Romanelli, Cesidio

Year of birth:
Place of birth: Italy
Arrival in Canada: 1954

Before migrating to Canada in 1954, Cesidio Romanelli had been a farmer in Italy, where he attended school until grade five. At age 21, Cesidio arrived in Toronto and started working as a bricklayer. Later he learned the lather trade and started his own lathing subcontracting business in late 1957.

The summer of 1972 saw the resurgence of violence in the construction industry and reports of organized crime being involved. This included the destruction of two lathing company offices by dynamite, and the shooting of Zanini by unknown assailants in the parking lot of his apartment building, on August 23, 1972. That incident happened less than two weeks before Zanini was to hold a workers’ rally in which D’Alimonte was going to reveal publicly the threats and bribes that had led him to betray him and to leave Local 1 in 1969; and how he had been instructed by a lawyer to sign the damning statement that Shulman had referred to at Queen’s Park. Following these incidents, Shulman once again stood at the Queen’s Park Legislature, on December 5, 1972, and made allegations to the role of crime syndicates as well as the provincial government in enabling the unlawful activity of price-fixing among contractors, particularly in the lathing business. The resurgence of violence and Shulman’s allegations prompted yet another royal commission; the third since 1962. The new Ontario Premier Bill Davis appointed Judge Harry Waisberg on March 28, 1973 to lead this inquiry into “the activities, practices and conduct in the operations, relationships and commercial affairs of those persons, firms, corporation sand organizations engaged in the plastering, lathing, dry-walling, concrete forming and allied sectors of the building industry in Metropolitan Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa,”[1] and other relevant locations. One of the key witnesses was Simone, who agreed to testify about the industry’s illicit practices, including his own unlawful actions (i.e. payoffs, extortion, bribes, threats) under the protection of the Canada Evidence Act – this meant that his testimony could not later be used against him in court. Waisberg’s main focus was the violence and the criminal links in Toronto’s construction industry over the last fiver years, about which Simone had much to contribute.

One of Simone’s contributions was his revelations about a bidding ring and payoff scheme operating in the residential sector. In the mid-1960s, a group of lathing sub-contractors came together to informally control the process of bidding on new projects in order to mitigate the self-defeating race-to-the-bottom promoted by unethical developers. They did this by creating a bid depository and assigning jobs randomly to each company involved. Simone became an essential piece in this ring as the scheme’s enforcer. Each company in this drywall ring paid $1,000 to Local 562, who then hired “inspectors” to ensure that the sub-contractors involved played by the rules. If not and they got greedy, the local would stage walkouts or picket their job sites. The system worked relatively well until 1971, when Cesar Romanelli, a drywall sub-contractor who had previously worked exclusively for the Del Zotto brothers’ apartment developing companies, tried to bid on other projects. Romanelli initially refused to join this bid scheme and sought the mobster Paul Volpe‘s help to find him contracts with the large developing companies. The alleged mobster then introduced him to what Judge Waisberg called a “sinister array of characters,” including Natale Luppino, a known criminal that Romanelli hired as a bodyguard. Volpe also convinced the latter to incorporate two new sub-contracting companies, of which Volpe’s lawyer John Rosen was to own a quarter of the shares. A few months later, Romanelli decided to join the drywall ring and became an active agent in its operation, as the conduit for Simone’s monthly payments. At Queen’s Park, Shulman had accused Northtown Drywall, owned by the Cesaroni brothers, and the C. Romanelli’s Lathing company of having bombed their competitor Acme Lathing in the summer of 1972. His accusations also involved Romanelli’s vice-president, Elvio Del Zotto. According to Shulman, Elvio controlled Romanelli and was the contractors’ representative with the Mafia.

Waisberg’s inquiry also revealed that, in 1971, Romanelli had used Luppino and Joseph Zappia to intimidate Jean Dennis, a Lathers’ Local 124 business agent, into accepting piecework on an Del Zotto housing project in Ottawa. Dennis refused despite seeing his car damaged, his elderly mother being threatened to death, and his son struck unconscious in his own home.

[1] Order-in-council, OC- 927-73, in “Report of the Royal Commission on Certain Sectors of the Building Industry,” Volume I. Ministry of the Attorney General, Government of Ontario (Toronto: Queen’s Printer of Ontario, 1974), iv.