Former Airdrie RCMP officer sentenced to seven years jail
The former Airdrie RCMP constable who was convicted of extortion, criminal harassment and mortgage fraud was sentenced to serve seven years in jail in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Red Deer on Aug. 31.
Hoa Dong La, 47, was found guilty of two charges of criminal harassment, two charges of extortion and 10 counts of fraud on March 23 by Justice David Gates. La’s trial started in mid-January and ran until early February, with the defence team entering no evidence.
The extortion and criminal harassment charges had to do with La’s interaction with tenants at properties he owned in Bowden and Innisfail.
The mortgage fraud charges related to four different properties in which he misled the banks as to the nature of who would occupy the homes and in one property’s case falsified documents regarding renovations.
Before the lawyers’ arguments about sentencing began, victim impact statements from three complainants were read into the record.
The first was from the tenant of the Bowden property that La owned. During the trial evidence was given that he constantly attempted to evict the tenants, searched their home, threatened to call the SPCA about their animals, followed and pulled the tenant over while on duty and more.
The victim’s statement was read in by Crown prosecutor Leah Boyd.
“I spent five years waiting for him to find me,” Boyd read for the victim from a statement dated April 2009. The victim described the ongoing incident with La as the “most disturbing ordeal of my life.”
A former tenant from a property in Innisfail read her own victim impact statement to the court, detailing the effects of the harassment and extortion on her, her husband and her family.
“We were at the mercy of you as a man and as an RCMP officer,” she read. “We will always have a mindful fear of you,” she said. The victim said her home, which they owned because of a rent-to-own agreement made with La, was something she now regarded “as an infant product of rape.” Her husband had his victim impact statement read out by Crown prosecutor James Pickard, Boyd’s co-counsel.
“I am not ashamed to say it, you robbed me of my manhood,” Pickard read for the victim. “I still feel like your trophy … you manipulated us in a masterful way.”
Boyd presented the Crown’s arguments for sentencing.
“The Crown is seeking a sentence of nine years,” Boyd said.
She said La has a “high moral blameworthiness” in his actions, noting those actions were ongoing, deliberate, that he was an active RCMP officer at the time and in the case of the mortgage frauds, for profit.
“He was tasked with upholding the law and instead he was breaking it,” Boyd said.
Other aggravating factors named by Boyd included the impact on the victims, the duration of the crimes, that he involved an auxiliary RCMP officer in the harassment at the Bowden property, that he was the “sole mastermind” of the crimes and that La’s motivation was greed and a desire for control.
Defence counsel Heather Ferg presented the arguments for herself and co-counsel Ian McKay, who was absent from the proceedings.
She said he spent eight years as an RCMP officer in Innisfail and two in Calgary at the immigration unit before he was suspended with pay in November 2006. La resigned from the force in June.
Ferg previously submitted materials to assist with sentencing to the justice. She said those included letters of reference that showed her client has good qualities.
“These letters show that the picture of the accused that was painted at trial is not the only picture that exists,” Ferg said.
She pointed to RCMP performance reviews to demonstrate La had a problem with oral communication in English and often came off as rude and “gruff.”
“Mr. La’s style of presentation may have had a great deal of impact on how things escalated,” she said. She suggested miscommunication could have figured into his interactions with the tenants.
The justice said the letters left him “with the sense that there are two Mr. Las.”
Ferg’s brief had suggested a conditional sentence order, the court heard. A conditional sentence order is one of two years, less a day, that can be served in the community using restrictions like house arrest or curfews.
La was offered but did not take the opportunity to address the court before the judge made his decision.
Before outlining the terms of his decision, Gates noted that criminal harassment has a maximum penalty of 10 years jail, extortion’s maximum is life and mortgage fraud is 14 years.
Gates agreed with the Crown that La’s actions constitute a breach of public trust, the first of several aggravating factors the justice listed.
Mitigating circumstances considered by the justice included La’s lack of a previous criminal record, that La abided by his bail conditions, the significant impact of the charges and convictions on his personal and professional life and the letters of support that showed admiration for La.
While he accepted the RCMP reports showed a problem with La’s English, Gates said he did not accept it provided a complete answer to all of the incidents raised at trial.
Gates highlighted some of the incidents that were heard about at trial – searching one tenant’s house, following them and keeping them under surveillance, going to the Innisfail property, closing the blinds and showing his firearm and more.
“These actions cannot be explained away by poor oral communication skills,” Gates said.
On the first pair of criminal harassment and extortion charges, Gates sentenced La to serve three years on each at the same time. The same sentence was handed down on the second set of harassment and extortion charge.
On the mortgage frauds, La was sentenced to serve two months on most of the charges, with the exception of the charges related to falsifying the renovations invoice and giving a false statement of declaration. On those charges he received four months on each to be served at the same time. The total amount of time to be served on the 10 mortgage fraud charges was one year.
Nine years of jail time was the total for all charges.