'Godfather' linked to recycling firm
Drove car registered to bin company with Toronto contract
National Post, Feb 4, 2003
The head of the City of Toronto's public works department is calling for police to investigate possible links between a reputed Mafia godfather and OMG Media Inc., a company with municipal contracts in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa to place recycling bins on street corners.
The possibility of a connection arises from court records in Montreal over an impaired driving charge against Vito Rizzuto, whom the government once described as "the godfather of the Italian Mafia in Montreal."
When Mr. Rizzuto was pulled over by city police in the early morning hours of May 30, 2002, he was driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee registered to OMG Media, according to the police report.
OMG holds a contract to place and maintain 3,700 recycling bins for the city of Toronto.
The stainless steel bins have separate holes for bottles and cans, newspapers and trash. The city empties the bins and OMG keeps their outsides clean. The company also has contracts with a number of Ontario and Quebec municipalities.
Salvatore Oliveti, president and founder of OMG, based in Concord, Ont., said he is mystified by how Mr. Rizzuto came to be driving one of his Jeeps.
"I'm trying to find out exactly what happened. We have eight vehicles in this company; seven vehicles are here in Ontario and one is in Montreal," he said. The Montreal Jeep was given to Michael Strizzi, director of OMG's Quebec division, for use as a company car, he said.
"I think Michael Strizzi in Montreal lent the Jeep to Vito Rizzuto -- but I didn't know about that," Mr. Oliveti said.
Mr. Strizzi could not be reached.
Mr. Oliveti knows Mr. Rizzuto socially, through a former job as host of an Italian television show, but Mr. Rizzuto is not an investor, owner or employee of the firm, he said.
"I went to thousands of functions in the Italian community, here in Toronto, in Montreal and in Ottawa. And during one of these functions I met him -- I met [Jean] Chrétien, too, at one of these functions. I met [Toronto Police Chief] Julian Fantino.
"I really think this is all about me being Italian and speaking with a big accent."
Brad Duguid, chairman of the Works Committee, said ethnicity has nothing to do with the city's concerns.
"If presented with facts that suggest any company we're doing business with has connections to organized crime, we are going to do all that we can to sever our relationships with those companies," Mr. Duguid said.
"This is definitely cause for concern for us as a city," he said, stressing no such formal link between OMG and the Mafia has yet been established.
The city should contact police and seek information and an investigation of the situation, he said.
Mr. Duguid said the bins have been largely successful.
"There has been a public benefit to having their litter containers on our streets. They provide an opportunity for people to recycle on the streets and it promotes a cleaner city."
Mr. Rizzuto has pleaded not guilty to the impaired driving charge.
Police officers, law enforcement reports from several countries, court records and organized crime specialists all point to Mr. Rizzuto as a major boss of the Mafia.
When Mr. Rizzuto was involved in a tax dispute, settled last year, Revenue Canada described him in court documents as "the Godfather of the Italian Mafia in Montreal."
Despite his notoriety, Mr. Rizzuto has not been convicted of any criminal offence since 1972. He has twice been acquitted of serious drug charges.
OMG's history goes back to the late 1990s when the company developed stainless steel boxes to replace city trash bins and allow for the diverting of recyclable material.
OMG's pitch was attractive.
Municipalities pay nothing for the bins and get 5% of the advertising space to promote a city's message. OMG then pays municipalities a monthly fee for each box it places on the street -- regardless of whether there is paid advertising on the box.
The company hopes to make money by selling advertising on the boxes, but so far has failed to turn a profit, Mr. Oliveti said.
OMG ran a pilot project in Toronto and then moved to expand it across the city, said Angelos Bacopoulos, Toronto's general manager of solid waste management services.
The pitch was backed by Joe Foti, a Liberal fundraiser who had considerable sway before his death two years ago. Mr. Foti held an annual barbecue that attracted plenty of politicians, including the Prime Minister.
Mr. Bacopoulos said some councillors wanted to give OMG a 10-year contract without tendering it to the public. His recommendation to put it out for tendering was rejected by the Works Committee, a decision later overturned by city council.
A number of companies bid for the contract with OMG being the successful proponent.
"They offered us a very attractive package," Mr. Bacopoulos said.
OMG also hired a high-powered lobbyist to help attract federal government advertising.
Paul Pellegrini, president of the Sussex Strategy Group, registered as a lobbyist on OMG's behalf on Dec. 19, 2001, to make telephone calls, arrange meetings and conduct "informal" communications with government departments, including Canadian Heritage, National Defence, Revenue Canada and Public Works.
Mr. Pellegrini said he no longer works for the company. He was trying, unsuccessfully, to have government advertisements placed on OMG's boxes.
"We just helped them with some government relations advice. They were looking to grow their business and it was a short-term arrangement. There is no connection between OMG and our company any more," he said.
Lee Lamothe, an organized crime author, said the case should prompt a public inquiry to discover or dismiss links between city contracts and organized crime.
"To have the most powerful Sicilian Mafia boss in Canada connected through this car ownership to any company doing business with any government is a red flag that should grind any deal to a halt while the police investigate," Mr. Lamothe said.
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