MONTREAL – The best way to keep new casinos clean is to let the Mafia run them.
That’s the word from Joe DiMaulo, whose name is frequently mentioned in the same breath as both gambling and the Mafia.
“That would be the best thing,” DiMaulo said with a broad smile. “There would be no prostitutes, no pickpockets.”
DiMaulo laughed heartily at the thought of being put in charge of keeping crime out of casinos.
Others might shudder.
DiMaulo was cited in a 1977 Quebec Police Commission report on organized crime as a key lieutenant of Frank Cotroni, who was recently released from prison after serving time for heroin trafficking and five contract murders, including one in Metro.
DiMaulo was acquitted of a triple-homicide in the early 1970s.
His brother Vincenzo (Jimmy) was less fortunate, serving time in the late 1960s and 1970s for murder. He also has interests in the gambling machine industry.
Police intelligence sources note there are longstanding and deep links between mobsters in Quebec and Ontario, especially regarding DiMaulo’s friends in the Cotroni family.
In a recent chat with The Star, DiMaulo frowned when reminded of recent clouds of controversy over the casino gambling industry and himself, in particular.
Richard McGinnis, head of the Montreal police organized crime squad, appealed to the Quebec National Assembly last month about the dangers of mobsters in the video poker business. He said casino gambling could only heighten their wealth.
Apparently heeding his warning, the Quebec government decided to keep private operators out of video machines in incoming casinos.
McGinnis claimed video poker machines are already the second highest money-maker for the Montreal mob – behind only the drug trade.
Seven years ago, two Ontario police chiefs warned that organized criminals had already bought land and were stockpiling gaming equipment in anticipation of legalized casino gambling.
“I know that organized criminals have already purchased property in connection with gaming casinos in the province,” former Waterloo Regional Police Chief Harold Basse warned the 1986 annual convention of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.
“We know there are properties being acquired by associates of organized crime,” added Halton Regional Police Chief Jim Harding.
“We know there are gaming machines being stockpiled hoping that the province will open its doors to casino gambling,” Harding said.
Allegations – vehemently denied by the Quebec government and DiMaulo – have circulated about DiMaulo’s interest in incoming casinos, the first of which is expected to open in October on Montreal’s Ile Notre-Dame.
Another is set to open shortly afterwards north of Quebec.
DiMaulo, looking cool and casual in a silk Hawaiian shirt, barked out a one-word expletive to dismiss reports he has approached the Quebec government about getting involved in incoming casinos. The first casino is expected to open on Montreal’s Ile Notre-Dame in October and another is set to open shortly afterwards north of Quebec.
But DiMaulo appeared more amused than angry about the questioning, which took place under the gaze of a robust young man with a sweeping moustache, black T-shirt and a pager. He looked like a slightly spruced-up biker.
Midway through the chat, DiMaulo checked the reporter’s wallet to make sure it didn’t contain a recording device.
“It’s strictly propaganda,” DiMaulo said, holding court in his cafe in the Metropolitain Est-Viau Sud area of the St. Leonard district of Montreal, kitty-corner to his nightclub.
“They’re using our name to get publicity.”
He declined to say exactly who they are or why they would want publicity.
“Ninety per cent of the machines are owned by police,” DiMaulo said with a smile.
Jokes about corruption from DiMaulo have a particular edge, since he is said to be friendly with lawyers, politicians and judges.
Ontario and Quebec officials are promising beefed-up policing and stringent controls to keep the mob out of gambling.
In Ontario, officers from the Ontario Provincial Police, Mounties and Windsor police are getting a crash course in policing the gaming industry.
Background checks will be done on all major casino suppliers, said Bill Gillies, director of communications for the Ontario Casino Project.
“Everyone who will be a significant supplier to the casino will be investigated,” Gillies said. “The key is to put in a very, very tight system of checks and balances.”
But some American experts say this is easier said than done, and privately, some Canadian organized crime specialists agree.
Chicago is also considering opening legalized casinos, but the Chicago Crime Commission was unimpressed by assurances that vigilant policing would counter traditional mob activity.
“Legalization of casino gambling would fuel a renaissance of organized crime,” Robert Fuesel, commission executive director said recently.
Even if casino ownership is beyond reproach, criminals can flex their muscle through hotel unions, food and laundry suppliers, and the supply and servicing of vending and gambling machines.
“They can control the casinos just by stopping all the services,” said William Holmes, a retired FBI agent who now acts as a gambling security consultant. “If you don’t have the services, you don’t operate.”
Philadelphia mob boss, Angelo Bruno, whose territory included Atlantic City, said as much 15 years ago. In 1978, two years before his murder, Bruno stated: “I don’t want to own (Atlantic City) casinos, I just want to service them.”
