Vito was the first child of Nicolo "Nick" Rizzuto and his wife, Libertina Manno. He was named after Nick's father, who died in Sicily when Nick was only four. On Vito's eighth birthday, in 1954, the Rizzuto family, which by then included a daughter, Maria, arrived in Canada by ship, landing in Halifax and moving on to Montreal, where thousands of Italian immigrants thrived in a long-established community.
His father Nicolo Rizzuto began his Mafia career in Canada as an associate of the Cotroni crime Family that controlled much of Montreal's drug trade in the 1970s while answering to the Bonanno crime family of New York. By the 1980s, the Rizzutos emerged as the city's pre-eminent Mafia crew after a turf war between the Montreal family's Sicilian and Calabrian factions and the murder of Paolo Violi, a Bonanno underboss who had been named boss of Montreal's family.
According to law enforcement officials Rizzuto oversaw a criminal empire that imported and distributed tonnes of heroin, cocaine and hashish in Canada, laundered hundreds of millions of dollars, lent out millions more through loansharking operations and profited handsomely from illegal gambling, fraud and contract killings.
Though only considered a soldier of the New York Bonanno crime family by the FBI, Rizzuto is considered by Canadian officials to be the most powerful mob boss in the country. Some observers consider that the strength of the Rizzuto clan rivals that of any of the Five Families in New York and dubbed it The Sixth Family. Rizzuto worked closely with the Sicilian Cuntrera-Caruana clan – major illicit drug traffickers – that was led in Canada by Alfonso Caruana.
According to Francesco Di Carlo, a Sicilian mafioso turned government witness, Vito Rizzuto is in charge of Cosa Nostra in Canada, he said in an interview with W-Five in 1998.
The journalist Lee Lamothe and Adrian Humphreys dubbed the Rizzuto clan the Sixth Family to put them on an equal footing as the Five Families of Cosa Nostra in New York. According to the book The Sixth Family:
"By 2003, the Rizzuto organization was variously listed in FBI and DEA files as merely ‘the Canadian crew of the Bonanno Family’ or the ‘Montreal faction of the Bonannos.’ The reality is far different. The territory under its control is huge—more than a million square miles of Quebec and Ontario directly fall under its influence, an area larger than one-quarter the size of the entire United States. It includes major cities, the busiest border crossings between the U.S. and Canada, and many mature Mafia clans that are, by and large, cooperating under the Sixth Family’s banner. Where American Mafia bosses controlled criminal activity in portions of a city or a New York borough or the criminal activity in an industrial or commercial sector—such as construction or New York’s garment district—the Sixth Family was an enterprise with a true global reach. The Sixth Family had outpaced any crew in the Bonanno Family and, indeed, man-for-man, dollar-for-dollar, had eclipsed the family as a whole. (…)
The nucleus of the Montreal-based Sicilian Mafia … (comprises) hundreds of soldiers and associates,’ says a Canadian police report drafted in 2004. Those who merely do business with the Sixth Family or work with them in short-term ventures are not included in this. Neither, generally, are the businessmen who do mostly non-criminal favors for the organization."
In 2003, Vito Rizzuto was indicted by a Brooklyn federal grand jury in relation to racketeering conspiracy charges, including loansharking and murder, in connection with the 1981 gangland killings of three disloyal Bonanno crime family captains, Philip Giaccone, Dominick Trinchera and Alphonse Indelicato, made famous by the Hollywood movie Donnie Brasco. Rizzuto is alleged to have been one of four gunmen hired by former Bonanno crime family captain Joe Massino to kill the three other captains. Massino had allegedly believed that they were planning a power grab after the incarceration of then-boss Phillip Rastelli.
Rizzuto was arrested on January 20, 2004 in Montreal. On August 17, 2006, after a legal battle of 31 months, he was extradited to the United States, and had to appear before a magistrate judge in U.S. District Court, Brooklyn, N.Y. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Massino, who is serving a life sentence for murder and became a state witness afterwards, will testify against Rizzuto, as will Massino's brother-in-law Salvatore Vitale, who was among the men who carried out the slaying.
On May 4, 2007, Rizzuto pleaded guilty to being present in the triple murder which saw Philip "Philly Lucky" Giaccone, Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato and Dominick "Big Trin" Trinchera. He only testified that he was involved in the affair, but had only yelled It's a holdup while others did the shooting. His ten years sentenced had already been lowered due to having spent three and a half years in prison. It is believed that he will serve five years in the United States, and another three years in Canada under supervised relief. According to Lee Lamonthe, author of The Sixth Family, this was a fate that was far from the worst that could happen to Mr. Rizzuto.
On February 11, 2005, an arrest warrant was issued in Rome against Rizzuto in connection with alleged Mafia involvement in building a bridge across the Strait of Messina connecting the Italian mainland with Sicily, one of the biggest public works projects in Italy's history. The 3,690-metre-long, suspension-type bridge, planned to open by 2011, is expected to cost about €5 billion ($7.3 billion Cdn).