A “Criminal Blockchain” – York Regional & Italian Police take down alleged major ‘Ndrangheta players and seize over $35 million in alleged proceeds of crime

By Christine Duhaime | July 21st, 2019

A criminal Blockchain linking Calabria and Toronto

York Regional Police, north of Toronto, Canada, made a major money laundering bust last week against the ‘Ndrangheta, arresting several of its alleged members including its alleged powerful leader, Angelo Figliomeni. Figliomeni is charged with money laundering, directing a criminal organization and fraud. Another eight alleged associates of Figliomeni were arrested on various charges including loan sharking and illegal gambling.

York Regional Police executed 48 warrants and seized $35 million in alleged proceeds of crime including 23 luxury cars, including 5 Ferraris, a $7,000 bottle of scotch, 27 houses and $2 million in cash and jewellery. They also seized gaming machines and ATMs. Police also executed warrants against 11 illegal gambling venues allegedly controlled by the ‘Ndrangheta.

Prior to his arrest, the police allege that Figliomeni and his associates were laundering proceeds of crime at Ontario Lottery & Gaming Corporation casinos around Toronto and through real estate companies, accountants and financial services companies. Police believe they laundered $70 million in the last few years in Toronto.

Police in Italy made simultaneous arrests of ‘Ndrangheta from Siderno, Calabria, while York Regional Police made their arrests.

The Italian police describe the links and connections between the ‘Ndrangheta families in Calabria and those in Toronto as a “criminal Blockchain.” It’s a fitting description on some level but the ‘Ndrangheta are anything but transparent or easily traceable.

At a news conference, investigators made a point of confirming that before the investigation was launched and charges considered, they had forensic accounting evidence tracing financial flows to and/or from those arrested in respect of the money laundering charges. It would not be appropriate to have proceeded without evidence from financial investigators that a money laundering offence had occurred.

About the ‘Ndrangheta

The ‘Ndrangheta are a different breed of transnational criminal organization (“TCO“). They are supply chain management experts which allows them to control much of the world’s cocaine transportation and its supply chain into various countries, but they do not manufacture hard drugs or deal drugs at the local street corner level. They control large ports in the EU, which allows them to import cocaine in bulk, and they control the supply routes. The ‘Ndrangheta ships drugs for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels.

In the EU and in third world countries, they are known to infiltrate, bribe and extort law enforcement and other legal gate-keepers for access and to avoid prosecution. Similar to Mexican TCOs, they are infiltrated in the financial services sectors. A recent report from an Italian Court of Appeal found that the ‘Ndrangheta has infiltrated all parts of their economy and the government.

They are extremely secretive and usually only allow entry to those of ‘Ndrangheta blood, which means those whose family originate from Calabria.

Italian police say that much of Calabria is ‘Ndrangheta and anyone from that region immigrating to other countries is in furtherance of the expansion of the family criminal enterprise (the family being the ‘Ndrangheta).

The ‘Ndrangheta are wealthy – their revenues are estimated to be €53 billion per year. They make more money than Deutsche Bank and McDonald’s combined.

Although they have been around for 150 years in Italy, it was the US, and not Italy that took the first step towards stopping the ‘Ndrangheta from a money laundering legal perspective. In 2008, the U.S. Department of the Treasure added the ‘Ndrangheta to the Office of Foreign Assets Control Specially Designated Nationals list, which prohibits banks, including Canadian ones who all have US operations, and US persons from dealing with their cash or property.

Two years later, in March 2010, Italy designated the ‘Ndrangheta as a mafia organization for the purposes of Italian law.

The ‘Ndrangheta take pains to appear to be law abiding members of society and while they are secretive, so too are their operations. To do this, police say they have secret members (who are said to be wealthy professionals who launder their proceeds of crime) and they operate through corporate entities so that the proceeds of crime flow through company bank accounts and not personal ones. They do this probably because anti-money laundering law compliance in respect of private companies is relatively weak all over the world at banks and they would rely on that weakness.

The ‘Ndrangheta are known to launder the proceeds of crime through businesses they set up – from hotels, restaurants, wind farms and other businesses.

Researchers have written that the ‘Ndrangheta deflected the world to focus on the less powerful Cosa Nostra in Sicily, Montreal and New York, so they could expand their empire under the radar.

Toronto has been a ‘Ndrangheta hub apparently since the 1950s, and continues to grow its family and business base in Toronto. One restaurant in a fancy midtown neighbourhood in Toronto believed to be owned by an ‘Ndrangheta family makes no secret about its roots – it has a large photo of the owner’s family taken in the 1950s in Calabria framed on the wall.

The ‘Ndrangheta give their members 7 rules when they join:

  1. humility to be humble
  2. loyalty to protect each other
  3. scripts and procedures to converse with fellow society members
  4. false scripts and procedures to speak with law enforcement and unworthy people
  5. a knife to protect the society
  6. a mirror to look behind your back at all times
  7. a razor blade to cut away unworthy people.

If Figliomeni is an ‘Ndrangheta, he may have forgotten rule #6 because he wasn’t watching behind him to notice that he was under investigation for the past 18 months prior to his arrest.

An ‘Ndrangheta daughter

Another member of the high-ranking Figliomeni clan, this time a woman, Jole Figliomeni, left Calabria, Italy for Abidjan, Ivory Coast, which is coincidentally now a major cocaine import hub. While she is alleged to have cut ties to the family, Italian wire taps established that she remains connected to the family. She allegedly left Italy because she had an affair with the husband of the sister of one of the alleged heads of the ‘Ndrangheta called “U’Mastru”, Giuseppe Commisso.

The Figliomeni and Commisso families are two of the leading ‘Ndrangheta families, according to the Italian anti-mafia police.

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