By: Adrian Humphreys
Antonio Sergi, who was shot dead in his Toronto driveway last week, was deeply involved in the medical marijuana industry, including a province-wide bid to unionize growers and the shady operation of an urban pot farm, the National Post has learned.
He was also a mob-linked crime figure known by the nickname “Tony Large” who faced drug charges and court squabbles.
The motive for his gangland-style murder at 2:30 a.m. on March 31 is not yet known — and the gunman still a fugitive — but Sergi’s violent end reveals a direct and disturbing link between medical marijuana production and organized crime just as the pot industry struggles for respectability amid a legalization push.
Sergi, 53, founded the Medical Cannabis Employees Union Local 1 in 2013 and announced his presidency with a professionally distributed media release, slick website and an office in Woodbridge, north of Toronto.
“We’re 250 to 300 strong as of today,” said Sergi when launching his union. “Our goal is to have at least 7,000 members by the end of 2013.”
He promised to lobby government, assist in licensing and to help consumers “access the highest quality” cannabis “at the fairest price.”
His vision of a province-wide union fell apart in a series of ruinous events: he was arrested in 2014 in a large Toronto drug case; medical marijuana laws changed; and people realized his union was a sham.
Around the same time, his criminal tie to a crew of known mobsters also fell apart.
“Tony Large was with a crew there, he was with them and then they got pissed off at him and they kind of abandoned him. He was doing his own thing with that union, with the growers,” said a long-time underworld friend of Sergi’s who asked not to be named.
Confident in his abilities, however, Sergi carried on and was known as a freelancer in the underworld; he had serious mob ties and spoke with powerful Mafia figures, but was not a “made” guy nor was he claimed by any mob family, the source said.
Sergi looked the part: Standing 6-foot-4, his hair cropped short, he once weighed more than 350 pounds, but had lost a lot of weight by the time of his death. His animated face displayed amiable joviality or fearful toughness as required, friends said.
While Sergi’s union plans faltered, he maintained his interest in marijuana and ran an industrial medical marijuana grow-op in Hamilton that he claimed was a legal, federally licensed facility.
But it wasn’t.
At the time of his death, Sergi was involved in a court dispute with the City of Hamilton and his landlord over his marijuana business.
The large, dilapidated building, a former bar called Boomers at 229 Kenilworth Ave. N., looks abandoned and derelict, apart for new security cameras scanning the exterior. There is no sign it is a functioning business.
No one answered the rusty door when a reporter visited this week.
After neighbours complained last year of a strong marijuana odor, city bylaw officials and Hamilton police investigated and reported it was a federally licensed medical marijuana grow operation, said Sam Merulla, city councillor for the area.
“It was a surprise to us,” said Merulla, who complained there had been no interaction with the city about zoning or permits.
“These guys just circumvented our entire process. They showed no respect for the process at all. It is baffling to me how you can get licensing without any city zoning approval,” he said.
“From the outside, it’s atrocious. Outside it looks abandoned but inside, from what bylaw said, it looks quite extravagant.”
What makes the situation even more remarkable, however, is the facility does not actually have a federal marijuana licence.
“Health Canada has not issued a licence at this address for the production of medical cannabis,” said Gary Scott Holub, a Health Canada spokesman. “Not ever.”
“That tells you someone’s lying,” said Holub.
If it was Sergi lying, he was bold enough to do it in sworn statements filed in court.
In his battle to not be evicted from the Boomers building he was explicit about what he was doing there.
“I have been leasing the property for a number of years and have been using the space to grow medical marijuana under three federally issued licences during that time,” Sergi said in a sworn affidavit dated June 15, 2016.
In fact, he argued he must stay in the building because the federal government wouldn’t let him move: “the plants must be grown either on the property or not at all.” To move would require the federal government’s permission and disrupt the medical needs of people requiring the marijuana, he wrote.
Sergi didn’t own the building, he leased it. When the city went after the building’s owner, Toronto lawyer Yigal Rifkind, he moved to evict Sergi. In response, Sergi sued Rifkind. The matter was still before the court at the time of Sergi’s death.
Sergi’s affidavit in the case suggests what he was doing in Hamilton is exactly what many suspected his real purpose was with his aborted union — to pool together people with individual medical marijuana licences to create large, conglomerate pot operations.
Rifkind said he never wanted to oust Sergi but didn’t want to engage in a legal brawl with the city.
“You know what they say, you don’t fight city hall,” Rifkind told the Post. He doesn’t see how the Hamilton operation could be motive for murder, though, as it was already wrapping up.
Rifkind was first introduced to Sergi as “Tony Large” and only found out that was a nickname later, he said. He conceded Sergi wasn’t a typical tenant.
“Tony was an interesting character and had a lot of interesting friends. He was a larger than life character but I don’t know what would motivate that end result,” he said of his murder.
“He was a difficult person not to get along with,” Rifkind said. “You could be furious with him and in five minutes you’d have forgotten why.”
Being told that Health Canada says the facility was never licensed to grow pot left Rifkind momentarily speechless.
“That’s crazy,” he said after a long pause. “If that’s true, it would come as a huge shock to me.” He said he had seen correspondence that appeared to be from Health Canada.
“It’s possible there has been a misrepresentation.”
It came as a shock in Hamilton as well.
After mediation, the case was set to be settled out of court. Everyone was expecting Sergi — and his plants — to be out of the building this month. City of Hamilton spokeswoman Ann Lamanes said an inspection is scheduled to confirm “voluntary compliance.”
News, however, the building that has bothered city officials for almost a year was never actually federally licensed enraged Merulla.
“That is astounding. It is shocking. I can’t even describe what I’m feeling. I’m beside myself,” Merulla said.
“It’s an absurdity beyond comprehension,” he said, adding he will ask council to examine how city checks on a property could have gone awry.
While Hamilton officials grapple with that, Sergi’s family and friends are preparing a final goodbye. His funeral mass is scheduled for Friday.
Sergi is survived by his wife, Nancy, in Toronto, and his parents, two sisters and a brother in Italy.
Original article can be found here