Last of 'untouchables' nabbed
Police say Caruana heads powerful drug operation
By Adrian Humphreys / Hamilton Spectator
A multi-national task force led by Canadian police erased 30
years of failure yesterday by arresting the last of the
Police in several countries cheered the arrest of Alfonso Caruana,
52, a man police say is the boss of one of the largest, richest and
most powerful drug-smuggling and money-laundering organizations in
If police are right, the Mafia boss and his criminal organization
is rich beyond most dreams, bloated on huge profits from decades of
smuggling heroin, marijuana and cocaine into North America.
The clan, originally from the dirt-poor town of Siculiana, Sicily
created a billion-dollar reach that encompassed the globe.
The two-year RCMP probe was dubbed Project Omerta -- the term for
the Mafia code of silence -- and was a twisting, complicated ride
bringing officers face-to-face with global organized crime at the
It involved poppy fields in Turkey and heroin refineries in
Thailand, to high finance in Switzerland and money-laundering in
Connections included an extremist group in Turkey, which allegedly
had a role in the shooting of the Pope, an alleged liaison with the
powerful Camorra Mafia and the underworld lord of Asia's Golden
Police in Italy say the clan forged strong ties in more than 14
countries, with perhaps a hundred companies, accounts in dozens of
banks and other financial holdings.
At the centre of it all, police in several countries and organized
crime experts say, is Alfonso Caruana.
As this empire was being built, the Cuntrera-Caruana clan was also
rewriting the rules of engagement for the Mafia. They were not tied
to a geographic area, as is traditionally the case for a Mafia
The family moved to Montreal in the 1960s when police pressure in
Italy grew. Police reports say they soon built lucrative drug
operations in North and South America, Europe and Asia.
By the mid-1980s Caruana was living in England but left the day
after British police busted a drug ring and found he had paid the
service bill of a car used by those arrested.
He still spent much of his time in Montreal, but when Revenue
Canada seized more than $800,000 from his bank account for taxes he
hadn't paid, he fled Canada.
The base of the family's operations again became Venezuela, where
the Caruanas' three brother-in-laws -- the Cuntreras -- had been
hob-nobbing with that country's social and political elite. A former
president of Venezuela was a guest at the wedding of one of the
Reunited in South America, the clan is said to have run an empire
of more than 50 companies.
Their welcome wore thin there as well. Three Cuntrera brothers,
Caruana's brother-in-laws, were extradited to Italy where they now
sit in prison.
It was around the mid 1990s that Caruana returned to Canada,
renting his house in Woodbridge in June 1996.
Caruana was seen as the last of the untouchables -- those men of
such power and wealth they seemed above both the law and the
"The Cuntrera-Caruanas are a family above the underworld, above
the mob. They are independent and yet work with everyone. They are a
higher level,'' says Antonio Nicaso, an internationally-recognized
specialist in organized crime.
"They were the envy of the underworld.''
The family dealt with anyone who could put profit in their pockets.
They avoided the bloody Mafia wars that raged through Sicily.
But if the past decades have been kind to the jet-setting Caruana,
the past few years have been something of a disaster.
Three drug-related charges each -- laid against Alfonso and two
brothers, Gerlando and Pasquale, and a nephew, Giuseppe, in a public
spectacle yesterday -- is the most recent tribulation.
Captain Andrea Carpani, of Italy's ROSC Carabinieri, a special
police force, said a 21-year prison sentence awaits Caruana if he
sets foot in Italy.
Caruana was also put on trial in absentia in Turin, Italy, in
April. He was one of 76 people indicted following a large seizure of
cocaine in Italy in 1994, but was found not guilty during the trial
in a bunkered courtroom.
Then, on May 11, Caruana's brother-in-law, Pasquale Cuntrera, gave
Italian authorities the slip just hours before the supreme court
upheld a 21-year sentence against him for trafficking narcotics
between Canada, Venezuela and Sicily.
The court also upheld 15-year terms against Cuntrera's two
Cuntrera was arrested near a Spanish seaside resort 13 days later
and sent to an Italian jail.
RCMP Inspector Ben Soave, who headed up yesterday's Canadian raids,
said police tackled the Cuntrera-Caruana clan using the family's own
tactics -- erasing international borders.
"Borders should no longer represent an opportunity for organized
crime,'' he said.
Yesterday, police said the clan has now largely been dismantled and
most of the family is in custody here and in Italy.
The arrests and drug seizures announced yesterday will have an
impact on the global drug trade for a bit -- drugs will be in short
supply and prices higher.
Nicaso said the arrests will send a strong message to Canadian
mafiosi that if the "untouchables'' can be nabbed, so can they.
It also eliminates any possibility of Caruana assuming an active
leadership role in Ontario's mob, which has been without a boss
since Hamilton's Johnny (Pops) Papalia was shot dead a year ago.
But for Caruana, the arrests jeopardize his dream of returning to
Venezuela, said Nicaso.
An underworld source with contacts to Caruana told Nicaso this was
his driving ambition. But it was a difficult prospect.
Said Nicaso: "I was told he was working to create the right
political conditions to go back to Venezuela.
"To me, from these enigmatic words, that means he was to work with
the opposition parties there.
"Alfonso Caruana said 'Canada is not for me.'''
And he was right.
July 16, 1998