Kevin LeClair had just left the Browns Socialhouse in Langley’s Thunderbird Mall on a cold Friday afternoon nine years ago.
He got into his pickup truck and began to drive off, when two gunmen started blasting him. Terrified shoppers ducked for cover. It was 4 p.m.
As the killers took off, people nearby ran to help LeClair, his foot jammed on the gas of the revving pickup in front of the IGA grocery store.
LeClair, a Red Scorpion gangster who was once aligned with the rival United Nations gang, died two days later in hospital.
And now a B.C. Supreme Court judge will decide whether alleged UN hitman Cory Vallee was one of LeClair’s killers that day.
Handout photo of Jamie Bacon (left) and Kevin LeClair, who was slain in Feb., 2009.
The 41-year-old former North Vancouver garbage man is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to kill Jonathan, Jarrod and Jamie Bacon and their Red Scorpion associates between Jan. 1, 2008, and Feb. 9, 2009.
RCMP handout photo of Cory Vallee.
The year-long trial before Justice Janice Dillon finally ended this week after a month of closing arguments. Dillon said that she would deliver her verdict on June 1.
Crown prosecutors argued there was plenty of evidence to convict Vallee on both counts, including police surveillance, intercepted calls and conversations of gang members talking about the Bacon plot and a hired “hitman” dubbed Frankie or Panther — nicknames Vallee used. And they said their key witnesses, ex-UN members who can only be called A, B, C and D due to a publication ban, should be believed despite their admitted criminal histories.
“The fact that these witnesses who were embedded in this world came here to testify and were willing to give that information about all their former colleagues and that it’s consistent among themselves has value to this court,” said prosecutor Alex Burton.
“They all testified about scouting or hunting the Bacons and the RS (Red Scorpions), of reporting known locations and addresses of the Bacons and the RS — such as residences, gyms, restaurants — about gathering and distributing photographs, the need to bring in someone specifically to reek havoc.”
Vallee defence lawyer Eric Gottardi said A, B, C and D blamed his client simply to “save their own skin” and that by co-operating they had “escaped punishment for murders.”
“The Crown’s evidence in this case falls markedly short of establishing that Cory Vallee was the person who shot and killed Kevin LeClair. It falls markedly short of establishing that Cory Vallee was an out-of-town hit man named Frankie. And it even fails to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Vallee was a full-fledged member of the UN or the conspiracy until after the indictment period, if at all,” Gottardi said.
HIGH-PROFILE COURT CASE SHOWS DEPTH OF BRUTALITY AND DESTRUCTION IN GANG WAR
Revelations at the trial showed the long trail of death and destruction in a bloody Lower Mainland gang war that began long before LeClair was hunted and shot.
Witnesses provided details of more than a dozen other shootings and murders between 2005 and 2010 that they said were part of the same conflict.
Some were high-profile shootings, like the attempted execution of Jonathan Bacon in the driveway of his parents’ Abbotsford home on Sept. 21, 2006. He survived only to be killed in another targeted attack in August 2011.
Other murders disclosed at the Vallee trial had much less public attention, like the March 3, 2006, slaying of Bacon associate Dave Tumber outside an apartment building at Gladwin and Maclure in Abbotsford.
Many of the shootings led to violent retaliation, according to evidence of A, B, C and D.
And in most of the other attacks they recounted in court, no one has been charged, including for killings the UN arranged in Argentina and Mexico, where Vallee was arrested in August 2014 after three and a half years on the run.
Whatever the verdict is in this case, the decade-long police investigation has already yielded results.
In July 2013, five UN members and associates — Yong Sung John Lee, Dilun Heng, Barzan Tilli-Choli, Karwan Ahmet Saed and Ion Kroitoru — pleaded guilty to conspiracy to kill the Bacons and were handed sentences of between 11 and 14 years, minus time served. A year later, Amir Eghtesad also pleaded guilty to conspiracy, and was sentenced to seven years in jail.
Two others connected to the gang are scheduled to go to trial next summer.
UN gang founder Clay Roueche has also been implicated in the murder plot but has never been charged. He was arrested on May 17, 2008, after his flight to Mexico for a UN wedding was diverted to the US, where he was facing charges and was arrested. He later pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering and was sentenced to 30 years.
Photo showing United Nations gang leader Clay Roueche being taken into custody in Texas on May 17, 2008. Roueche was turned away from Mexico and forced to land in the United States where he was arrested on drug charges.
BRAZEN SHOOTINGS BROUGHT GANG WAR TO PUBLIC ATTENTION
RCMP Asst. Commissioner Kevin Hackett, of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Agency, was the team commander of the UN gang investigation when it started a decade ago.
Hackett said in an interview that he couldn’t comment specifically on details of the Vallee trial, given that the case is still before the courts.
