cotroni’s. Also active in gambling operations and high-end thefts.
• Armand Courville – FPS #356432, he was a frontman used by Cotroni in the purchase of various businesses.
• Fernand Pierre LeFebvre – He was a close associate of Vic and thought to have been fronting for him in the ownership of the Jacques Cartier Hotel in Montreal. He also acted as a “courier” for the crew.
• Irving Ellis – FPS #833862, FBI # 2068775, he served as a collector of shakedown payments due Galante. Also active running the “edge off” office for gambling operations. Has flown to Miami with Cotroni on several occasions.
• Jacob (Jackie) Shugar – FPS #335733, a well known Cotroni gambling operative also involved in stocks frauds.
• Albert Lean – FPS #415880, FBI # 305157B, he was engaged in gambling, prostitution, extortion, narcotics, stock frauds and theft. Allied with George Brisbois in the narcotics trade, and stock rackets with Louis Greco and Gambino members Carmine Lombardozzi and Arthur Tortorello.
• Vincenzo (Jimmy) Orlando – FPS #330940, former player for the Detroit Redwings Hockey team and a crew associate. Allied with crew associates and known bookmakers Solly Schnapp, Harry Ship, Harry Smith, and Stanley Papadakis FPS #668151.
• Joseph (Josie) Orlando – FPS # 615331, he was known to run a gambling club in the 1950s for Cotroni. He was Jimmy’s brother.
• Frank Scanzano – Brother to Leo, Frank was known as a strong-arm, he and Leo also operated gambling rackets in partnership with Vic Cotroni.
• Leo Scanzano – FPS # 587119, active in gambling rackets: bookmaking. Owned The Chance Cafe in Montreal where card and dice games took place. With his brother Frank and the Orlando brothers ran Aldo’s Restaurant.
In the 1950s, Leo also ran prostitution rackets. A top Cotroni crew figure.
• Frank Guzzo – FPS # 117817, son-in-law and confidant of Vic with whom he accompanied on trips to the U.S. and abroad.
• Ralph Guzzo – Frank’s dad who managed the Chez Paree Nightclub which was partly owned by Vic.
• Dominick DeFrancesco – FPS # 734889. Joe’s brother, crew associate and aide.
• Joseph DeFrancesco – FPS #235759, Vic’s driver, aide, and crew associate.
• Orlando DeFrancesco – FPS # 915011, a third brother and also a crew associate.
• Paul Emile DeSormiers – FPS # 235595, father-in-law to Frank Cotroni, frontman for Cotroni in licensing of a cruise ship and insurance frauds. Arrests for theft and promoting immorality (prostitution).
• Fernando (Nando) Micelli – Nephew of Vic. Employed at G.Saputo & Figli Ltd., cheese products. Periodically in touch with Joe Bonanno.
• John McGuire – FPS # 640757, another hoodlum allied with this network.
They were active in nearly all the typical organized rackets, but once they became well established their specialty was heroin importation and its wholesale distribution throughout North America.
The Cotroni mob would make or deepen their previous connections overseas to French and Corsican racketeers so as to form what would later be labeled by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (the precursor agency to the DEA), and Royal Canadian Mounted Police as “the largest and most notorious narcotic syndicate on the North American Continent”.
The FBN additionally stated, “The main supplier to Mafia organizations across the United States that has direct French-Corsican sources of supply.”
The agency closed by also stating “Vic and Pepe Cotroni are vicious hoodlums and terrorists who engineer varied major crimes both nationally and internationally.”
I think that about says it all as far as both their influence in the underworld, and perceived influence by law enforcement authorities.
Among the United States Mafia contingent that regularly dealt with the Cotroni faction as a source of heroin supply numbered some of the most feared and dangerous men in the American underworld;
Lucchese Family wholesale buyers:
• Angelo (Little Angie) Tuminaro
• Anthony (Bootsie) DePasqua
• Joseph (Little Joe Beck) DiPalermo
• Charles (Charlie Brody) DiPalermo
• Peter (Petey Beck) DiPalermo
• Ralph (Raffie) Cuomo
• John (Big John) Ormento
• Salvatore (Tom Mix) Santoro
Genovese Family purchasers:
• Cosmo (Carlie) DePietro
• Ottilio (Frankie the Bug) Caruso
Gambino Family drug traffickers:
• Frank (Frankie the Boss) Moccardi
…not to mention of course Family boss Giuseppe Bonanno, and his loyal underboss Galante under who’s control and direction the Cotroni brothers and their entire organization was beholden to, and various Bonanno oriented traffickers such as Frank (Frankie T) Mari, Joseph (Joe Bayonne) Zicarelli, Anthony (Tony) Mirra, Salvatore (Little Sal) Giglio, Maro (Marc Antonio) Orlandino, Anthony Lisi, Frank and Angelo (Little Moe) Presinzano
…and so many others.
