The Papalia crime family (Italian: [papaˈliːa]) is a 'Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, as well as Platì in Southern Italy and Buccinasco in Northern Italy. Antonio Papalia founded the Papalia family in Canada in the 1940s, and is one of three centralized Mafia organizations in Hamilton, with the other two being the Musitano crime family and the Luppino crime family. The Papalias had strong connections with the Buffalo crime family of Buffalo, New York under long-reigning boss Johnny Papalia, who was often called "Pops" or "The Enforcer". The Papalia clan also operate in Italy, and have alliances with the Barbaro 'ndrina.
The killings of Johnny and his lieutenant Carmen Barillaro in 1997, ordered by the Musitanos, had effectively wiped out the family's remaining leaders in Canada. One news report stated that the events of 1997 "decapitated the Papalia family". One leader remained, Johnny's brother Frank, who died in 2014 and retired years before his death.
Antonio Papalia was a bootlegger with early Picciotteria values, who immigrated to Canada from Delianuova, Calabria, Italy, in 1912, through New York City before moving on to Montreal, Quebec then New Brunswick in the coal mines, before finally settling on Railway Street in Hamilton, Ontario in 1917. Antonio became associated with Calabrian compatriot and notorious bootlegger Rocco Perri, and later Guelph mobster Tony Sylvestro, working as a bootlegger who operated speakeasies. However, he was suspected in playing a role in the murder of Perri's wife Bessie Starkman in 1930. It is also believed Antonio and his son Johnny Papalia, along with Stefano Magaddino of Buffalo played a role in Perri's disappearance in 1944 after Perri left members of his Mafia crew "slighted", though both cases remain unsolved. Antonio's wife, Maria Rosa Italiano also came from a Mafia family, the Italiano clan, who also participated in Perri's gang. Maria Rosa initially married Antonio's younger brother Giuseppe Papalia Jr., giving birth to two sons in Italy, however when Giuseppe died, she immigrated to Canada with her two sons in 1923 to marry Antonio. Johnny, the oldest brother to Frank, Rocco and Dominic Papalia, half-brothers Joseph and Angelo Papalia, brother-in-law Tony Pugliese, and associates, all worked in running his clubs and gambling operations.
In 1955, with assistance from Sylvestro, Papalia started opening charter gambling clubs in Hamilton and Toronto. Sylvestro's son-in-law Danny Gasbarrini, Papalia's brothers Frank, Rocco and Dominic, half-brothers Joseph and Angelo, brother-in-law Tony Pugliese, and associates Red LeBarre, Freddie Gabourie, Frank Marchildon and Jackie Weaver, all worked in running Papalia's clubs. After police raids, Papalia started working with James McDermott and Vincent Feeley in several clubs throughout southern Ontario.
By the late 1950s, Johnny Papalia was a made man in the Buffalo family, and boss of the Papalia family Ontario faction. By the early 1960s, he earned reputation from the French Connection, a smuggling operation that supplied over 80 percent of America's heroin market between the 1960s and 1970s—developing strong connections with the Buffalo family. Johnny was extradited to the United States for trial in 1962 for his role in the French Connection heroin smuggling ring, found guilty and sentenced to 10 years. In 1968, after serving less than half the sentence, he was released from a United States prison and sent back to Canada.
