Montreal Gazette

`It's funny – of all the things I did, fear never got to me'




Having beaten the odds by outliving most of the crooks and mobsters he finked on, Canada's most prolific police informant has died; not at the hands of vengeful gangsters, but at home while battling illness.

Marvin “The Weasel” Elkind collapsed quietly Sunday night, seven weeks shy of his 90th birthday, which he had been looking forward to, although his festivitie­s lately bore no resemblanc­e to the revelry of his past.

Much of his life was a frantic lurch from calamity to celebratio­n and back again, while constantly finding himself beside giants of both the underworld and boxing, during the golden age of both.

Marvin, born in Toronto on March 13, 1934, was most famous as a chauffeur for Jimmy Hoffa, America's notorious Teamsters union boss whose disappeara­nce has been an obsession for nearly 50 years. He also drove Montreal Mafia boss Vic Cotroni, and worked with Johnny Pops Papalia, Ontario's Mafia boss, along with other notorious names.

His love of boxing made him a fixture in the sport, briefly in the ring but much more so outside of it. He became friends with Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer of the 20th century, and was close with George Chuvalo, a former Canadian heavyweigh­t champ who is a legend for twice facing Ali without being knocked off his feet.

Being known and accepted in the rough-andtumble worlds of gangsters and fighters gave Marvin flawless credential­s to weasel his way into any criminal fraternity, which was a skill he made his career — but not as a crook.

Marvin helped cops corral cartel members in Mexico, Libyan terrorists, drug trafficker­s in New York, mobsters in Detroit, coup plotters in Ghana, stock swindlers in Amsterdam, corrupt politician­s, killers and a full inventory of criminals across Canada.

He was ambivalent about being a fink and tried to keep it a secret.

“It's an awful thing when the only thing you're good at is being a fink,” Marvin once told me. It wasn't the only thing he was good at, of course.

He was a good driver, was habitually punctual, had a phenomenal memory, was a quick thinker and engaging storytelle­r, and a loving husband and father to two daughters. He had an immense sense of humour but saved his biggest cackling laughs for his own foibles.

And despite it being his job to befriend and betray, to his friends — his real friends — he had fanatical loyalty. His friends were (mostly) loyal in return, even during the awkwardnes­s of his role as a fink becoming public.

Marvin was the subject of a book I wrote called The Weasel: A Double Life in the Mob. The large launch party we had for it at a boxing club in downtown Toronto in 2011 became a coming-out party for Marvin to many of his acquaintan­ces, who knew of his brushes with gangsters but didn't know he was on the police payroll for many of them.

A few slipped out the door as we spoke to the crowd from inside the boxing ring, but most stayed and stared and then told him he was a crazy sonofabitc­h.

“Did you ever fink on me,” a few asked.

“Never in a million years,” he told each of them with a smile. For most of them that was true.

As a schoolboy, Marvin was rebellious. Today, his dyslexia and ADHD would be diagnosed and accommodat­ed but back then he was strapped for writing with his left hand and put in a foster home at the urging of school officials.

He was placed in the home of a gangster family who took in kids as a scam for government money. He suffered abuse there that would never leave him.

He grew up with an ethos far from his hard-working Jewish family, who were tailors building what would become the Elk's menswear chain. Instead, Marvin learned about criminal life, and how to lie, and how to fight.

As he grew, Marvin enjoyed the rush of working with gangsters, but they never gave him respect. By the time he was 40, he realized his life was going nowhere. Each time he asked a mob boss for bigger jobs he was told he wasn't capable. The insults stung like the schoolyard teasing as a short, chubby, Jewish kid in a tough Italian neighbourh­ood.

When Marvin hooked up with swindlers in a phoney cheque scam, they assigned him the riskiest part of the job but were giving him the smallest cut. Bitter, he remembered an offer a police detective had dangled.

He decided to sell the jerks to the cops.

Marvin telephoned Det. Al Robinson with the Ontario Provincial Police's Intelligen­ce Branch, a hard-driving, crafty cop known as Robbie, who fitted Marvin with a secret recorder — Marvin's first wire — for his next meeting with the fraudsters. The cops paid him more than the gangsters. That was in 1983. Marvin found his calling. He was given a coded identity: Informant 0030.

From there, Marvin and Robbie took each other on a crazy ride as informant and handler, a complicate­d relationsh­ip spanning decades. Robbie handled many of the OPP'S sensitive informants.

“Marvin turned out to be my best,” Robbie told me.

Marvin became that rare thing: a career fink.

Most informants fink when they face a significan­t charge to save their own skin and then disappear. Marvin kept going back onto the street and reeling in case after case.

He lived a dangerous double life.

In 1987 a man he finked on showed up at his house with some muscle and tried to drag him out to their car. Marvin fought them in his foyer while one of his daughters sat on the stairs shouting encouragem­ent: “Behind you, Dad, watch out! On your left, get him, Dad! You can do it!”

In the 1990s, after Marvin had been forced to testify, his duplicity started seeping out. One crook who Marvin had snitched on for years saw him at a restaurant and bent down and whispered: “One day soon, you'll feel a cold piece at the back of your head, and when it goes off, I want you to think of me.” Years later, Marvin was the happiest man at his funeral.