But speaking generally, he said the gang war at the time reached unprecedented levels of violence across the region.
“You already know from the evidence in court that there was a conspiracy to go after the Red Scorpions and there were tit-for-tat retaliations and murders that were going on,” Hackett said this week.
“In 2008 and 2009, there was a definite spike and the frequency and retaliatory nature of the violence was unprecedented.”
He said the gangsters involved at that time were making “coordinated, determined efforts to go after their rivals.”
The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit British Columbia announced the dismantling of an illegal gambling and money laundering ring at RCMP HQ in Surrey, BC Tuesday, June 13, 2017. Pictured is CFSEU-BC assistant commissioner Kevin Hackett (right) and executive director, compliance director, provincial gaming policy enforcement branch Len Meilleur.
Historically, organized crime in B.C. had been more discreet, targeting enemies in remote locations or sometimes simply making someone disappear. The public violence during the conflict was a disturbing evolution.
“The disregard for other citizens’ safety is what really brought this to the forefront,” Hackett said.
“When someone disappears or ends up murdered, especially someone innocent, that’s bad enough because a life has been taken. But the potential risk to the public when violence happens in public spaces is one of the key things that really motivates us to say we have to stop this.”
The Vallee trial heard about plans to drop an aerial bomb on the Bacons’ home or possibly get a rocket launcher to help with the killings. UN members drove around city streets in groups hunting their targets, guns loaded and ready.
Hackett remembers getting the call when LeClair was gunned down in the crowded shopping plaza parking lot just off the Trans-Canada Highway.
Homicide investigators worked closely with the anti-gang agency that Hackett now leads, as well as with their counterparts across the country and even internationally.
“That is another indication of the scope and some of the tentacles of this group and some of the groups in the Lower Mainland. It is not just localized. They operate across the country in other provinces and in other countries, which can add to the complexity of the investigation,” he said.
In the heyday of the UN, members wore gaudy gold jewelry and tacky T-shirts with their motto “honour, loyalty, respect” written in both English and Chinese characters. In reality, there was no loyalty.
The UN grew so paranoid about potential turncoats that gang leaders arranged the murders of their own friends in both Mexico and Argentina, the former gangsters said.
Jesse “Egon” Adkins was a suspect in both the LeClair hit and the Vancouver murder of Raj Soomel on Sept. 29, 2009. Soomel was mistakenly shot as the gang hunted for Independent Soldiers founder Randy Naicker after taking a contract to kill three people for the late Gurmit Dhak.
Shooting victim Raj Soomel lies in the middle of Cambie Street at 19th Avenue in Vancouver, Tuesday evening, Sept. 30, 2009.
Ex-UN gangster C testified that after the Soomel slaying, Adkins and Vallee were smuggled into Mexico through a Los Angeles cartel contact of Khamla Wong, a respected UN gang elder now in prison in Thailand.
But after several months, Adkins was getting edgy, talking about returning to B.C. and making derogatory comments about the UN — something that alarmed C, he said.
Worried that Adkins might flip on the gang, C confided in Wong.
“Kham discussed it with the Mexicans that Jesse might be a problem and the Mexicans said that they’re going to take care of it,” C said.
He said he later learned from both Wong and Vallee that Adkins was “killed in Mexico by the Mexican cartel people.” Adkins’ body was never found.
UN gang member Jesse “Egon” Adkins shown here in an undated photograph.Adkins disappeared in Mexico in 2010.
It wasn’t the only time C was in on the murder of a friend.
Adam Naname (Nam) Kataoka was a UN associate who had “a mental breakdown” and began to rob people close to the gang.
C testified that a decision was made to send his pal Kataoka to Argentina in 2009, purportedly to work as a drug tester. But the real plan was to have him killed.
The UN got the hit done in Argentina “so that the heat and the problems wouldn’t be affecting us in Vancouver,” C said.
Kataoka was found on Oct. 28, 2009, in a Buenos Aires parking lot lying face down, wearing latex gloves, with bullet wounds in his head, stomach and leg.
The ex-gangster witnesses testified about at least 10 murders and five attempted murders where no suspect has yet been charged.
Hackett said that police often know who the suspects are in gangland slayings, even when they don’t have enough evidence for charges to be approved.
“It comes down to the strength of the case, the viability of getting witnesses to testify in trials and sometimes you have to go with the ones that have the best chance of success,” he said.
“In many of these cases, we know the suspects or accused are responsible for several offences, so if they are found guilty on one or two that can be a success.”
And, he said, investigators don’t give up even when cases go on for years.
More than 500 officers have worked on the UN investigation. More than one million pages of evidence were prepared and disclosed in the case.
