Saw this on a website about the history of Montreal and the five families and thought it was interesting:
Much of what is known about organized crime is a mixture of supposition or educated guess work; the suspected causes of actions and loyalties derived from conclusions that are often based on a lonely piece of evidence, be it a single publicized news story, rumour or quote that has managed to retain resonance. At times, such information is based on the words of a cooperating witness, which often presents the most reliable method for obtaining any kernels of truth regarding the actions and history of organized criminal groups. Paradoxically, the word of people who have betrayed their compatriots or the values of their sub-culture often become the most trusted sources for glimpses into a caliginous world, one deliberately kept dark and opaque. The consequence of such a reality is that the incidents crime historians and enthusiasts are able to recount or use in their analysis may not be the most significant or even relevant when attempting to accurately understand the actions of individual gangsters or their organizations. Perhaps all that are available for the analyst or author are apocryphal outliers and lies that intertwine between shady characters and villains, tantalizing those who seek to know more.
Compounding the prevalent issue of source credibility is the sometimes mystifying factor of time. Stories and memories tend to dim after moments pass, recollections altering naturally as the thoughts and dreams of the memory-holder evolve with the experiences of their lifetime; such is the reality with all human experience – a truism that is magnified exponentially when the events being remembered exist as wisps of rumours, as they do with the histories of criminals. The story being discussed today, unfortunately, is one that suffers from both the ravages of time and potential inaccuracy in the sources. It is also a story that, regardless of the subtle ins-and-outs, continues to influence the lives of citizens in Canada, Italy, the United States, and beyond, and that has done so for over 80 years. The actions of its characters and their ripple effects creating legacies of criminality, avarice, drug abuse and pain that continue to this day in cities along the north-eastern seaboard of North America.
In this article, PanAmerican Crime will investigate Montreal’s history as a crime nexus for North America and attempt to reveal how it became associated with traditional organized crime syndicates in New York City, developing into the primary source for illegal narcotics on the continent until the rise of Mexican and South American cartels during the latter decades of the twentieth-century. Specifically, today’s tale encompasses the takeover of the Montreal rackets by the New York City-based Bonanno Crime Family over the course of 1953-54 as well as the contacts it established and the networks it operated. During this relatively quick period of time Carmine “Lilo” Galante, the treacherous and notoriously lethal underboss of the Bonanno’s, moved to Montreal at the behest of his boss, Joe Bonanno, consolidating the rackets in the City and, more importantly, streamlining the transportation of drugs in and out of the City’s deep-water port. Once the product – Heroin – had arrived in the City, Galante ensured it travelled either south to his various connections in the crime families of New York City or west to the busy border crossings near Buffalo, New York or further to Windsor, Canada and on to the Detroit borgata (crime family). Other gangsters located in Montreal would make certain that Canadian communities were also included as shipping destinations for the lucrative but deadly product. This process ensured Montreal became the pivoting point for the much-publicized French Connection: a network which brought poppies from Turkey, refined them into opium or morphine base in Lebanon and then transported it through Sicily to the port of Marseille where clandestine laboratories would further refine the product into high-grade heroin for shipment to Montreal and, finally, New York City, Buffalo or Detroit.
Montreal is old, corrupt and filled unreservedly a splendid elan and a zest for life. It is also a city with a deep-water port that can welcome large transport ships, allowing for greater smuggling opportunities within easy driving distance of population centres in central Canada as well as the large cities of the American northeast. Because of its earned reputation for venality, Montreal’s port quickly became a gateway for all manner of illicit merchandise flowing into the continent. Such an opportunity for smuggling was not lost upon the initial gangsters that plagued Montreal’s streets, alleys and wharves. Beginning in the early 20th Century, the City’s reputation for a fun-loving yet discretionary attitude when it came to authority and its previously discussed geographic features drew established criminals from across the continent who sought to take advantage of its topography, loose morals and incredible societal brio.
By the 1930s, established bookies – those who specialize in operating illegal betting rings – from other regions began establishing operations in Montreal. Departing the cities of the American northeast following the abrogation of prohibition and seeking an environment of accepted vice similar to what prohibition had previously created, these career criminals bought property in the City and immediately erected wire rooms directly connected to betting parlours and bet takers across the continent. Known bookies from Cleveland, Cincinnati, New York City and Chicago set up shop throughout the City. However, they often did not come alone or without “protection” acquired from their period of operation south of the border.
