VANCOUVER - Five months after a mass killing near Vancouver left six people dead, gang leader Michael Le was in a downtown Vancouver hotel with $156,000 that he planned to give to a person he believed was a South American drug trafficker.
As it turned out, the apparent drug supplier was an undercover police officer. Le was arrested along with several other men in March 2008 and the money, which was intended to be a down payment for drugs, was gone.
Le, who is testifying at a murder trial of two of his alleged former associates, already told the court that his Red Scorpions gang was feeling "heat" — from police and other gangs — since the October 2007 killings of six men, including two innocent victims.
So when he was released without charge the day after his drug arrest, Le quickly arranged to leave the country, he said.
"I wanted to get away from the charges," Le told a high-security courtroom in downtown Vancouver.
"I also needed to raise money just in case, if I do get arrested, I have money to pay for my lawyers."
Le told the court his first destination was Vietnam, the country of his birth, followed by Thailand, Hong Kong and China.
He was arrested in the Philippines on June 17, 2009, and was extradited to Canada soon after. He didn't explain how he intended to raise money while in Asia or what he did during the more than a year he spent abroad.
Le, 29, is testifying at the trial of Matthew Johnston and Cody Haevischer, who are each charged with conspiracy and six counts of first-degree murder. Le was on trial alongside them until last November, when he pleaded guilty and agreed to become a co-operating witness.
He signed a plea and immunity agreement with the Crown on Nov. 27 last year, one day before he entered his guilty plea, the court heard.
In December, Le was sentenced to 12 years, but with time served his remaining sentence was reduced to three years, one month. The Crown has previously said Le will be eligible to apply for parole as early as December of this year.
Le told the court on Monday that Johnston and Haevischer each told him of their involvement in the killings.
He testified the plan was to kill a rival drug trafficker named Corey Lal, who was in a dispute with the other leader of the Red Scorpions, Jamie Bacon. Bacon is also charged in the killings, but he's expected to stand trial separately at a later date.
Bacon heard that Lal was badmouthing him and decided to "tax" Lal $100,000, Le said. When Lal failed to pay, Bacon insisted he be killed, said Le.
The Crown alleges Johnston, Haevischer and a third man known only as Person X, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2009, went to Lal's apartment in Surrey on Oct. 19, 2007, to carry out the plan.
The Crown alleges they killed five others, including fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg and building resident Chris Mohan, to eliminate witnesses.
Le testified that he met with Johnson later that day, when he claimed Johnson described the murders.
Le told the court he met with Haevischer a few days later, and during their meeting Haevischer wrote on an erasable white board that he killed three people and Person X killed the other three.
Lawyers for Johnston and Haevischer are scheduled to begin their cross examination of Le on April 23, when they are expected to attack Le's credibility, particularly in light of his plea deal, which saw the more serious charge of first-degree murder dropped.
On Tuesday, Haevischer's lawyer, Simon Buck, said Le's evidence is so important that he needed more time to prepare.
"This witness's evidence — and I don't believe I'm overstating this — is more significant than all of the other evidence that the Crown has presented, combined," Buck told Judge Catherine Wedge.
"Without this witness, the Crown doesn't have a murder case."
Le's cross examination was scheduled to begin next Monday, but now it has been delayed two weeks.
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