Montreal cops target Italian cafes in drug bust
MONTREAL - Amid an escalating firebombing war between rival Mafia clans over lucrative drug territory, Montreal police have dismantled a trafficking ring and hope the strike will stem the Molotov cocktail attacks.
Police have been inundated with a rash of late-night arsons at different Italian-style cafes in recent months — attacks that have citizens on edge in the city's northeast sector.
On Thursday, federal, provincial and local police forces raided a dozen Italian cafes, arresting 11 people and seizing drugs, money and business documents.
The cafes are not the same ones that have been targeted by the Molotov cocktail-tossing firebombers.
But police expressed hope the raids will help them gather information they need to calm growing tensions.
"One of the objectives was to tackle this problem," Cmdr. Denis Mainville, head of the Montreal police organized crime squad, said at a news conference.
"Part of the operation was to obtain evidence that would help us put a stop to the arsons in Italian cafes."
Police have said 19 recent arsons, primarily carried out in cafes, are linked to clashes between Italian Mafia groups trying to carve out territory for themselves.
Cmdr. Mario Lamothe of the arson squad told reporters last week the businesses were points-of-purchase for illegal drugs.
"It's organized crime 101," Lamothe said.
"It's really the first step in taking over a territory. You push out the people that are there or use intimidation. The purpose is to intimidate, not to kill or anything else. They are messages."
Four people arrested in connection with the firebombings are described as subcontractors for the Mafia.
Thursday's arrests also involved an unidentified individual described as a ringleader.
The others also awaiting arraignment on Friday are described primarily as drug runners. All will face charges of drug possession for the purpose of trafficking.
Heroin, cocaine and contraband tobacco were among the items seized.
"These people used a pager-system to move the drugs and had some very close ties with the Italian Mafia," Mainville said.
The ring was lucrative, pulling in $70,000 a week in sales.
"(The sales) didn't necessarily happen in the cafes,"Mainville said. "The sales were more in the streets."
One of the establishments, Bar Jean-Talon, was described by police as a sort of headquarters for the ring.
The Montreal Mafia has been a key concern for law enforcement. It is currently in a state of flux, with the once-dominant Rizzuto clan losing its grip on power.
"With the permutations within the Mafia, the evidence we've accumulated today will help in other investigations too," Mainville said.
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