Beyond Ireland's Eye

Everton McLean
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Book examines how they finally nailed druglord Vito Rizzuto

When alleged Montreal crime boss Vito Rizzuto stood before a New York court in May 2007, entering a guilty plea for his involvment in a 1981 murder of three mobsters, he was a different man than the one that walked away from the Supreme Court in St. John's in 1990. Free of serious drug smuggling charges, he gave one of his few, pithy quotes to the media.

"One word can mean so much," he said. "Especially when that word is acquittal."

In New York, Rizzuto was sentenced to 10 years in jail (although he'll likely be out by 2012). But, in 1990, he was free as a bird after being the subject of a bungled investigation into $225-million worth of hashish found on a small Newfoundland coastal island, Ireland's Eye.

Rows of packaged hashish line the shores of Ireland's Eye. Photo courtesy of RCMP

When alleged Montreal crime boss Vito Rizzuto stood before a New York court in May 2007, entering a guilty plea for his involvment in a 1981 murder of three mobsters, he was a different man than the one that walked away from the Supreme Court in St. John's in 1990. Free of serious drug smuggling charges, he gave one of his few, pithy quotes to the media.

"One word can mean so much," he said. "Especially when that word is acquittal."

In New York, Rizzuto was sentenced to 10 years in jail (although he'll likely be out by 2012). But, in 1990, he was free as a bird after being the subject of a bungled investigation into $225-million worth of hashish found on a small Newfoundland coastal island, Ireland's Eye.

Largest drug seizure

At the time, it was the largest drug seizure in Eastern Canadian history

A newly revised book by National Post reporter Adrian Humphreys and journalist Lee Lamothe details the rise and fall of Rizzuto, whom Humpreys has referred to as the Godfather of the Mafia in Canada. The book, "The Sixth Family", published by John Wiley and Sons Canada, looks into the pivotal moments in 1990 when Newfoundland was the centre of attention for Canadian crime.

Humphreys said the Newfoundland operation was a huge one for the Rizzuto family of Montreal, whom he describes as on par in power with the Five Families of New York.

The operation, which took place in the 1980s and was disrupted by police in 1987, saw millions of dollars worth of hashish and other drugs routinely coming into the enclosed harbour in Trinity Bay. Allegedly, Newfoundland fishermen were among those who took part in the trafficking, said Humphreys.

"The specialty of Montreal (drug smuggling) was taking drugs from Asia, South America and Europe, depending on what the drug was, was getting it through Canada, through Montreal, and into New York," said Humphreys.

"What they found (in Newfoundland) was a picture-perfect entry vehicle. They had this largely remote coast, the rugged coastline that was poorly policed, poorly watched."

He said it wasn't particularly difficult to get locals involved, which likely made the area an ideal place for the crime family.

"Largely because of the poor economics of the area they found it fairly easy to corrupt the captains of the boats," he said. Those captains would bring hashish in and out of Ireland's Eye.

Made thousands

The book notes the labourers on the ships would have made between $17,000 and $20,000 a day. Meanwhile, he said the boat owners would have made much more.

He knows of one reported case where a captain allegedly was paid with $1-million worth of hashish.

"It was an absolutely perfect opportunity for them to move drugs into the (United) States from Newfoundland," he said.

But things started to look dim for the Rizzuto operation when police got a tip that led them to uncover the drugs at Ireland's Eye.

Arrested

Rizzuto, along with his alleged Newfoundland pointman, Gerald Hiscock, and several others, were arrested and an investigation began, leading to a subsequent trial.

The events that would follow in downtown St. John's would see Rizzuto called the Teflon Don of Canada.

The lawyers for Rizzuto and company had the habit of meeting in the Radisson Plaza Hotel, now the Delta, preparing for the court dates. According to the book, they would consistently supper at table six in the restaurant, discussing their clients' case.

Hotel bugged

As Humphreys and Lee say, the discussions did not go unnoticed by RCMP, who had the table, as well as other discussion areas in the hotel, bugged.

