Mafia Similarities and Links Between East and West

Another similarity between East and West when it comes to the Mafias is the desire for secrecy. This includes general avoidance of media exposure. Recently, we have the case of the disappearance of journalist Honhadze in Ukraine, purportedly linked to his coverage of some mafia oligarchs. Though less common, occasionally, attempts are made to silence reporters in the West as well. Such is the case with the attempted murder of crime reporter Michel Augur last month on 13Sep00 in the parking lot of Le Journal de Montreal.  As they say, "The dead don't talk." For thirty years, Auger has covered practically every killing, major robbery and drug seizure in Montreal, including the Mafia, the Anglophone West End gang, the French east-enders or the bikers, etc. 

Police forces say that the newest major axis for organized crime is the Russian-Italian-Asian-Colombian. In Europe, the front-line battlefield is against the encroachment of the Russian Mafia working with the traditional mafia groups. Money laundering is the biggest ongoing crime, second only to drug trafficking.  The threat has also reached North America. Small banks and financial companies are set up as intermediaries in the West to assist the Russian Mafia (when Wall Street institutions like the Bank of New York won't do).

For example, one probe called Operation Europa 1 uncovered a plan by the Calabrian Mafia to buy heavily into the former USSR. As one gangster said, we use guns in the underworld, and lawyers in the overworld (gives a new wrinkle to Harold Ickes). Laundered drug money was used for the investments. The interface between the underworld and overworld needs faccendiere to provide a clean face. One such face was Salvatore Filippone. Although unemployed, Filippone had a multi-million dollar seaside villa, a Maserati, a Mercedes, and a Ferrari. He once spent $8,000 on a shopping spree for shoes (though Imelda Marcos no doubt still has the record). Telephone taps revealed conversations with associates of the Russian Minister of Defense and Swiss businessmen. In the early 1990s, the investigation revealed that Filippone was a front man for numerous crime groups trying to buy $2 billion worth of rubles through a German bank for investments in banks, a steel mill, and a petroleum refinery in St. Petersburg.

In "Global Mafia" authors Antonio Nicaso and Lee Lamothe write that:

"In Toronto, Soviet gangs practiced organized extortion, gambling, loan-sharking, and drug trafficking, much of it in conjunction with the Paul Volpe group of the Buffalo La Cosa Nostra crime family. During the 1970s and 1980s, various police investigations turned up Soviets, many of whom said they were Jews who had immigrated from Israel. The men were treated as run-of-the-mill bandits and the cases never got beyond he basic investigations. In retrospect, police believe the Russian mob was behind many of the crimes. The same held true in New York City, where Russian gangs conducted ongoing crimes within the ethnic community, and expanded beyond its borders into partnerships with the New York La Cosa Nostra to whom they paid 'an operating tax.' "

Ties between the Russian Mafia and the Italian Mafia and biker gangs are getting stronger all the time.  The latter have growing for decades perfecting their operations and political contacts. They have outpaced the police forces which now don't even have the resources to pursue all known cases. For example, in one police operation called Project CCC (for Contact, Compote, and Creditor), the RCMP set up an upscale money exchange as a storefront on the corner of Peel St and de Maisonneuve Blvd in downtown Montreal called The Centre International Monetaire de Montreal. Cash came from the mob, bikers and Colombian dealers in sports bags, plastic bags, shopping bags, etc. totalling more than $165 million and representing $2 billion worth of cocaine on Montreal streets between 1990 and 1994. It came from 25 criminal organizations. But only 2 of the 25 were investigated because according to an Ottawa Citizen investigation the undercover unit had neither enough manpower nor the financial and technical resources needed to properly investigate more.

"Without the necessary resources, it seems our undercover agents are simply offering a money-laundering service for drug traffickers," said RCMP Const. Mike Cowley

Meanwhile, a biker war in Montreal has cost 150 lives in the past 6 years. And yet, last month Prime Minister Chretien rejected "rejected calls yesterday that Ottawa clamp down immediately on organized crime and biker gangs in Quebec by pointing the finger back at the provincial government" (Montreal Gazette; "PM rejects call for quick action on gangs"; 19Sep00). And Justice Minister McLellan is no better.  Although McLellan said combatting organized crime has been a priority for the Liberals since they took power in 1993, she is still "studying" a 30-year-old U.S. RICO law. The do-nothing-on-organized-crime government sounds more and more like the ones in Ukraine and Russia (which have a much weaker rule of law). Makes one wonder more and more about the ties between the Liberals and the mafia.  Not that they are new.

