08/15/2012 09:00 EDT | Updated 10/15/2012 05:12 EDT

Alleged gang goon denied bail in extortion case

A man prosecutors portrayed as a thuggish enforcer for Montreal's West End Gang was denied bail Tuesday on extortion and assault charges, with the judge calling him a threat to public safety.

Lawrence Cooney is accused of brutally beating a compulsive gambler who owed $20,000 to one of Cooney's associates, a man named Cowboy.

Three years ago, the poker player borrowed the money, and had repaid $15,000 to Cowboy within seven months when he was told those payments were just the interest.

The man left Canada for two years, then returned four months ago and hashed out a deal to repay the $20,000 he owed, Montreal police Det. Sgt. Gilles Gagné testified at the bail hearing.

The plan was that the borrower would pay $1,000 a month. He went to a bar in LaSalle to make his first payment, where Cowboy took the money, then invited him into the kitchen, Gagné said.

There, Cooney and another man were waiting. They kicked and punched the victim, hit him with a hammer and threatened him with boiling oil, the court heard. The poker player was beaten so badly there was blood on the floor and he fractured three ribs. He was stopped on his way home by police because of his erratic driving, and they reported he was so severely injured he could barely stand.

Quebec Court Judge Pierre Labrie said that testimony showed Cooney carries out orders, hangs out with criminals and is dangerous. He stated that Cooney set up the ambush on the poker player and landed the most blows during the beating.

Labrie also said there's a good chance Cooney will be convicted, and if he were granted bail, it would undermine confidence in the justice system.

Cooney, his goatee hanging down to his chest, remained impassive as Judge Labrie rendered his assessment of the evidence. The accused assailant told the hearing he works as a messenger and makes $35,000 a year, and offered to put up $10,000 toward bail.

Labrie rejected that proposal and ruled that Cooney will remain behind bars pending his trial.