Among the more notorious of Cotroni’s suspected sources of supply back in Marseilles, France, were world-class opium importers, heroin chemists and refiners, and bulk international smugglers who saw to it that the finished product arrived safely through their various ports of entry, be it Canada or the United States:
• Born in Marseilles of Corsican decent, Ansan (Monsieur Albert) Bistoni was a thrice convicted narcotics trafficker. He smuggled morphine base into France from Istanbul, Turkey and Lebanon for conversion into heroin, and then on to Canada to the Cotroni’s.
• Roger Coudert – Born in France, Coudert was a prime player in a drug smuggling ring that shipped to both Cotroni in Canada and other mafia racketeers in New York. In 1954 he got a 10 year sentence for violating American narcotics laws.
• Jean Baptiste Croce – Born in Marseilles, once arrested for murder, he was a top member of a smuggling ring that shipped bulk kilo-loads of heroin from French laboratories to Vic Cotroni for years. Croce also owned two nightclubs in Havana, Cuba, which he used as a “jump off” base to U.S. soil.
• Paul Mondoloni – A Corsican born top internationally known heroin trafficker with close connections to important drug networks in Canada, Mexico, Cuba, France, the U.S. and elsewhere. He was once arrested in the U.S. for immigration violations and narcotic conspiracy.
• Francois (Big Frank) Spirito – Born and lived in Marseilles but resided for a time in Midtown-Manhattan and Upstate NY, where he frequented their “French Quarter”, and often visited Montreal, and Cranston, RI. Federal narcotics conviction in NYC in 1951. Among the biggest smugglers in France, he was considered a major source of supply for both the Cotroni and Orsini narcotics smuggling organizations.
• Joseph (Joe Dorney) Orsini – The Corsican born Orsini was very close to Marius Ansaldi, and was the Canadian-American representative for the “Ansaldi Mob”. They operated clandestine heroin laboratories in France and smuggled large multi-kilo shipments to Mafia dealers in the U.S and Canada.
The above list is just a handful of many sources Vic and Pepe Cotroni were suspected of utilizing through the decades to supply their devoted mafia customers down in the United States. They were also thought to have had several sources of powder from Sicily as well.
It was big, big business and highly sophisticated business logistics to oversee the multimillion-dollar importation into France and Sicily of opium paste to various clandestine laboratories for processing into morphine base and ultimately the highest-grade white powdered heroin known to mankind.
The connection, contact and negotiating of price and logistics between the French-Corsican Mob and their Mafia brethren across the ocean for the eventual smuggling of huge wholesale quantities of “schmeck” or “babania” from Europe into either Canada (to be resold and shipped by the Cotroni Mob), or directly to the major Cities along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States where the Mafia operated.
It was a monolithic, underworld monopoly unlike anything seen by the FBN in the previous history of the mob. And it went on for decades!
And the Cotroni brothers? …well, they were at the epicenter of it all!
In 1958, Pepe Cotroni and his associate Rene Robert were apprehended with $12,000,000 in negotiable Canadian Government bonds, cash and jewelry taken in a theft from the Brookville Trust and Savings Company, Brookville, Ontario, Canada.
The very next year in July of 1959, the two men were nabbed again – this time for possession of $8,000,000 worth of heroin after a raid on a Montreal motel room they were staying in. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police claimed that it was the biggest operation of its kind in Canadian history.
Then another well-publicized incident took place on November 28, 1966, when a contingent of known Bonanno members headed by Joe Bonanno’s son Bill were apprehended by Montreal police in Canada.
Authorities arrested Salvatore (Bill) Bonanno, Patrick and Vito De Filippo, Luigi Greco, Peter Notaro, Carl Simari, and Peter Magaddino. After being held for questioning and refusing to give any reason for the presence in Quebec, the Americans were expelled from the country back across the U.S. border.