It is during this pre-war era that accounts first surface of a young Carlo Gambino arriving in Montreal, it can only be assumed to oversee the Mangano (later Gambino) Crime Family’s share of the illegal betting and any other rackets that this Family had influence over. The other New York crime families, all of which were formally established in 1931 following the Castellammarese War, undoubtedly sent operatives to ensure their shares of the proceeds were collected as well. It is unclear what degree of amiability their relationship with the local gangster element enjoyed, but by the 1940s gangsters of Italian heritage had begun to rise to prominence on La Ile de Montreal, introducing new levels of organization to local criminal undertakings. It was also during this period that trafficking in heroin began to develop as a major money-making activity for North American gangsters, and it can be safely assumed that the New York families soon began to absorb this enterprise into the orbit of their own operations to some degree or another.
In 1944, local Montreal mob power Vincenzo (Vic the Egg) Cotroni and his long-time friend and business partner, Armand Courville, opened the doors of their latest club in Montreal called the Faisan Doré. Also partnering in this operation were two brothers from Marseille, France by the names of Edmond and Marius Martin, and their enterprise was reportedly the trafficking of heroin. It is here, with the opening of the Faisan Doré that the seeds of the French Connection trafficking ring were likely born (or merely the first recognized instance of this network that the general public will ever be aware of). Corsican and French gangsters from Marseille enjoyed the Montreal nightlife, but there was also a pragmatic element to their relationship-building as they required the locally-based bi or trilingual gangsters to help facilitate the introduction of their wares into the burgeoning Anglophone market of New York City. Men like Vic the Egg could speak fluent French, as well as Italian and English, providing a perfect conduit for men from Europe and America to do business; and what better setting than dingy, corrupt and vibrant Montreal to accomplish such business.
The business of drug trafficking would come to define the Montreal borgata. The revenue it would bring in would help draw together local gangsters originating from different areas of Italy and ensure its prominence among the established mob families of the east coast as well as its pre-eminent position in the Canadian underworld. During this period, the groups that would come to comprise the Montreal crime family had their hands in a wide variety of graft and illicit enterprises, including but not limited to: labour union control and extortion; gambling; prostitution; loan-sharking; fraud; as well as good old fashioned stealing in any capacity. By the 1950s the role of heroin in the underworld continued to grow in prominence, not simply in terms of popularity for the suffering addict but also (apart from labour racketeering) as the dominant money-maker for many organized criminal groups. This developing reality, coupled with Montreal’s geographic and social realities discussed above, caused significant criminal interests in New York City to begin plotting to dominate the City’s rackets and drug trade. Given the Bonanno Family’s longstanding interest in the heroin market, (see here for more information on the Families of New York and their history) it came as no surprise that this group became extremely concerned with the trafficking of the product into and out of Montreal.
Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Bonanno began his career in New York City as a racketeer within the Castellammare del Golfo clan. In the aftermath of the Castellammarese conflict Bonanno would become the country’s youngest godfather of the eponymously named Family and would subsequently inculcate within his borgata a specific appreciation for the profits derived from the trafficking of narcotics. He is thought to have once said to his protégé and underboss, the Machiavellian and dangerous Carmine Galante, that the shortest route to riches and power in the underworld was through the sale of heroin. This knowledge and obsession would drive Galante all the years of his life and eventually lead to his murder at the hands of rival Bonanno Family heroin dealers in 1979. But, before Galante became one of the paramount scourges of the American underworld he began as yet another button man for the heroin dealers operating in the impoverished Lower East Side of Manhattan, supposedly including the famous and deadly Vito Genovese.
By the end of the 1940s Galante had reportedly reached the position of underboss within the Bonanno Family and was wielding considerable influence within his own borgata and beyond. It was during this period that Bonanno began to expand his crime family outside of the borders of the New York area and started to look for other locales in which to plant his Family’s flag. Montreal, for all of the reasons identified earlier, soon became a target of his expansionism. Galante would be sent to Montreal in 1953, and by 1954 he would be deported at the behest of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; yet, by the end of this one year or so, Galante would completely alter the criminal landscape in Montreal.
Galante’s first move was to align himself with the pre-eminent Italian criminals in the City and bring them under his control. By all accounts he accomplished this plan swiftly and efficiently. Due to Vic Cotroni’s established role as a drug trafficker and racketeer with international connections he soon became one of Galante’s right-hand-men. Whether or not Cotroni was actually given an option to join the Bonanno borgata has never been recorded, but it is likely he was smart enough to see the writing on the wall. Galante would formally initiate Cotroni into the Bonanno Family, as well as his brothers Francesco “Frank” Cotroni and Giuseppe “Pep” Cotroni. Luigi Greco, another prominent Montreal criminal, would be initiated and become Galante’s formal underboss in the Bonanno’s Montreal decina (crew), before Vic the Egg would take it over upon Galante’s deportation. The promotion of Cotroni would establish him, in effect, as the recognized boss of Montreal under the aegis of the Bonanno Family. Cotroni and Galante would also become fast friends, with both standing as godfather for one of each other’s children.
