‘You’re Never Too Busy For Your Banker’: How Italy’s ’Ndrangheta Mafia Allegedly Infiltrated Canadian Banks

A faction of the ’Ndrangheta based in Toronto allegedly relied on relationships with staff at two major Canadian banks to facilitate their financial activities.

Key Findings

  • An alleged faction of the ’Ndrangheta led by an Italian immigrant to Canada, Angelo Figliomeni, appears to have had close relationships with employees at the Royal Bank of Canada and TD. Figliomeni declined to comment and the charges against him were stayed.
  • Court filings, exhibits, and an internal police report indicate that two bankers were investigated by police for allegedly helping the group launder the proceeds of crime.
  • Reporters have also linked another employee of TD to the Figliomeni group, via Italian police surveillance records.
  • The RBC banker was charged with money laundering, and his bank has said it spotted suspicious transactions linked to him. He declined to comment on the police allegations, which were never tried in court.
  • Neither of the TD bankers were charged, and both declined to comment. One remains at his bank on administrative leave.

Angelo Figliomeni wanted answers. The alleged mob boss had sent an associate to make a deposit into his account at the Royal Bank of Canada, but there was less cash than expected.

He got on the line with his “client care manager” at the bank branch, Nicola “Nick” Martino — who police alleged also happened to be a member of his organized crime group.

“Thirteen thousand, three hundred, tell me why?” Figliomeni asked Martino.

“Three days short, ‘cause it was February checks,” the banker replied.

“Always an excuse!” Figliomeni barked at Martino.

Little did they know, police were listening in.

Police suspected the deposits were part of a steady flow of “pay up” funds –– payments from members of the alleged criminal group to their boss. The money was deposited into Figliomeni’s accounts at RBC by associates who police alleged were involved in a mafia money laundering scheme, court records show. Martino was investigated by police for helping the funds flow into seemingly legitimate accounts, but charges against him were not brought to trial.

The Italian-born Figliomeni is the suspected leader of a powerful Toronto-based faction of the ’Ndrangheta –– a violent and secretive organization with tentacles stretching across the globe from its base in southern Italy.

His day job, according to police, is selling panini and delivering baked goods through businesses he owns in Vaughan, a city in the Greater Toronto Area. But in 2017, York Regional Police in Ontario launched a sprawling organized crime investigation targeting Figliomeni and his associates.

Police dubbed the investigation Project Sindacato, and later called it “the biggest mafia takedown” in their history. But all charges against Figliomeni, Martino and other suspects were eventually stayed, In Canada, government prosecutors can put criminal charges on hold. Stayed charges can only be brought back to court within a year of being paused. police said. Prosecutors decided not to proceed after it was shown that police had listened to calls between defendants and their lawyers.

The decision forced authorities to return more than CAN$35 million (US$27 million) worth of assets, police said. It also meant the details of the group’s alleged abuse of Canadian financial institutions were never made public in court.

Now, a joint investigation from OCCRP, The Toronto Star, and Italy’s la Repubblica newspaper reveals how two major Canadian banks were allegedly infiltrated by Figliomeni and his associates.

Reporters obtained court records from Project Sindacato, and spoke with law enforcement and banking sources close to the investigation. They also scoured court documents from Italy, where police worked on a parallel investigation in collaboration with their Canadian counterparts.

In addition to Martino at RBC, reporters uncovered evidence that Figliomeni’s associates had contact with two TD Bank employees. Police alleged that one of the TD employees was “fully aware of the money laundering endeavors” of the Figliomeni group. Neither of them were charged.

Through his lawyer Martino declined to comment. Michael Lacy, a lawyer for Figliomeni, said: “Our client is neither participating nor commenting on your inquiries. You should draw nothing from his decision in that regard.”

In a joint motion during the case, lawyers for the defendants argued that police had “investigative tunnel vision,” mischaracterizing “mundane and innocuous actions as sinister criminal meetings” to match their preconceived notion that the accused were mobsters. As part of the investigation, police abused the use of wiretaps and conducted “significant invasions of privacy,” violating the rights of the accused, the lawyers alleged.

