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Salvatore Montagna was shot and killed in an alleged hit.

Police say they have destabilized the already volatile world of organized crime in Montreal with the arrest of five men in the slaying of a major Mafia boss last month.

The arrests netted Raynald Desjardins, a convicted mobster linked to the Rizzuto crime family, who himself survived an attempt on his life in September.

Mr. Desjardins is to face first-degree murder charges in the shooting death last month of Salvatore (Sal the Ironworker) Montagna, identified by the FBI as the former acting head of the notorious Bonanno crime family of New York.

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Mr. Montagna was found shot in the L'Assomption River off the northeastern tip of Montreal. Deported by the U.S. back to Canada in 2009, he was believed to be trying to consolidate his grip over Montreal's criminal underworld.

"We believe we have just dealt a major blow to organized crime, particularly Italian organized crime," Quebec Provincial Police Inspector Roberto Bergeron told a news conference in Montreal to announce Tuesday's arrests.

Mr. Montagna's death and now Mr. Desjardins's arrest remove from action two men seen as pretenders to the leadership of the Montreal Mafia, which has been in turmoil amid a succession of slayings and disappearances.

Mr. Desjardins is regarded as a rising figure in the mob; court evidence has repeatedly tied him to drug-trafficking plots involving Vito Rizzuto, identified in court documents as the godfather of the Montreal Mafia. Mr. Rizzuto is behind bars in the U.S. in a sentence that is up in October next year.

"More than ever, the Mafia finds itself without leadership," said André Noël, an investigative journalist and co-author of the book Mafia Inc., The Long, Bloody Reign of Canada's Sicilian Clan. "It is really destabilized."

Mr. Desjardins was one of the few so-called old-stock Quebeckers to gain the trust of the Italian Mafia's inner circle, according to Mr. Noël and co-author André Cédilot.

"Desjardins wasn't Italian, which prevented him, of course, from ever becoming a made member of the Mafia," the authors write. "But his wealth, charisma, extensive criminal experience and impressive network of contacts made him a very powerful figure."

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Tuesday's arrests marshalled the efforts of 200 police officers from the Sûreté du Québec, RCMP, as well as municipal police forces in Montreal and area.

The others arrested were Vittorio Mirarchi, 34, and Felice Racaniello, 27. Police did not name the two others. Police also said they would arrest a sixth man, Jack Simpson, who is already in jail.

Mr. Montagna was dubbed the "Bambino Boss" by a New York tabloid when he took control of the crime family while in his mid-30s; the moniker "Sal The Iron worker" came because he founded and ran a steel business in the U.S.

Mr. Desjardins has also been linked to the construction-industry scandals. He is a friend of Jocelyn Dupuis, the former executive-director of the FTQ-Construction union, who is facing charges of fraud, forgery and conspiracy.

In an interview with La Presse two years ago, Mr. Desjardins acknowledged his past criminal convictions but said he is now a construction entrepreneur, which, he said, explained his friendship with Mr. Dupuis.

Mr. Desjardins was sentenced in 1994 to a 15-year term for importing 740 kilograms of cocaine from Venezuela.

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About the Authors

Ingrid Peritz has been a Montreal-based correspondent for The Globe and Mail since 1998. Her reporting on the plight of Canadians suffering from the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide helped victims obtain federal compensation and earned The Globe and Mail a National Newspaper Award, Canadian Journalism Foundation award, and the Michener Award for public service. More

National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More

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