Monday, February 21, 2011

Silvano Cicuto convicted in NYC - former builder and contractor was focus of fierce opposition to construction of "Monster Houses" in Burnaby

I enjoy reading Kim Bolan's reporting in the Vancouver SUN largely because she has been 'at it' long enough to add a veteran's perspective to crime and court stories, and issues which seem to bemuse younger reporters. Meaning what? Meaning that Bolan can remember a time when illicit drugs were not a hefty component of B.C.s economy, and a career option for many.

Her February 12th story details a case which other local media have not covered - a case which has been hidden from us. It involves B.C. men arrested in a sting in 2010, conducted by American police without the assistance of the RCMP. The DEA raids in Newark, New Jersey and Manhattan smashed a cross-border drug ring trafficking in Ecstasy and another synthetic drug called BZP. The name which caught my attention was that of a well known Burnaby contractor. The other man, a recently suspended Vancouver mortgage broker, was totally unfamiliar to me. Silvano Cicuto is identified by Bolan as residing in the city of New Westminster, but many will remember him as a Burnaby resident, often covered in Burnaby newspapers. Cicuto pled guilty last September to serious charges. The Americans had recorded his aggressive telephone conversations and waited for the Canadians to arrive in New York. His alleged accomplice, Luciano Mannu, is said to be from Vancouver and goes on trial tomorrow (Feb. 22). Two other men, drug couriers used by Cicuto, have also been tried.

VANCOUVER SUB story on Silvano Cicuto
Kim Bolan's original story, "Tale of failing fortunes," is online [HERE]. Her followup piece, "Cicuto's smuggling sentencing delayed," is archived [HERE].

Mr. Cicuto pled guilty to all charges in a Manhattan courtroom, thus avoiding a public trial. He is represented by Manhattan Attorney Stephanie M. Carvlin who, says Bolan, "lays out Cicuto's life an historical novel". His best excuse for organizing a high risk, cross-border drug smuggling ring, is that he was unable to recover from the loss of a million dollars that was owed to him when an Internet company - 360 NETWORKS, went bust. That alleged capital loss was said to have destroyed his contracting business, but his lawyer did not explain how.

Cicuto and Sons Contracting Ltd., once a booming business in Burnaby, is said to have employed up to 150 people. They still have a yard in South Burnaby. Cicuto is said to have been a great boss, a man who kept a "cantina" in the basement of his business, a man who treated employees like family, on occasion paying for trips to Disneyland. An examination of the Cicuto and Sons bidding history at the City of Burnaby (mostly culvert and waterline projects), shows that in the 1980s and 1990s their firm regularly sought contracts, some of which were in excess of half a million dollars. Sometimes Cicuto won the bidding competition, sometimes he didn't.

Silvano Cicuto - Burnaby, B.C. contractorMr. and Mrs. Cicuto shown in a 1989 publicity photo which the SUN obtained from the BURNABY NOW.
The records of the City of Burnaby and the two Burnaby newspapers contain a wealth of information on the Cicuto business and family. More than can shared in a brief Blog article. The Vancouver SUN asserts that Mr. Cicuto is "a complicated criminal" and that is undoubtedly true. From what I pieced together of Mr. Cicuto's open past, (in a few hours with microfilm and old Council Minutes) I surmise that "organized" is only sort of crime he would engage in.

Silvano Cicuto - arson fire, 2010A property owned by Silvano Cicuto, located at 1922 Edinburgh Street, New Westminster, was heavily damaged in an arson fire in 2010. The blaze is still under investigation. The SUN caption notes "Cicuto is currently in New York on organized crime charges."

Luciano Mannu, mortgage broker - Rehab Capital CorporationLuciano Mannu (above) is the unknown in the case, as is his stated profession - the murky world of mortgage brokering. The B.C. Registrar of Mortgage Broker's revoked the licence of Mr. Mannu in May of 2010, when it learned that he was being held in a pre-trail center in New York city, having been arrested in a Drug Enforcement Agency sting. Mr. Mannu was a one-man "corporation," masking his business with a dummy Vancouver address. The details of the suspension of his REHAB CAPITAL CORPORATION are available as a FICOM download, here .

