Montreal Mafia godfather Nicolo Rizzuto, who was shot dead at the age of 86 on Nov. 10, 2010, exuded the Old World enchantment of a real-life Mafia boss, naturally dressing the part with fedora, tie and long, dark overcoat. But while he ran a complicated criminal empire, his approach to public relations was comically unsophisticated.
At least three times he rebuffed my approach for an interview.
Once, when I approached him outside of the cafe in Montreal that he used as his headquarters, he politely tipped his hat but utterly ignored my questions and my request that he stop and talk. He just walked on, pretending to be oblivious to me matching his pace beside him.
He silently bobbed his way along the sidewalk until he entered the cafe, where a man much larger than both Mr. Rizzuto and myself blocked my passage.
Mr. Rizzuto tried the same obstructionist technique on the telephone as well. He seemed comfortable with me knowing it was a charade.
In the summer of 2006, as Mr. Rizzuto’s son, Vito, was facing extradition to New York for three gangland murders involving the Bonanno crime family, I wanted to know how the patriarch of the powerful clan was feeling, so I called him at the same cafe.
The man who answered the phone was reluctant to pass the receiver to the boss. So was a second man he gave the phone to instead. I didn’t tell either one who was calling. I said that was between Mr. Rizzuto and me. Clearly, neither wanted
to hang up on someone who might be important.
Eventually Mr. Rizzuto came to the phone, speaking his greeting in Italian. When I fully introduced myself, he did the telephone version of pretending I wasn’t walking beside him asking questions.
“I don’t hear. Your phone, something is wrong. I don’t hear you so good. I don’t understand,” he said, pretending that the crystal clear connection I had just had with the other men in the cafe was suddenly faulty.
When I agreed my interview was over, but perhaps he could tell me who else to call if he wouldn’t answer my questions, he dropped his charade and, again speaking normally and clearly, gave me the phone numbers for Vito’s wife and for his son-in-law, Paolo Renda.
Mr. Renda was just as unhelpful as Mr. Rizzuto, but took a more open approach: “Forget it,” he said, chuckling, when I started asking questions, “No, no. Forget it, sir.”
The opportunity to speak more substantively with Mr. Rizzuto evaporated in a flash when a sniper behind his Montreal mansion squeezed the trigger, hitting the grandfather in the head as he sat at his kitchen table with his wife and daughter nearby.
And it is unlikely I will get another chance to speak again to Mr. Renda, either. He was kidnapped on May 20 this year and has not been seen since.
writes Adrian Humphreys , National Post Click here: In memory of those we lost