VANCOUVER – Two men on trial for the murders of six people, including two innocent bystanders, who were found dead in a Vancouver-area highrise were full members of a gang that trafficked crack cocaine and used violence to take care of its problems, a former girlfriend told their trial Monday.
The woman, who can only be identified as K.M., is the latest witness at the trial of Cody Rae Haevischer and Matthew Johnston, who are each charged with six counts of first-degree murder for the October 2007 mass killing in Surrey, B.C.
They had been standing trial along with alleged gang leader Michael Le, but he pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to commit murder.
Six people, including fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg and 22-year-old building resident Chris Mohan, were shot dead in what the Crown has alleged was originally intended as a hit on a rival drug trafficker. Haevischer, Johnston and third suspect, who can’t be named, are alleged to have been directly involved in the killings.
K.M.’s testimony on Monday had yet to touch directly on the killings, but she offered a first-hand account of life inside the Red Scorpions gang, which, she said, ran dial-a-dope trafficking operations that expanded throughout B.C.’s Lower Mainland.
The woman, who appeared emotional as she took the stand, testified that she first met Haevischer in 2003, when she was working at a McDonald’s restaurant and he and Johnston were frequent drive-thru customers. Haevischer — who she knew by his pseudonym, Blake — asked for her telephone number and they began seeing each other.
Before long, K.M. became aware of what Haevischer did for a living, she told the court. She said Haevischer sold crack cocaine as part of a dial-a-dope operation in Coquitlam, the suburb east of Vancouver where she grew up.
Her friends from high school wanted nothing to do with her new boyfriend, she recalled.
“They all got scared and didn’t want to hang out with Cody and his friends,” said K.M.
K.M. said she hadn’t heard of the Red Scorpions until the spring of 2004, when she went to a house where Haevischer was hanging out with a number of other men. She saw crack cocaine on a table, police-style batons in the room, and a newspaper article about a recent shooting in Vancouver, she said.
“They were joking around, they were saying how they did that shooting and that now that I knew that they were going to have to kill me,” said K.M., who was high on magic mushrooms that day.
“I think they knew I was on shrooms and they wanted to freak me out. I didn’t really think they were going to kill me.”
Shortly after, Michael Le, who she understood to be one of the gang’s leaders, offered her a full-time job driving Haevischer around on his drug deliveries. It paid about $150 a day — far more than she could make working at in fast-food drive-thru — and she took the job.
Over the next several years, K.M. ascended into the gang’s inner circle, she recalled. At one point, Le sent her to Langley to set up her own dial-a-dope operation, which ultimately failed, she said. She moved around the Vancouver area to different suburbs to work on other dial-a-dope lines.
“We were like a family; we were always together,” she said. “If you needed somebody, they would always be there.”
Le was in charge, handling the money and buying new product to sell, she said. The drugs would then be distributed to “work houses,” where the drugs would be divided into smaller quantities to be sold, she said.
If runners had any problems — for example, if they encountered rival drug traffickers — they would call someone such as Johnston for help. K.M. said she saw both Johnston and Haevischer assault people who were seen to be causing problems.
There were strict rules designed to avoid being monitored by the police, she said. Every one had nicknames that would be used on the telephone, and they would speak in code. Heroin was referred to in phone conversations as “pants,” she said.
It was frowned upon to talk openly in vehicles, she said. Before speaking indoors, they would remove the batteries from their cellphones. At one point, they bought encrypted BlackBerry smartphones to better conceal their communication, she said.
Drug runners were expected to swallow any crack cocaine they were carrying if they were pulled over by the police, she said, which she did more than once.
By 2007, K.M. and Haevischer were living in an apartment complex in Surrey known as the Stanley. The Crown has alleged Johnston and the third suspect picked up Haevischer at the Stanley shortly before the killings.
The Crown’s theory is that Le and alleged gang leader Jamie Bacon, who is scheduled to stand trial next year, ordered the killing of a rival drug trafficker named Corey Lal.
The Crown alleges Haevischer, Johnston and a third man went to the Balmoral Towers condominium complex to murder Lal, but ended up killing five more to eliminate potential witnesses.
Aside from Lal, the other victims were Schellenberg, Mohan, Lal’s brother Michael, Edward Narong and Ryan Bartolomeo.
None of the allegations against Haevischer, Johnston and Bacon have been tested in court.