In court filings, Figliomeni’s lawyers described their client’s phone conversations with Martino as regular interactions between a legitimate businessman and his banker. Martino’s lawyers said in their legal filings that police had overstated Martino’s role and authority at RBC, and misrepresented communications he had with Figliomeni.

Police open a gaming machine
Credit: York Regional Police Police open a gaming machine during July 2019 raids as part of the Project Sindacato investigation.

Officers on the investigation led by York Regional Police said they were unhappy that prosecutors decided to drop the case, given the large amount of evidence that was collected.

“This was an opportunity for the entire system to put its best foot forward and deal with a crime group in York Region that had an impact on public safety,” said Police Chief Jim MacSween. “And they walked out the back door unscathed.”

When contacted for comment, RBC acknowledged that the bank had been used for “unusual transactions” linked to the Figliomeni case.

“Our internal controls independently identified unusual transactions, relating to what police would eventually label Project Sindacato, and we worked closely with law enforcement throughout their investigation,” said RBC spokesperson Cheryl Brean.

Martino no longer worked at the bank at the time of his arrest, Brean wrote in an email. She declined to say whether he had been fired or had left on his own accord.

A TD spokesperson, Allyson Theriault, told reporters the bank “has cooperated with authorities on this matter,” referring to the Sindacato case. She declined to provide more detail.

“Actions were and continue to be taken, including with respect to current and former employees,” said Theriault.

Ferraris and Panini

While Canadian police allege that Figliomeni is a major ’Ndrangheta crime boss in the Toronto area, Italian authorities say his power stretches back to Siderno, the city where he grew up.

His hometown lies on the coast of Calabria, the southern region where the ’Ndrangheta first emerged. From there, the group has expanded over the last few decades to become a major international crime organization.

The town of Siderno in southern Italy
Credit: Turismo Reggio Calabria The town of Siderno in southern Italy, where Angelo Figliomeni grew up.

Traditionally, ’Ndrangheta cells abroad were “subservient” to their bosses in Calabria, according to Stephen Schneider, a criminology professor at St. Mary’s University in Halifax who studies organized crime. More recently, for the Siderno ’Ndrangheta faction, there has been a “power shift” to Canada.

Schneider explained that Ontario cells are more profitable, because the Canadian province is wealthier than Calabria, while at the same time Italian authorities have been successfully prosecuting ’Ndrangheta leaders at home.

“In Canada, for years, fugitives from the Ionian-Reggine [’Ndrangheta] gangs have found shelter,” Italian police said in a document from the case they built alongside their Canadian counterparts.

They allege Figliomeni is one of them. He currently faces charges in Italy, and court documents show he was wanted there for “mafia association.” But he cannot be extradited to his homeland, because mafia association is not in the Canadian criminal code, York Regional Police said.

Figliomeni was also convicted in his home country in the 1990s for illegal weapons and membership in a crime group, although Italian court documents do not provide details of the sentencing. He moved to Canada in the early 2000s, according to an affidavit in the Italian police documents, as well as an Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada decision regarding a Figliomeni family member. After emigrating, Figliomeni opened a sandwich shop, Via Panini, police say.

But his income appears to be fed by more than sandwiches. His group’s revenue sources allegedly included illegal gambling and loan sharking, according to allegations included in court files which were never tried.

For someone who, on paper, is “simply the owner of a panini shop,” Canadian prosecutors noted that Figliomeni appears to have “chauffeurs at the ready” who ferry him from meeting to meeting.

Managing the proceeds of Figliomeni’s other alleged business activities was where bankers like Martino came in, according to evidence gathered by police. In files from the Sindacato case, police allege that Martino was among those responsible for “the manipulation and laundering” of the proceeds of crime, such as money generated from illegal gaming houses.

In Canada, suspicious activity reports must be submitted to the anti-money laundering supervisor, known as Fintrac, once the amount of money being moved meets a certain threshold, or if it is moved within a short period of time. A source close to the investigation, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters, said when police reviewed banking data, it was evident that transactions beyond these thresholds, which Martino was involved in, had not been flagged to Fintrac.

