A Montreal police officer, who was apparently not careful about the company he kept, spent the night behind bars Thursday following his arrest, with a Mafia-linked bookmaker, as part of an investigation into people who were handling large-scale illegal wagers.
André Thibodeau, 49, a sergeant and supervising patrol officer with the Montreal police, had been investigated by the internal affairs division for two years before his arrest on Thursday, along with 11 other people.
Thibodeau and another person arrested, Natalino “Lino” Paccione, 60, of Laval, who pleaded guilty in 2011 in a similar case involving people who had direct ties to the Mafia in Montreal, face the most serious charges in the case. When both men appear at the Laval courthouse on Friday, they will be charged with illegal bookmaking, conspiracy and participating in a crime for the benefit of a criminal organization, commonly referred to as gangsterism.
Montreal police spokesperson Commander Ian Lafrenière said one of the more surprising parts of the investigation was that it began with Thibodeau. When police officers are revealed to be part of large-scale criminal conspiracies, their roles are usually uncovered at a point when their colleagues are well into the investigation.
“In this case, it was the reverse. Two years ago, information was sent to us from police sources that one of our officers was hanging around with bad people and in investigating, in scratching around, it brought us to our operation today,” Lafrenière said, adding that Bilodeau was suspended without pay as of Thursday.
“It is a way of acting that no one (in the police) tolerates. A lot of people think there is an Omerta (the Mafia term for a code of silence) within the police, that the police don’t report on each other. This is a good example of how that is the contrary.
“I can’t say it is good news. It is never good news. But, you know, we can’t put our head in the sand. When it comes, we face it. We did the investigation and we used all of the necessary resources.”
Lafrenière said that Paccione allegedly acted as the head of the network and had 10 “lieutenants” underneath him who handled bets, including on the outcome of professional sports matches.
“And just to make it clear in the heads of people, we’re not talking about $20 bets when people play cards — it went up to $125,000 per bet,” he said.
Lafrenière described Thibodeau as having allegedly acted as Paccione’s “right-hand man” while he was being investigated. When asked if Thibodeau could have potentially leaked information to people tied to the Mafia while he was allegedly working with the network, Lafrenière said that it was doubtful. He said Thibodeau’s duties as a supervising patrol officer did not provide him with access to sensitive information concerning organized crime investigations.
Paccione was arrested in 2006 as part of Project Colisée, a lengthy investigation headed by the RCMP that resulted in the arrests of the leaders of the Rizzuto organization and dozens of their associates. Paccione was part of a group of several people who ran a very sophisticated illegal bookmaking network that was based in Laval and was financed and controlled by Francesco Del Balso, 44, and Lorenzo Giordano, 51 — both considered young, emerging leaders within the Mafia at the time. Del Balso and Giordano are serving long prison terms for a series of crimes, including drug trafficking, that were uncovered by Project Colisée.
In 2011, after a drawn-out negotiation that resulted in a plea bargain for many of the accused in the Colisée bookmaking case, Paccione pleaded guilty to one count involving bookmaking and was fined $20,000.
The bookmaking operation uncovered by Colisée revealed that Paccione acted as a manager of a network where people could phone in their wagers on a 1-800 number to a call centre. Callers were supplied with passwords supplied by men who worked as agents for the network. At the start of Colisée, the operation was based on Fleury St. in Montreal and then it moved to a discreet warehouse in an industrial section of Laval on Bergar St.
The network’s computer servers were originally based in Kahnawake, but they were moved to Belize in an attempt to avoid attention from police. An analysis, conducted by a police expert in 2006, of the files Paccione’s network kept revealed it had more than 1,600 customers who placed more than 800,000 bets (during a two-year period). The network was believed to have made more than $26 million in profits. Paccione was described in court documents related to Project Colisée as one of the most important agents among the group, someone who brought bettors to the network. But he also had an important role in managing the network’s day-to-day operations.
The police operation carried out on Thursday involved more than 150 police officers from the RCMP, Sûreté du Québec and Canada Border Services Agency as well as officers with municipal police forces in Laval, Blainville and Quebec City.
Four other people, including Michael Bach, 27, were still being sought by the Montreal police as of Thursday evening.