An alleged gang leader has pleaded guilty to orchestrating an execution in a Vancouver-area highrise that ultimately left six dead — a shocking crime that ripped apart the families of two innocent bystanders and caused the region’s violent gang war to explode into the national spotlight.
Quang Vinh Thang (Michael) Le’s plea on Thursday to conspiracy to commit murder comes more than six years after the mass killing and marks a dramatic turn at a trial that has offered a rare, and at times gruesome, glimpse into the region’s gang underworld.
The trial will still continue for two other men, while another trial is expected next year.
Six people were fatally shot on Oct. 19, 2007, in a 15th-floor condominium in Surrey, southeast of Vancouver.
Four of the victims were men with ties to drugs and gangs, but two were not: 55-year-old fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg and 22-year-old building resident Chris Mohan.
Mohan’s mother, Eileen, welcomed Le’s guilty plea, but she objected to the oft-repeated description of her son being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“His (Le’s) actions took the life of my son and my life,” said Mohan, whose spoke through tears outside the downtown Vancouver courthouse.
“We had a right to live — to say that Christopher was at the wrong place at the wrong time is the wrong terminology. He was at the right place at the right time. … These people have nothing to do with our lives, we had nothing to do with their lives.”
The murders were part of what the Crown has described as a hit on a rival drug trafficker named Corey Lal.
The Crown contends five more victims, including Schellenberg and Mohan, were added to the body count to ensure there were no witnesses.
Le was originally charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to murder Lal, but a spokesman for the Crown confirmed Thursday that prosecutors do not intend to proceed on the murder charge.
Le had been on trial since late September along with Matthew Johnston and Cody Haevischer, who are each charged with conspiracy and six counts of first-degree murder. The case against Johnston and Haevischer is expected to continue, with the trial resuming as early as Monday.
Another person has already pleaded guilty, while alleged gang leader and co-conspirator Jamie Bacon is expected to stand trial next year.
According to the Crown’s theory, Le and Bacon, the alleged leaders of the Red Scorpions gang, attempted to extort $100,000 from Lal. When he refused to pay, they ordered his execution, the Crown contends.
Johnston, Haevischer and a third gunman, who has already pleaded guilty but whose name is covered by a publication ban, planned to target Lal at a unit in Surrey’s Balmoral Tower, which Lal used as a “stash house” for drugs and money, the Crown alleges.
They entered the building with a key fob they obtained from a Red Scorpions associate who also lived in the same complex, the Crown says.
Once inside, the Crown alleges the trio found four people with links to the drug trade: Lal, Lal’s brother Michael, Edward Narong and Ryan Bartolomeo. Schellenberg was also in the unit servicing the gas fireplace. Mohan lived across the hall, and at some point he was dragged into the plot, as well.
PMO Ethics Scandal Deeply Troubling
Police documents sworn under oath show the RCMP is investigating allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust inside the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The behaviour reported to have taken place earlier this year at the highest levels of Stephen Harper’s government is deeply troubling.
Far from being the work of a single rogue (i.e., PMO Chief of Staff Nigel Wright) acting all alone, a dozen or more people in the Prime Minister’s inner sanctum have been mentioned by police in an elaborate scheme to pay off the controversial expenses of Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, disrupt a forensic audit, whitewash an official Senate report – and cover it all up.
Most of these people still work for the Harper government. Some have been promoted.
The Prime Minister claims he knew nothing, saw nothing, was told nothing, asked nothing and did nothing as a grotesque “deception” (as he called it) was pulled off right under his nose by his most trusted confidantes. And he refuses to answer any specific questions about what went on and why. His strategy is to deflect, deny and obfuscate, which makes Canadians even more suspicious.
In a particularly troubling portion of the police documents about a deal with Duffy, Mr. Wright is quoted as saying: “I do want to speak to the PM before everything is considered final”. A short while later his emails go on to say: “We are good to go from the PM”. What exactly does that mean?
The Conservatives claim “good to go” meant Mr. Harper approved Duffy repaying his own expenses. But that seems nonsensical. Why would the Prime Minister have to approve that? This and so many other serious questions remain unanswered. That’s why we have called repeatedly for Mr. Harper to testify under oath.
His government has lost its sense of right and wrong. Canadians deserve better.
(By Ralph Goodale, MP Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada)