The vibe at Montreal’s Windsor Ballrooms was somewhere between glitzy film premiere and rowdy biker party on Saturday evening.
Adjacent Peel Street was lined with a small group of journalists and unmarked police vans with cameras peering out the windows, eager to document the presence of what local media was calling “the cream of organized crime” in Quebec.
The swanky mixing of bikers and mafiosos took place in Montreal, harkening back to the golden days of organized crime this weekend. The recently wedded power couple were Martin Robert, 44, a full-patch Hells Angels who was once on Quebec’s 10 most-wanted list and Annie Arbic, 32, the daughter of one of Quebec’s most notorious drug traffickers—she’s in the family business herself.
The arrival of the bride and groom was preceded by a procession of buses filled with guests including known Hells Angels members François Vachon and Stéphane Plouffe. Antonio Pietrantonio and Giuseppe Focarazzo, both linked to Montreal’s Mafia, were both present, suggesting a continued partnership between Quebec’s juggernaut crime organizations. Unsurprisingly, this was an event watched not just by curious passer-byers and cold journalists, but by cops and intelligence officers attempting to learn all they could from the event.
As each bus pulled up, photojournalists and police across the street would position themselves to take pictures of guests, presumably to draw inferences about the criminal network before them and eventually post them upon cork boards. At one point, a smaller bus pulled up as photographers and police anticipated the exit of notorious criminals, only to erupt in laughter when a group of bewildered Chinese tourists unwittingly poured onto the sidewalk and into the spotlight of the underworld wedding of the year.
Other guests, including Salvatore Cazzetta, reputed to be the current leader of the Hells Angels in Quebec, arrived in stretch limousines. The bridal party descended from their stretch limo wearing ornate gowns and black leather jackets with “Ride or Die” written on the back. Some guests covered their faces while others jokingly posed for cameras. For the couple, well, it seems they are the physical embodiment of the concept of “ride or die”.
Arbic’s mother Sharon Simon was dubbed the Queen of Kanesatake after her and Arbic were busted for running a major drug smuggling operation. Simon was said to be the leader of one of the largest rings smuggling Quebec weed into the United States—her daughter was a part of the operation. Simon was sent to the hoosegow for 50 months in 2007 after being found guilty of several charges related to the ring. Arbic, for her dealings with her mother's operations, was sentenced to 28 months in 2008.
There were approximately 300 attendees of the wedding to celebrate the marriage between the biker and the drug dealer’s daughter. A hefty portion of those there were either connected to the outlaw biker club or the Rizzuto clan of the Montreal Mafia.
Robert has been a member of the Hells Angels since the 90s. His latest convictions and arrests stem from being arrested as a part of Operation SharQc in connection to the bloody turf war the Quebec Hells Angels waged against rival biker gangs in the province as part. For those unfamiliar with the matter, SharQc saw almost every member of the Hells Angels in Quebec get arrested and charged in connection to the war over Quebec’s prime drug dealing real estate that is said to have claimed over 160 lives. But the SharQc mega-trial eventually became so bloated that it lead to a stay of proceedings and the eventual release of many of the Hells Angels who were accused, leading to a major shift in Quebec’s criminal landscape.
Throughout all this turmoil the lovebirds stuck it out. The relationship between Arbic and Roberts is a long one, going back to before either were charged—the Gazette reported in 2010 that the couple had been together since 2006. Not jail time, nor going on the run, nor, what seems to be, a myriad of criminal activity could break apart this couple. Hell, Arbic was denied parole twice because she refused to dump Robert who was facing murder and drug dealing charges at the time, even writing love letters to him from prison, it was reported.
When Arbic and Robert finally did arrive at their wedding, they did so in style, pulling up in the back seat of a baby blue early-70s Cadillac Eldorado, top down and beer cans in tow. As a valet approached the car to open the passenger-side door for Mrs. Martin Robert, the driver of the Cadillac shouted loudly but playfully, “What do you think you’re doing?” insisting on opening her door himself. Again, laughter erupted among the small crowd of journalists and police, relieved that the power couple had finally arrived after nearly three hours of waiting in the cold.
Arbic promptly beelined it for inside of the Windsor, bouquet in hand, as a visibly irritated Robert followed behind her. On the back of their Cadillac was a handwritten sign saying, somewhat cryptically, “Going to get married again!”
Much like the funeral for full patch member Kenny Bédard in Montreal two years ago, there was an unmistakable PR tinge to the wedding. Back then, many Hells Angels were being released from prison because of the botched prosecution surrounding Opération SharQc and the Hells did not miss the opportunity to flaunt their patches. The presence of hundreds of patch-clad members from across North America was widely interpreted as a show of force by police and organized crime experts.
The same could be said about this downtown wedding, according to André Cédilot, a journalist who’s been covering organized crime in Quebec for four decades.
“It’s clearly an arrogant move, but that’s their trademark,” Cédilot told VICE. “Nobody is surprised by this. Historically, after each big police operation targeting the Hells Angels or when members get out of prison, they always have some kind of show of force. Intimidation is the trademark of the Hells Angels.”
As for the presence of high-ranking Mafia members at the wedding, a lot of inferences can be drawn, both historical and current. “The Mafia and the Hells Angels have always been close in Quebec. The Mafia in the 80s, used the Hells as a sub-organization, but as they re-structured and became more businesslike and powerful in the drug trade, the Mafia had to reckon with the Hells Angels.”
That golden era of organized crime, during Vito Rizzuto’s heyday, was defined by a consortium between the Hells Angels, the Irish West End Gang, South American drug cartels, and the Sicilian Mafia at the helm. Those days are long gone.
“The Hells Angels right now, in terms of crime and drug trafficking, have a much bigger influence than the Mafia, because of the lack of leadership in the Mafia,” says Cédilot, pointing to the rash of arrests, trials, and murders plaguing Montreal’s Mafia for the last decade. “There is a lot of paranoia between members of the Mafia right now.”
At the wedding, the paranoia didn’t translate into real-world violence this time but that can’t be said about the bikers and the cops at the wedding though. One Hells Angels member, who goes by the nickname “Race,” was tasered by members of Montreal’s anti-organized crime Eclipse squad after drunkenly insulting them and then charging them, according to the Journal de Montréal.
Every wedding has that one guest.
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