Francesco "Frank" Cotroni (born 1931- died 2004) known on the streets of Montreal as "The Big Guy", "Il Cice" and "Le Gros", was one of Canada's most powerful and notorious gangsters and the onetime boss of the Montreal Mafia known as the Cotroni crime family. During his reign, he was one of the most powerful and dangerous crime lords in Canada.
Francesco Cotroni, the fifth of six children, was born in Montreal in 1931. He followed his older brother Vic Cotroni into a life of crime and, by the late 50s, was a lieutenant in the Montreal Mafia. Unlike his older Calabrian born brothers, Frank felt more at ease speaking in French and English than Italian. He even married a French woman, Pauline Desormiers, and had six children. Cotroni was first arrested in September of 1960 with Joe Di Maulo and Michel "The Penguin" Di Paolo for possession of deadly weapons. He was carrying a gun that fired armor-piercing bullets. Two months later, while out on bail, Frank was again arrested after leading thirty family enforcers into Montreal's Chez Paree nightclub and trashing the place. $30,000 in damages were caused and he was once again behind bars.
Cotroni and several of his soldiers were charged in the late 1960s with conspiring to dig a tunnel under Trans-Island street, in north-western Montreal, into the vaults of a City and District Savings Bank of Montreal branch. But the plot was uncovered by police before the tunnel could be completed and the loot, which would have been almost $6 million, was never pilfered. Although several of his men were found guilty, "The Big Guy" was acquitted of all charges.
On February 1, 1971, while on vacation in Mexico, Cotroni was stopped and imprisoned by police following a complaint by an Acapulco jeweler concerning jewelry worth $2,080 which had been purchased on a stolen credit card. The whole ordeal turned out to be a misunderstanding but Cotroni had to spend 12 days behind bars before the mess was cleared up.
In 1972, Cotroni was once again back in court. Dionysos Chionsis, a Greek immigrant, testified that three men had demanded $250 a week for "protection". One of the extortionists said that they worked for Frank Cotroni. But the case fell apart when, on his second day of testimony, the scared restaurant owner suddenly came down with amnesia. The charges against Cotroni were withdrawn. Problems continued to plague Cotroni and he was arrested on drug trafficking charges on November 8, 1974, as he met with his brother Vic. The case was brought before the Supreme Court of Canada and he was extradited to the United States to stand trail. The state's main witness, Sicilian drug trafficker Giuseppe "Pino" Catania, convinced the jury of Cotroni's guilt and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison and a fine of $20,000.
Cotroni was paroled on April 25, 1979, after serving a third of his prison sentence, and immediately returned to Montreal and continued his criminal empire. He managed to keep a low profile for a few years but, once again, Frank ran into trouble with law enforcement. He was arrested on August 30, 1983 in a St. Leonard restaurant after a federal grand jury in New Haven, Connecticut indicted him on conspiring to distribute heroin.
Montreal Mafia boss
Vic Cotroni, Frank's older brother and godfather of the Montreal crime family, died of cancer on September 19, 1984. Frank, who was being held at the Parthenais prison in Montreal while fighting extradition, requested a humanitarian leave to attend the funeral but was refused.
Real Simard, who oversaw Frank's activities in Toronto, was arrested for murder and decided to testify against his boss. Simard told police of his role in the murder of a north-end drug dealer who was badmouthing Cotroni. Giuseppe Montegano was shot four times in the head in June, 1981 at a private club owned by Cotroni's son, Francesco.
On December 8, 1987, Cotroni was sentenced to eight years in prison for manslaughter. His son Francesco and two associates were also convicted in the plot. Around the same time, Cotroni was convicted to a six year term for the conspiracy case in Connecticut. As he served time for those two crimes, Cotroni held an interview with a reporter in the prison yard. "The Big Guy" denounced his life of crime and, as he smoked an expensive cigar and watched a prison softball game, assured the world that he was going straight.
Cotroni, his son Francesco, and 22 others were nabbed on April 17, 1996 in a massive joint drug ring between the Italian Mafia and an organization led by Daniel Serero. Police claimed the network was responsible for importing hundreds, if not thousands, of kilos of cocaine into the country. Cotroni, who ran the ring with Serero, was once again behind bars, this time for a seven year sentence.
While behind bars, the Calabrian mob boss received bad news on May 19, 1999, when his son Paolo was shot to death in the driveway of his Repentigny home. In what police believe was a retaliation, 69 year old Vincent Melia was shot in the face in a bar just before Paolo's funeral service was about to begin.
Release from prison
On October 30, 2001, Cotroni, at the age of 70 and having spent almost 30 years of his life behind bars, was paroled from a minimum security prison in Laval. He had served two-thirds of his term and police promised to keep a close eye on him.
Cotroni was arrested on June 3, 2002 for allegedly violating the conditions of his parole. Two police officers claimed to have seen the mob boss in a Montreal restaurant meeting with people with criminal records. He was given a conditional release on August 26, 2002, after a hearing before the National Parole Board.
Cotroni died of brain cancer at his Montreal home on August 17, 2004. He was surrounded by family at the time of his death. He was 72 years old.