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Chilliwack extortion trial gets underway

Threatening phone calls made to a Chilliwack businessman demanding $500,000 were played in B.C. Supreme Court as an extortion trial got underway Monday.

By court order, the accused can be identified only by his initials, A.K., and no information that might identify the 45-year-old victim may be published.

A.K., 28 years old at the time of the extortion attempt, has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Lawyer Paul Blessin outlined the Crown's case that three men, including A.K., hatched a plan in September, 2009 to extort money from the businessman, and a series of phone calls were made demanding payment "or else somebody was going to get hurt."

The caller warned the victim not to involve the police, but almost immediately the businessman was on the phone to the RCMP, which mounted an extensive surveillance of suspects.

The victim was directed to deliver the money to a Langley address on Sept. 30, but instead he remained in Chilliwack while an RCMP Emergency Response Team arrested three suspects at the delivery site.

One of the suspects, a 19-year-old Surrey man, has pleaded guilty to extortion, and is expected to testify for the Crown. A second suspect, an 18-year-old, also from Surrey, is still at large.

In one of the first calls, the caller described himself as an "associate" of the Hells Angels who had information the businessman had several businesses "doing well ... and they want your money."

"I just make the phone calls, my bosses they do everything else," the caller said in a second phone call.

"If you don't answer the phone, or you call the cops, there's going to be big trouble," the caller warned.

In a third phone call, the victim told the caller that he had only collected $250,000 so far.

"I was told to tell you to have all of it today, and we'll pick it up tomorrow," the caller warned again. "If you have this ready for tomorrow that will be the end of it, you won't have to worry about us ever again."

The next day, Sept. 30, the victim told the caller he had the full amount, and he was ordered to drive up Highway 1 to the 200th Street exit where he would get another call directing him to the delivery site.

"After that, you have our assurance you will be safe," the caller said. "If you don't, then you won't be able to make it home."

"I've done this to many other people and they are fine," the caller added. "Nobody ever gets hurt when they pay."

The victim testified in court that it was the same voice, which he did not recognize, in each of the threatening calls.

In a news release issued at the time of the arrest, police said the victim had no links to any criminal activity, like a drug debt, that could be used to force him to pay off the suspects.

"This was a completely innocent victim ... an upstanding individual in the community," Sgt. Peter Thiessen said in the news release.

He said extortion attempts are often unreported to police, and he urged victims to call police and know they will be protected.

He said 75 police officers from Chilliwack RCMP, Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, Integrated Gang Task Force, Lower Mainland Emergency Response Team and the RCMP negotiation team worked "around the clock" on the investigation.

The trial is expected to continue for a week.

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