TORONTO – Maybe the would-be assassins didn’t recognize Robert Barletta as he walked up to the home in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood.
Perhaps they thought the alleged outlaw biker and accused mastermind of a multimillion-dollar sports gambling ring would be wearing Hells Angels patches, red-and-white gear or some other flashy clothing.
But the founder of London’s Hells Angels chapter was sporting white sneakers, grey pants, a grey long-sleeved shirt and a black baseball cap as he passed the black Audi that had been parked on Ontario Street, just south of Gerard Street, for nearly four hours.
Surveillance footage obtained by The London Free Press shows Barletta, 50, glimpse briefly at the vehicle – its engine running and headlights on – before walking past it and up to the red-brick house, seemingly unaware of the pending danger shortly before 7:30 p.m. on March 30.
He unlatches the front-yard gate and is steps away from the home’s entrance when two armed men spring from the vehicle. The first man gets out of the passenger seat and is holding guns in both hands as he runs toward Barletta, who is now out of the frame.
The man fires four shots from the sidewalk before a second man emerges from the rear passenger side and lets off a burst from his handgun while standing in the street.
Both men continue to fire wildly while running backward to the getaway vehicle. Several people in a nearby Beer Store parking lot scatter.
None of the nearly 20 shots fired hit their mark.
But Barletta’s narrow escape shows he has made dangerous enemies and raises questions about why police have been tight-lipped about the incident, say organized crime experts.
“He has some serious problems with rivals in his own group and rivals outside,” crime author James Dubro said of Barletta.
Dubro speculated that the two triggermen were hired guns, a common tactic employed by organized crime groups, including outlaw bikers and the Mafia.
“There are a lot of incompetent hit teams around these days, and a lot of them are not very professional,” Dubro said. “They’re hiring them from street gangs.”
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A Toronto police spokesperson confirmed nobody was injured in the shooting that damaged a building.
A vehicle with multiple people inside fled the scene, but no arrests have been made or arrest warrants issued for suspects, Const. Jenifferjit Sidhu said. “Police are still working on this investigation, it is still active,” she wrote in an email.
Police didn’t issue a media release on the shooting – a common practice for cases of gunfire – or make public the surveillance footage in a possible bid to identify the shooters. It has never been seen publicly before being obtained by The Free Press.
“The fact that the cops never mentioned this to the media is very bothersome,” said Yves Lavigne, the Canadian author of several books on the Hells Angels.
Putting out details of the shooting and releasing the surveillance video would show area residents that investigators are taking the threat to public safety seriously, he said. “That’s how you identify people. You get tips.”