VANCOUVER - In the months leading up to a mass killing in the Vancouver area that left six dead, including two innocent bystanders, former gang leader Michael Le says he met with a rival drug trafficker to broker a peace between their two groups.
Le, who has become a co-operating witness at the murder trial of two alleged gang members, testified Tuesday that he was the leader of the Red Scorpions gang, along with Jamie Bacon, who is still awaiting trial in the same case.
Bacon was concerned about another drug trafficker named Corey Lal, who had been slinging mud behind his back, Le testified.
So Le met Lal at a Starbucks in the summer of 2007 and urged him to stop antagonizing Bacon, Le testified.
"I told him basically don't (badmouth) Jamie and his guys no more and I would talk to Jamie to try to resolve the problem," Le told a secure courtroom in downtown Vancouver, which was filled with victims' families, reporters and what appeared to be a high school field trip.
Within two months, Lal was dead — one of six people fatally shot in a highrise apartment in Surrey, south of Vancouver, including two men who were caught up in the violence.
Le, 29, had been standing trial along with Matthew Johnston and Cody Haevischer, but he pleaded guilty to conspiracy last November. He was sentenced to three years and one month after time served, in a deal with the Crown that included his testimony at the current trial and at Bacon's.
Le's testimony is offering an unprecedented look inside one of the region's most violent street gangs and its alleged involvement in a crime that turned the region's gang war into a national concern. It also revealed that Le, in addition to founding the Red Scorpions, was a member of a triads gang, which he said supplied him with drugs.
Le said Bacon was upset when he learned of his meeting with Lal, and the problems did not stop.
While Le had yet to testify about what happened next, the Crown's theory is that Le and Bacon later attempted to extort $200,000 from Lal. When he didn't pay, the Crown alleges, they ordered him killed.
It was during Lal's execution on Oct. 19, 2007, that the other five victims were also killed, according to the Crown's theory. Prosecutors allege Johnston, Haevischer and another man — known only as Person X, who has already pleaded guilty to second-degree murder — carried out the killings.
Le had been friends with Eddie Narong, who he said was Lal's partner in the drug business, since middle school and they still kept in touch.
Narong was among the victims, along with Lal, Lal's brother Michael, and Ryan Bartolomeo. The other two victims, fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg and 22-year-old building resident Chris Mohan, had no connection to drugs or gangs.
Le, a Canadian citizen who was born in Vietnam, told the court he began trafficking drugs when he was 18, and was soon operating dial-a-dope operations in several communities in the Vancouver area.
During a stint in jail, he met Konaam Shirzad, with whom he formed a close friendship, Le testified. They decided to start a gang, which they named the Red Scorpions, Le said — "red" for blood, or family, and "scorpions" to symbolize brotherhood.
The gang had no official ranks, said Le, but instead members were seen as brothers. New recruits were little brothers, and those vouching for them were big brothers.
Le was the big brother of the entire gang, he said, becoming the sole leader as Shirzad spent most of his time in prison.
Le said Johnston, who he had also met in jail, was an early member of the Red Scorpions. Johnston vouched for Haevischer, who eventually became a member, said Le.
Le said he would decide which of the recruits would become members — an occasion celebrated with new tattoos and a ceremony in which Red Scorpions members would cut their hands and touch their blood together, burn incense and swear an oath to a "god of gangsters."
They used encrypted BlackBerry phones to communicate, spoke in code. and used nicknames in an attempt to throw off the police, he said. For example, a kilogram of cocaine was referred to as a "movie," he said, and one of his own nicknames was map (pronounced mop), a Vietnamese word that translates to "chubby."
Le said he was arrested on drug charges in 2006 and pleaded guilty. While in jail, he met Bacon, who was his roommate for a month.
Bacon talked about joining together, partly to deal with problems he was having with other gangs, Le testified.
He soon became Bacon's sole supplier of cocaine, and in 2007 the groups merged, keeping the name Red Scorpions, Le testified.
Both Le and Bacon believed there was strength in numbers, he said.
"The advantage was having a bigger group, and when you have a bigger group you have a bigger name and more people respect you and fear you," he testified.
Bacon is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy, and is expected to stand trial separately.
Johnston and Haevischer are each charged with six counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy.
They have pleaded not guilty.
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