MONSTER HOUSES IN BURNABYAlthough the term "Monster House" has fallen out of fashion, it was once a major political and cultural issue in the Vancouver region. The construction of oversized houses, which broke up the staid and leafy profile of many Vancouver streets, was often blamed on newly arrived Hong Kong Chinese. It was claimed they lacked an appreciation for the West Coast aesthetic, and were displaying the arrogant behavior of the nouveau riche. Understandably, the Chinese saw the issue in B&W terms - ie. "racism". That's what it was, and the issue took 20 years to settle out. Meanwhile a legion of urban planners, activists and politicians made careers for themselves.
In Burnaby, the most famous builder of "Monster Houses" was Silvano Cicuto. His chapter of the tale started when he went to the Municipality and negotiated a covenant which would allow him to build a super-house on Burris Street, where he owned a 65,000 sqft lot. The Burnaby NEWS (now the NEWS LEADER) reported that "the rezoning for Cicuto's became one of the most controversial municipal issues of 1990. Neighbors and other residents seized on the proposal as a symbol of the evils of monster houses. Cicuto [Italian born] accused his critics of racism." It got worse. Cicuto overbuilt by 3,000 square feet before city inspectors caught on, and the media became intensely interested.

Dan Hilborn, covered the story for the BURNABY NOW. His report for April 3, 1981 began: "The public will get a chance to vent its anger against a house built more than 3,000 sq. feet larger than allowed under Burnaby zoning regulations. Tuesday night Burnaby aldermen were expected to approve a new public hearing on the 11,984 sq ft.ft. home of contractor Sivano Cicuto at 7347 [sic] Burris. St." In the report Alderman Corrigan is quoted as saying that Cicuto had phoned him and attempted to blame the whole mess on his architect. Corrigan, a lawyer by profession, was not about to be manipulated and indicated he didn't know where the truth lay. The news report added:"Since articles began running in local newspapers, daily media and television news, the family has been forced to call the police to stop window smashing and trespassing on the Burris Street property, Cicuto said." Circuto was particularly incensed with the Vancouver SUN which had ignored his many supporters, choosing to quote "an angry part-time newspaper reporter who lived several blocks away."
In his June 5, 1991 story Mr. Hilborn upped the square footage of the house, but his point was made: "The massive 12,500 square-foot Silvano Cicuto home at 7437 Burris will stand exactly as it was built." Cicuto had defeated his neighbors in Buckingham Heights, and City Council. Alderman Corrigan, for one, was still upset with Cicuto noted that Cicuto had already suffered the "punitive effect" of negative press coverage. (It's an argument his lawyer will also make at his sentencing hearing in New York.)
That didn't end it, because the Federal Fisheries experts had an ongoing interest in rejuvenating salmon s on the slopes around Deer Lake. Circuto's project had disturbed the creek which ran through his property, and he had spent good money to fix the problem. In 1993 a neighbors' redevelopment brought the matter of silting back before Council, and into the press. Cicuto had further plans for his property and he did not relish the attention.
In 1995 he applied for a relaxation of the very covenant which he had negotiated with the City in 1990. Why? His son planned to sub-divide the family's 1.5 acre property and build a 10,000 square foot house at the back of the newly created lot. An outraged neighbor remarked, "The bylaw restrictions in Burnaby are very generous as it is, and it just seems that everyone is pushing and pushing and pushing".
In 1991 Silvano Cicuto mustered a 378 name petition of support, and successfully "swayed" Burnaby Council. His lawyer in Manhattan has assembled a thick file of letters signed by his "passionate defenders," folks who suggest he is the victim of unscrupulous men who took advantage of his good nature. I think the judge in New York may be outmatched. If I had to guess, it would be that Mr. Cicuto will get a very light sentence and be returned to Canada to serve it.


Unknown said...
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Ronald J. Jack said...

Well Vadim, I do agree with you.

And while I did not think my Blog report would draw many readers, over 1,600 people surfed in to read it. The evening I
spent researching Mr. Circuto
was indeed well spent. R.J.

Ronald J. Jack said...

MAY 3 - Sorry Vadim. I have been away from this Blog for over two weeks, and just saw your request to delete today at 2PM.