York Regional Police police say they have charged nine top members of an alleged organized crime group known as the Figliomeni Crime Family and seized more than $35 million in assets through a joint investigation dubbed Project Sindacato.
The bust is the "largest organized crime operation" in the history of the York police service, Chief Eric Jolliffe said at a Thursday morning news conference.
The group's illicit income came primarily from 11 cafés in the Vaughan, Ont., area where members operated video gaming machines and provided cash loans at "astronomical" interest rates — known as the "juice" in Mafia parlance — to patrons.
"People caught in this cycle were gambling away their life savings while members of this group used intimidation and violence, including shootings, arsons and other threats of harm to collect their outstanding debts," said Det.-Sgt. Carl Mattinen.
"This violence affects everyone in the community."
Last weekend, some 500 officers from eight different police services across Ontario carried out 48 search warrants at the cafés, businesses and residences in Vaughan and the Greater Toronto Area.
Among the 15 people arrested was Angelo Figliomeni, 56, the alleged boss of the organization, and eight other "key players," said Mattinen. A Canada-wide arrest warrant has been issued for a tenth alleged member.
Investigators said the Figliomeni Crime Family has close ties to the 'Ndrangheta, an organized crime group based in the Calabria region of Italy. Italian State Police also carried out raids connected to Project Sindacato in recent days and arrested 12 people.
The multinational investigation was started following a string of violent incidents in Vaughan in 2017, including an attempted murder, drive-by shootings and arsons. In response, York police struck an organized crime task force and began probing what turned out to be a wide network of illicit activities.
Investigators relied on more than one year of wire taps to build their case against the criminal organization, Mattinen said.
The group was laundering proceeds of crimes at casinos throughout Ontario, he said, sometimes "cleaning" between $30,000 and $50,000 per night at various locations. Police believe the organization laundered as much as $70 million in the last several years, Mattinen said.
Investigators from the Canada Revenue Agency and FINTRAC helped York police uncover some 500 bank accounts tied to the group's criminal activities, he said.
In addition to the nine arrests, police restrained 27 homes and seized 23 high-end cars including five Ferraris. The total value of assets collected during last weekend's raids is about $35 million.
Charges against the nine alleged crime family members currently before the courts include:
- Instructing or directing a criminal organization.
- Committing a crime for a criminal organization.
- Participating in a criminal organization.
- Tax evasion.
- Money laundering.
- Various conspiracy charges related to money laundering.
- Defrauding the government.
- Firearms offences.