W5 Investigates: Neighbours From Hell
Published Saturday, January 2, 2010 7:28PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, June 7, 2012 11:45AM EDT
Locals call it The Junction, a quaint, family-filled neighbourhood in the west end of Toronto. It's filled with cozy duplex homes and postage stamp backyards. It's the kind of community where you have no choice but to get to know your neighbour, which is all fine and well unless, of course, that neighbour decides to make your life a living hell.
That's what happened to Carmela Canino. The 87-year-old widow has lived in the Junction since 1958. For eight years she says she endured a ruthless campaign of harassment that saw her and her family have their tires punctured, their car keyed, bicycle spokes buried in her lawn, dead animals thrown in her backyard and rocks hurled through her windows.
Canino was convinced from the outset it was her next door neighbour, Felice Scala who was behind the attacks, but she was powerless to stop him. "He and his son were the ultimate neighbours from hell," said Canino's daughter, Mara Bolotta.
According to Bolotta, the trouble started shortly after Scala had a run in with the law and asked Mara for a character reference. She refused.
"That was the kiss of death for our whole family," said Bolotta. "What happened, from that day forward, it was vengeance. It was planned vengeance on every member of our family."
Even Canino's teenage granddaughter was targeted one day when she was helping her grandmother clean up the animal corpses left in her backyard.
"Felice was outside and he was snickering and laughing at us," said Alissa Bolotta "I turned around and yelled at him. I said -- you know, 'how dare you treat my grandmother like this after all these years?'"
According to Alissa, Felice responded by threatening her in Italian. "He said -- 'if I get you, I'm going to stick it in your hole.'"
The family went to the police and Scala was ultimately issued a peace bond and was ordered to have no contact with Alissa or any other member of her family for a year. But the attacks and vandalism continued for years after. In fact, it got worse, spreading through the community.
Fatima Dos Santos owned a coffee shop that was a regular hangout for Felice Scala and his son Ralph.
"They started to behave very bad with customers, with staff, and so one day I said 'that's it!' And I kicked them out." Shortly thereafter the coffee shop windows were shattered seven times.
Just down the road, more broken windows and slashed tires at the local Chinese food restaurant, the Lotus Inn. This time the attacks started after the owner fired Ralph Scala, who had been working there as a delivery driver.
Complaints poured into the local police detachment but vandalism isn't normally considered a top priority.
Fed up with the constant harassment and lack of a full-scale police investigation, area residents set up surveillance cameras hoping to catch the Scalas in the act.
Finally, after almost eight years of torment, one of those surveillance cameras captured footage of a man vandalizing a neighbourhood car. The footage was promptly handed over to the police and reviewed by Detective Todd Hall.
The man seen vandalizing the car was quickly identified as Mikhail Ahmed, already well known to police. Ahmed was promptly arrested and in little time admitted that he had been hired by Ralph Scala to carry out targeted attacks on neighbours. A search warrant on Ahmed's cell phone records provided Detective Hall with further evidence incriminating Scala. "Whenever there is an occurrence of mischief being done I can correlate calls to and from Ralph Scala to Mikhail Ahmed," said Hall.
In March 2009, Ralph Scala pleaded guilty to 49 charges including mischief, harassment, and threatening. Three months later Felice pleaded guilty to breaching a 2007 peace bond that forbade him to contact Mara Bolotta. Father and son are banned from the neighbourhood for three years.
Ralph Scala was also ordered to pay thousands of dollars in restitution to several neighbours. He's already missed one of those payments, leaving neighbours wondering if the true magnitude of his crimes will ever sink in.
In the meantime, peace has returned to the neighbourhood , but Carmela Canino's son-in-law, Angelo Bolotta, fears it may be short-lived. "Leopards do not change their spots. They can say, 'Yes Your Honour, I will obey your court order,' but they have no intention of obeying a court order. They have no ... they have nothing but contempt for our law system and the rule of law," said Bolotta.