Before the Musitanos fell
In 1998, Hamilton’s infamous brothers were fighting, yes, a traffic case, but the police were nipping at their heels
Let’s turn back the clock, put away the guns, resurrect the dead, and catch a glimpse of the Musitano brothers before their fall.
Before Pat was fighting for his life in hospital after being gunned down last Thursday. Before Angelo was shot to death in his driveway in 2017.
Before they were both broken by the wheels of justice.
The time was late October, 1998. They were young. They carried a big cudgel among local mobsters.
And they were a mere month away from being charged with the murder of gangland boss Johnny Papalia, which was later pleaded down to conspiracy in the death of his henchman Carmen Barillaro.
But that day they were in court for, of all things, a traffic charge. By pure happenstance, the column I wrote about it revealed how close police were nipping at their heels.
I’ve edited it slightly, but it went like this: The Musitano brothers are as short and stocky as fireplugs and when you see them standing side-by-side they look like slightly mismatched bookends carved from the same side of beef.
They’re the scions of the late Dominic Musitano, reputed to be a notorious Hamilton crime boss, who died of a heart attack in 1995.
At 30, Pat is the older and heavier of the two and you get the feeling no matter how old 21-year-old Angelo gets, he’s always going to be the little brother.
Both Angelo and Pat are facing charges in connection with a multimillion-dollar bookmaking operation slammed shut by police last December.
But that’s not why they were in court yesterday. They were there, as relaxed and casual as their court apparel, in connection with a dangerous driving charge against Angelo.
Pat was present not as a witness, but to give Angelo moral support. He sat on the bench behind Ang the whole time, never once completely dozing off.
Dean Paquette, Angelo’s legal counsel and one of the city’s finest criminal lawyers, has advised both men not to talk to the media about the case.
Probably just as well. Based on yesterday’s cross-examination of two Crown witnesses, Paquette seems to have the matter well in hand.
Paquette maintains the charge against Angelo is pure baloney. He argues it’s a trumped-up piece of work designed to drag Angelo into the police station so he could be interviewed in connection
with the hit on mobster Carmen Barillaro, who was gunned down at his Niagara Falls home in 1997.
Paquette went after the testimony of two Niagara regional cops — both members of a joint task force investigating the unsolved murders of mafia boss Johnny (Pops) Papalia and his lieutenant, Barillaro — with razorlike logic.
By the time he was finished, the question arose: Exactly who was driving dangerously on Nov. 17, 1997?
The detectives testified they were in Hamilton that day looking for an opportunity to talk to Angelo. They planned to either stop his car or approach him on the street.
They’d arranged for Hamilton cops to put Angelo under surveillance so they’d know his whereabouts. They waited in a parking lot in their unmarked car while Angelo was inside The Gathering Spot, a James Street North eatery run by brother Pat.
When surveillance radioed that Angelo was heading off in a white Buick, the Niagara cops made their move.
They spotted the Buick stopped at a red light at James and Cannon. They allege Angelo made an improper right turn onto Cannon and then ran a red at Bay.
The Niagara cops followed. So did four unmarked Hamilton cop cars. Under questioning by Paquette, it came out that the five cop cars may have run two red lights each while chasing Angelo.
As Paquette pointed out, that’s 10 red lights. There was no emergency. They didn’t use lights or sirens. And there was no arrest.
At least not until days later, after Angelo had slammed his door in the face of the two Niagara cops when they tried to talk to him at his home.
Notes from a task force meeting that took place after the car chase indicate they talked about charging Angelo with dangerous driving to make it easier to interview him.
He was arrested Nov. 20, four days after the alleged driving incident.
The Niagara detectives were notified and tore back to Hamilton. They got nothing from Angelo during their six-minute interview. He pretty much closed his eyes, put his head back and told them he wanted to talk to Paquette ...
Looking back on that trial 20 plus years later, I expressly remember Pat breathing heavily through his mouth, eyes heavy, straining to stay awake.
I remember the judge smiling appreciatively at Paquette’s line of attack. The charge was later reduced to careless driving and Angelo was fined $500.
But most of all I recall how carefree the Musitano brothers seemed as they climbed into their white Buick and drove away, blissfully unaware of the judicial comeuppance and bloody reckonings waiting for them down the road.