Verdict in RCMP officer's case coming March 2
Thursday, Feb 16, 2012 06:00 am
The verdict in the case of a former Airdrie RCMP officer who is charged with extortion, criminal harassment and mortgage fraud will be heard in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Red Deer on March 23.
Const. Hoa Dong La is charged with three counts of criminal harassment, two counts of extortion and 10 charges of fraud over $5,000 relating to mortgages.
Justice David Gates heard the closing arguments of Crown prosecutor Leah Boyd on Feb. 7 and defence lawyer Ian McKay on Feb. 8.
Boyd spent her closing arguments outlining the necessary factors that must be proven in order to convict someone of criminal harassment, mortgage fraud and extortion and relating those factors to the evidence heard throughout the four-week trial.
“It all cycles back to greed and control,” she said of La’s alleged actions.
Boyd recapped testimony heard by Crown witnesses. The mortgage fraud related to four different properties, including one held by La’s brother. Two different sets of extortion and harassment charges involved separate tenants of La.
Boyd withdrew one charge of criminal harassment, leaving two still on the indictment.
The first set of incidents revolved around an Innisfail couple that started off renting from La and then moved to a rent-to-own agreement with him.
Boyd said testimony given by the witnesses showed three different incidents that could be considered criminal harassment.
The court heard that the couple both testified about an alleged incident that took place in April 2006. They testified the accused came to their home for a meeting after instructing them to not have the kids home and to stay back from church.
The female witness told the court La entered their home, closed the blinds and unplugged the phone. Her husband remembered some of the blinds being closed and the phone being unplugged. While the accused was apparently not in uniform he did have his police firearm.
Boyd said there was a nervous joke about whether or not he would shoot them and it seemed to the witnesses La “made a big deal” of showing off his gun.
Another two incidents occurred when the woman said she was told she’d be “very, very sorry” if she contacted a lawyer about the rent-to-own agreement and the final event was in August 2006 when the accused was allegedly coaching the husband on what to say in case the insurers called and told them that they’d all committed mortgage fraud. Boyd said the witness said La stated “If I go down, you’re going down with us.”
Other alleged incidents included repeated calls and working at the “flip house” that La was renovating.
Boyd said the testimony showed repeated contact and fear on the parts of the witnesses which led to a panic alarm and a microphone telephone being installed by the RCMP as part of investigation.
Boyd argued the extortion charge arose because La was trying to pressure the witnesses into speeding up their payments or else he’d sell their house.
The second set of criminal harassment and extortion charges arose from an earlier situation with other tenants, something La allegedly “bragged” about to the later tenants with regards to getting them to leave town.
The couple were renting a Bowden-area property from La and testified about repeated incidents where La showed up, drove by with his police cruiser or regular car, pulled the woman over and kept her on the roadside for over an hour and another time to talk about the outbuildings on the property along with other incidents that Boyd repeated to the court.
Boyd recapped incidents from the spring of 2004 during which the accused is alleged to have been trying to force the couple off the property so he could sell it. He sent them repeated eviction notices for faulty reasons and when the couple was behind on their power bill, allegedly came out to the property and took all the wood that was their only source of heat.
The woman had even moved her horses after her dog disappeared and a complaint was made to the SPCA about her horses being too skinny.
Boyd said the couple’s testimony was corroborated by an auxiliary constable who worked with La and said they did drive past and visit the property several times during his shifts with the accused.
The woman said during her testimony that La tried to get her to enter into a rent-to-own agreement that she refused, Boyd said.
The mortgage frauds Boyd outlined were similar except for the property owned by La’s brother. Boyd said the accused told the bank he was buying the property with varying family members and that renting the properties was not an option under the mortgage terms received.
The fourth property was owned by La’s brother but the Crown was alleging he was a “straw buyer” and the real owner was the accused. The accused allegedly got someone to lie about renovations being completed in order to get the bank to release hold-back money. Boyd said it was a tenant of another of La’s rentals that changed an estimate to an invoice. That tenant admitted he lied during his testimony, Boyd said.
Boyd said the tenants of the fourth property said they were initially making cheques out to the accused but later were asked suddenly to switch to the brother’s name.
On Feb. 8, the defence started by disputing the mortgage fraud arguments.
He made several arguments touching the dates the intent to purchase with various family members was given falling outside the dates of the indictment, questioned the reliability of the various mortgage specialists who La dealt with that were called as witnesses and finally argued that rent-to-own agreements don’t count as a rental agreement but are instead conditional sales agreements.
On the property owned by La’s brother, McKay said it was not a “straw buyer” situation and La was simply assisting his brother.
“There’s nothing here,” McKay said of the fourth property.
McKay had some back and forth with Gates throughout his arguments on various points and characterizations of witnesses.
With regards to some of the criminal harassment and extortion charges, McKay said statements given at the preliminary hearing were “expanded upon” for the trial.
McKay acknowledged during the blind-closing, phone-unplugging meeting that “closing the blinds is a bit weird” but said his client stuck around for a few hours engaged in conversation which did not appear to be threatening.
“Why the closed blinds, why the phone unplugged, why wear your gun?” Gates asked. McKay responded by saying RCMP officers aren’t supposed to leave their gun in the car and that his client was not showing off the gun but rather it was visible when he opened his blazer to sit down.
Gates will give his verdict on March 23. If there are any guilty convictions, sentencing will be completed on a separate court date.