The vicious cycle of gangland life is perfectly told in the muscular, tattooed form of Daniele Ranieri, named Wednesday by Canadian police as a wanted fugitive: he took his place as a police target after the murder in Sicily of his crime boss, a killer who, in turn, replaced a hulking mobster publicly gunned down in Toronto.
The deadly path to leadership of a mob-backed crew hardly deters men like Ranieri, who was so enamoured of the underworld he had “Cosa Nostra” tattooed on his chest.
“In their world, being killed is not an abnormality. Eventually these guys meet their demise, they play a high stakes game,” said Insp. Dieter Boeheim of York Regional Police intelligence bureau.
“He lives in that world, the world of The Godfather. Some of the guys need to get their hands dirty to progress.”
Tuesday, when police raided six premises in Project Forza, the Italian word for “strength,” their prime target was not found: Ranieri had left for Cuba two weeks before and is believed to still be there. A warrant has been issued for his arrest, and police consider him “armed and dangerous.”
Ranieri, 30, of Bolton, Ont., was featured in a lengthy National Post exposé in October about the murder in Sicily of two mobsters from Canada. It was his visit to Sicily on July 6, 2012, that inadvertently revealed Juan Ramon Fernandez, allegedly Ranieri’s boss, had moved there from Canada, sparking a large anti-Mafia probe.
Ranieri was under surveillance the moment he got off the plane in Palermo, with an officer in Sicily saying he stood out: “Typical of American gangsters — big muscles and tattoos.”
Police say Ranieri took over leadership of the crew from Fernandez, after he was ambushed and his body burned outside Palermo in April 2013. Fernandez, in turn, had seized control from Gaetano “Guy” Panepinto, a mobster who ran a discount coffin business before his own murder in 2000.
Ranieri’s assuming control of the crew made him the next police target for investigation.
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The men named alongside him Wednesday add to that colourful, violent cast of characters, described by police as a dangerous crime group that forged bonds in prison.
“They are a sight to behold,” said Insp. Boeheim.
Justin McPolin, 38, of Toronto, is a 6 ft. 2 in. former professional hockey player, recruited into the Ontario Hockey League as an enforcer for the London Knights. His sports claim to fame was tallying 281 penalty minutes in 43 games and being banned for punching a referee. He is charged with extortion, conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and attempt to obstruct justice.
Like Ranieri, Lucas Day, 41, of Toronto, was not found when police moved to arrest him and is named as a fugitive. He has a manslaughter conviction and assaulted a prison guard while behind bars. He is considered armed and dangerous.
Danny Rubino, 44, of Vaughan, is a longtime subject of interest to York police who was a close friend of Fernandez when the mobster lived in Ontario. He was frequently heard on wiretaps chatting with Fernandez, doing his bidding.
“When you get home put an empty cassette in the machine there for eleven o’clock tonight on channel 271,” Fernandez told him in 2001, recorded on a police wiretap. “It’s the thing on the Mafia. It’s supposed to be really good there. Get it taped.”
“OK,” replied Rubino.
He is charged with extortion and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.
Also arrested were: Craig Hall, 38, of Toronto, charged with trafficking in cocaine and heroin; and Richard Maciel, 36, of Toronto, and Arkadiusz Bukinski, 38, of Milton, Ont., both charged with parole violation.
I could get killed if he f — ks up because I bring him to the table
Ranieri was Fernandez’s favourite, acting as his eyes and ears in Ontario after Fernandez was deported from Canada and settled in Sicily.
Fernandez even said he was trying to have Ranieri officially inducted into the Mafia, according to wiretaps recorded by police in Italy and obtained by the Post.
“I want to ‘make’ Dani,” Fernandez told a visitor from Canada in March 2013. “I want make Dani a made man.”
“F — k, he’ll cry,” his visitor said. “He will be so happy he’ll cry.”
“Because he’s my guy,” Fernandez continued, “so I am responsible, I could get killed if he f — ks up because I bring him to the table and I vouch for him.”
And Fernandez vowed to protect Ranieri if anyone in Ontario moved against him.
“I go back in a heartbeat; something happens to Dani, they’ll all get it the same day,” he bellowed.
Fernandez’s murder prompted police in Canada to re-evaluate their investigation of the crew. It was always an important link because Fernandez was a key representative for Montreal Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto in Ontario.
“Is Ranieri less of a threat with Fernandez dead or is he more of a threat? We sat down as a team and assessed it and concluded he was more of a threat and we needed to do something about,” said Supt. Keith Finn of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
York police Inspector Michael Slack said Ranieri surrounded himself with hardmen with extensive criminal records for guns, drugs and violence.
“Many of Ranieri’s crime-group associates have a high propensity to commit violent crimes and have served time in prison for aggravated assault, forcible confinement and murder,” he said.
Despite Ranieri’s brashness, he may have learned a thing or two from old-school mobsters while visiting Fernandez in Sicily.
Soon after his return, he reportedly had his Cosa Nostra tattoo inked over.