Adrian Humphreys, The National Post
Joe Ferraro had made enemies with powerful men of the Mafia during his troubled time as a strong-armed entrepreneur in the Toronto area, so much so there has been widespread anticipation of his demise among gangsters, police and, indeed, Mr. Ferraro himself.
“They put a hit on me. They tried to whack me two, three times and God blessed me. I’m still here. They try to send me a message. People are upset with me,” Mr. Ferraro, 49, told the National Post as he was forced by Canada’s border agents onto a plane to South America.
“All because I stand up for myself. Is that wrong?”
In the underworld, Mr. Ferraro learned, it is.
While he clearly had reason to run, he instead fought to stay. His deportation from Canada Thursday for serious criminality ends a conundrum that plagued the gangland for two years: What do you do when an unyielding strongman flouts the age-old rules of the mob?
Buffeted by hit men, arsonists, double-crossing colleagues and irate Mafia bosses on one hand and local police and federal immigration authorities on the other, Mr. Ferraro still managed to build a multi-million dollar business.
But after he climbed out of a stretched SUV limousine at Toronto’s international airport Thursday, wearing diamond-studded sunglasses that outline his initials in glitter and gold, he kissed his distraught wife and children goodbye and his tumultuous life in Canada came to an end.
Improbably, he made it out alive.
Gleaming limousines, including a monstrously large 20-passenger stretch Hummer, crowded the parking lot of a plaza on Steeles Avenue in Vaughan, just north of Toronto, announcing Mr. Ferraro’s business long before the unassuming sign above its door gets a chance.
Two Of A Kind offers “Canada’s largest fleet of new limousines, SUVs, luxury coaches, tour buses and exotic cars,” boasts its promotional material.
While the National Post watched last summer, a changing cast of men arrived for short chats with Mr. Ferraro. Police suspect the deals discussed didn’t involve rentals. “They are the kind of conversations you don’t have over the phone,” said a police investigator.
Mr. Ferraro, however, said he is no longer involved in crime.
Alberto Giuseppe Ferraro was born into modest circumstances in Ecuador on Aug. 24, 1962, to an Italian father and an Ecuadorian mother. The family moved to Italy and then, three months before his 10th birthday, came to Canada.
He became a permanent resident here but, unlike his parents, never applied for Canadian citizenship, because his father wrongly believed his children automatically became citizens with him.
Mr. Ferraro grew up with street smarts and business savvy.
In 1993, he started his exotic car firm offering “ultra-high-end” rentals, including a Lamborghini Diablo and a Ferrari Testarossa. His business did well, partly because he sold cocaine and ecstasy on the side, police said.
On May 8, 1999, RCMP officers arrived at his office in an investigation that netted $500,000 worth of drugs. Mr. Ferraro was arrested, along with five men described by police as his “organization.”
Rumours persist that an underworld double-cross led to his arrest. He pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and possessing stolen property.
The conviction was a turning point.
While he was holding his tongue in jail, his former colleagues stripped him of everything.
“They took my business. They took my house. They took my money. They took my wife. They betrayed me and they left me on the street with nothing,” Mr. Ferraro said.
He was served with divorce papers while he was in jail and fumed as his business was lost, according to Parole Board of Canada documents.
“You told the board that they have been successful in taking over the business,” the board wrote in 2003 when reviewing Mr. Ferraro’s case. “While you state that you believe your life might be in danger, you see that risk as manageable.”
After serving seven months of his three-year sentence because of good behaviour, he left prison determined to rebuild and he muscled his way back in. But by then, he said, he stood alone.
“I realized the people didn’t care about me. They only care about what I could do for them. I started again from scratch,” Mr. Ferraro said. “I created enemies because of that. They weren’t happy with that.”
He restarted his business, recruited new talent and began a relationship with a beautiful woman who is now the mother of the two youngest of his five children.
His new business offered such beauties as a $550,000 silver Mercedes SLR with gull-wing doors and a bone-white Rolls-Royce Phantom that he often drove around in. He took in more than $2-million a year and employed 56 people, according to court records.
Despite his successes, Mr. Ferraro was never “made,” meaning he was not inducted into the Italian-based Mafia as an official member. In the underworld, being a “made man” has its privileges, including deference from non-members. It puts the “organized” in “organized crime.”
Mr. Ferraro, however, had already experienced the downside of the old rules, when he felt he was betrayed. He seemed to make a bold decision that the rules no longer applied to him; that the niceties of mob etiquette wouldn’t get in his way again.
For instance, he once found himself in a barroom dispute with a relative of the Commisso clan, a commanding Mafia organization in Toronto. While most would flee, Mr. Ferraro crashed a pool cue over his head, according to sources familiar with the underworld.
When he felt he had been cheated by bosses of the Caruana-Cuntrera clan, an internationally significant Mafia family, he refused to accept the loss, according to sources.
Mr. Ferraro declines to confirm any names, but admits that he was out to get back what was his.
