In this excerpt from D'Arcy O'Connor's Montreal's Irish Mafia, Frank "Dunie" Ryan, Godfather of Montreal's Irish mob in the 1970s and 80s, takes on the local Italian mafia
It wasn’t long before Ryan realized that the really big money was not to be made by brokering stolen merchandise like fur coats, liquor, cartons of cigarettes and TV sets hijacked from trucks or boosted from warehouses. Nor was it to be made by fencing jewellery and negotiable securities looted by safecrackers from bank safety-deposit boxes and private homes. The big bucks lay in the importation and distribution of illicit drugs, especially large quantities of hashish and cocaine. And in Montreal during the 1980s there was an insatiable market for the product, to the point where supply could hardly keep up with demand. So, although he personally eschewed the use of recreational drugs, Ryan had no compunction about hopping onto this lucrative gravy train-a rail line that since the beginning of the 20th century had been controlled almost exclusively by Montreal’s two dominant Italian mafia families-the Sicilian-connected Rizzutos and the Calabrian-connected Cotronis.
Through his various contacts in the United States, particularly his cousin Peter White, Ryan soon established business relationships with hashish suppliers in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as with several Colombian cartel suppliers of cocaine. Deals and shipment schedules were set up, money paid up front, and drugs delivered, usually in large quantities, which Dunie’s henchmen would cut up, repackage and distribute. More often than not, the middlemen that he sold to were motorcycle gangs, such as the Rock Machine and its archrival, the Montreal chapter of the Hells Angels. Ryan cared not to whom he sold, as long as their money was green. He was, after all, a businessman. And the cash was rolling in like never before.
It didn’t take long for the local Italian mafia to begrudge the fact that an upstart Irishman was competing in what they considered to be both their business and their long-held territory. The message was sent out to him, along with veiled threats. But Ryan shrugged it off. As he once commented to a colleague, "Mafia, shmafia. If there’s gonna be a war, we’ve got the IRA." Indeed, although it was never proven, Ryan was known to be a financial supporter of the Irish Republican Army via its American Irish affiliates in Boston. And that support was sometimes repaid with arms smuggled into Montreal from Northern Ireland. Dunie did, after all, proudly wear a gold Claddagh ring on the third finger of his right hand, as did many other members of Montreal’s West End Gang.
The Italians never carried out their implied threats against Ryan. Instead they began using him and his organization, such as the Irish Matticks family who controlled the Port of Montreal, to provide them with imported hashish and cocaine, which they in turn could distribute on the street at a profit through their own network. Ryan also set up similar cooperative deals with the Hells Angels and other local biker gangs. But he stubbornly made it clear that he was not interested in forming any sort of importation partnership with them. He was simply the conduit through which they could obtain drugs for resale, take it or leave it. By 1982, he was being hailed as Montreal’s "King of Coke" by fellow mobsters, the media and the police. "If you wanted blow back then," today says one of his former major buyers and distributors, "Dunie was the man to see."
Excerpted from Montreal’s Irish Mafia: The True Story of the Infamous West End Gang. Copyright (c) 2011 by D’Arcy O’Connor. Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons Canada Ltd.