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Gang leader testifies at murder trial

VANCOUVER - Former gang leader Michael Le says he had just finished signing a lease for a Maserati sports car on a Friday afternoon in October 2007 when he received a panicked phone call from a member of his group, the Red Scorpions.

Le, who is a co-operating witness at a murder trial linked to the mass killing of six people near Vancouver, testified Tuesday that he knew his gang planned to execute a rival drug trafficker in a dispute involving egos and money.

But it quickly became clear things did not go to plan, according to Le's account.

On the phone was Matthew Johnston, who was among the gang members assigned to carry out the hit, Le testified. He sounded "pretty urgent" and asked to meet at a shopping plaza in nearby Burnaby, Le said.

Le, 29, testified that when he arrived, Johnston broke the first bit of bad news, telling him: "Mike, I'm sorry, but we killed Eddie," referring to Eddie Narong, a friend Le had known since middle school.

By then, Narong lay dead in a highrise apartment in Surrey, south of Vancouver, along with Corey Lal — who Le said was the intended target of the hit — and two other men also linked to gangs and drugs. Also dead were fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg and building resident Chris Mohan, who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"I told him (Johnston), 'You are (an) idiot — why did you kill so many people?'" Le testified in a secure courtroom in downtown Vancouver.

"His exact words were: 'Mike, they saw our faces, we had no choice.'"

Johnston is currently on trial alongside Cody Haevischer for six counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy. The Crown alleges Johnston, Haevischer and a third man, known only as Person X, who has already pleaded guilty, carried out the hit.

Le had been sitting next to Johnston and Haevischer in the prisoner's dock until last November, when he pleaded guilty to conspiracy. He was sentenced to three years and one month after time served, in a deal with the Crown that included his testimony.

Le told the court Lal found himself in a dispute with the other leader of the Red Scorpions, Jamie Bacon, whose own gang had merged with Le's earlier that year. Bacon is also charged in the murders and is awaiting a separate trial.

Le testified that Bacon was upset after hearing Lal had been badmouthing him, and he demanded Lal pay a $100,000 "tax."

When Lal failed to pay, Bacon insisted he be killed, Le told the court. Le was initially reluctant, in part because Lal was in business with his friend, Narong, but he relented, he said.

After the alleged meeting with Johnston on Oct. 19, 2007, Le testified that he told Johnston to "lay low."

Le said he met with Haevischer a few days later, communicating using an erasable white board — a precaution to ensure their conversations couldn't be recorded. Le said Haevischer's girlfriend and another associate were in the room, though he said they weren't involved in the conversation.

"He wrote down 'six people got killed,'" Le testified.

"He wrote down '(Person X) shot three.' He wrote down, 'I shot three.'"

In July or August of 2007, Le said he met with Lal in an attempt to smooth over the dispute and urged him to stop antagonizing Bacon.

"I told him basically don't (badmouth) Jamie and his guys no more and I would talk to Jamie to try to resolve the problem," Le said.

Le said he didn't know that Bacon later met Lal on his own and demanded the $100,000.

Le's testimony is offering an unprecedented look inside one of the region's most violent street gangs and its alleged involvement in a crime that turned the region's gang war into a national concern. It also revealed that Le, in addition to founding the Red Scorpions, was a member of a triads gang, which he said supplied him with drugs.

Le, a Canadian citizen who was born in Vietnam, told the court he began trafficking drugs when he was 18, and was soon operating dial-a-dope operations in several communities in the Vancouver area.

During a stint in jail, he met Konaam Shirzad, with whom he formed a close friendship, Le testified. They decided to start a gang, which they named the Red Scorpions, Le said — "red" for blood, or family, and "scorpions" to symbolize brotherhood.

The gang had no official ranks, said Le, but instead members were seen as brothers. New recruits were little brothers, and those vouching for them were big brothers.

Le said Johnston, who he had also met in jail, was an early member of the Red Scorpions. Johnston vouched for Haevischer, who eventually became a member, said Le.

He said he was arrested on drug charges in 2006 and pleaded guilty. While in jail, he met Bacon, who was his roommate for a month.

Bacon talked about joining together, partly to deal with problems he was having with other gangs, Le testified.

He soon became Bacon's sole supplier of cocaine, and in 2007 the groups merged, keeping the name Red Scorpions, Le testified.

Bacon is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy, and is expected to stand trial separately.

Johnston and Haevischer are each charged with six counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy.

They have pleaded not guilty.

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