Casinos are also fertile grounds for loansharks, experts warn.
And Metro police sources point out numerous incidents of organized crime ownership in catering and linen supplies, as well as video machines.
Montreal-based Local 31 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union has the dark distinction of being the only union ever kicked out of the Quebec Federation of Labor for unethical conduct. The union was also noted by a United States Senate committee in the early 1980s as being too close to Frank Cotroni.
Its record is also badly blemished in American gambling centres.
The U.S. Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concluded in 1984 that the Las Vegas and Atlantic City locals of the hotel union were controlled by organized crime.
The Atlantic City local remains under control on a court-appointed monitor after the U.S. Justice Department brought a civil action, charging it was dominated by the Bruno-Scarfo mob family. Edward Hanley, the union’s international president, has agreed to isolate himself from the Atlantic City local.
Since Local 31 suffered the disgrace of being kicked out of mainstream Quebec labor, its former president, James Stamos, was elevated to the post of Canadian director of the union and an international vice-president.
In Toronto, former boxer Eddie Melo – a longtime friend of Cotroni – was a onetime organizer for Local 75 of the hotel union. He kept his job, even after being convicted of pulling a gun on a member of a rival union.
According to Holmes, crooked vending companies frequently branch out into the distribution and servicing of slot machines and video poker machines.
“If there’s enough money involved, somebody can find a way to beat their security systems,” Holmes said. “It’s the nature of the beast.”
Even if machines are carefully regulated, crooked vendors have an opportunity to tamper with them during routine repairs and maintenance. The machines are also easy to skim for unregistered profits.
“How do you control that?” Holmes asked. “What’s to stop them from altering them? It’s almost impossible to have every one (of the machines) checked to make sure nothing’s happened to them.”
American firms with organized crime links have already succeeded in having machines placed in Canada’s maritimes, where video gambling has been legalized, Holmes said.
DiMaulo’s son-in-law, Francesco Cotroni – Frank’s son – has been working in the video business since being freed from prison for helping set up a contract murder. He was sentenced to three years in 1987.
They aren’t the only ones in what Montrealers call “Le Melieux” who are keeping a keen eye on Canada’s newfound interest in casinos.
Joseph Lo Presti, who was murdered a year ago, had investments in video poker. Those interests are now run by family members, sources say, while Hell’s Angels members have been linked to video poker, specializing in collecting from reluctant clients.
Family members of Gaspare Cuntrera, a former Montrealer now in prison in Italy for Mafia associations, have invested in the video poker business.
In Ontario, John (Pops) Papalia of Hamilton has been a fixture in the vending and video game industries for three decades.
Papalia was convicted of extortion in Toronto in 1976 with Montreal mobsters Paolo Violi and Vic Cotroni, Frank’s older brother.
At a 1988 bail hearing for Carmen Barillaro of Niagara Falls, a convicted cocaine trafficker, Papalia’s employment was given as being a salesman for F. M. Amusements of Railway St. in Hamilton.
RCMP Corporal Reg King told the hearing that Papalia was considered at the top of a police list of some 275 Ontario Mafia figures.
A Star investigation has found that several businesses – both in Ontario and Quebec – that handle organized crime money in vending business are not registered as companies andcorporations.
A longtime Cotroni associate in Toronto has impressive holdings in video machines and is bragging that he knows the location of future Ontario casino sites, a police source says.
Meanwhile, the victim of one of Metro’s most infamous unsolved murders had a long interest in both legal and illegal gambling.
Toronto mobster Paul Volpe, whose 1983 murder remains unsolved, handled investments for more than a dozen Toronto residents in Atlantic City, when that city moved to legalize gambling in the late 1970s. Investors ranged from organized criminals to local lawyers and a developer.
At that time, underworld tensions over control of Atlantic City gaming triggered a rash of murders in what had been a relatively tranquil crime community.
In Montreal, despite the turbulence of his milieu, DiMaulo appeared to be the very essence of control and good spirits in the recent chat in his cafe.
Between conversations in French on his ever-present cell phone (it even shows up in wedding pictures at the Montreal Cathedral when his daughter Mylena married Francesco Cotroni two summers ago), DiMaulo dismissed questions about organized crime and casino gambling.
There’s nothing wrong with a legitimately run video poker enterprise approaching the government about providing equipment for new casinos, he said.
Then he muttered something about $10 million. When asked to expand, he frowned and declined.
As serious questions subsided, the former nightclub doorman and massage parlor operator ridiculed the idea that Ontario plans non-smoking casinos.
“Why don’t they turn the country into churches?” DiMaulo laughed.