It took two years and the combined efforts of police forces across the GTA, including officers from Barrie, York Region and Durham, but investigators believe they have struck a huge blow against organized crime.

In the early morning hours on Tuesday, RCMP say 260 members of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU) executed 25 search warrants, arresting 19 men, who have alleged connections to the 'Ndrangheta crime organization.

"There's no doubt in the investigators' minds that the level of violence that these people were prepared to conduct and exercise in that kind of activity would include homicide," says RCMP Supt. Keith Finn at a Wednesday news conference in Aurora.

The raids were executed across the region, as part of Project OPhoenix. In addition to the arrests, police say they seized three firearms, about 8.5 kg of cocaine, 7 kg of marijuana and five vehicles.

“The presence of such organized crime groups brings an element of criminality to our communities that is unacceptable,” said Finn in a statement.  “Drug importation, drug and firearm trafficking, extortion and the associated violence that accompanies these illegal activities puts our citizens at risk.”

At the news conference, police identified Giuseppe Ursino, 62, and Carmine Verduci, who was killed at age 56 during a shooting at a café in Woodbridge, as the leaders of the cells. Investigators also identified Diego Serrano, 66, as a significant player.

"There is an established hierarchy. There's layers of insulation to protect specific individuals in there," Finn said. "The challenges in this investigation are to peel back those layers to expose for the court and for the Canadian public exactly how it is they conduct their criminal enterprise."

Police have charged:

  • Giuseppe Ursino, 62, of Bradford
  •  Diego Serrano, 66, of Vaughan
  • Marco Maone, 32, of Toronto
  • Cosmin Dracea, 38, of Toronto
  • Jorden Kolman, 50, of Richmond Hill
  • Zarko Djokic, 30, of Toronto
  • Adnan Mursel, 31, of Toronto
  • Nicodemo Barbaro, 58, of North York
  • Giuseppe Scordo, 45, of Vaughan
  • Anthony Persaud, 26, of Toronto
  • Glenn Forde, 47, of Aurora
  • Antonio Agresta, 43, of Hamilton
  • Adam D'Andrea, 58, of Hamilton
  • Carlo Fazzari, 41, of Hamilton
  • Giuseppe Nesci, 58, of Woodbridge
  • Demetre Papadopoulos, 63, of Aurora
  • Richard Avenes, 44, of North York
  • Antonio Mediati, 66, of Oakville
  • Syedmeysam Mir, 35 (no location given)

They all face a variety of charges which include trafficking in cocaine, conspiracy to commit extortion and possession of proceeds of crime.

With files from CTV Toronto.