OTTAWA/ROME (Reuters) - Canadian police on Thursday said they had arrested nine suspected members of a powerful Mafia clan with roots in southern Italy involved in money laundering and illegal gambling in the Toronto area, seizing C$35 million ($26.8 million) in assets, including five Ferraris.
Over three days, police raided 48 cafes, businesses and residences connected to the group, nabbing the alleged boss, Angelo Figliomeni, and eight other suspects on a raft of accusations, including money laundering, defrauding the government and participating in an organized crime group.
Canadian police are still trying to track down one other man on related illegal gambling and drugs charges.
In Italy, home of the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta Mafia, police arrested 12 people and sought two others in a parallel investigation for Mafia association, illegal weapons possession, fraudulent asset transfers and other crimes.
“The ‘Ndrangheta is a very dangerous criminal organization,” said Fausto Lamparelli, an Italian Mafia investigator who joined Canadian police at a press conference near Toronto. “Criminal organizations recognize no borders.”
Figliomeni, alias the “brigante” or the “bandit,” has been sought in Italy for almost a decade and is appealing a 20-year jail sentence there. Because he is a Canadian citizen and the crime of Mafia association does not exist in Canada, he could not be extradited and was living comfortably in Vaughan, a suburb of Toronto.
In Canada, he developed a massive money laundering operation, according to York police Detective Sergeant Carl Mattinen, who helped spearhead the investigation. Money was laundered through legal casinos in Canada, Mattinen added, saying Figliomeni’s organization had “cleaned an excess of C$70 million in only a few short years.”
The so-called “Figliomeni Group” also ran illegal gambling dens out of cafes, 11 of which were seized by police. Police seized 27 homes and 23 luxury vehicles, including one Ferrari valued at C$880,000.
A car-loan business was also used to launder money, police said.
Though little known in Canada, the ‘Ndrangheta is a pervasive presence in the southern Italian region of Calabria - located on the toe of the boot - and today it has surpassed Sicily’s Cosa Nostra to become the most powerful organized crime group on the peninsula.
Italian investigators say the ‘Ndrangheta, which is made of dozens of smaller clans that all answer nominally to a group of senior leaders in Calabria, makes millions of euros a year as Europe’s top cocaine broker. But Calabria remains Italy’s poorest and most underdeveloped region.
Strict anti-Mafia legislation makes it easy for authorities to seize mob-connected assets in Italy, which means the group often invests its criminal proceeds abroad.
Mattinen said a conscious effort had been made to go after the leaders of the clan and their assets instead of the people working for them.
“They’re a very powerful and violent group, so the way we approached the investigation was to go for the foundation which allows them to exist, not the individual crimes,” Mattinen said.
“Forensic accounting is not afraid, math is not afraid, documentary evidence is not afraid ... We can tender that in court with no worry of recant due to fear from the community and the ‘Ndrangheta,” he added.
The Canadian investigation is ongoing, Mattinen added.
“It’s safe to say that with almost one year of wiretapping, we have a lot of information to go through.”
Reporting by Steve Scherer and Angelo Amante, writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Tom Brown