Saturday, June 20, 2020

Gabriel Wortman the Nova Scotia killer had ties to criminals and withdrew a huge sum of cash before the shooting

New evidence including a video of the killer raises questions about his activities prior to the Portapique shooting and RCMP transparency around the case.

The man who murdered 22 people in a two-day shooting rampage in Nova Scotia in late April withdrew $475,000 in cash 19 days before he donned an RCMP uniform and started gunning down his neighbours, contacts and random strangers.

Gabriel Wortman withdrew the money from the Brink’s office at 19 Ilsley Ave. in Dartmouth, N.S., on March 30, according to a source close to the police investigation, who provided Maclean’s with two videos.

The first video shows Wortman driving what appears to be one of his decommissioned white police cruisers into the fenced yard of the security facility. He is wearing a baseball cap and leather jacket. In the second video, taken inside, he conducts a transaction, then walks back to his cruiser with a carryall apparently filled with 100-dollar bills, according to the source, and stashes the bag in the trunk of his vehicle.

A uniformed Brink’s employee at the Dartmouth location said recently: “People are always surprised by how much money like that takes up so little space.”

That amount of hundreds would weigh less than five kilograms.

Wortman, a 51-year-old denturist, is said to have arranged the withdrawal from Brink’s after transferring the cash from an account at a major Canadian bank.

In Wortman’s last will and testament, a handwritten document he wrote in 2011, which was published last week, Wortman declared a number of properties assessed for about $700,000. The true real estate market value would likely be higher. He also declared about $500,000 in personal property, RRSPs and insurance policies.

The withdrawal of $475,000 suggests Wortman may have converted all of his liquid assets into cash or that he had a hidden stash of cash.

It is not clear what happened to the money from the moment the killer took it out of the Brink’s location to the time he was shot by RCMP officers during an attempted arrest at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., on April 19.

The lawyer for family members of the killer’s victims said Wednesday that the estate filing at probate court lists a large sum of cash, which he believes was recovered by the RCMP.

“I assume the public trustee has it,” said Robert Pineo, who is suing the estate.

Wortman’s common-law spouse filed a court document May 25 renouncing any claim on the estate, heading off a legal dispute with relatives of the victims.

“The goal is to liquidate his entire estate and have it made available to the family members,” he said.

On Tuesday, Pineo filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the RCMP and the province, alleging that the force failed to “protect the safety and security of the public.”

Nova Scotia RCMP did not respond to questions on Wednesday about what became of the money or whether Wortman was connected to any organized crime investigations.

The officer who swore the RCMP’s first search warrants was Sgt. Angela Hawryluk. A 28-year veteran of the RCMP, Hawryluk stipulated in the documents that she is experienced in outlaw biker gangs, drug trafficking and confidential informants.

Superintendent Darren Campbell seemed to rule out the possibility that Wortman was a confidential informant for the RCMP at a press briefing on June 4. “The gunman was never associated to the RCMP as a volunteer or auxiliary police officer, nor did the RCMP ever have any special relationship with the gunman of any kind,” he said.

However, according to one law-enforcement source, Wortman often spent time with Hells Angels, and he had at least one associate with links to organized crime.

Sources say he was friendly with Peter Alan Griffon, a Portapique neighbour linked to a Mexican drug cartel. Sources say Griffon printed the decals that Wortman used on the replica RCMP cruiser he used in his murders.

In 2014, Griffon, then 34,  was arrested by Edmonton police as part of an operation against a drug trafficking ring operated by the Mexican cartel La Familia and elements of the ruthless multi-national El Salvadoran gang MS-13. He pled guilty and was sentenced to seven years in prison on Dec. 12, 2017, for possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking and weapons charges.

At the time of the arrest police said they had seized from Griffon’s home: four kilograms of cocaine, ecstasy, $30,000 in cash, two .22 calibre rifles, one with a silencer, a .44 calibre Desert Eagle handgun, a sawed-off shotgun, thousands of bullets and body armour.

Police issued a second warrant for Griffon’s arrest in 2015 after he returned to Nova Scotia, in violation of his bail conditions. He is believed to have been living in Portapique with his parents since 2019.

Sources say Griffon, who was friendly with Wortman, was working at a print shop and that he printed the decals without the permission of the business owner. Another law enforcement source says Wortman and Griffon were part of a group of drinking buddies in the Portapique area.

Griffon is no longer working at the print shop. RCMP said in May that the business owner and the person who printed the decals have co-operated with their investigation.

Griffon did not respond to Facebook messages and calls seeking comment on his relationship with Wortman.

Griffon is the second cousin of one of the victims, Sean McLeod, who was murdered along with his partner, Alanna Jenkins, on the morning of April 19 in West Wentworth, N.S.

According to obituaries, Griffon and McLeod’s mothers are sisters.

McLeod was a corrections officer at the Springhill Institution, a federal medium-security prison, while Jenkins worked in a federal corrections institute for women in Truro.

It is not known if Griffon was imprisoned at Springhill.

McLeod and Jenkins were the first two victims of a total of nine in the second day of Wortman’s rampage. The night before he had killed 13 people in Portapique and gave the RCMP the slip, escaping on a dirt road in his replica cruiser while much of the small seaside community was in flames.

