A sunny spring morning and a Mississauaga law office parking lot became the setting of the most high profile, mob-related hit Hamilton and the GTA have seen in years.
Pat Musitano, reputed scion of the Hamilton crime family that shares his name, was shot Thursday after reportedly leaving a meeting with his lawyer. He was rushed to a Toronto trauma centre and remains in life-threatening condition.
The attack is a direct blow to the once-mighty Musitano family and follows years of underworld turmoil that experts and investigators say has recently boiled over in Hamilton and other areas of the GTA, leading to a spate of killings.
Many questions remain about the underworld power struggle, but experts say this shooting reveals just how weakened the Musitano family has become in a few short years. They say Pat had been moving around and trying to hide and that what remnants there were of his organization are melting away.
“Until they settle some old accounts, until they decide to appoint a new boss who will come out with a solution to put an end to this horrible struggle, there will be more violence,” said Antonio Nicaso, a Mafia expert who teaches courses on organized crime at Queen’s University.
Mustiano’s shooting marks the fourth incident in the past two years where the victim has some connection to organized crime in Hamilton. Three of the attacks shared similarities, with the victim being gunned down at home and police reporting the alleged shooters performed some sort of surveillance on their target before pulling the trigger.
Surging violence amid a power struggle
Police have connected the recent surge of violence in the Toronto and Montreal areas to a power struggle that seems to have started after Vito Rizzuto, former head of the Montreal Mafia, died in 2013.
The “Teflon Don” died after being hospitalized for pulmonary problems — about a year after he was released from an American prison for pleading guilty to racketeering charges in exchange for a 10-year sentence in connection with the 1981 murders of three alleged gang leaders at a New York social club.
His death opened the door to upheaval in the underworld, according to Nicaso.
“There’s a power struggle left from the vacuum from Rizzuto,” he previously told CBC News.
The first evidence of the struggle touched Hamilton in 2017 when notorious mobster Angelo Musitano — Pat’s brother — was fatally shot outside his Waterdown home.
Pat and Angelo are the sons of the family’s original head, Dominic Musitano who established the family as a force in the city. He died in 1995. The Musitano family was aligned with Rizzuto, which offered protection — until his death.
A Hamilton man is facing a murder charge in connection with Angelo’s death. Two other suspects are wanted on Canada-wide warrants, but police believe they may have fled to Mexico.
Angelo was killed just before the 20-year anniversary of the famous hit on the fearsome Johnny (Pops) Papalia, to which he was forever linked, despite family and friends describing him as someone who found God and spent time caring for his young family in his later years.
Pat’s home was previously targeted
That fatal shooting kick started a string of violent incidents that have left the family under siege.
Just weeks after Angelo was killed, someone sprayed Pat Musitano’s home on St. Clair Boulevard with bullets.
An attack on a home is seen as a serious sign in criminal circles, according to Stephen Metelsky, a criminology professor at Mohawk College who spent more than two decades with Halton police, specializing in organized crime.
“That on its own … is a very significant act in the underworld,” he said. “When someone’s property is destroyed, shot at or burned, especially in the Mafia it could be a foreshadowing of circumstances that will unfold in the future. I think that’s what we’re seeing today.”
Nicaso said the Musitano left his house after it was shot up and was trying to hide out in the Mississauga area when he was shot.
“He was hunted for sure,” said the professor, adding he wasn’t surprised at all to hear about the shooting.
Experts think Musitano was on the run
That said, the timing of the violent attack is raising questions for experts.
Musitano’s uncle, Tony, died last week of natural causes. His funeral was Wednesday at Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King in Hamilton — less than 24 hours before his nephew was shot.
Metelsky said he wonders why, given the rash of violence that’s targeted his family, and the recent passing of his uncle, Musitano would leave the security of his hometown.
He has a theory that a meeting at a law office was just the window of opportunity whoever was gunning for Musitano needed.
“This no doubt was meant to be a homicide, not an attempted murder, it was a targeted incident,” he said. “From my understanding, Pat was a homebody. So to get Pat out of not only Hamilton, but his comfort zone surrounding his home, I think that afforded an opportunity … to carry out a public-style potential hit.”
Two such “public-style” hits have been carried out in Hamilton in the past year alone.
Al Iavarone, real estate agent who police said had connections to organized crime, was shot outside his Ancaster home in September. His wife and kids were home at the time.
Police say someone drove up in a silver car, waited in the bushes for hours until the 50-year-old arrived home and then carried out the “targeted attack.”
A few months later, Cece Luppino, the son of mobster Rocco Luppino, was killed at a Hamilton home in January.
Investigators have called it yet another “targeted” killing, though Luppino did not have a criminal record.
Police say Luppino likely wasn’t being followed. Instead, someone was watching for him.
Pointing to surveillance video, police say the man who killed Luppino milled around for a short period before walking through a neighbouring property, into an open garage. After the shooting he was seen running from the scene.
Family could be losing supporters
While they still have associates, Metelsky said the Musitano organization has been significantly reduced in recent years.
“Really the remnants of the Musitano family are Pat himself. I think anybody that’s looking to make a strategic power play in the city of Hamilton, it’s just Pat that’s left,” he explained.
The professor said he suspects the family’s remaining supporters are starting to jump ship.
“Anybody that’s close to or an associate of the Musitano Crime Family, I think … it’s obvious that the once-prominent family and the power and backing they had is anywhere close to where it used to be in the 90s, 2000s and even up until five years ago.”