After years of relative calm, police in Hamilton and across Ontario suddenly have their hands full with brazen attacks on people with connections to organized crime.
Cece Luppino’s shooting death this week marks Hamilton’s third killing in two years where the victim has some link to the mob. All of shootings were similar, with the victim gunned down at home.
Police have said a recent surge of violence in the Toronto and Montreal areas seems to be connected to a power struggle, as different organized crime factions vie for position, and old scores are seemingly settled.
Here’s a look at the incidents experts and investigators believe point to upheaval happening right now in Canada’s criminal underworld.
The death of the ‘Teflon Don’
Though not a violent incident, experts say the death of the former head of the Montreal Mafia Vito Rizzuto seems to have opened the door for the violence being seen in Ontario.
The 67-year-old died back in 2013 after being hospitalized for pulmonary problems — just over a year after his release from an American prison.
In 2007, Rizzuto pleaded guilty in an American court to racketeering charges in exchange for a 10-year sentence in connection with the 1981 murders of three alleged gang leaders at a New York social club.
Rizzuto’s death paved the way for upheaval in the underworld, says Antonio Nicaso, a Mafia expert who teaches courses on organized crime at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
« There’s a power struggle left from the vacuum from Rizzuto, » he explained.
Angelo Musitano gunned down
The ripples of that power struggle first hit Hamilton in 2017, when notorious mobster Angelo Musitano was repeatedly shot outside his suburban home. The Musitano family was aligned with Rizzuto, which offered protection — until his death.
Musitano was gunned down just before the 20-year anniversary of the famous hit on the fearsome Johnny (Pops) Papalia, to which he was forever linked. At the time of Musitano’s death, friends described him as someone who found God and spent time caring for his young family.
But Musitano had also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and once thrived in gangland life. The way he died pointed to Musitano being undone by his past, despite apparent efforts to forge a new future.
Organized crime expert James Dubro, who has written extensively about the Mafia in Ontario, previously told CBC Musitano’s supposed turn to God « doesn’t mean much for gangsters. »
« It’s very hard to break away from that, » he said.
« Found religion? Maybe. But it doesn’t erase the past, if he did. »
Musitano and his brother Pat were charged with first-degree murder in connection with the 1997 shooting of Hamilton crime boss Johnny (Pops) Papalia and one of his lieutenants, Carmen Barillaro.
The brothers reached a deal and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Barillaro. In turn, the charges against them in connection with Papalia’s death were dropped.
A Hamilton man is now facing a murder charge in connection with Musitano’s death. Police have also issued Canada-wide warrants for two more suspects who investigators believe may have fled to Mexico.
Mila Barberi’s death
That same man is also facing a murder charge in connection with the death of Toronto woman Mila Barberi.
Investigators announced in early last year that several characteristics linked the shootings of Barberi in March 2017 and Musitano two months later.
Barberi, 28, was killed while she sat in a BMW SUV parked outside a business in the middle of the afternoon in an industrial area of Vaughan, Ont. She was picking up her boyfriend, Saverio Serrano, 40, who police say has connections to organized crime and may have been the intended target.
Pat Musitano’s home shot up
Just weeks after Angelo Musitano was killed, his brother received a message of his own, when someone fired bullets into his home.
No one was hurt, but detectives said at the time that they believed the home was specifically targeted.
Al Iavarone killed in ‘targeted attack’
Then, last September, 50-year-old Al Iavarone was shot as his home in Ancaster. Police said it was a « targeted attack, » and revealed Iavarone was associated with people involved in organized crime.
Police say Iavarone’s wife and two adult children were at home at the time of the incident. The shooter drove a silver vehicle onto the street, parked it, got out, then hid in the bushes.
When Iavarone got home, the shooter approached him and fired.
Investigators said at the time that Iavarone was a real estate agent and had no criminal record, but added he was known to police.
Mobster’s son shot dead
Which brings us to Luppino’s death. The son of mobster Rocco Luppino was gunned down at a Hamilton home owned by his father on Wednesday, in what police said appears to be yet another « targeted » killing.
The Luppino family was once a powerhouse in organized crime in the region. Court documents filed by the RCMP show the Luppino family is connected to a web of organized crime stretching from Hamilton to Buffalo, N.Y.
The documents, which were filed as part of the drug trafficking case against Domenico Violi and his brother Giuseppe (Joey) Violi, link the two families together. The RCMP also say the Luppino-Violi family is a faction of the Todaro crime family in Buffalo that is run by Joe Todaro, Jr.
Both Rocco Luppino and his brother Natale are « made » members of the Buffalo family who operate in Hamilton, police say.
Giacomo Luppino, Cece’s grandfather, was a heavyweight in organized crime circles in Hamilton several decades ago, said Nicaso.
« He was in charge in Hamilton in the ’60s and ’70s, » Nicaso said. « Giacomo was a very powerful boss. »