After establishing connections within the local underworld, Galante moved to take over and organize the various rackets in Montreal. One the most important achievements in this regard was his dominance of Local 382 of the Hotel, Restaurant and Club Employees Union, which gave him and his organization unprecedented control over the bars and clubs in the City, which provided innumerable spots for vice and the sale of other illicit wares. But, apart from the prostitution and labour rackets, Galante never lost sight of the purpose of his time in the City – to organize and streamline the transhipment of heroin throughout the continent under the banner of the Bonanno Family. One of Galante’s Bonanno-initiated Montreal subordinates, Frank Petrula, had initially been purchasing Mexican brown heroin from Joseph Bari of the 107th Street Mob, which had, by this time, become a major crew in New York’s Lucchese Crime Family – a family with a history of drug trafficking perhaps longer and more storied than the Bonannos. Seeking to break away from any dependence on members of another organized crime family and to take advantage of his new membership’s ability to communicate with French heroin traffickers – who, along with their Corsican neighbours, had rapidly risen to prominence after the Second World War – Galante soon sent his Montrealers abroad, in search of further reliable sources of supply.
In 1954 Galante would instruct Greco and Petrula to travel to Sicily to meet with heroin contacts there, which apparently included Salvatore “Lucky Luciano” Lucania following his deportation from the United States. The duo reportedly returned with high-grade heroin and the most profitable heroin pipeline ever established at that time was born. Upon their homecoming to Montreal, both Greco and Petrula would become involved in the campaign waged by several within the City’s criminal element to undermine the campaign of crusading mayor Jean Drapeau. Such corrupt practices were seen as essential for ensuring the continued success of the new heroin pipeline and this tradition of venality would continue to plague Montreal until at least 2017, with the conviction of former mayor Michael Applebaum on charges related to corruption and graft. And, given the long history of such practices, it is likely that this custom will continue long into the future.
The period beginning with the 1944 purchase of the bar Faison Doré by Armand Courville and Vic Cotroni in downtown Montreal is one that would define the cityscapes of eastern North America until the 1980s and the rise of cocaine as “America’s cup of coffee.” Heroin and the corrupt politics that enabled its transport and use would transform urban environments and, combined with de-industrialization and the white-flight phenomena, would create the big-city blight that many cities along the east coast and within the “Rust Belt” of North America have never truly recovered from.
Beyond bringing in vast new amounts of the drug, the actions of Cotroni, Galante and Bonanno would institutionalize and regulate the heroin-trade in a way never before envisioned by the traffickers of the 1930s and 40s. By the time of Galante’s deportation from Canada in 1954 he had reportedly formally inducted as many as 20 local members into the Bonanno Family and ensured that all heroin moving through Montreal passed through the hands of that organization. In this way, Galante and the Bonanno Family controlled all wholesale access to the drug during the first phase of the halcyon days of its use in the United States. This systematized control of the product would gradually lead to an expansion in operations, necessitating further association with the European syndicates that supplied the drug. The collaboration between American mob families and their Sicilian counterparts would reportedly be further ratified in October, 1957 at a multi-day meeting held at the now famous Hotel des Palmes in Palermo, Sicily. Bonanno, Galante and several other Family associates reportedly met with the exiled Lucky Luciano and the Sicilian families’ representatives, including the powerful Salvatore “the Little Bird” Greco; and, it is rumoured that at this meeting, besides establishing the latest version of the Sicilian Cuppola (similar in purpose and design to the American Commission), the group prepared the contacts and scheduling required to increase the capacity and management of their narcotics shipments.
The French Connection would formalize smuggling arrangements between the New York, Buffalo and Detroit borgatas, giving each unprecedented access to wealth and political power that would eventually be Bonanno’s undoing in a 1960s mob conflict, known colloquially in the contemporary press as “the Banana Split.” During this period Cotroni and his Montreal cohorts would operate five distinct connections into New York City, one for each specific Family located there. The Bonannos, due to Galante’s pre-eminent role in the conspiracy, had the most direct access to the pipeline, reportedly placing their New York terminus under the control of capo Joseph “Bayonne Joe” Zicarelli. Based out of New Jersey, Bayonne Joe would control the access point until the Bonanno’s “Banana Split” civil war (C. 1964-68), which broke the Family into perhaps as many as three distinct factions. Following Zicarelli, the pipeline access would be split between various Bonanno factions, one of which including Anthony “Tony” Mirra – a prolific trafficker who would eventually be killed by another faction led by Joseph Massino. Philip “Rusty” Rastelli and the successor factions of the Bonanno Family would do battle over access to this pipeline until its eventual dismantlement and the rise of its successor “Pizza Connection” in the 1970s and 80s.