Marvin's companions­hip with boxers was a deterrent. He learned to befriend the toughest guy in any room.

Sometimes Robbie needed to intervene. In 1993, Robbie met with members of Toronto's Commisso crime family and with Niagara crime boss Carmen Barillaro, seeking assurances they wouldn't go after Marvin.

Marvin had two stints in witness protection, but the rules were too much for him.

The FBI kicked him out in 1993 after they spotted him on TV at a boxing match in Las Vegas when he was supposed to be hiding in a hotel in Los Angeles.

“It's funny, of all the things I did, fear never got to me,” Marvin told me. “I'm not saying I wasn't ever afraid, but it never got to me. Fear, I can handle it. If I'm scared, you'll never know it. But I can't stand loneliness.”

Marvin was overweight most of his life. He had an enormous appetite and indulged his extreme capacity for food and booze. He loved cigars.

While working with the FBI in Atlantic City, Marvin and an undercover agent met in a steakhouse with mobsters representi­ng Nicky Scarfo, Philadelph­ia's Mafia boss. There was a huge porterhous­e on the menu that promised if a diner could eat it within half an hour it was free. Marvin had a magnificen­t appetite, and scotch enhanced it. With a bottle at his side, he ordered the steak and dug in while the mobsters started betting whether he could finish it.

He cleared his plate and then ate a basket of bread. With the revelry of the wild dinner, it never occurred to any of the gangsters they were sitting with an informant and an FBI agent.

In recent years, Marvin's age and health slowed him. He started using a cane. Bending to pick something up was out of the question. He quit drinking and his appetite disappeare­d.

In the last year he lost 160 pounds. No one knew why.

“They gave me all kinds of tests to check for cancer. They had good news and bad news,” he said of a hospital visit in June. “The good news is they didn't find cancer. The bad news is they can't find what the hell it is.”

His wife, Hennie, was distraught. She would make him delicious meals each day, but he wouldn't touch them. He lived on Boost drinks and milkshakes. “He has no appetite at all. He's too skinny,” she said last week. He also had Parkinson's disease.

“They took my driver's licence away,” Marvin complained.

About a year ago, he went with Hennie to the grocery store. She parked and went inside while Marvin stayed in the passenger seat. A young man got out of a car and started rapping on the window, claiming Marvin had hit his car. Marvin said his car hadn't moved.

“People like you should be dead,” the man bellowed.

Marvin's bravado was rejuvenate­d. He climbed out of the car. It was a struggle, needing his cane to help, he told me. The young man mocked his cane. Marvin tossed it onto the car seat.

“I don't need a cane,” he said. “I don't like what you're saying and neither does the guy behind you.”

The man turned to see who he was talking about and Marvin swung a left hook, always his best punch. Thankfully, Marvin said, by the time the guy got up a cop car pulled in and broke it up. Marvin enjoyed that.

Getting old sucks, I told him.

“Beats the alternativ­e,” he replied.

White fog hung dense and low Wednesday, blending seamlessly with the snow over the wide plain of the Pardes Chaim Cemetery north of Toronto. A dark pile of freshly dug earth interrupte­d the white panorama as a hundred mourners gathered as a simple wood casket adorned by a metal Star of David was carried to the grave.

They came from Marvin's synagogue, his boxing gym, his neighbourh­ood, his old hangouts. They were private eyes, accountant­s, tow truck drivers, teachers, fighters, lawyers. They wore yarmulkas, hoodies, ball caps, fedoras, toques, and stark bald pates. They were all Marvin's people.

Rabbi Yitzchok Slavin told mourners that when he first met Marvin, he frightened him with dark stories and by showing him a gold chain given to him by Hoffa.

“I learned over many years that I was really dealing with an individual ... that has a heart of gold. People gravitated to Marvin. He took the crowds away from the rabbi. He was a beacon of light.”

 ?? COURTESY OF THE WEASEL: A DOUBLE LIFE IN THE MOB ?? While wearing a police wire, Marvin Elkind meets Herb Asselstine, white coat, George Buric, dark jacket, and their muscle at Toronto's Royal York Hotel in Elkind's first case for police in 1983, a $1.7-million cheque scam.
COURTESY OF THE WEASEL: A DOUBLE LIFE IN THE MOB While wearing a police wire, Marvin Elkind meets Herb Asselstine, white coat, George Buric, dark jacket, and their muscle at Toronto's Royal York Hotel in Elkind's first case for police in 1983, a $1.7-million cheque scam.
 ?? MATHEW MCCARTHY ?? Marvin Elkind worked as a chauffeur for Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa and for Montreal Mafia boss Vic Cotroni.
MATHEW MCCARTHY Marvin Elkind worked as a chauffeur for Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa and for Montreal Mafia boss Vic Cotroni.
 ?? FAMILY PHOTO ?? Marvin Elkind and boxing great Muhammad Ali, with
whom he became good friends.
FAMILY PHOTO Marvin Elkind and boxing great Muhammad Ali, with whom he became good friends.

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