19 arrested in GTA bust targeting Italy's 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate
Published Wednesday, June 3, 2015 11:29AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 3, 2015 1:28PM EDT
More than a dozen people have been arrested as part of a Toronto-area police investigation into an alleged crime family with ties to an Italian criminal organization.
Guns, drugs and vehicles were seized by police as they executed 25 search warrants early Tuesday morning. At the same time, 19 men were arrested, Royal Canadian Mounted Police said at a news conference Wednesday.
The raids were conducted in Vaughan, Ont., and the Toronto neighbourhood of Etobicoke at approximately 5:30 a.m. The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU), made up of Toronto-area forces and RCMP officers, dismantled two alleged organized crime cells police say were involved in importing drugs, trafficking firearms, "extreme violence" and extortion.
"There's no doubt in the investigators' minds that the level of violence that these people were prepared to conduct and exercise in that kind of activity would include homicide," RCMP Supt. Keith Finn told reporters.
Police said the "key cells" were part of a crime family targeted in a two-year investigation dubbed "Project OPhoenix." Finn said the cells had been "significantly dented" by the arrests.
Those arrested are believed to have connections with the 'Ndrangheta criminal organization based in Calabria, Italy, officers said.
Police said they have reason to believe the specific cells are led by Giuseppe Ursino, 62, and Carmine Verduci, who was killed at age 56 in a Woodbridge, Ont. cafe shooting last April. Officers alleged that Diego Serrano, 66, was also identified as a significant player in the organization.
"There is an established hierarchy. There's layers of insulation to protect specific individuals in there," Finn said.
"The challenges in this investigation are to peel back those layers to expose for the court and for the Canadian public exactly how it is they conduct their criminal enterprise."
In addition to the arrests, officers seized three firearms, approximately 8.5 kilograms of what is believed to be cocaine, 7 kilograms of marijuana, and a quantity of cash.
"There's a constant drip of illicit funds coming into this organization," Finn said.