This morning's murder of well-known mobster Rocco Sollecito may very well signal the death of the Montreal Mafia.
At least, this version of it.
According to a couple of experts on the city's Italian organized crime scene, the assassination of the 67-year-old Sollecito is the latest twist in a generational war, with an emerging leadership group looking to oust and eliminate the old guard. But first, the facts:
At around 8:30 Friday morning, Rocco Sollecito was gunned down as he sat behind the wheel of his white BMW SUV at an intersection in the Montreal suburb of Laval. It's believed his killer was waiting for him at a bus stop just half a kilometre from the Laval police headquarters. Sollecito was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Witnesses told a TVA reporter they heard as many as eight gunshots. "There were two shots at first, then a brief moment of silence, and then a burst," said one.
Laval police were quick to characterize the nature of the shooting. "It's not complicated. It was a mob hit," a spokesman for the force toldCBC. The provincial Sûreté du Québec is taking over the investigation.
Sollecito's is the latest in a string of murders that has claimed a number of members of the Montreal Mafia in recent years. Most are linked to the fallout of the death of Mafia patriarch Vito Rizzuto at the end of 2013.
Read more: Who is Running the Mob in Montreal?
According to author Pierre de Champlain, who was a civilian analyst for the RCMP, Sollecito is just the latest victim of a transition of leadership, Mafia-style.
"Each time that the Mafia is in a period of turmoil, whether it's the Sicilian or the American Mafia, it's always because of a generational conflict," he told VICE. "It's the old guard versus the new guard."
Sollecito was staunchly of the old guard. A senior member of the Rizzuto leadership core who was close to both Vito Rizzuto and his father Nicolo, Sollecito also acted as a close advisor to his son Stefano Sollecito, who, along with Vito Rizzuto's son Leonardo, inherited the leadership mantle after Vito's passing. He is also believed to have overseen a large illegal gambling and bookmaking empire.
De Champlain says he has files on the senior Sollecito dating back to the early 80s, as he began rising through the ranks alongside Vito. "He was a presence of longstanding in the Montreal Mafia landscape," he says.
For decades, Sollecito was at the heart of a very successful criminal enterprise, one believed to have made vast amounts of cash on everything from construction to the import and distribution of narcotics via Montreal's port. At the height of the Rizzuto clan's power, in the 1980s and 1990s, the family was run first by Nick Rizzuto and then by his son and heir Vito.
The family's fortunes changed in the middle of the previous decade. Vito Rizzuto was extradited to the US in 2006 and spent time in prison on charges relating to a triple murder in 1981. In his absence, his organization began to crack. Several members of his family, including his father and son, were murdered. Other allies turned up dead or went missing. Shortly after Vito was released and deported to Canada in 2012, a number of murders followed, believed to be in retaliation for the liberties taken against his family.
But Vito's second reign did not last. He died of cancer just over a year after his return. Emerging out of the fog of the criminal underground was a new council of six leaders, among them Stefano Sollecito, Leonardo Rizzuto and Lorenzo Giordano.
They didn't last long either. The younger Sollecito and Rizzuto were arrested in November and remain behind bars. And on March 1, Giordano was gunned down in a Laval parking lot, just months after his release from prison. Two other associates were said to be so afraid for their lives that they volunteered to return to prison after their release in February.
"It's a strategy of terror," author and journalist Antonio Nicaso told VICE. "There is a campaign to remove the management of the Rizzuto crime family. Someone wants to put an end to it…. No one is capable to lead a counterattack. I don't see anyone among the old guard who is able to fight back."
Neither de Champlain nor Nicaso wants to speculate on who might be behind the attacks on what remains of the Rizzuto group. But Nicaso doesn't think the violence will end until everyone on one side—and probably that side will be the old Rizzuto group—is dead.
"In the Mafia, retirement is not an option," he says. "If you have to replace the top members of the organization, the only way to do it is to kill all of them." He notes that the Rizzutos took power themselves by murdering the then-leaders of the Montreal Mafia in the late 1970s.
For de Champlain, the war is already over, and the Rizzutos clearly lost.
"We have to refer to the Rizzuto family in the past tense," he said.
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