Reputed head of Montreal mob pleads guilty
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Friday, May 4, 2007 10:37PM EDT
Reputed Montreal mob boss Vito Rizzuto, who admitted taking part in the spectacular slayings of three Mafia captains in 1981, pleaded guilty to racketeering on Friday as part of a plea deal that will see him serve 10 years in prison.
Rizzuto entered his plea at a U.S. federal court in Brooklyn, one day before the 26th anniversary of the May 5, 1981 murders, which were made famous by the Hollywood film "Donnie Brasco."
With time served, however, Rizzuto could be out and deported back to Canada in less than six years.
Prosecutors say Rizzuto went to New York at the request of the Bonanno crime family to help kill three men who were suspected of plotting to take control of the criminal organization.
The plea bargain required Rizzuto to admit his guilt and describe his role in the slayings.
Even as he admitted guilt, it took some coaxing to get the 61-year-old to break his long silence about the slayings.
Lee Lamothe, writer of "The Sixth Family: The Collapse of the New York Mafia and the Rise of Vito Rizzuto," said Rizzuto may have pleaded guilty to avoid a lengthy trial that would have exposed details about his crimes.
"There's no way he was going to plead not guilty," Lamothe told CTV Newsnet. "There's absolutely no way anyone in the Rizzuto clan has ever gone before the courts and allowed evidence about the family to be in the public record."
He added that Rizutto is "a perfect gangster. He belongs to a cult of criminality."
In court on Friday, Rizzuto initially admitted only that he had engaged in racketeering.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis demanded clarification.
"Why should I accept a specific sentence when I don't know what he did?'' Garaufis said. "Was he the driver? Was he one of the shooters?''
Rizzuto held a hushed conference with his lawyer, then finally stood before the judge.
"My job was to say, 'It's a hold up!' So everybody would stand still,'' Rizzuto said, referring to the murders at a Brooklyn social club.
He said his accomplices then opened fire, killing Dominick (Big Trin) Trinchera, Philip (Philly Lucky) Giaccone and Alphonse (Sonny Red) Indelicato.
"So after hearing that, the judge was satisfied that, in fact, he did participate in the crime and agreed to this plea bargain," CTV's Jed Kahane reported.
The reputed mob boss has asked to serve his time in Upstate New York so that he can be closer to his family in Canada.
Rizzuto, who moved to Canada from Sicily as a child in the 1950s, was arrested in January 2004 on the racketeering charges. Rizzuto was one of about 100 alleged Bonanno family members nabbed in an investigation that crippled the organization.
The arrests ultimately led the organization's boss, Joseph Massino, to plead guilty to orchestrating a string of murders, including the 1981 social club slayings. Massino got life in prison.
Rizzuto challenged the U.S. extradition request until he ran out of legal avenues when the Supreme Court of Canada turned down his appeal to stay in the country.
In October 2006, he was flown to New York, where he reportedly began negotiating a plea bargain with prosecutors.
Rizzuto's criminal record dates back to 1972, when he was sentenced to two years for conspiring to commit arson.
He was later charged in two drug investigations in the 1980s, but acquitted both times.
Montreal police with the organized crime unit suspect Bonanno has been involved in everything from loan sharking at a local casino to laundering money in Switzerland, to ordering a hit on a Venezuelan lawyer.
Court documents show Rizzuto lived in a Montreal mansion and owned several luxury cars -- despite claims he led a humble life with an annual income of about $34,000.
Last November, Montreal police say they struck a major blow to the Mafia there after nabbing some 69 suspected organized crime figures, including Rizzuto's father Nicolo Rizzuto.
With files from The Associated Press