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Montreal Mafia: Project Clemenza screeches to a halt as cases stayed

The Gazette logo The Gazette 2 days ago Paul Cherry, Montreal Gazette
052016-0512_city_mafia_bust_-_0000-0521_city_pizzi-W.jpg: Montreal Mafia: Project Clemenza screeches to a halt as cases stayed © Dave Sidaway Montreal Mafia: Project Clemenza screeches to a halt as cases stayed

A lengthy investigation into drug trafficking networks related to the Montreal Mafia came to a screeching halt on Monday as the last eleven men charged in Project Clemenza saw a stay of proceedings placed on the drug smuggling charges filed against them only last year. 

Included among the men who essentially saw their cases tossed out at the Montreal courthouse was Marco Pizzi, 47, a Montreal resident alleged to be an influential figure in the Montreal Mafia who was the target of an attempted murder last year. Another man who walked away free and clear of drug smuggling and conspiracy charges was Antonio Ciavaglia 58, a Kirkland businessman who used to own cargo company based in LaSalle. Franco Albanese, 50, another resident of Kirkland, saw a stay of proceedings placed on the four charges he faced. 

Prosecutor Marie-Michelle Meloche told the Montreal Gazette that the decision to request the stay of proceeding was based on complicated demands from the defence involving the disclosure of all evidence gathered by the RCMP during the investigation. She said the Crown would have been unable to satisfy the requests made by the defence within a delay allowable by the courts. The drug trafficking probe began more than six years ago but arrests in the third and final stage of Project Clemenza were delayed until last year. The RCMP had to set aside the investigation temporarily because, while it was underway, investigators realized they had evidence of who was behind the murder of Salvatore Montagna, a Mafia leader who was killed in November 2011. 

The main indictment filed in Project Clemenza last year illustrates how the investigation into cocaine smuggling intersected with the investigation into Montagna’s murder.

A conspiracy charge filed in the indictment alleges at least 26 people were involved in a conspiracy to import cocaine into Canada from Feb. 18 to Dec. 21, 2011. Included among the non-indicted alleged co-conspirators were Vittorio Mirarchi, Steven Fracas and Pietro Magistrale. All three men pleaded guilty last year to being part of the conspiracy to murder Montagna and are scheduled to be sentenced in September. Intercepted messages revealed that Mirarchi issued orders to men who worked with him. They also revealed that Mirarchi was working in full partnership with Raynald Desjardins while they plotted to kill Montagna. Desjardins is serving a 14-year sentence for his leading role in the murder plot.

The investigators realized what they had after sorting through the hundreds of pin-to-pin messages they were intercepting on a daily basis from Blackberrys used by drug traffickers. The RCMP has refused to divulge the methods they used to intercept the encrypted messages. Meloche said on Monday the same issue was one factor involved in the decision to request the stay of proceedings on Monday. 

Charges filed against 35 other people arrested in Project Clemenza were dropped in March as well. But those cases involved people who were arrested a few years ago and the Crown was facing the possibility the charges would have been dropped anyway because it had taken the Crown too long to bring the cases to a trial. 

This story will be updated.

pcherry@postmedia.com

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