“I was just standing up for my rights. I just wanted my money and they knew I was right. I wanted my money.”
When he complained, he was apparently taunted by one of the Mafiosi: “If you want it, come and get it,” he was told, according to sources.
Going after such men is inconceivable for most. Mr. Ferraro, however, started making trouble.
“Joe can really read the street. He knew who was paying off who and he started interfering, looking for his money,” said a source familiar with the men involved.
Such things are big news with plugged-in underworld players who love gossip as much as the News of the World editors. His actions put the mafiosi in an awkward spot, needing to defend their honour — needing to enforce the rules.
The dispute highlights the different types of power in the underworld — street muscle versus mob title.
While the Caruana-Cuntrera are a renowned criminal superpower known on four continents, they are removed from daily street life. Mr. Ferraro, on the other hand, was a tough, hands-on guy with nerves of steel.
The trump card of being a senior player in the Mafia, however, is you have a lot of friends.
It was -12C with 10 inches of snow on the ground but even in that weather the sight of a man wearing a balaclava in a parked car struck some in the neighbourhood of monster homes north of Toronto as suspicious.
When police arrived, they found four men and two handguns in two cars with stolen plates and arrested them all.
“Police determined that they had planned to rob a resident,” South Simcoe Police said at the time of the Jan. 27, 2009, incident.
Robbery might be a best-case scenario.
Mr. Ferraro believes they were there to kill him. If locals couldn’t get it done, then maybe others could.
A traveller fresh off a plane from Belgium told border guards at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport that he was staying in Canada for two weeks and yet he carried nothing with him but a passport and a credit card.
While that might be a convenient way to fly, it also begs scrutiny.
On further inspection, officials learned the traveller was born in Siculiana, the town in Sicily where the Caruana-Cuntrera clan hails from. He was wanted by Italian authorities as a member of the Mafia and an Interpol alert said he was suspected of weapons trafficking and several murders.
The traveller told border officials he was visiting a cousin. The man he allegedly named is a relative of the Caruana-Cuntrera mobsters and also of one of the men arrested that winter outside Mr. Ferraro’s house.
The man was denied entry and sent back to Belgium.
Police suspect he was a professional hit man called in from the old country to take care of Mr. Ferraro once and for all.
That wasn’t the only warning.
At 4 a.m. on Sept. 10, 2009, the fire department was called to Two Of A Kind Limousine, but there was little they could do. Flames had gutted most of the expensive fleet of yacht-sized limos in the parking lot.
“I guess they tried to send a message,” Mr. Ferraro said Thursday, recalling the incident.
Despite the winter arrest outside his house, the suspected hit man at the airport and the costly arson, Mr. Ferraro showed no desire to flee. He rebuilt his business, and expanded, opening a second office in Mississauga.
Throughout this intrigue, however, he faced another problem: As a non-citizen convicted of a serious crime, he was a target for deportation.
In 2002, a panel of the Immigration and Refugee Board was convened inside Beaver Creek prison, during which Mr. Ferraro was officially ordered out of Canada. He launched a series of court challenges over eight years.
“I have since been rehabilitated,” Mr. Ferraro declared in a sworn statement entered in court, arguing he should be allowed to stay on compassionate grounds. “My removal from Canada would impose extreme hardship and losses not only on me, but for my family, employees and business associates.”
Several times over the years he had been on the brink of deportation but won reprieves in court.
Last week, he lost his final court appeal but then sought a delay of his removal because he had been subpoenaed to testify at a trial scheduled for November. Government lawyers went to the Ontario Superior Court to change the subpoena to say he did not need to be present to give his evidence.
Mr. Ferraro, meanwhile, launched lawsuits against the Canada Border Services Agency and area police, alleging officers raided his home and office, terrifying his children, causing damage, hurting his business and making off with $3,000.
“They are trying to kick me out before those go to court. They don’t want the truth to come out,” Mr. Ferraro said of the lawsuit and the pending trial of a colleague on a weapons charge. “An innocent man will go to jail because of it.”
Despite his claims of rehabilitation, Mr. Ferraro continued to have run-ins with the law, although nothing stuck.
In 2003 he was charged with drug trafficking and carrying a gun. A police search of his business uncovered cocaine, ecstasy, hashish, a bulletproof vest, two loaded .38-calibre handguns, loose ammunition and brass knuckles, but the charges were later withdrawn.
Last year he was charged with two counts each of extortion, uttering threats and forcible confinement. That stemmed from him trying to collect $600,000 he claimed was rightfully his. Those charges were also dropped.
The arrests did nothing to settle border agents’ concerns.
“My past is my past,” he said with a shrug as he went into the immigration office at the airport Thursday to comply with the deportation order. Two CBSA agents then escorted him to a plane destined for his native Ecuador.
With money in his hand, he could be heard asking if he was allowed to go to the duty-free shop first. He never likes to pass up a deal.