Tuesday’s early morning police raids across the GTA were linked to a two-year investigation of the notorious international organized crime group known as ‘Ndrangheta, which police say has been effectively dismantled for now.

Known as Operation Ophoenix, the investigation spanned multiple Toronto-area municipalities and police forces including Toronto, Hamilton, Oakville, Brantford, Guelph and Barrie, as well as Waterloo, Niagara, Durham, Peel and York regions, and targeted the highest levels of the organization operating in the GTA. Over 260 officers were involved.

The ‘Ndrangheta is a specific confederation of Mafia families that originated in southern Calabria, Italy, and has since spread to various international regions, including Canada,” said RCMP Supt. Keith Finn, the officer in charge of the Combined Special Forces Enforcement Unit for the GTA. 

“There are two key cells of the ‘Ndrangheta, and I would say they are significantly dented. Today, they are no longer effective,” Finn said, adding elements of the criminal operation, including international drug trafficking, remain active and the investigation is ongoing.

Everyone arrested either had direct or first-generation ties to southern Italy, or was a “facilitator or enabler” of crime, Finn said.

‘Extreme violence and extortion’

Finn and other members of the CFSEU, a joint investigative force, appeared at York Regional Police headquarters Wednesday to update the public on a series of raids that netted the arrests of 19 men allegedly directly involved with or associated with rival crime families originally from southern Italy.

The arrests were made in connection to the importation of drugs, firearms trafficking and “extreme violence and extortion” related to organized crime, police said this week.

Drugs and weapons seized during by the CFSEU Operation Ophoenix on Tuesday. (Natalie Kalata/CBC News)

Two separate but linked groups were identified by the investigation: one led by Giuseppe Ursino, 62, of Bradford, who was arrested in the raids, and Carmine Verduci, who was shot and killed in a Vaughan parking lot last April and who has long been linked to guns, drug-running and other organized crime.

When Verduci died, a warrant for his arrest had been issued by Italian authorities for “Mafia association,” and many suspected his murder was an act of retaliation by the Sicilian Mafia.

Ursino was charged with cocaine trafficking, possession of the proceeds of crime, conspiracy to import cocaine, conspiracy to commit extortion, counselling to commit an offence and instructing to commit an offence for a criminal organization.

Diego Serrano, 66, of Vaughan, was identified by police as an alleged “significant facilitator” for the organization, Finn said, and was charged with trafficking in cocaine and guns and possession of the proceeds of crime.

Three guns, more than eight kilograms of cocaine, seven kilograms of marijuana, and drugs “of various quantities,” $15,000 in cash and electronics, Finn said. Five vehicles were seized.

Bail hearings were held Tuesday and Wednesday at Old City Hall.

The next court appearances for the accused is set for June 30.