In an affidavit quoted in the case files, police outlined how Figliomeni allegedly arranged for an RBC business account to be set up in one of his associates’ names for a company that would then be used to launder money for him.

The defense argued that there was “no objective evidence” to suggest the account was set up to facilitate money laundering.

Vittorio Rizzi, a deputy director general of Italy’s Public Security Department, said targeting Canadian banks fits with tactics the ’Ndrangheta has employed internationally.

“The infiltration of the banking system is absolutely in line with the strategies of penetration of the economic system,” said Rizzi, who leads an Italian initiative that works with Interpol and 18 police forces, including Canadian, to combat the ’Ndrangheta.

In order for investigators to zero in on the Figliomeni organization’s considerable wealth, Canadian police obtained judicial orders that compelled four of the country’s biggest banks to hand over account information.

After an investigation that cost CAN$8 million (US$6.1 million) and involved about 500 officers, police seized more than CAN$35 million (US$27 million) worth of assets, including five Ferraris. Police also “restrained” 27 homes — meaning they could not be sold — together worth about CAN$24 million (US$18 million).

Police also shut down around 500 accounts at RBC, TD Bank, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and the Bank of Montreal. Banks did not provide information about whether the accounts were reinstated later.

Ferrari seized by the York Regional Police in Canada
Credit: York Regional Police One of the Ferraris seized by the York Regional Police in Canada.

But the assets were eventually returned, police say, and Figliomeni was never tried on the charges laid against him in Sindacato, which included directing a criminal organization.

‘Donation to Something Church Whatever’

While the Sindacato case never made it to trial, court filings and wiretap summaries seen by reporters indicate Figliomeni’s close relationship with Martino, who had at one point managed his sandwich shop in Vaughan, a city in the Greater Toronto Area.

In one wiretapped exchange between the two men on Sept. 10, 2018, Martino appears to indicate he is drafting a fake charitable donation receipt for Figliomeni.

“l’ll do a draft, five thousand payable,” Martino says, telling Figliomeni he will “write down on the bottom ‘donation to something church whatever,’ so you can have a copy for taxes.”

Police suspicions about Martino’s connections to Figliomeni date back to 2011. Court documents show that, in a separate investigation by the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Martino allegedly stored large amounts of cash for Figliomeni at the shop he managed at the time.

Martino and Figliomeni were once next-door neighbors in Vaughan, and property records show that Martino sold a house to Figliomeni in 2013.

The close relationship between Figliomeni and Martino is also apparent in a telephone conversation caught on wiretap between the alleged mafia boss and an apparent family member of Martino’s.

“Open the door for Joe,” Figliomeni said, according to a police summary of the call. “He is coming to bring the croissant now.”

Figliomeni would use the code word “croissant” to describe cash or checks that were the proceeds of illicit activity, the police allege.

Lawyers for Figliomeni insisted the term was an innocent reference to pastries being delivered as part of Figliomeni’s bakery business.

“[C]roissants were in fact a real commodity,” reads one defense document.

‘More Important Than the Priest’

At the same time Martino was allegedly helping Figliomeni run his business at RBC, police wiretaps picked up conversations between a member of Figliomeni’s group and Gabriel D’Andrea, a financial planner at a TD Bank branch in Vaughan.

While he was never charged as part of Project Sindacato, D’Andrea is described by police in a court document as a “kind of personal banker” to Vito Sili, a senior Figliomeni associate who was charged with money laundering in the case. Police accused Sili of playing “a significant role in the handling of money for the Figliomeni organization,” although the allegations were never brought to court.

D’Andrea did not respond to repeated calls, emails and text messages seeking comment. Sili did not respond to questions sent via his lawyer, and to messages to phone numbers listed as his in court documents.

Police alleged that D’Andrea called Sili using his personal cell phone on more than one occasion to discuss business. Police said D’Andrea was “prepared to engage in unorthodox banking practices to satisfy these particular clients.”

In one December 2018 call, D’Andrea used his personal phone to call Sili, who answered by saying, “Yeah Gabe … talk to me.”