But one day, a man with a similar name to one of the lawyers, a businessman from New Brunswick, came to the restaurant and was mistakenly seated at table six.

The lawyers' party, which came later, happily took their place at table three.

According to the book, the hotel manager, who was aware of the bugging, was alarmed by the mistaken seating. He asked busboy Greg Chafe to switch the lamps on the tables, where the bugs were hidden. The worker thought the request peculiar, but did it anyway without much notice.

The next day the lawyers were seated at their usual table six. But, to the manager's horror, the lamps had not been changed back. Again, he got Chafe to switch back the lamps.

Wrote note

By this time the busboy's suspicion had been piqued, and when he placed the lamp on the lawyers desk, he did so along with a hand written note. The note told the lawyers to be careful; they may be bugged.

It was that information that led Justice Leo Barry to throw out the case due to illegal bugging. And it led to Vito Rizzuto becoming a Canadian crime legend.

Humphreys said the events of that trial could have come from a Hollywood script.

"It's unbelievable in that sense. When the Americans read the book, they were saying, 'That didn't really happen like that did it? You were taking artistic licence.' And I said, 'Nah, I wish I was.'"

But, he said, that sort of slickness and luck seemed part of Rizzuto's life. The fact that before the Newfoundland trial Rizzuto was acquitted based on lack of evidence in a similar Canadian seizure out of Quebec only added to his reputation.

Not likely to have visited

Humprheys said Rizzuto was a master of keeping himself distant from his alleged crimes. As important as Newfoundland was to Canada's Teflon Don, he said he doubts the man ever stepped foot on the island during the trafficking.

"It's not because he had anything against Newfoundland, but because he had everything against being caught," he said.

It is ironic then that Rizzuto finally went to prison for common thuggrey related to the New York murders, Humphreys said.

But he doubts the alleged crime boss is surprised. He was too close to the action in that case.

"At the end of the day, I don't think he's at all surprised that what he finally went down for is that nasty bit of business in New York."

Since Rizzuto's arrest and sentence, many members of the crime family, including his father, have been arrested and are facing charges related to the drug business.

emclean@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Supreme Court, National Post, John Wiley and Sons Canada Radisson Plaza Hotel RCMP

Geographic location: Newfoundland, New York, Ireland Montreal Canada Trinity Bay Asia South America Europe St. John's New Brunswick Hollywood Quebec

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Recent comments

  • Alex
    August 26, 2012 - 02:19

    Gerald Hiscock is attempting to take over the trinity loop site, its a heritage site so hopefully he isnt allowed in there. Several groups are trying to save it and nobody but the people of NF should own it.

    • lloyd cooper
      February 19, 2013 - 08:50

      gearld hiscock is from trinitytrinity bay,nl. ,cant get much more of a newfie than that!

  • Brandon
    August 03, 2011 - 22:30

    Whose the author and where could I find the book?

  • Lena
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    Is it safe to assume that's supposed to be shores ?

  • Eugene
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Sir: I was born at Ireland's Eye and read with interest your article on Rizzuto ... Beyond Ireland's Eye Interesting indeed! While the area of interest is for sure Ireland's Eye ... The Island , the place of interest beyond the druglord is actually TRAYTOWN HARBOUR on Ireland's Eye island. It is equally interesting in that this exact area once held a sceine gallast on which fishermen daily hauled caplin sceines to dry, in readiness for the next caplin haul. I wonder were the bales of hasish there long enough to dry out?

  • Lena
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Is it safe to assume that's supposed to be shores ?

  • Eugene
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    Sir: I was born at Ireland's Eye and read with interest your article on Rizzuto ... Beyond Ireland's Eye Interesting indeed! While the area of interest is for sure Ireland's Eye ... The Island , the place of interest beyond the druglord is actually TRAYTOWN HARBOUR on Ireland's Eye island. It is equally interesting in that this exact area once held a sceine gallast on which fishermen daily hauled caplin sceines to dry, in readiness for the next caplin haul. I wonder were the bales of hasish there long enough to dry out?

    • selby
      February 19, 2013 - 08:53

      my father was born there too,