Wiretap wrangle holds up extortion trial
A legal wrangle over disclosure of wiretap evidence delayed the trial of two men charged in an alleged extortion attempt on three Chilliwack men after a marijuana shipment valued at $200,000-$400,000 went missing.
Vincenzo Lanci, 28, of Delta, and Ronny Krayem, 29, of Langley, were arrested during a meeting with one of the victims at Earl's restaurant on Nov. 6, 2009, after a two-week investigation involving over 60 members of the Chilliwack RCMP Serious Crime Unit, the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, the Integrated Gang Task Force, the Vancouver Police Drug Section and the Lower Mainland District Emergency Response Team.
The victims' names cannot be published by order of the court. Two are in their 40s and one is in his 30s, according to an RCMP news release issued at the time of the arrest.
The Crown is alleging the three Chilliwack men were operating a trucking business, but had gotten into marijuana growing, and then transporting the product, when the economy went sour in 2009.
They had leased a storage bay where the marijuana was grown when a shipment worth between $200,000-$400,000 bound for eastern Canada went missing.
One of the Chilliwack men who drove the truck was allegedly attacked and his leg broken by five men on Oct. 21, 2009. The Crown is not alleging Krayem and Lanci were the attackers.
However, the three Chilliwack men were allegedly given just two weeks to come up with the money for the missing marijuana - or else.
A relative of the victims went to the police and the investigation began, which included one of the men acting as a police "agent" and the extensive use of telephone wiretaps.
The trial scheduled for two weeks had just gotten underway Monday when Ian Donaldson, defence counsel for Krayem, raised the issue of disclosure of the wiretap evidence collected by the RCMP.
Donaldson argued that his client is "entitled" to the unedited transcripts of the police "intercepts" - including access to those of his co-accused - so he could mount a full defence.
He submitted that the test for disclosure is whether it could possibly affect the outcome of the trial.
"Those (police) who sat down to interview both Krayem and Lanci ... had available for their review and preparation all of the fruits of the investigation," he said.
Counsel's knowledge of what information the interviewers had available to them could affect cross-examination of Crown witnesses and "this evidence could make a difference" in the outcome of the trial, he submitted.
However, Crown counsel Henry Waldock said he believed the matter was settled at a pre-trial conference, and the "surprise application" for disclosure of thousands of pages of transcripts jeopardized the trial proceeding as planned with 30 witnesses scheduled to testify.
More importantly, he felt constrained by provisions in the criminal code intended to protect innocent third-parties whose identities might be disclosed to the accused, if the police intercepts were released unedited to their lawyers.
Waldock respectfully refused to release the information without an order from the court, but agreed to an "undertaking" by all three counsel which would define, to the satisfaction of all, how that order is implemented.
Judge Russell McKay made the order late Tuesday, and the three lawyers began drafting the undertaking.
The disclosure issue arose after testimony by RCMP Sgt. Graham de la Gorgendiere, who was in charge of the serious crime unit, detailed how the police investigation was organized.
He said the extortion complaint was received Oct. 24 and a team assembled the next day "to assess what kind of danger (the three men) were in at the time."
Police surveillance started Oct. 29, he said, and authorization for the wiretaps was obtained the next day.
One of the complainants interviewed by police was initially "concerned about getting himself in trouble," de la Gorgendiere said, because of his involvement in growing marijuana.
But the complainant was "scared" because "serious threats" had been made on his life, de la Gorgendiere said.
"I felt he was leaving out information at the beginning, but as the interview went on he answered all my questions," he said.
The trial is expected to continue this week, followed by a week-long break, and then resume for another week.