How a Mafia-linked drug smuggler ended up behind bars after 18 years on the lam

Razor wire around a prison complex. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Last summer, Norman Rosenblum returned to Canada after having been a fugitive for 18 years. He had skipped out on a sentence he was serving for having brokered, along with members of the Hells Angels and the Montreal Mafia, one of the biggest cocaine deals ever investigated in this country.

He knew he was a wanted man and that Canadian authorities had been advised he would be arriving in June last year. He expected to be placed in shackles the second he crossed the border, but no one resembling a police officer was present when he did.

Related The following is a timeline of how Rosenblum ended up back behind bars this year.

Aug. 2, 1985: In a first indication of what circles Rosenblum moved in, he is arrested along with six other men as part of an RCMP investigation into cocaine and hashish smuggling in Montreal. The RCMP seized 20 kilograms of cocaine and eight kilos of hashish during their probe. Included among those arrested with Rosenblum was Luis Cantieri, a Brazilian national who had played professional soccer in Montreal but ended up dealing drugs with people directly tied to Vito Rizzuto, the now-deceased leader of the Montreal Mafia. Cantieri ended up with a 12-year sentence for being a key player in bringing cocaine into Montreal. Rosenblum was sentenced, in 1986, to the equivalent of a 21-month prison term after he pleaded guilty to possession of hashish.

Aug. 17, 1990: The RCMP officially incorporates the Centre International Monetaire de Montréal (CIMM), a phoney currency exchange counter on Peel St. Undercover agents posed as money changers willing to look the other way on questionable transactions. The counter was frequented by several people tied to organized crime and, according to a decision released by the Quebec Court of Appeal in 2000, CIMM took in more than $200 million over four years.

Aug. 17, 1994: A 40-foot yacht with several undercover RCMP officers on board approached the coastal town of Santa Marta in northern Colombia after a deal was arranged by a Montreal lawyer named Joseph Lagana, one of CIMM’s more frequent clients, to sell 558 kilograms of cocaine to the Hells Angels. According to the book Mafia Inc., Cantieri was supposed to be the only person allowed to authorize the deal and he was caught off guard by Lagana’s actions. Either way, Rosenblum was on the shore of Santa Marta waiting to help transfer the 558 kilograms of cocaine to the yacht. He even joked around with the crew, unaware that two of the men he shared jokes with were RCMP officers. The cocaine was quietly seized but the RCMP made arrangements to pretend it had been transferred to a shipping container and delivered to England where David Rouleau and Pierre Rodrigue, both members of the Hells Angels chapter in Sherbrooke, were waiting for it, to finalize a deal in London.

Aug. 30, 1994: Rosenblum’s deal with the Hells Angels proved to be the last piece of evidence the RCMP needed in their four-year-long investigation. Rosenblum, Lagana and Cantieri were included among more than 50 people arrested across Canada (and in England) on charges alleging they were collectively part of conspiracies to launder more than $93 million in drug money. Included among those arrested were a few men considered to be leaders in the Montreal Mafia. At the time, the RCMP alleged that Vito Rizzuto was part of the conspiracy but the Mounties also conceded they didn’t have enough evidence to charge him. As the case made its way through court, Sabatino (Sammy) Nicolucci, a man who had direct ties to Rizzuto and who laundered more than $30 million through the RCMP’s exchange counter, was revealed to have been involved in Rosenblum and Cantieri’s deal.

Jan. 20, 1995: During a hearing at the Montreal courthouse, Rosenblum and the two Hells Angels — Rouleau and Rodrigue — pleaded guilty to charges related to the 558-kilogram shipment of cocaine. Rosenblum, then 42, was sentenced to a 13-year prison term while Rouleau and Rodrigue were sentenced to eight- and six-year prison terms respectively.

June 19, 1997: Rosenblum is sentenced, in Vancouver, to a 42-month prison term for being in possession of the proceeds of crime. He had stashed his profits from drug deals in a Swiss bank account and used some of the money to purchase a condominium in Whistler, B.C.

May 14, 1998: The Parole Board of Canada denied Rosenblum’s request for early parole. The parole board was concerned about Rosenblum’s prior convictions for conjugal violence. A written summary of the 1998 decision reveals that Rosenblum was also convicted of drug smuggling in London, England, in 1981, and was sentenced to a 30-month prison term.

May 18, 1999: After having undergone a therapy program to address his violent past, Rosenblum was granted day parole. He told the parole board that after having worked for the previous five months at a drug rehab centre with addicts, he finally realized the consequences of having brought kilos of drugs like cocaine into Canada. As part of his release plan, he told the parole board he wanted to work as a handyman and chauffeur for someone he knew. The parole board was cautious and ordered him to take part in community projects for the first two months of his day parole before he started a regular job. Later that year, Rosenblum disappeared and Correctional Service Canada issued a warrant for his arrest.

April 2, 2009: Cantieri, who ended up with a combined 26-year prison term when he was sentenced for his role in the deal to sell cocaine to the Hells Angels, saw conditions imposed on him as his statutory release date was approaching. Cantieri had been released on day parole briefly, in 2002, but it was revoked after questions were raised over companies he claimed he would work for when he got out.

Jan. 22, 2018: The Gatineau police respond to a call from a person who spotted a man whose behaviour appeared to be out of the ordinary. Police officers approach Rosenblum because he resembles the man described in the call. In turned out that he wasn’t the man the police were looking for but the Gatineau police realized a warrant had been out for Rosenblum’s arrest since 1999. He was quickly turned over to Correctional Service Canada and was returned to a federal penitentiary.

June 15, 2018: Rosenblum has his first parole hearing since being back behind bars. His day parole is revoked.

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