While Johnny was in jail for an extortion conviction, police focused their attention on his brother Frank, the underboss of the family. In the summer of 1979, police pulled Frank over to ask questions about possible drinking and driving in hopes he would refuse a breathalyzer test, charge him, and impound his car to install wiretaps. Frank did refuse, fined $150, his licence suspended for three months and his car taken to impound, where it was worked on by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A court authorization also allowed for the implementation of wiretaps at the Papalias' businesses on Railway Street in Hamilton and consigliere Bruno Monaco's car while parked at Toronto Pearson International Airport. Through the wiretap planted in his car, Frank was heard procuring a woman—Shirley Ryce, a previous mistress of Frank—for the Papalias' lawyer Clive Bynoe to have sex with. Baynoe was identified by the Ontario Provincial Police in April 1980 and brought in for questioning, where he confessed the sexual favours made available by the Papalias. Police also identified Ryce a month later and also admitted to being paid by the Papalias for sexual favours, agreeing to cooperate with police by placing a tape recorder in her purse. With her gathered recordings, trial began in the summer of 1981, where Frank and Papalia lieutenant Steve Koaches pleaded guilty to obstructing justice, and in return, Frank's prostitution charge was dropped. Frank was fined $2000 and Koaches jailed for four months.
Also in late 1979, the wiretaps allowed police to raid homes and businesses for files in a defrauding case. Frank, Rocco, Koaches and Monaco were all arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud the federal government of $50,000. Some sources indicate this value was over $200,000 after allegedly setting up a business to illegally cash in on grants. However, at the trial, the defence questioned the validity of the wiretap evidence. In late 1981 and early 1982, the trial was halted, and a second trial the following year saw them acquitted. In October 1990, 11 years after the police raids, the charges were withdrawn after the Crown Attorney disallowed the recorded wiretap evidence.
In the 1990s, Papalia lieutenant Enio "Pegleg" Mora borrowed $13 million from Montreal mafia godfather Vito Rizzuto, and gave the bulk of the money to Papalia to open an upscale restaurant and nightclub in Toronto. After the Rizzuto crime family were not re-paid, in September 1996, Mora was shot in the head four times at a Vaughan farm; Giacinto Arcuri was arrested and charged with Mora's murder, but was acquitted for lack of evidence.
Johnny Papalia was shot dead on May 31, 1997, at the age of 73, in the parking lot outside his vending machine business on 20 Railway Street in Hamilton by hitman Kenneth Murdock claimed to be ordered by Angelo and Pat Musitano of the Musitano crime family who owed money to Papalia. Murdock also killed Johnny's right-hand man Carman Barillaro two months later. In November 1998, Murdock pleaded guilty to three counts of second degree murder, was sentenced to life imprisonment, and named Pat and Angelo as the men who had ordered the murders; he was released on parole after serving 13 years. The Musitano's pleaded guilty to conspiracy of Barillaro's death, but not Papalia's, receiving a 10-year sentence in February 2000, but were released in October 2006.
In March 2014, close Papalia family associate Daniel Gasbarrini died at the age of 93.
After Johnny's death, the family's influence in Canada declined significantly. "When Johnny left, all the power left with him. You may be in during the glory with the boss, but when the boss goes, you disappear with him", according to Joe Fotia, a retired OPP Detective Staff Sergeant.
Frank Papalia did not retaliate for his brother's death. He died of natural causes in April 2014, at the age of 83, but had previously retired.
Domenico Papalia, Johnny Papalia's first cousin, was a boss in the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria. He was involved in at least five kidnappings and convicted for the 1976 murder of rival mobster Antonio D'Agostino. In the 1970s, a branch of the Papalia family relocated their operations from Platì to Buccinasco near Milan. Another two first cousins of Johnny, Antonio and Rocco Papalia, used ransom money from kidnappings to buy large shipments of drugs for export. In 1993, authorities seized a house, factory, land, cars and businesses that belonged to Antonio and Rocco, worth over $40 million. The Papalias also operated with the Barbaro 'ndrina in the north–south operation, also having connections stretching to Australia.
On July 10, 2008, in the Cerberus operation of the Guardia di Finanza, several people were arrested including Barbaro 'ndrina members and Antonio Papalia's son Pasquale, who received orders from the bosses in prison: Domenico, Rocco and Antonio Papalia who were said to have controlled the construction sector in Buccinasco, Corsico and Pogliano Milanese. On May 6, 2017, after being imprisoned since 1992, Rocco Papalia, nicknamed 'Nginu, was released.