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Updated: Mon, 30 Dec 2013 09:27:27 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Vito Rizzuto funeral today likely to draw Mafia associates

Many cars full of flowers arrived at Loreto early on Sunday afternoon for the Vito Rizzuto visitation. Radio-Canada

Many cars full of flowers arrived at Loreto early on Sunday afternoon for the Vito Rizzuto visitation. Radio-Canada

Hundreds of people are expected at Montreal's Notre-Dâme-de-la-Défense church this afternoon for the funeral of former Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto, who died of natural causes last week.

Rizzuto, 67, died on Dec. 23 at Montreal's Sacré-Coeur Hospital, a day after he was hospitalized for pulmonary problems.

His funeral Monday starts at 12:30 p.m. ET at the church in the city's Little Italy neighbourhood.

Nicknamed Montreal's Teflon Don — a nod to the original Teflon Don, New York's John Gotti — Rizzuto walked free for much of his life despite a number of accusations against him over the years.

However, a 2007 guilty plea on racketeering charges related to the 1981 murders of three alleged New York gang leaders landed him in prison in the U.S. for eight years.

"My job was to say, 'It's a holdup!' so everybody would stand still," Rizzuto said at the time of his plea.

He denied being the trigger man. 

Arrested in 2003 and extradited to the U.S. in 2006, he served the last six years of his sentence in a Colorado prison.

He returned to the Montreal area in late 2012, settling in the Laval suburb of Ste-Dorothée.

Deep roots in organized crime

Born in the Cattolica Eraclea area of Sicily in 1946, Rizzuto moved to Canada with his family when he was eight years old.

The Rizzutos are said to have risen to power after Paolo Violi, head of the Calabrian Mafia in Canada, was shot and killed while eating at a Montreal restaurant in 1978.

Nicolo Rizzuto Sr. — the patriarch of the Rizzuto crime family — was assassinated at his Montreal home in November 2010 at age 86. His death came after a string of legal battles.

The elder Rizzuto and several associates pleaded guilty to gangsterism-related charges in 2008 after their arrest in Operation Colisée, a massive four-year police investigation targeting the Mafia that logged more than a million hours of taped conversations from wiretaps.

Rizzuto Sr. received a suspended sentence. Two years later, he pleaded guilty to new charges, this time for tax evasion.

Vito Rizzuto had three children. His son Nick Jr. was assassinated in broad daylight in 2009. He is survived by his son Leonardo and daughter Bettina, both lawyers in Quebec.

Power vacuum left by Rizzuto’s death

Experts in organized crime say Rizzuto’s death will likely lead to a power vacuum — a struggle over leadership of the Montreal Mafia caused by the lack of an heir to the so-called throne.

Journalist and Mafia expert Antonio Nicaso told CBC News on Sunday that it was unclear whether Rizzuto had the time to name his successor.

His death could lead to a major upheaval in the underworld, said Adrian Humphreys, author of The Sixth Family: The Collapse Of the New York Mafia and the Rise of Vito Rizzuto​.

A surge of violence is possible as members of organized crime outfits in Montreal, Toronto and New York vie for Rizzuto’s territory, Humphreys said.

"To have him now permanently removed from the underworld, the crime landscape, it’ll just open up the floodgates to everyone jockeying for positions,” he said.

Rizzuto funeral a chance to ID associates

A visitation Sunday at the Loreto funeral complex in St-Leonard, a predominantly Italian neighbourhood in Montreal’s east end, drew hundreds of people to pay their respects. Loreto is owned by the Rizzuto family.

Michel Martin, a former inspector with Quebec’s provincial police, said wakes and funerals of people known to be members of the Mafia are often good opportunities to identify possible associates.

“Here we’ll find them all in the same place in a relatively short period of time,” Martin said. 

A police presence is required at such events in case there are any conflicts, he added.

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