The violent life and death of "major mafia guy" Rocco Zito

Theglobeandmail.com TORONTO – He was born into an orga­ni­zed-cri­me fami­ly in Cala­bria, Ita­ly. A bro­ther was mur­de­red in a Mafia power strug­gle in Cala­bria in 1975. Ano­ther bro­ther was con­vic­ted of heroin traf­fic­king in Onta­rio in 1992, and sen­ten­ced to four years in pri­son. And he once shot a man in the head, then sma­shed the dying man’s face with a cry­stal ash­tray. Yet Roc­co Zito, 87, who was shot dead in his Toron­to home on Fri­day after­noon, made very lit­tle public mark, except in the Cala­brian Mafia, kno­wn as the ndran­ghe­ta – in which he was respec­ted and fea­red, and whe­re he made his live­li­hood – and in poli­ce intel­li­gen­ce cir­cles, whe­re he was moni­to­red for deca­des. “I can assu­re you Roc­co Zito is abso­lu­te­ly no loss,” reti­red RCMP staff-ser­geant Lar­ry Tron­stad told The Glo­be and Mail. Mr. Tron­stad was part of the Com­bi­ned For­ces Spe­cial Enfor­ce­ment Unit, a Mafia trac­king team set up by the Moun­ties, the Onta­rio Pro­vin­cial Poli­ce and Toron­to poli­ce.

“Listen, he was a major Mafia guy. He was a vio­lent man. If he couldn’t make ends meet any other way, vio­len­ce would do for him.” Dome­ni­co Sco­pel­li­ti, 51, who is repor­ted­ly Mr. Zito’s son-in-law, tur­ned him­self in to poli­ce just after mid­night Satur­day after a bul­le­tin was issued at 11:04 p.m. on Fri­day, say­ing that he was a suspect and was belie­ved to be armed and dan­ge­rous. He has been char­ged with fir­st-degree mur­der. Mr. Tron­stad said Mr. Zito was the unas­su­ming oppo­si­te of the flam­boyant John Got­ti, a New York Mafia king­pin who could be seen para­ding in front of his club, sur­roun­ded by body­guards and wea­ring an Arma­ni suit. “If that was one end of the sca­le and that was a 10, Roc­co would be a 1.” He lived in the grit­ty nei­gh­bou­rhood of Cale­do­nia Road and Law­ren­ce Ave­nue.

Mr. Zito’s man­slaughter con­vic­tion in 1986 recei­ved lit­tle atten­tion from most new­spa­pers, with the Toron­to Star descri­bing him as a “North York gran­d­fa­ther” and a cera­mic tile sale­sman. He had been char­ged with second-degree mur­der in the shoo­ting death of a for­mer pho­to-stu­dio owner, Rosa­rio Sciar­ri­no, 60, who had bor­ro­wed money from him, belie­ved to be in the $20,000 ran­ge. “He shot him and then took a cry­stal ash­tray to his face and just pul­ve­ri­zed his face,” Mr. Tron­stad said. “Loan sharks don’t nor­mal­ly kill peo­ple” becau­se then they can’t col­lect their deb­ts, but “he just kil­led him in a rage.” After hiding out for four days, Mr. Zito nego­tia­ted a plea deal, which the jud­ge accep­ted, sti­pu­la­ting that the only wit­ness said Mr. Sciar­ri­no had pro­vo­ked Mr. Zito by asking him to step outsi­de to see who would kill whom. Mr. Zito had a small bul­let wound in his thi­gh that some suspec­ted was self-inflic­ted.

The ndran­ghe­ta is the riche­st and most acti­ve and power­ful syn­di­ca­te in Euro­pe, over­sha­do­wing the Sici­lian Mafia, kno­wn as the Cosa Nostra. It has bran­ches in Cana­da, the U.S., Austra­lia and South Ame­ri­ca, and makes 60 per cent of its annual reve­nue of €44-bil­lion ($66-bil­lion Cana­dian) from the cocai­ne tra­de, Cana­dian cri­me author Anto­nio Nica­so said, citing a report by Euri­spes, an Ita­lian think tank. In Onta­rio, it is hea­vi­ly into money laun­de­ring, Mr. Nica­so said in an inter­view. “It’s the most power­ful cri­mi­nal syn­di­ca­te in Onta­rio.” A poli­ce intel­li­gen­ce report said Mr. Zito was on the ori­gi­nal Came­ra di Con­trol­lo (board of con­trol) of the ndran­ghe­ta in Onta­rio in 1962, along­si­de mob­sters who went on to be much more wide­ly kno­wn, such as Miche­le Rac­co, who died in 1980, and for whom Mr. Zito ser­ved as a pall­bea­rer.