Federal police officers in Canada and the U.S. announced on Thursday arrests of organized crime associates on both sides of the border as part of a years-long investigation into mass drug trafficking and money laundering operations. Officers boasted the latest bust was possible after police “directly infiltrated the highest level of traditional organized crime.”
Around 150 police officers with “Project OTremens” carried out morning raids across Canada this week that resulted in nine arrests and 75 charges. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) seized 6 kilograms of fentanyl and 1 kilogram of the even deadlier carfentanil, along with large quantities of heroin, meth, MDMA. Officers also seized more than three million contraband cigarettes.
Officers with the FBI in New York conducted their own parallel but separate investigation into La Cosa Nostra in the city, focusing on the Gambino and Bonnano families, U.S. authorities said in a press release. Several members and associates of the mafia organizations were indicted for cocaine trafficking, loansharking, and money laundering.
The defendants include Damiano Zummo, an “acting captain in the Bonanno crime family,” and Salvatore Russo, a fellow associate, according to the statement from the U.S. Department of Justice. If convicted, Zummo and Russo could face a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence and up to life in prison.
According to court documents filed in New York, one of the defendants sponsored an undercover police informant to become a “full-fledged member of the Bonanno crime family” and subsequently provided law enforcement with secret video footage of an induction ceremony into the family, which police say occurred in Canada.
The mobsters had no idea that the informant was recruited to work with law police in the U.S. and Canada and would be instrumental in their takedown.
The FBI estimates the there are more than 3,000 mafia members and affiliates operating in the U.S. — with an estimated 25,000 globally — and describes their activities as the “most notorious and widespread of all criminal societies.”
Those arrested in Canada by the RCMP include Domenico Violi, a son of Montreal mafia don Paolo Violi, while an arrest warrant has been issued for his brother, Giuseppe. There are a number of other Canada-wide arrest warrants out for individuals facing other drugs, weapons, and organized crime charges.
The elder Violi was killed in Montreal in 1978 by associates linked to the rival Rizzuto family. Vito Rizzuto, revered as Canada’s top mobster, died of “natural causes” in December of 2013. He was linked to a range of criminal activities including international construction fraud, drug trafficking, extortion and stock manipulation. His death has left a power void in the Ontario organized crime scene leading to what some are calling a “mob war”.
This summer has been particularly violent with a string of unsolved fires and explosions at homes and businesses north of Toronto.
Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil have increasingly contaminated illicit drug supplies in Canada and the U.S. in recent years, leading to an unprecedented spike in overdose deaths. More than 20,000 people in the U.S. died of overdoses linked to synthetic opioids in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control, while the drugs are expected to kill around 3,000 people in Canada by the end of this year.
“Those who traffic in illicit drugs and participate in other organized crime activities destroy lives and impact the safety and security of our communities, and we will continue to work to eradicate those dangers.” said RCMP Chief Superintendent Michael LeSage said in a statement.