Guilty plea in gang killing that left 6 dead, including 2 bystanders

VANCOUVER – An alleged gang leader has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in connection to the execution deaths of six people, including two innocent bystanders, in a Vancouver-area highrise.

Quang Vinh Thang (Michael) Le’s plea on Thursday comes more than eight years after the mass killing in a 15th-floor apartment in Surrey, southeast of Vancouver and marks a dramatic turn at a trial that has offered a rare, and at times gruesome, glimpse into the region’s gang underworld.

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. That case against Johnston and Haevischer is expected to continue.

Another person has already pleaded guilty, while alleged gang leader and co-conspirator Jamie Bacon is expected to stand trial next year.

The trial was disrupted this week, but details of Le’s imminent plea were banned from publication until Thursday’s hearing. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 17.

The six victims were killed on Oct. 19, 2007, in what the Crown has described as a hit on a rival drug trafficker named Corey Lal.

The Crown contends five more victims were added to the body count to ensure there were no witnesses. Among them were 55-year-old fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg and 22-year-old building resident Chris Mohan, who had no connection to the world of gangs and drugs.

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 serving its gas fireplace. Mohan lived across the hall, and at some point he was dragged into the plot, as well.

The Crown has already told the court it would produce evidence showing Johnston, Haevischer and Le have each admitted involvement in the killings.

The specific details of those alleged confessions have yet to be disclosed in court, but the Crown has said Johnston and Le admitted involvement during an undercover operation in 2008. Haevischer’s apparent admission occurred shortly after the killings and also involved Johnston, the Crown has said.

The mass killings happened in the early days of what would grow into a full-scale gang war that endured for another two years.

In the months following the murders, 10 people were killed in shootings. In one particularly deadly month in early 2009, there were 31 shootings, 12 of them fatal.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly said the sentencing hearing was on Dec. 13