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Major players in alleged Italian crime family taken down in massive bust in Ontario (Canada)
Andrew Russell, Gabby Rodrigues and Stewart Bell Global News
York Regional Police have revealed details on the massive bust of an alleged traditional organized crime network, known as the Figliomeni Crime Family, that netted more than $35 million in assets and led to the arrests of 27 individuals, including nine top members of the group.
The arrests were part of a joint investigation dubbed Project Sindacato that was the “largest organized crime operation” in the history of the York Regional Police, Chief Eric Jolliffe said during a Thursday press conference.
The Figliomeni Crime Family had allegedly been operating for more than three decades in Italy, Vaughan and across the Greater Toronto Area, laundering millions of dollars, police said. The crime family is alleged to be linked to the notorious ‘Ndrangheta crime group based in Calabria, Italy, according to detectives.
“We needed to focus on taking down criminal organization by attacking the finances, the laundering of dirty money and large profits from proceeds of crime that have built these organizations over decades and allowed them to thrive,” Jolliffe said.
Jolliffe said York police had detected a spike in violent crime targeting both people and property in 2017 and that the violence, which included murder, drive-by shootings and arsons, was associated with traditional organized crime.
According to investigators, the group’s illegal profits largely came from 11 cafés, where members allegedly operated gaming machines and provided loans to gamblers at “astronomically” high interest rates.
“People caught in this cycle were gambling away their life savings,” Det. Sgt. Carl Mattinen with the traditional organized crime task force told reporters. “Members of this criminal organization used intimidation and violence, including shootings, arsons and other threats of harm to collect their outstanding debts.”
The investigation collected evidence from more than a year’s worth of wiretaps, and earlier this month, hundreds of officers from eight different police services carried out 48 search warrants at cafés, businesses and residences across Vaughan and the GTA.
Mattinen said the group allegedly used casinos across the province to launder more than $70 million in dirty money in just a few short years.
“This allowed for large quantities of money to be gambled, where there would be minimal losses incurred,” he said. “It was not uncommon for our surveillance officers to see $30-50,000 gambled at a casino.”
Dozens of investigators from the Canada Revenue Agency and Fintrac helped uncover some 400 to 500 bank accounts tied to the group’s criminal activity, which were in the process of being de-listed, police said.
WATCH: Mafia used Ontario casinos to launder money, police say
Fifteen arrests were made, including the major players of the alleged crime group and its alleged boss, Angelo Figliomeni.
Among those arrested was Salvatore Oliveti the organizer of an annual motorcycle ride that has raised more than $800,000 for Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.
Oliveti, chair of Rev It Up For SickKids, faces money-laundering and other charges. Another of those charged, Erica Quintal, is listed a member of the Rev It Up sponsorship committee.
In addition to money-laundering, Oliveti, 54, is charged with committing an offence for a criminal organization and possession of the proceeds of crime, as well as careless storage of a firearm.
Quintal, 30, was charged with money-laundering, fraud and committing an offence for a criminal organization as well as drug conspiracy and use or possession of a forged document.
Oliveti’s auto loan company, Option B Solutions, shares an address in Vaughn, Ont. with Rev It Up for SickKids, which fundraises for the hospital but is not a government-registered charity.
“We will work in full cooperation with the York Regional Police as required and determine appropriate next steps with them,” said Ted Garrard, the SickKids Foundation CEO.
Nadia Cerelli-Fiore, the Rev It Up media relations director, said the non-profit was “in no way connected” to the police investigation.
“I don’t have any further details at this point.”
The Rev It Up website said its goal was to raise $1-million for the hospital’s heart centre. Its latest ride was on July 7. Police began executing search warrants as part of Project Sindacato on July 12. Oliveti is described on the group’s website as a former radio and television personality and telethon volunteer who “combines his passion for motorcycles with his commitment to make a difference.”
WATCH: $35 million seized in massive organized crime bust in Ontario history
Investigators also worked with the Italian State Police, and on Thursday, warrants were executed in Calabria, Italy, where at least 12 people were arrested.
Italian State Police Director Fausto Lamparelli said the arrests in Calabria included individuals wanted for homicide. He said that some of those accused in the GTA are alleged to be members of ‘Ndrangheta.
“Last night in Italy, the operation arrested 12 dangerous offenders,”Lamparelli said through a translator. “They are closely associated to the Canadian branch of the operation.”
Police seized 27 homes, worth approximately $24 million. Twenty-three high-end cars were also seized, including five Ferraris — one worth $880,000 — and more than $35 million in other assets.
Police also seized gaming machines, approximately $1 million in cash and $1 million in jewelry, including Rolex watches.
“It has benefited for generations of crime to live a glamorous, indulgent lifestyle at the expense of law-abiding citizens,” Jolliffe said.
“They have legitimized themselves by funnelling illegal profits through business, including financial institutions, car dealerships, finance companies and even charities.”
Those arrested face a litany of charges, including money laundering, tax evasion, various firearm offences and participation in a criminal organization, among others.