Rocco Minella (left) and brother Vito Minnella (right), flank lawyer Chris Watkins on Wednesday, after learning their names have been cleared by Italian authorities who in 2011 claimed the pair, along with five others in Thunder Bay, had Mafia ties.
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Rocco Minnella said he’s relieved and feels vindicated after being cleared of having ties to a nefarious Mafia crime syndicate by Italian prosecutors.
The 60-year-old was one of seven Thunder Bay residents, a group that included his brothers Vito and Tony, who were subject last year to an Italian arrest warrant, accusing them of being associates of the ‘Ndrangheta network.
“I’m very relieved, and happy, of course,” he said. “We hope everything is behind us. We were very happy to hear that.”
Rocco Minnella said he has no idea why his name and those of his family were drawn into the Mafia mess in the first place.
“I have no knowledge of how we were tied into it, how our name came up.”
Lawyer Chris Watkins, who hosted a champagne celebration for Rocco and brother Vito in recognition of their legal triumph, said the Minnella’s are a shining example of why association laws don’t work.
The Minnellas, he said, were dragged into a process for no reason.
He said his clients have suffered unnecessarily for the past year because an Italian prosecutor named them in an investigation without proper proof.
“In our understanding they were never more than persons of interest and the process has come to a conclusion. We’ve received confirmation through a media report from Italy that in fact these files regarding Vito and Rocco Minnella have been stored.
"They’ve been returned. They may have been people of interest at one time, but in essence what happened and was stated was that there were no elements suitable to support the prosecution of the crime of association,” Watkins said.
Their Thunder Bay attorney said the incident shows a tremendous gap between the Canadian and Italian legal systems, and just how dangerous this type of law can be, he said.
“Any good family can get dragged into that,” Watkins said, noting the wear-and-tear on the family.
“It’s been very difficult for them. I know there’s an element that’s certainly of relief and happiness moving forward, but their families have suffered and they’ve suffered through this. But the message is we have a good community, and a good Italian community, here in Thunder Bay.”
Watkins did say the brothers plan to continue with a lawsuit against several national media outlets and the Chronicle Journal, which they allege named them unfairly in 2011 stories.
The lawsuit has yet to make its way through the court system and none of the allegations have yet been proven.
Rocco Minnella said he’s been unable to travel to the United States, where his mother-in-law and wife have taken up residence, and where he travels extensively for hair-dressing shows.
Luckily his business hasn’t been too hard hit, he said.
“It has been affected in a way, but our clients our very supportive, so we found our business has been pretty stable. But it still affected us in many ways.”
How do they move forward? One step at a time, he said.
“Well, we just look ahead and don’t look behind. Just drive forward and hope everything is OK now and try to forget the past.”
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