The final iteration of the initial French Connection network would span from New York City to Detroit, Chicago and beyond. The Buffalo Cosa Nostra family, one with dynastic and long-operating personal ties to the Bonanno Family, was overseen by Bonanno’s cousin Stefano Maggadino, who apparently jealously coveted Bonanno’s influence and wealth. While it is rumoured that Maggadino in effect launched the Bonnano civil war by supposedly kidnapping Joe Bonanno in 1964, what is known is that the Magaddino Family controlled its own access to Montreal heroin through its control of the Southern Ontario underworld. In Toronto, the Agueci brothers, who were themselves inducted members of the Maggadino group, oversaw the smuggling of heroin across the border into Buffalo through the Niagara Falls and Lewiston border crossings. It is possible that the Bonanno dominance of the heroin trade and Maggadino’s forced reliance on this in the era after Galante left Montreal is what helped spur Maggadino’s hatred, resentment and violence toward his cousin.
Back in the proverbial volcano – the label assigned to New York City by Joe Bonanno – the Genovese Family’s contact to the Montreal network would be through a renowned trafficker named Louis Cirillo, who was equally well-known for his ability to import large quantities of illicit drugs and his ferocious temper. Cirillo would be at the forefront of trafficking activities in New York City until his arrest in Miami in 1972 for heroin importation. Cirillo’s arrest, and the discovery of over $1 million in his NYC backyard, would actually precipitate the murder of Genovese underboss “Tommy Ryan” Eboli, who had reportedly borrowed up to $4 million from other Cosa Nostra bosses, including Carlo Gambino. Cirillo, under the aegis of Eboli, was putting together a $4 million drug deal when he was arrested. Eboli’s inability or unwillingness to make good on this debt is reportedly why Gambino had him shot down in Brooklyn. Also likely working with Cirillo were important Genovese Family members in the Lower East Side, Greenwich Village and East Harlem (now the Uptown) crews – the historical power bases of the Family – including Vincent “Vinnie” Mauro and Anthony “Tony Bender” Strollo.
The Gambino Family, as evidenced by Carlo’s Gambino’s time in Montreal, was also comprised of various prolific traffickers who would have maintained an interest in the drugs moving in and out of the City. While it is unclear who the specific contact was for the Gambinos, it is certain that such a contact existed. Gambino’s choice for the assassination of Albert Anastasia in 1957 was, according renowned journalist Jerry Capeci, Stephen Grammauta and Stephen Armone. Both were in a Gambino crew based in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and were loyal to Gambino, and their role in such a momentous and important event demonstrates the importance such men (and their profession within the Family) were accorded by their leaders. Perhaps the most likely candidate for the managing partner representing the Gambinos in the conspiracy is Joseph Manfredi, who would be arrested in the early 1970s with the intent to sell 25lbs of high-grade heroin. His two nephews would be murdered shortly after his arrest by other mob members and it can be assumed that such actions were committed to ensure either Manfredi’s silence in the courtroom or, more likely, to avenge the loss of the product or to enforce a debt.
Although the Colombo crime family is often considered to be the least involved in drug trafficking of all of the New York families, this belief may be unfounded as there are many significant traffickers known to operate within that clan. While it is unclear who the Colombo Crime Family liaison was for the French Connection out of Montreal, as there is no known direct contact between the Colombo borgata and the Montreal Family, several candidates are available. Potentially the most likely of these Colombo mobsters to act as the Colombo-Montreal connection was Christoforo Rubino, who was reportedly responsible for the wholesale of as much as 20% of the heroin within New York City during the late 1950s and early 1960s. While the math certainly makes him a serious candidate, many other mobsters may have been involved as well and it is also possible that the primary connection to Montreal for the Colombos and the other New York clans may have shifted over time as various members either fell out of favour with their Family’s administration or were arrested.