Wortman appears to have spent several hours at the home of McLeod and Jenkins. He murdered the couple, set their home on fire and then murdered neighbour Tom Bagley, a volunteer firefighter who is believed to have approached the property to investigate the fire.

Family members of victims and law-enforcement officials have raised questions about the RCMP’s handling of the event. The force failed to contain Wortman, did not block the highway links to Truro and Halifax and did not issue a provincial alert. Two officers also shot up the firehall in Onslow.

A former neighbour of Wortman has expressed frustration that the RCMP did not act earlier. Brenda Forbes, a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, told the RCMP in 2013 that he had a stash of illegal weapons, and that she had heard three male witnesses had seen Wortman strangling and hitting his common-law wife. Forbes said the RCMP abandoned their investigation because witnesses were unwilling to come forward. The RCMP have said that privacy law prevents them from commenting on complaints that do not result in charges.

An RCMP officer, speaking off the record because the officer is not authorized to discuss the case, said this week that the RCMP’s inaction on the complaint from Forbes seems odd.

“There’s zero tolerance, if we get called in to a domestic, somebody’s got to go, if there’s enough evidence,” the officer said. “It’s a simple 487, a search warrant to go get those guns. I would have wrote it off the statement from the two military people.”

Forbes’ complaint was not Wortman’s first run-in with police. Two years earlier, a source told a Truro police officer that Wortman was armed and wanted to kill a police officer. This information was sent to police agencies throughout Nova Scotia as a bulletin, but RCMP have not provided information on how they acted on it.

Wortman’s father told Frank magazine that he told police about 10 years ago that he had heard his son was threatening to kill him, but that after his son denied the threat and the existence of firearms to police, police did not investigate further. Years before that, he says, while on vacation in Cuba, without warning Wortman had repeatedly punched him in the head until he was unconscious. And in 2002, Wortman pleaded guilty to assaulting a 15-year old boy, but received a conditional discharge if he completed nine months probation and paid a $50 fine. The boy, now grown, has told Global news reporters that he wishes more had been done.

A number of current and former RCMP members familiar with the way the force handles undercover operations but not privy to details about this investigation have speculated that Wortman’s case has the hallmarks of a police informant operation.

Officers are struck by a speeding ticket the RCMP issued Wortman at 5:58 pm on Feb. 12, 2020, on Portapique Beach Road. Wortman was driving one of the former police vehicles in his collection.

At the time the ticket was issued, the RCMP was in the midst of undertaking multiple arrests of Hell’s Angels and their associates in Halifax and New Brunswick. Officers speculate that if Wortman was a confidential informant that his cover had been blown.

“The ticket stinks” said one current RCMP member. “At 6 o’clock at night in February in rural Nova Scotia nobody is doing radar. But it’s a standard trick used to pass messages to informants or create cover to prove to the targets that the informant and the police are on opposite teams.”

To date, both the federal and provincial governments have deflected calls for a public inquiry into the worst mass shooting in Canadian history.

Last week, Nova Scotia Attorney General Mark Furey indicated that a joint federal-provincial inquiry would be announced, but that has not happened. Furey, a former RCMP Staff-Sergeant, has said in the past that he believes he can be objective in dealing with the force and does not have a conflict of interest.

A number of current and former police officers have told Maclean’s that they are suspicious about the motives behind the delay in calling an inquiry.

A current RCMP member who is aware of the inner operations of the RCMP said the real story about the lead-up to the shootings and what actually happened on the weekend of April 18 and 19 would likely be contained in internal documents within the force. The RCMP member pointed specifically to a digital document called a Form 2315. In those forms the RCMP in any province would typically describe in candid language the status of any ongoing major investigation or project. The information in these forms is emailed to a working group, likely under the Deputy Commissioner in charge of Operations, and then on to the Commissioner.

“In those forms the RCMP will speak freely about what happened,” the Mountie said in one of several interviews. “You have to get your hands on them. That’s where the real story can be found.”

The unwillingness of the RCMP and governments to provide a more detailed account of what happened has frustrated and angered some family members of the deceased.

On May 31, Darcy Dobson, whose mother, Heather O’Brien, was murdered by Wortman on April 19, expressed anger in a Facebook post: “If this is the worst massacre in Canadian history why are we not trying to learn from it? What’s the hold up in the inquiry? Why hasn’t this happened yet? Where are we in the investigation? Was someone else involved? Why can’t we get any answers at all 40 days in?! The fact that anyone of us has to ask these questions is all very concerning and only makes everyone feel inadequate, unimportant and unsafe.”

RCMP say they are still investigating where Wortman got the four illegal guns he used in his rampage, declining to release details because of the ongoing investigation.

An RCMP officer not authorized to comment said investigators appear to be trying to avoid public scrutiny.

“They’re closing shit off as fast as they can. They don’t want to open up everything else.”

CORRECTION, JUNE 17, 2020: An earlier version of this story misidentified where Alanna Jenkins worked. It was a federal corrections institute for women, not a provincial one.

CORRECTION, JUNE 18, 2020: Peter Griffon is the second cousin of one of the victims, Sean McLeod, not a first cousin as stated in an earlier version of this story.

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