SWJ El Centro Book Review – The Wolfpack: the millennial mobsters who brought chaos and the cartels to the Canadian underworld
James H. Creechan
Peter Edwards and Luis Horacio Nájera, The Wolfpack: the millennial mobsters who brought chaos and the cartels to the Canadian underworld. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2021. [ISBN 9780735275393, hardcover, E-Book, ISBN 9780735275409, 290 pages]
The Wolfpack describes the rise and fall of a multi-ethnic gang of millennials who hoped to become bigger players in organized crime. The Wolfpack Alliance no longer exists, but it had hoped to insert itself as mid-level power within a Canadian underworld that stretched from Montreal to Toronto to Vancouver. It had visions of becoming something more important than a regional gang and sought to gain a foothold within the much bigger and more dangerous world of transnational crime. Around 2012 the Alliance reached out and sent inexperienced envoys to transnational organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, as well as ‘Ndrangheta affiliates in Toronto. But even as it did so, its members were being monitored after ongoing turf wars with other gangs in Vancouver and British Columbia put them on the radar of Canadian police agencies. The level of extreme violence in Canada remains far too low for gang shoot-outs and executions to happen without both citizens and police noticing and acting. And although Peter Edwards and Luis Nájera don’t make police agencies primary players in their narrative, this book is stronger because of the information they gathered.
Alliances: The Rise and Fall
The Wolfpack Alliance’s rise and fall, and its brief apotheosis, was arguably made possible by the power vacuum created when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrested prominent leaders of Quebec based Hells Angels and dismantled the Rizzuto family which had long controlled Montreal as operatives of the Brooklyn based Bonnano family. With those two powerful groups weakened in Quebec, a younger generation of upstart gangsters impossibly believed they could become a powerful criminal organization controlling Montreal and become equal partners with, or perhaps successors to, the Bonventre family Sicilian mafiosos in Buffalo NY, Hamilton Ontario, and Toronto. But like many other Canadian gangs before them, the Wolfpack failed to live up to what authors Peter Edwards and Luis Nájera describe as the “one eternal order” of successful criminality—actual competence in living dangerously and getting away with it. In fact, much of this book reads as a narrative of mind-boggling incompetence, naivete and complete incomprehension of consequences. As the authors put it—“Death and the misery of prison has eventually claimed nearly everyone involved in the Wolfpack’s story” (p. 253). But even though the Wolfpack ultimately fell short as an organizational entity, Edwards and Nájera argue that this motley band of millennial and multi-ethnic hoods played an important and frightening role in helping the Mexican cartels gain a foothold in Canada.
Basically, the book has two major streams. The main and best documented narrative is the public execution of Wolfpack member Johnny Raposo at a popular ice-cream shop in Toronto as either payback for a botched plan to import 200 kilos of cocaine or alternatively because of unspecified petty grievances with other Alliance partners. Perhaps it is also coincidental that the target Raposo was the protégé of an old school Sicilian mafioso named Eddie Melo who had himself been executed, but in any event his shocking execution was a symbolic statement by the upstart Alliance that it did not care what the old mafiosos thought or did—it would act on its own. The second thread of this book, and one which must be viewed as more speculative than proven fact, argues that this newly emerged Wolfpack Alliance paved the way for Mexican cartels— specifically the Sinaloa Cartel—to gain a foothold in Canada: but in my opinion, although the authors’ arguments remain plausible they have not provided enough specific evidence to conclusively determine that it was the Wolfpack Alliance that provided the major springboard for the Sinaloa Cartel presence in Canada.
The major thread of this book lays out what might elsewhere be described as a tragicomical farce were it to be presented as a fictional offering. Details of the Wolfpack Alliance’s attempt to arrange the cocaine shipment and simultaneously arrange the execution of Raposo are revealed through use of direct quotes drawn from wiretaps and transcripts of the ongoing (RCMP) surveillance and from court documents that emerged later: for instance, the Vancouver hitman (Dean Michael Wiwchar) was being tailed weeks in advance, and yet police wiretaps and his intercepted SMS messages describe how he forged ahead even though he believed he was being watched. His text messages border on paranoid rants about being followed by ten agents, but also reflect a false confidence that he could outwit those who were on his tail. He elaborated complicated travel arrangements to evade the police before executing Raposo, but then he was arrested almost immediately and easily when those same messages indicated that he planned to visit his family home in a Toronto suburb.
Besides hitman Wiwchar, several others in the Alliance were also being monitored as they exchanged Blackberry SMS messages. A fellow criminologist frequently argued that most criminality can be explained by stupidity, and many of the Wolfpack members described by the authors affirm his premise.
Surveilling the Wolfpack
Monitoring and tracking must have been an easy chore for police because of the personal incompetence, stupidity, or total lack of awareness of many described in this book. One Alliance associate was an ex-convict and bodybuilder named Nick Nero who could not resist driving luxury cars and drawing attention to himself even while on probation; and a raid on his home gave police direct access to his contacts’ email addresses and their Blackberry SMS passcodes. Nero left this information listed neatly on yellow postie notes, and neither he nor his MBA girlfriend and partner in crime think to hide it. Consequently, thousands of email and SMS exchanges from Alliance members in Mexico were tracked by police—and many of those exchanges illustrate how these wannabe big-time gangsters were involved in something far beyond their level of competence. Especially revealing are those exchanges between alliance members who were unable to figure out how to determine the product purity of the cocaine they were purchasing from their Mexican contacts or to figure out a way to get it to Canada. And perhaps far more damaging was the revelation that they weren’t even sure who they were dealing with in Mexico—their contacts had only nicknames like “Flaco” or “Carnalito.”
Conclusion: Organized Crime Transitions in Canada
The Wolfpack is an important book since so little has been written about organized crime in Canada, and frankly because it is a readable and interesting tale of criminal incompetence and police surveillance. Furthermore, it has the added benefit of including an introductory chapter by Luis Nájera to provide an overview of the perverse power of Mexican cartels and the threats faced by journalists who write about them. But at the same time, the authors are not convincing when they claim that it was the Wolfpack Alliance that allowed the Sinaloa cartel to gain a foothold in Canada.
There is evidence elsewhere that the Sinaloa Cartel had long been established in Canada before 2012. To cite one example, Alan Feuer’s 2020 book on “the Stalking of El Chapo” has a detailed description of how the DEA, FBI and national security agencies had tapped into a Blackberry server based in Calgary, Alberta and were by then tracking the movements of almost all Sinaloa Cartel operatives across North America. The authors do not provide any concrete evidence about which factions of the Sinaloa Cartel were supplying the cocaine to the Wolfpack.
Several sections of the book do focus on the Canadian connections in the Mayan Riviera of Mexico, especially at a night club known as The Blue Parrot. They offer credible evidence that some members of the Alliance operated out there—specifically a Montreal mobster named Shane “Wheels” Maloney. But the Mexican Riviera is not necessarily controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel, and in fact is a home base to a who’s who of international criminality. More specific evidence is required before the claim can be made that the Sinaloa Cartel is in Canada because of the Wolfpack. But overall, this is a recommended book because of its strength in describing the transitions of organized crime in Canada.
 Alan Feuer, El Jefe: The Stalking of Chapo Guzmán. New York: Flatiron Books, 2020.