Besides the Bonannos, the crime family that remained the most addicted to junk as an indispensible source of Family income remain the Luccheses. As briefly mentioned earlier, based in East Harlem, the precursor group known as the 107th Street Mob would become one the more powerful Lucchese street crews and would remain renowned for the trafficking of heroin right up until the close of the Nicky Barnes era in Harlem. The most important trafficker associated with the 107th Street Mob or crew would be Giovanni “Big John” Ormento. Big John began his trafficking career working with Sicilians from the Catalanotte clan, based in Windsor, Ontario, which was a crew of the Detroit Cosa Nostra Family. The Catalanotte clan is one of several groups in the Detroit crime family that has membership hailing from the Sicilian region of Partinico, giving it ties to gangsters with a similar heritage across the World. The Catalanotte Crew would obtain its product from the Cotroni Crew in Montreal, before shipping its product to its New York City customers, such as Ormento, or onwards to Families in Cleveland and Chicago. Ormento and the Lucchese Family’s long history of trafficking likely means that this group was purchasing its heroin off of the Detroit Family, which in turn was obtaining their supply from Cotroni well before Montreal became a Bonanno stronghold.
As the French Connection intensified throughout the later 1950s and into the 1960s the Lucchese clan continued its reliance upon the narcotics trade, specifically dominating the Family’s original breeding ground in the Bronx and the former Italian enclave of East Harlem. Interestingly, by the 1970s Lucchese soldier Angelo Tuminaro’s network – made famous by his nephew Pasquale “Patsy” Fuca’s 1962 arrest as part of the original French Connection case and the subsequent blockbuster movie – would reportedly be supplied by Louis Cirillo of the Genovese Family. Fuca’s successor, a Lucchese soldier named Vincent Papa, would become reliant on Cirillo as Ormento’s arrest in 1960 and death in 1974 would reduce and then remove one of the major conduits between the Luccheses in New York City and the Detroit Cosa Nostra group. Papa himself would become famous in his own right as the rumoured thief of the heroin confiscated as part of the 1962 case against Patsy Fuca, which Papa stole through his connections within the corrupt New York City Police Department. Throughout the 1970s Lucchese gangsters from the 107th Street Crew, utilizing heroin supplied through Montreal, would remain the primary suppliers for the famous African-American gangsters in Harlem. This pattern would continue even after Galante emerged from prison in 1974 and began re-cementing his hold over the heroin trade in New York City, launching a vendetta-inspired purge of traffickers from the other New York Families that had apparently usurped his trafficking routes and connections.
Gangsters working out of Montreal would continue to supply the eastern seaboard of the United States as well as the Midwest until the major Latin American cartels would establish themselves as the primary supply point for illegal narcotics in the United States – a process that would take well into the 1980s. It is also rumoured that, as Carmine Galante sought to re-assert control over the wholesale heroin market in New York City in the late 1970s, the New York Families would themselves seek new sources of supply in the Far East beyond the Corsicans and their Montreal entry point as the old gangsters of the Marseille Milieu would retire or be put out of business. However, despite losing its place as the nexus point in a heroin trafficking matrix that would literally spread across the Globe, Montreal would continue to stand as a crucial node of ingress for huge amounts of illicit wares seeking access into the North America underworld market. Today, even as trafficking routes and the narcotics of choice have changed with the times, the Montreal mafia clan continues to exert considerable power, not just within the province of Quebec but throughout the North American criminal landscape. As recently as the 2000s its former boss, the powerful Vito Rizzuto, reportedly ran a billion dollar smuggling and narcotic importation scheme with the Sinaloa Federation Cartel right up until his death from cancer in 2013. Rest assured, to this day the Montreal borgata remains neck-deep in the sale of drugs across the continent.
As can be seen, the Five Families of New York City recognized and exploited the unique social and geographical features of the Ile de Montreal almost since their inception in 1931. Beginning with illegal betting and then moving on to the trafficking of heroin, the New York borgatas utilized the conditions they found in the City, helping to create the fun-loving and corrupt place that exists to this day. In this realm of graft, vice and avarice the City’s local Italian and French-Canadian gangsters would formulate their own connections, establishing associations with the French Milieu by 1944 and providing yet another avenue for the larger New York groups to take in their quest for the extraordinary drug profits that are available in North America’s cities. As outlined above, this exploitation allowed them to further streamline the drug trade, forming relationships and networks that would persist, in some form or other, until the present era. Like the many villains and heroes that have influenced the beautiful Ville on the St. Lawrence River, the mafia borgatas that established rackets in Montreal would leave an indelible mark on the culture of the City, erecting precedents and traditions that continue to influence the current daily lives of the residents of North America and City, specifically.