Rocco Zito, 87, had been a senior member of the notorious ‘Ndrangheta, or Calabrian Mafia, based in southern Italy, according to Canadian media, and one of Toronto’s most powerful Mafia leaders, with influence in New York, Montreal and Italy.
Mr Zito’s son-in-law, Domenico Scopelliti, has been charged with murder after turning himself in to police.
Police said officers arrived at Mr Zito’s home on Friday to find a man with gunshot wounds. Attempts were made to resuscitate him but he died of his injuries.
Mr Zito’s old associates included Nicolo Rizzuto, a murdered Montreal mobster, and Tomasso Buscetta, a former Sicilian Mafia leader who became a turncoat in the 1980s, according to police sources.
A Greater Toronto Area police officer who specialises in organised crime said Mr Zito was no longer considered an active player in the underworld, saying: “He has been long retired.”
But Antonio Nicaso, an author and authority on organised crime, disagreed with that assessment.
He said: “Retirement is not an option in the ’Ndrangheta.”
Mr Zito, a grandfather, did not look the part of a mob boss or a powerful man, and a police officer who knew him described him as polite and respectful.
He stood just 5ft2in tall and drove a nondescript Chevrolet Malibu. But his unassuming, compact look belied the fact he was considered by police to have been a leader of the local governing body of the ’Ndrangheta, called La Camera di Controllo or the Crimini – and the belief he was once an enforcer for former Scarborough resident Alberto Agueci, who was tortured and murdered in 1961 after threatening to inform on the Magaddino crime family of Buffalo.
Mr Zito was targeted by police in the mid-1980s in a project codenamed Otiz. The operation was an attempt to catch him offering safe passage for Sicilian Mafia members fleeing crackdowns there in the 1980s.
Intelligence gathering proved a challenge for police, as Mr Zito seldom spoke on the phone, preferring walk-and-talks on the street. He also often used hand gestures in place of words.
Mr Zito tried for almost a decade to move to Canada from his native Calabria, finally arriving in Montreal in 1955.