Before the Russian Mafia contributions to Liberal cabinet ministers in the 1990s, one had all sorts of connections between the mob and politicians and patronage at every government level. Authors Bill Freeman and Marshal Hewitt give examples in the city of Hamilton in their book, "Their Town: The Mafia, The Media and the Party Machine." They cite the example of Liberal cabinet minister John Munro resigning because of an inappropriate telephone call to a judge in the midst of court proceedings. Munro was also linked to organized crime in the Hamilton Harbour scandal. The authors cite the cases of mobsters Rocco Perri and Bessie Starkman, Max Bluestein,  Stefano Maggadino, Vic Cotroni, Vincent Mauro, Johnny "The Enforcer" Papalia, etc. [for more information on Johnny "The Enforcer" Papalia see:].  The authors write:

"The second incident of major importance for the future of the Hamilton Mob was a meeting held in Acapulco, Mexico on February 24, 1970 to discuss the laundering of money. This meeting of several American and Canadian Mafia families was organized by Meyer Lansky, the legendary Mafia financial wizard, and Benjamin Kaufman of Montreal. The Hamilton participants included Rocco Papalia, Red LeBarrie, Richard Perrin, Dominic Ciarillo, Jack Donnelly and Jack Pettigrew. As a result of the agreements reached at these talks, Hamilton became one of the major centres for the investment of money gained through organized crime across North America, and the Hamilton Mafia became important in the laundering of money gained by illegal means."

The Acapulco meeting reminds one of the 1995 Tel Aviv summit meeting of the Russian Mafia deciding on how to divide Ukraine among the mafia families. It demonstrates how international organized crime was even before "globalization" and what a challenge it is for police forces which are not integrated internationally. That the breakup of the USSR provided global opportunities for the Russian Mafia was confirmed at the November 1994 UN conference on organized crime by the Israeli delegates. Furthermore, Moshe Shakhal, the Israeli minister for public order, said mobsters from Russia and Ukraine have been holding high-level meetings at a beachfront hotel in Tel Aviv. He told the Yediot Aharonut newspaper that Israel is a major cener for the Russian Mafia because they are able to link up with other criminals from the USSR who now run local organized crime gangs.

The case of Bessie Starkman is interesting too. She is a key figure in the book "King Of The Mob: Rocco Perri and the Women Who Ran His Rackets" by authors James Dubro and Robin F. Rowland. It dispels the myth that women are excluded from the higher levels of the mafia. Writing about Rocci Perri, they say:

"Equally remarkable were his two common-law wives. The first, Bessie Starkman, ran Rocco's gang and finances with an iron hand, single-handedly expanding their operation into international cocaine, heroin and morphine trafficking. By the mid 1920s, Bessie and Rocco were celebraties, granting interviews and holding court at their sumptuous home in Hamilton. When Bessie was savagely gunned down in 1930, thousands attended her lavish funeral. In the thirties, Rocco teamed up with the tough and resourceful Annie Newman. Together they organized a Prohibition-in-reverse racket that smuggled bootleg booze from Chicago to Canada. Later, in the forties, Annie expanded and master-minded an international high-grading and gold smuggling organization."

Once again ethnicity was not a factor. Rocco was Italian while Starkman and Newman were Jewish. (An arrangement like Frank Sinatra and Barbara Marx). Again it shows that the so-called Russian Mafia is not necessarily breaking new ground. In the Russian Mafia there are Russians, Jews, Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians, etc. In North America, during the 20th century, the two dominant ethnic groups in organized crime were Jews and Italians who cooperated on many fronts thanks to Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano.

Even Ernest Hemingway, in 1923 a reporter for the Toronto Star,  took an interest in the Perris' betting system set up in southern Ontario. He estimated that at least 10,000 people patronized the bookmakers in Toronto alone, playing about $100,000 a day. "In one aspect of his story, Hemingway was wrong. He reported that the days of the giant bet, of thousands of dollars dropped at a track, had ended with Ontario's 10.5 percent tax at the track and the pari-mutuel machines. What he didn't know was that in New York, Arnold Rothstein was systematizing the lay off system across North America, that along with Prohibition, the mob was organizing the continent for bettors."

Ties between the mob and politicians is not limited to only one party e.g. the Liberals. Yesterday's Montreal Gazette article "Latest hit in gangster chronicles" (27Oct00) gives the example of Mafia hit man Real Simard. He was not only the chauffeur/political assistant to Parti Quebecois MNA Richard Holden, but at other times was the campaign manager for Kim Beaudoin, a Bloc Quebecois candidate in Verdun in the 1993 federal election, and a killer for Frank Cotroni, a major crime figure (Montreal Gazette; "Ex-hit man is hard on police treatment"; 26Oct00). Earlier, there was the example of Sam Bronfman contributing more than a million dollars and splitting it 60/40 between the Liberals and Conservatives. Splitting support was also common in the Russian elections, when many of different political stripes joined together to support Putin.

In Montreal, like in New York City, major construction projects are great opportunities for the mob through their labour union control. The prime example in Montreal, is the "Big O" built for the 1976 Olympics with cost overruns and leaving the city of Montreal with $1 billion in debt. The Quebec Federation of Labour construction boss, was notorious for his mob connections.

As recently as last month, the new head of the RCMP, Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, said that: "Organized crime mobs are targeting Parliament and other Canadian institutions in an attempt to spread corruption and political instability." That is similar to Russia/Ukraine who have a huge head start in success. One difference, though, between Canada and Russia/Ukraine, is that Russia/Ukraine provide immunity to their deputies for all crimes. Thus, deputies can kill and steal with impunity. That's even better than James Bond's license to kill (only).

Stefan Lemieszewski