Hamil­ton mob­sters and cops: They used to greet each other by name

Gone are the days when three pow­er­ful fam­i­lies dom­i­nated

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - SU­SAN CLAIRMONT

There was a time when the mob was so big in Hamil­ton that an en­tire po­lice unit was de­voted to it.

Now, years go by with­out Hamil­ton po­lice speak­ing pub­licly about tra­di­tional or­ga­nized crime in our city. We hear about out­law bikers and street gangs, but al­most noth­ing about the Ital­ian Mafia that once ruled over these streets.

That si­lence, per­haps, has lulled us into be­liev­ing the Mob no longer ex­ists here.

Of course, La Cosa Nos­tra is back on The Spec­ta­tor’s front page this week af­ter Ang Musi­tano was gunned down in the drive­way of his Wa­ter­down home.

The Musi­tano fam­ily is, as Ang him­self wrote re­cently, “The Fam­ily.” And it has been for gen­er­a­tions.

Ang (An­gelo) and his older brother Pat (Pasquale) were each charged with two counts of first-de­gree mur­der af­ter the 1997 hits on Hamil­ton Mafia don Johnny “Pops” Pa­palia and his Ni­a­gara Falls lieu­tenant Car­men Bar­il­laro. Af­ter a plea deal, they were con­victed of con­spir­acy to com­mit mur­der in Bar­il­laro’s death and served six years in prison.

In their hey­day, the Musi­tanos, the Pa­palias and the Lup­pinos each staked out ter­ri­tory here and some­times killed over it. Their ac­tiv­i­ties were so ram­pant the Hamil­tonWent­worth po­lice (as they were called back then), RCMP, OPP and Hal­ton po­lice cre­ated the Joint Forces Unit ( JFU) in 1977, a spe­cial task force de­voted en­tirely to in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Mob. The unit was based in Hamil­ton and would go on to sig­nif­i­cantly dis­rupt the lo­cal Mafia scene.

One found­ing mem­ber of the JFU was an am­bi­tious young Hamil­ton de­tec­tive who would spend seven years chas­ing af­ter the Musi­tanos.

And then he be­came the chief of po­lice.

“The Musi­tanos were in­fa­mous,” says Ken Robert­son, who was Hamil­ton’s top cop from 1998 un­til his re­tire­ment in 2003.

Though he doesn’t live in Hamil­ton any­more, Robert­son still reads The Spec ev­ery day and is well aware of Ang’s death.

And there’s still a piece of him that wishes he was back on the street, in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case.

“This is what real po­lice work is,” he says. “When a mur­der like this hap­pens, you know there is so much more hap­pen­ing un­der the sur­face.”

Though the Lup­pinos were “the big­gest crime fam­ily in town” when the JFU was formed, the Musi­tanos were giv­ing them a run for their money. It was a gen­er­a­tion ago when Tony and Do­minic Musi­tano were head­ing the fam­ily and bak­ery bomb­ings, ex­tor­tion rings and pro­tec­tion rack­ets were de rigueur.

“And the cheese in­dus­try,” says Robert­son. “They took over cheese ship­ments from Italy and the prices dou­bled. It was part of their op­er­a­tion.”

In those days, ev­ery po­lice of­fi­cer in Hamil­ton knew the Musi­tanos by sight and the Musi­tanos knew all the cops who watched them.

For­mer Hamil­ton po­lice Sgt. John Har­ris, who re­tired five years ago af­ter 40 years on the job, says the mob was the city’s big­gest crime prob­lem in the late 70s when he was start­ing out.

Once back then, when he was a new con­sta­ble, he had a con­fronta­tion with Frank Pa­palia — brother to Johnny Pops — af­ter pulling his Cadil­lac over in a late-night traf­fic stop. The Musi­tanos, who have a large ex­tended fam­ily, seemed to be ev­ery­where then.

“You couldn’t help but bump into them on James Street North,” Har­ris says.

The cops and the mob­sters would greet each other by name and be cor­dial to one an­other, while al­ways re­main­ing wary.

“They were never rude be­cause they didn’t want any more at­ten­tion than they were al­ready get­ting,” he says.

The JFU was dis­banded in the early 1990s, but in 2002 (Robert­son was now Chief Robert­son), the RCMP pub­licly launched the Com­bined Forces Spe­cial En­force­ment Unit, which had al­ready ex­isted in se­cret for some time. It drew in mem­bers from nine po­lice ser­vices to tar­get or­ga­nized crime in the Golden Horse­shoe. The unit was head­quar­tered in Hamil­ton. The CFSEU still ex­ists, is led by the RCMP, but has an oddly low pro­file.

Af­ter Ang and Pat were re­leased from prison in 2006, there has been vir­tu­ally no pub­lic dis­cus­sion about Ital­ian or­ga­nized crime in Hamil­ton. Ang breached a pa­role con­di­tion and went back into cus­tody briefly. That gar­nered a bit of press. Then in 2015, Pat’s SUV was set on fire in his drive­way. That ar­son re­mains un­solved.

And now, a Musi­tano mur­dered.

Su­san Clairmont’s com­men­tary ap­pears reg­u­larly in The Spec­ta­tor. sclair­mont@thespec.com 905-526-3539 | @su­san­clair­mont

HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

Mob boss Do­minic Musi­tano, cen­tre, leaves the Mil­ton court­house in 1991.

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