An unprecedented level of cooperation among eight local law enforcement agencies and the Italian State Police is credited with the arrest of nine key members of the Woodbridge-based Figliomeni organized crime group and the seizure of more than $35 million in cash, houses, merchandise, and luxury vehicles, which included an $880,000 Ferrari.
The three-day operation known as Project Sindacato and carried out the weekend of July 12 saw about 500 officers executing 48 warrants on businesses, cafes, and residences in Vaughan and the GTA.
That operation was the largest traditional organized crime bust in York Regional Police history, chief Eric Jolliffe said today at a news conference at the force’s Aurora headquarters.
“York police have seized 27 homes worth $24 million, high-end cars including five Ferarris, for a total of $3.5 million. We also seized gaming machines, ATM machines and $1 million in cash, another $1 million in jewelry like Rolex watches, for a total of $35 million,” Jolliffe said.
Included in the nine arrests of the Figliomeni crime organization that operates primarily in the Woodbridge area of Vaughan is its boss, Angelo Figliomeni, Jolliffe said, adding the local crime group is related to the Siderno Group and the “powerful and violent” organized crime group known as ‘Ndrangheta.
After York police detected a spike of violent crime in Vaughan in 2017 that included an attempted murder, drive-by shootings, and arsons, the force struck a permanent, organized crime task force.
That task force, which remains operational, has a mandate to deter, disrupt and dismantle organized crime groups, Jolliffe said.
“These crimes occur because these organized groups of criminals are fighting to reinforce their position, protect their turf, or acquire material benefits,” he said. “It’s hard to detect when members of crime groups embed themselves right in the centre of our community. They do this by establishing themselves within trusted institutions, both private and public sectors, over decades.”
“They have legitimized themselves by funneling illegal profits through businesses, including financial institutions, car dealerships, finance companies and even charities,” Jolliffe added.
The task force’s first project began 18 months ago with a focus on the Figliomeni crime group, which Jolliffe said has been running illegal operations in Vaughan, York Region and the GTA for nearly three decades and has been living a “glamourous, indulgent lifestyle at the expense of law-abiding citizens”.
The most serious among the slew of charges facing the nine individuals include money laundering, defrauding the Government of Canada, and participating in an organized crime group, Jolliffe said.
“We know that they have laundered tens of millions of dollars through casinos across Ontario,” said Jolliffe. “That has made it easier for them to operate without suspicion within our community and more difficult for police to have a significant impact on their operations.”
“Raiding illegal gaming houses or investigating violent crimes as an individual incidence was simply not having a significant effect on the larger problem,” he continued. “We needed to focus on taking down the criminal organization by attacking the finances, the laundering of dirty money, and the large profits from proceeds of crime that have built these organizations over decades and allowed them to thrive. And that is exactly what we have done with Project Sindacato.”
York police Det.-Sgt. Carl Mattinen, of the traditional organized crime task force, said the investigation’s goal was to dismantle the financial foundation of the organized crime group’s operation here at home and in Italy.
It achieved this, Mattinen said, with months of surveillance and one year of wire-tapping.
“Investigators targeted 11 cafes, which generated much of the wealth for the Figliomeni crime group,” Mattinen said. “A large portion of this income stems from the use of video gaming machines, and the loans made to patrons to keep them gambling regardless of the amount of debt they incurred.”
“The astronomical interest rate, or juice as it’s known, keeps the organization in a continual flow of available funds. These funds have to been cleaned or laundered. People caught in this cycle gambled away their life savings while members of this criminal organization used intimidation and violence, including shootings and arsons and other threats of harm, to collect their outstanding debts,” he said.
“The way we approached the investigation was to go for the foundation which allows them to exist, not the individual crimes,” said Mattinen. “A victim has to be able to testify and there’s a lot of fear with this group as they’re very powerful and violent. I can tell you, forensic accounting is not afraid, math is not afraid, documentary evidence is not afraid. We can tender that in court with no worry of recant for fear from the community.”
For example, Mattinen said Ontario casinos were used nightly by Figliomeni crime group to launder large quantities of cash.
“Surveillance officers witnessed between $30,000 to $50,000 gambled per night in our Ontario casinos. About $70 million was cleaned this way in a few short years,” he said.
York’s task force also traveled to Italy to collaborate with the Italian State Police and its Central Operational Service, Central Anti-crime Directorate, which was set up to investigate organized crime associations. The local force received assistance from Italy’s traditional organized crime experts, where ‘Ndrangheta originated.