Side Note: The boss himself, Joe Bonanno was interrogated years earlier when he applied for citizenship in Canada. He claimed to be just a legitimate businessman who had invested in Saputo & Figli Cheese Co., and was looking into several other business ventures. The Canadian government turned his application down.
All these events only added to the notoriety of Vic, Pepe, and their Cotroni Clan.
As the late 1970s drew to a close, Vic Cotroni and his brothers had lost ground in Montreal.
By late 1968, Joseph Bonanno had been deposed from his lofty Cosa Nostra throne back in New York after a gangland struggle for power in that borgata.
In turn, Vic’s “ace-in-the-hole” went with it. By the mid-1970s, they found themselves under seize by a former soldier in their regime who hailed from a small Sicilian town in the Agrigento region.
Nicolo (Nick) Rizzuto and his young son Vito would eventually challenge the Cotroni’s for supremacy of the Montreal underworld. They had the backing of a strong Sicilian faction to strengthen their play.
Vic and his brothers saw the handwriting on the wall. They were getting older and not really up for the fight. So they didn’t forcefully challenge Rizzuto…but Vic’s trusty Calabrian born underboss Paolo Violi did!
He had been put in charge of day to day affairs several years earlier. As the “acting capodecina”, it fell to him to defend his turf.
The result was a bloody street war for power, in what would essentially become a power-play between Calabrian and Sicilian mobsters of various Canadian N’drangheta and Cosa Nostra factions.
Side Note: It was a scenario that would continue to sputter and repeatedly play out over the next forty years by succeeding Calabrese and Sicilian racketeers of both groups.
One of the earliest important slayings was that of Violi’s “consigliere” or top aide. Pietro Sciara was killed on Valentines Day, 1976…it was a bloody Valentine! Violi was away serving a short prison term at the time of his friend’s killing.
Then in February of 1977, Paolo’s younger brother Francesco Violi was shotgunned and killed.
In January of 1978, Paolo Violi was shot in the head as he was sitting playing cards at the Bar Jean-Talon.
And the last of the Violi brothers, Rocco, was killed in October of 1980 as he was sitting down to dinner with his family in the kitchen of his own home.
A Rizzuto commissioned sniper shot him in the head right through the kitchen window from a hidden perch outside the property.
The Sicilian Rizzuto faction would be the victors. And the Violi brothers and all their supporters would bite the dust…for several decades anyway!
With their ascension to power, Violi’s widow Grazia and young sons moved back to Hamilton, Ontario, under the protection of her father Giacomo Luppino, head of the Luppino Family. The Luppino’s flew the flag of Buffalo’s Magaddino mob.
Side Note: Rocco Violi’s murder was eerily similar to the assassination of Family patriarch Nick Rizzuto decades later as the Rizzuto Clan experienced the same type “coup” they had perpetrated on the Cotroni-Violi regime years earlier…it was a “message” from the Calabrian underworld that “what goes around comes around.”
Vincenzo Cotroni passed away on September 16, 1984 of natural causes. He was 73-years-old. Vic had tried keeping a low profile in his life and unlike his brothers, Pepe and Frank, served minimal time in prison.
Giuseppe Cotroni had passed away years earlier in September of 1979 of natural causes. He was only 59- years-old. He had served several long prison sentences in his lifetime.
Francesco Cotroni passed away on August 17, 2004 of natural causes. He was 72-years-old and had only completed a seven-year prison stretch for trafficking cocaine a few years earlier. He had served other long prison terms and had seen one son jailed with him, and another son killed in the streets.
Michele Cotroni also passed away of natural causes. No exact dod was available. It seems that he largely avoided the rackets in his lifetime.
The Sicilian oriented Rizzuto’s, father and son, would go on to lead a strong regime for the next three decades under the Bonanno flag.
Essentially, for all intents and purposes, they operated their own autonomous Cosa Nostra Family. Because although technically they were but a single “regime” within the larger Bonanno borgata down in New York, they were largely left to their own devices to operate up in Canada as they wished.
The result was that they grew a criminal network of international proportions over the years the likes of which few have ever matched.
With close connections, business partners and allies that crossed oceans, and many international territories, the Rizzuto Family held a unique position in the world of organized crime.
They dealt with Italians, Sicilians, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Englishmen, South Americans, and Oriental crime organizations in furtherance of their mutual illicit interests…until one pivotal unavoidable event brought down “The House of Rizzuto!”
Stay tuned for my future storyline on “The Life and Times of The Rizzuto Clan of Cosa Nostra.”
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