“We are happy with the investigation to date. Like in any investigation, we don’t stop until we’ve done everything that we can to hold those responsible to account,” Hackett said.
That means continuing the hunt for Conor D’Monte, who is also charged in the conspiracy to kill the Bacons and in LeClair’s murder. He is believed to have fled Canada in 2011 around the time that he was charged.
“I think that is another important message. We don’t give up,” Hackett said. “As much as there are new files that need investigation, we are committed to following through with the ones that we’ve started because you owe that to the public and to the victims’ families.”
Timeline of UN-Red Scorpion war violence referenced at Cory Vallee trial
Aug. 28, 2005 — Hartinder (Harry) Gill and his girlfriend Lexi Madsen shot to death in Abbotsford as they sat in a car in a parking lot on College Drive about 9:30 p.m. Former UN witness “A” said he drove a “blocker” car and that others in his gang opened fire on Gill and Madsen.
March 3, 2006 — Bacon associate Charndev (Dave) Tumber, 30, was killed in a shooting as he sat inside a vehicle about 11 p.m. at an apartment building at Gladwin Road and Maclure Road in Abbotsford.
Sept. 21, 2006 — Jonathan Bacon was seriously injured in a shooting in the driveway of his parents’ Abbotsford home in the 35400-block of Strathcona Court at about 8 p.m.
Sept. 22, 2006 — Just five hours after Bacon was shot, UN gangster Ciaran “Q” D’Monte was wounded in a shooting outside a Chilliwack nightclub. Bacon associate Clayton Eheler was one of two men charged and later acquitted. Former UN gangster D testified that D’Monte’s brother and UN leader Conor D’Monte was also there when “an individual had followed them into the parking lot and produced a firearm and fired shots in their direction and hit his brother Q in the abdominal area.”
February 2007 — Chilliwack resident and Bacon pal Clayton Eheler was shot near his house as he drove with a woman and a child. He survived.
May 8, 2008 — Popular UN gang member Duane Meyer was shot outside an Abbotsford house where his children were staying. Ex-UN members testified they were surprised at the hit by the Red Scorpions as it showed sophistication and an ability to do surveillance on targets
May 9, 2008 — Stereo installer Jonathan Barber was shot to death in Burnaby after being mistaken for a Bacon brother as he drove their Porsche Cayenne. His girlfriend was seriously injured.
Nov. 7, 2008 — Ex-UN gangster C testified that another UN member took out a hit on a North Vancouver man named Kenn Buxton, who was shot but survived.
Feb. 6, 2009 — Red Scorpion Kevin LeClair, a former UN man dubbed Traitor by his old gang, was fatally wounded in a targeted afternoon shooting after leaving a pub in a busy Langley plaza. He died two days later in hospital.
March 3, 2009 — Five UN members and associates are arrested and charged with conspiracy to kill the Bacon brothers. But the violence continued.
March 30, 2009 — Ryan Richards and Sean Murphy, young traffickers who had been on the Bacon side but wanted to move over to the UN, were killed and dumped hours apart in Abbotsford. Ex-UN gangster D testified he believed his gang had killed them.
The body of a young trafficker slain during the UN/Red Scorpion conflict in an Abbotsford field on March 31, 2009.
Sept. 27, 2009 — Teddy Kim, shot and wounded, in Burnaby. Witness B admitted to luring Kim to a meeting where he was then targeted by gunfire.
Sept. 29, 2009 — Attempted hit on Independent Soldiers founder Randy Naicker resulted in mistaken slaying of Raj Soomel, another resident of a Vancouver halfway house. Naicker was later shot to death in Burnaby
Oct. 14, 2009 — Former UN gangster B couldn’t recall the name on the third hit Gurmit Dhak contracted the UN to do, but it was likely Jonathan “Mad Dog” Chang, of the Wolf Pack alliance, who was shot to death inside a Mercedes SUV in a back-alley parking lot in the 7700-block Edmonds Street about 4:30 p.m. outside an MMA gym.
Police barricade an area around the 7000 block of Edmonds St. near Canada Way in Burnaby after a shooting early Wednesday evening, October 14, 2009, that left gangster Jonathan “Mad Dog” Chang dead.
Oct. 28, 2009 — Ex-UN gangster C testified that the UN arranged to kill his close friend and gang associate Adam Naname “Nam” Kataoka by sending him to Argentina under the guise of working as a drug tester. Kataoka was found in a Buenos Aires parking lot lying face down, wearing latex gloves, with bullet wounds in his head, stomach and leg.
Late 2009 or early 2010 — C testified that he was worried Jesse “Egon” Adkins, who had fled to Mexico with Cory Vallee in the fall of 2009 was going to rat on the gang. So C told senior UN member Khamla Wong who arranged for a cartel contact to kill Adkins. His body was never found.