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Exploring the killings that shine light on Canada’s underworld power struggle

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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.

Vito Rizzuto was the most powerful mob boss in Canada before his death in December 2013. (CBC)

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. »

Angelo Musitano (right) and Pat Musitano leaving Provincial Court for lunch in 1998. (Hamilton Spectator)

« 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.

Jabril Hassan has been arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Angelo Musitano and Mila Barberi. Michael Cudmore and Daniel Tomasetti are wanted on the same charges, but police believe they’ve fled to Mexico. (Hamilton Police Service)

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.

Bullet holes could be seen in one of the front windows of Pat Musitano’s home. (Adam Carter/CBC)

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. 

Al Iavarone worked out of Royal LePage’s Hamilton office for 10 years. (RoyalLePage)

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.

Police say Luppino was 43-years-old. (Facebook)

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. »

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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