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Is the Buffalo Mafia dead or alive?

Domenico Violi is a salesman, husband, father of two and a popular figure in the Italian community that makes up much of Hamilton, Ont.

Violi is also the self-described underboss of the Buffalo Mafia.

The son of Paolo Violi, the former head of the mob in Montreal, Violi was sentenced last week to eight years in prison in a drug trafficking case that included allegations of organized crime involvement.

In wiretap conversations made public as part of the case, the 52-year old Hamilton man allegedly claims he is the new second-in-charge of the Buffalo Mafia and the first Canadian to serve in a leadership position in a U.S.-based Mafia family.

“Domenic, you know you made history,” Violi said in recounting an alleged conversation with a Buffalo Mafia member in October of last year.

In that same conversation, he claims he beat out 30 other candidates, all of them "made" members of the Buffalo Mafia, and that his selection was so unusual, it required consultation with the "Commission," the governing body for mob families.

Violi also claims he was handpicked for the underboss job by Joseph Todaro Jr. during a one-on-one meeting in Florida, according to court records.

For years, the FBI maintained the Todaro family – Todaro and his late father, Joseph Todaro Sr. – headed the Buffalo mob, but investigators never proved that allegation.

The Mafia is all but dead in Western New York. So what killed it?

"His comments are a complete fairy tale, a ridiculous story," Robert L. Boreanaz, a lawyer for Todaro, said of Violi Friday.

Boreanaz said Violi is not a "friend or acquaintance" of Todaro's and noted that, during the time they were supposedly together in Florida, Todaro was in Buffalo working at the family business, La Nova Pizza.

"He was at the pizzeria, working seven days, 70 to 80 hours a week," Boreanaz said.

While the wiretaps suggest the Buffalo Mafia is up and running again, that is a notion many find far-fetched.

For years, the mob here has been viewed as dormant. Just last year, the head of the FBI in Buffalo said the local mob's aging leaders are still around, but "their organized crime activities don't exist anymore."

When asked for comment this week on the Hamilton case, the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office said they could not comment.

What the wiretaps do is remind law enforcement of the strong Buffalo-Ontario ties that existed under old mob boss Stefano Magaddino in the 1950s and 1960s.

Magaddino, the Sicilian native who went from mob soldier in New York City to Mafia boss in Western New York, oversaw a territory that extended beyond Western New York into Pennsylvania, Ohio and Ontario.

At one time, Magaddino was one of the longest tenured and most powerful Mafia leaders in the country. Despite his influence, he lived his life in a modest home in Lewiston.

After Magaddino's death in 1974, the local mob began to decline, in part because of a federal prosecution targeting one of its strongholds, Laborers Local 210, a major construction trade union.

The FBI claims the Todaros took over from Magaddino at some point.

"All I can tell you is, I’m here working at my restaurant seven days a week, just as my father did, just as my family did, just as I have since I was 12 years old,” Todaro, now 72, told The Buffalo News last year.

“I’m not going to comment” on organized crime questions, he said, “but if you want a great recipe for cheese and pepperoni, I’ll tell you.”

Violi's lawyer said his client agreed to take a drug conviction but was dead set against accepting the organized crime charges.

“We never had an issue about pleading guilty to the drugs," defense lawyer Dean Paquette told the National Post last week. "There were other charges on the information that we would have fought.”

In Ontario, the Violi name is well known to law enforcement.

Before his death in 1978, Paolo Violi was viewed as the powerful head of the Montreal Mafia. Investigators say he was murdered by a rival family that ultimately took control of the city's mob activities.

Domenico Violi was only 11 at the time.

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