D’Andrea then asked Sili to come to the bank branch and pick up some forms. Sili seemed unwilling to run the errand, telling D’Andrea he was “so fucking busy.”

“You’re never busy for your banker. You know that, eh? Your accountant, your banker, even more important than the priest,” D’Andrea replied. “You gotta come see me!”

In another call, later that evening, D’Andrea was recorded allegedly setting up a meeting with Sili and Figliomeni.

“But they [the bank] don’t want to let me give [a Figliomeni associate] the file to bring home, so I gotta come tonight, meet with you and Angelo, get you to sign it,” a police summary of the call reads.

“They are giving me a bunch of grief over it. I’m like, ok, fine, fuck it! I don’t wanna hear this bullshit no more. I’ll go meet the clients and sign it. So, where you gonna be later on tonight?” D’Andrea asked Sili.

An internal police report –– separate from the court filings –– shows that officers, who were surveilling a home that they believed was connected to the alleged crime group , watched as a man they identified as D’Andrea went to the house after work one evening in December 2018.

The report says police “were able to observe [a] meeting” between D’Andrea, Sili and Figliomeni, which had been arranged to set up an account for a business that Sili and Figliomeni shared.

The new business account was set up “for the purpose of laundering the proceeds of crime.” D’Andrea’s role at TD, the report says, would eventually be “as vital to the Figliomeni organization as Nick Martino’s employment at Royal Bank of Canada to surreptitiously launder funds through the financial institution.”

TD Bank
Credit: B Christopher/Alamy Stock Photo TD Bank.

During the Sindacato case, lawyers for the accused countered the police evidence by saying that a banker’s willingness “to provide personalized services does not support an ‘unorthodox’ business practice. Nor is it prima facie evidence that the banker knew that the people he is dealing with are engaged in illegal money laundering.”

Reporters found that D’Andrea stayed on at TD Bank long after the Sindacato investigation ended.

The TD spokesperson, Theriault, declined to say whether the bank was aware that one of its employees had been caught on police wiretaps.

A different TD employee with knowledge of the situation, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said D’Andrea has been placed on paid administrative leave and the bank has initiated an internal investigation.

The employee said police had never informed TD they had been looking into D’Andrea.

The Third Man

Drawing on surveillance records from Italian authorities, reporters discovered that a third Canadian former banker met with associates of Figliomeni.

The Italians were tracking alleged ’Ndrangheta member Vincenzo Muià, who traveled from Calabria to Toronto to meet with Figliomeni in April 2019 to discuss the recent murder of his brother. Italian police alerted their Canadian counterparts when they heard about the upcoming trip.

From the time he arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Muià was under surveillance, along with a cousin who had traveled with him.

On April 7, 2019, police watched as a black Audi pulled up at the house of Luigi Vescio, a well-known Toronto-area funeral home director and associate of Figliomeni. (Vescio was not charged in Sindacato, but faced charges in Italy for alleged mafia association.)

A man described in Italian court documents records as “tall, thin and wearing a black Adidas tracksuit” got out of the Audi and went to Vescio’s house. He got back in the car with Muià’s cousin 20 minutes later, and they drove off.

Italian court documents identify the man in the tracksuit as Pietro Attisano.

A date of birth for Attisano included in the Italian records matches that of a Pietro Attisano who worked as a mortgage specialist and investment consultant at a TD branch in Woodbridge between September 2018 and May 2022.

There is no evidence that Attisano was working with Figliomeni or his associates in his day job at the bank, but police watched him interact with alleged ’Ndrangheta members from Toronto and Italy.

Vescio did not respond to requests for comment. Reached by phone, Attisano declined to comment.

The TD employee who spoke anonymously said Attisano had “voluntarily” left the bank several years ago.

The information revealed in Italian and Canadian court documents comes at a sensitive time for TD. Already reportedly facing fines in Canada, TD is also under investigation in the U.S. for alleged breaches of money laundering rules.

The bank’s CEO, Bharat Masrani, acknowledged in a recent earnings call that the institution had a money laundering “issue,” and told investors that TD was “making progress in fixing it.”

Fact-checking was provided by the OCCRP Fact-Checking Desk.

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