MONTREAL — Time took care of crime boss Vito Rizzuto before his enemies could get to him.
The 67-year-old died Monday morning of a lung ailment, ending his 35-year reign atop Canada's criminal underworld and throwing the Mafia into disarray.
A source at Montreal's north-end Sacre-Coeur hospital confirms Rizzuto died Monday at 4 a.m.
An ambulance transported Rizzuto to the hospital's emergency room on Saturday evening, with family members in tow. A source says he was confused and had a fever.
Nicknamed "Montreal's Teflon don," Rizzuto ran a powerful organized crime syndicate for decades but was never convicted in Canada of anything more serious than conspiracy to commit arson.
It took an American Mafia crackdown to finally reel him in.
Rizzuto was extradited to New York in 2004 and pleaded guilty to racketeering in the 1981 murders of three dissenting captains in that city's Bonanno crime family. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $250,000 in May 2007.
Former allies turned against him while he was gone, and the body count mounted.
Vito's son Nick "The Ritz" Rizzuto and father Nicolo "Nick" Rizzuto Sr. were killed in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
Family consigliere Paolo Renda vanished and hasn't been seen since, and close associate Agostino Cuntrera and his bodyguard were also killed, among several other associates.
Vito reportedly re-established control of his crime family once he returned to Canada in October 2012. At least seven members of rival factions have been gunned down in the past 14 months.
Toronto author Lee Lamothe, who was once sued by the Rizzutos for his Mob book The Sixth Family, told QMI Agency that the don's death could calm the ongoing bloodbath.
"People in Montreal and Toronto and Hamilton are really breathing sighs of relief," said Lamothe, referring to Rizzuto rivals that included Calabrians in Ontario.
"There's still a lot of people walking around that should be dead," Lamothe added. "And they just dodged a bullet."
Vito Rizzuto was born Feb. 21, 1946, in Cattolica Eraclea, on the Italian island of Sicily, and immigrated to Canada as a young boy.
His father Nick rose to power in the late 1970s after several top members of the reigning Violi family were assassinated.
Vito soon took over the family from his father and built a massive empire, controlling drug, loansharking and prostitution rackets while allegedly buying off bureaucrats and politicians.
He also forged relationships with bikers, Irish gangs and other criminals rather than waging costly wars.
A protection scheme was said to be particularly lucrative for the Rizzutos.
Mafia Inc., a 2011 book about the Mob by La Presse journalists Andre Noel and Andre Cedilot, says as many as 600 Montreal-area businesses were strong-armed into funnelling money to the crime syndicate.
Rizzuto's name has also come up constantly at the Charbonneau commission, an ongoing public inquiry into corruption and collusion in public contracting.
Witnesses have testified that Rizzuto and other Mafia figures received kickbacks from Quebec's construction contracts, took golfing trips with Montreal bureaucrats and even mediated disputes between entrepreneurs.
In the months since his release from prison, Rizzuto was seen several times playing golf and shaking hands on the street in Montreal's Little Italy.
But he also tried to keep a lower profile by selling his house on the notorious Rizzuto Row, a line of opulent north-end Montreal mansions where he and other family members lived.
Former major-crimes investigator Richard Dupuis told QMI that Rizzuto survived so long because of his reputation, charisma and smarts.
"When he spoke in private, people listened," said Dupuis. "His network of contacts was such that had someone dared to plot against him, he would be have been briefed quickly and he would have taken the necessary measures."
Lamothe adds that entrenched corruption in Montreal didn't hurt.
"That place is built on dead bodies and bribes," he said. "It will never change."
WHO'S THE NEXT DON?
Vito Rizzuto has few known remaining blood relatives. His son Leonardo is the family's lawyer who is currently a member in good standing of the Quebec Bar Association. Vito has several other loyal allies:
- Rocco Sollecito: Childhood friend of Vito's and reportedly one of the five heads of the crime family. The 65-year-old has been in charge of the family's construction interests. Sources tell QMI Agency that Sollecito is likely the Mafia don's strongest ally, loyal "in life and to the death."
- Francesco Arcadi: Perhaps the only other surviving member of the ruling executive. Took over family operations after Vito Rizzuto was sent to prison. Arcadi is currently serving a 15-year prison term.
- Liborio "Poncho" Cuntrera: Son of murdered Rizzuto associate Agostino Cuntrera, who was killed along with his bodyguard in June 2010.
MOB WAR BODY COUNT - 2004 to 2013
Rizzuto Crime family:
- Associate Sam Fasulo, shot dead in Montreal, January 2009
- Nick "The Ritz" Rizzuto, Jr., shot dead in Montreal, December 2009
- Drug trafficker Federico del Peschio, shot dead in Montreal, August 2009
- Associate Ennio Bruni, shot dead in Montreal, September 2010
- Acting boss Agostino Cuntrera and bodyguard Liborio Sciascia, shot dead in Montreal, June 2010
- Nicolo "Nick" Rizzuto Sr., shot dead in Montreal, November 2010
- Associate Giuseppe "Closure" Colapelle, shot dead in Montreal, March 2012
- Enforcer Juan Ramon "Joe Bravo" Fernandez and associate Fernando Pimentel, shot dead near Palermo, Italy, May 2013.
Breakaway Rizzuto faction:
- Rival boss Salvatore "Sal The Ironworker" Montagna, shot dead in Charlemagne, Que., 2011
- Ex-associate Joseph "Joe" Di Maulo, shot dead in Blainville, Que., November 2012
- Gaetan Gosselin, shot dead in Montreal, January 2013
- Vincenzo Scuderi, shot and killed in Montreal, January 2013
- Giuseppe "Ponytail" De Vito, poisoned by cyanide at maximum-security Donnacona prison near Quebec City, July 2013
- Ex-Rizzuto associate Moreno Gallo, shot dead in Acapulco, Mexico, November 2013
- Di Maulo associate Roger Valiquette Jr., shot dead in Laval, Que., December 2013
Ontario Calabrian Mob:
- Salvatore "Sam" Calautti, Nick Rizzuto Sr.'s suspected assassin, shot dead in Woodbridge, Ont. along with James Tusek, July 2013.