Toronto human trafficking arrests shine spotlight on popular classifieds site. Sex worker advocates fear another crackdown

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After a series of human trafficking arrests involving the same online classifieds site, a Toronto sex worker says she worries a crackdown on internet sex ads could make her more vulnerable.

Toronto police have charged eight GTA residents with dozens of charges in four separate cases this year involving the website LeoList.com. In one, police say a 17-year-old schoolgirl was taken to a series of GTA motels by a man with a gun and forced to sell her body to strangers.

The latest bust was announced last week, after police say a man physically assaulted a 28-year-old woman several times, including one attack that left her with broken ribs.

In all four cases, alleged pimps forced women to place sex ads on LeoList.com and took all of their earnings.

In one, an alleged pimp even threatened a sex worker’s pet, police said.

“I can tell you stories that will fill your head,” Perry said.

But the Toronto sex worker, whom the Star is not naming because she fears for her safety, said she worries a sweeping crackdown against human trafficking on the internet could push independent adult sex workers underground.

The 30-year-old sex worker, whose real name is known by the Star, is a member of Butterfly, an Asian and migrant sex workers support network. She said she has been a sex worker in Toronto for two years.

She said sex workers use the internet to vet their potential clients and even ask for references.

“They can screen,” she said. “They can increase their safety.”

Toronto police declined to comment on LeoList.com. The Star attempted to contact the website by email and at a toll-free phone number listed on the site’s contacts page, but received no response.

LeoList.com’s terms of use ask users to immediately report suspected human trafficking to police and say the site will cooperate with law enforcement “to the fullest extent possible.”

There’s a major difference between sex trafficking, in which girls and women are coerced into prostitution, and the sex trade where adult women make independent decisions, said Karen Campbell of the Toronto-based Canadian Women’s Foundation.

The 2018 shutdown of the site Backpage.com, once a popular host for sex workers’ ads, was distressing for many, Campbell said in an interview.

“It pushed a lot of people back onto the streets,” she said.

Cracking down on online sex ads also won’t help undocumented women who are reluctant to go to police, she said.

“If they were to go to police, they would end up detained and deported,” she said.

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Perry said the average Toronto sex worker when he was on the job entered the sex trade at age 14.

There seemed no end to men wanting to prey upon them, Perry said.

“We had a mandate to rescue these kids, get them help and go after the pimps,” Perry said. “Every time we arrested a pimp, there were two or three to take his place.”

Perry said fewer sex workers could be seen on the streets after pagers became popular a few decades ago, a change he said made it tough for police to monitor their safety.

“A lot of the girls that used to work the streets were suddenly carrying pagers,” Perry said. “At least when they were on the street we knew them.”

When sex work was more visible on downtown streets, it was easier for social workers to try to help women and for police to keep an eye on their customers, Perry said.

“They may be in a more vulnerable position now because they have no interaction with police,” Perry said. “Prostitutes don’t generally walk into a police station and report intimidation.”

Some Toronto sex workers were local residents while others came from abroad, smuggled into the city on the hopes of getting a job, Perry said.

There was some organized crime involvement, often connected with bikers and strip clubs, he said.

Perry said he fears pimps now use websites to fly under the police radar and exploit women. Some websites are out of the country, presenting jurisdictional challenges for police.

“We’re almost giving a license for pimps to be anonymous and control women,” Perry said.

LeoList.com, which bills itself as “Canada’s classified site,” automatically redirects to the address leolist.cc — using the internet country code of the Cocos Islands, a tiny Australian territory. The contact page refers to Unicorn House Ltd., a company based in Budapest, Hungary.

To post an ad, users are charged a cost ranging from free to more than €2.50 ($3.75 Canadian) — the site bills in euros — depending on region and category.

As of Wednesday, a personals ad for a female escort in the GTA costs the poster €2.65. That same ad in Hamilton costs €1.79; an ad for a male escort in Ottawa is free.

The personals section contains dozens of recently posted ads for male and female escorts across the GTA. Many of the site’s other classifieds categories — including for vehicles, housing and jobs — appear little used.

The site’s landing page boasts it has more than 150,000 registered users and millions of total ads.

LeoList.com appears to have become more popular since Backpage.com was shut down by the FBI last year; before Backpage.com, classifieds site Craigslist was one of the most popular sites for advertising sexual services.

A study of sex ads on Craigslist released this year by researchers at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, supports the Toronto sex worker’s comments that the internet can make the sex trade safer.

The study suggests that the old Craigslist “erotic services” ads made sex work safer by helping sex workers screen out the most dangerous clients.

The internet allowed women to do background checks of clients, even seeking references, the Baylor team found. It also “may have caused outdoor street-based prostitution to transition to the safer, indoor channel,” researchers found.

Scott Cunningham, one of the study’s authors, said in an interview he suspects LeoList.com is absorbing a market once filled by Backpage.com.

“The market is probably adjusting in Canada,” he said.

Cunningham said he wasn’t surprised the Toronto woman said internet ads make her feel safer and freer of pimps.

“Sex workers have been saying this for years,” he said.

Peter Edwards is a Toronto-based reporter primarily covering crime. Reach him by email at pedwards@thestar.ca

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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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Rain or shine, this year’s Cavalcade of Lights remains radiant

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This year’s Cavalcade of Lights shone at Nathan Phillips Square Saturday night, overcoming the damp conditions to continue a more-than 50-year tradition.

The event, a favourite among Torontonians, dates back to 1967. It kicks off the holiday season with the first lighting of the city’s Official Christmas Tree and lighting display at Nathan Phillips Square. Saturday also marked the opening of the rink outside Toronto City Hall and those at dozens of other across the city. More info on the rinks’ hours and locations can be found on the city’s website.

Emerald Bensadoun is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @twerk_vonnegut

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9th annual Shine the Light on Women Abuse campaign will turn London’s Victoria Park purple – London

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Victoria Park will go purple Thursday night as the London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC) kicks off its shine the light campaign.

The Lighting of the Tree of Hope ceremony gets underway at 5:30 p.m. at Victoria Park.


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According to executive director of LAWC, Megan Walker, 106 women were killed in Canada between January and the end of August, 33 of them by their intimate partners, half of those in their homes.

“We know that all women are potential victims of violence for no other reason than their gender,” Walker said.

“We also know that the most dangerous place for women is in their own homes,” said Walker.

Walker said the organization wants women to know they are not alone.

“In fact, they have a community, an entire community behind them that stands with them and asks them to reach out for support and does what they can to ensure they receive that support,” she said.


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A big part of the campaign is a push to wear purple in support of victims.

“On the 15th of November we ask everybody to wear purple,” said Walker.

“It’s a real, significant sign of support for women and girls at universities, walking down the street, and in your workplaces to see everybody wearing purple,” she said.

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This year’s campaign honours Maddison Fraser, a woman who was involved in the sex trade and died in the crash of a car that was driven by a sex purchaser.

It also honours Shainee Chalk, a Woodstock woman who is a victim of revenge porn.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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