TORONTO — Three men involved in cross-border cocaine trafficking hired a costumed hitman to carry out a brazen daylight shooting at a Toronto cafe in order to eliminate an acquaintance also involved in the drug trade, a jury heard Wednesday.
On the first day of the four men’s murder trial, prosecutors alleged the group orchestrated the hit on John Raposo partly for financial reasons and partly because he had harmed two of them in some way.
In his opening statement, Crown lawyer Maurice Gillezeau alleged Nicola Nero, Martino Caputo and Rabih Alkhalil plotted to steal a 200-kilogram shipment of cocaine from Raposo, split the money three ways and kill him.
Gillezeau told jurors evidence will show the fourth accused, Dean Wiwchar, was a contract killer who went to great lengths to avoid police surveillance and donned an elaborate disguise to fulfil the job set out by the others.
All four are charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, to which they have pleaded not guilty.
Raposo was fatally shot on the patio of the Sicilian Sidewalk Cafe on the afternoon of June 18, 2012, as soccer fans gathered to watch a Euro Cup game.
A man dressed as a construction worker “walked up to him and shot him four times in the head at close range,” Gillezeau told the court.
Witnesses later described the killer as wearing a shoulder-length wig, sunglasses, a dust mask, an orange construction vest with a reflective X on it and a hardhat, the prosecutor said.
A hardhat, construction vest and skin-coloured face masks were among the items found in Wiwchar’s Vancouver home in the days that followed, while officers who seized his luggage found a strand of hair that tests later suggested came from a wig, court heard.
Earlier searches of Wiwchar’s other home in Surrey, B.C., had uncovered a cache of firearms as well as wigs, liquid latex skin, theatrical makeup, fake moustaches and beards and other items, the Crown said.
More than $60,000 in cash was also found in bundles in his pockets, his luggage and his parents’ home in Stouffville, Ont., north of Toronto, where Wiwchar went three days after the shooting, the lawyer said.
In an encrypted text message intercepted by police, Wiwchar said he was in the hitman business, was currently under contract and that his fee was $100,000, the Crown said.
Gillezeau said Wiwchar was first contacted by Alkhalil, who called him his “best hitter” in another intercepted message.
Police in the Niagara Region obtained warrants to wiretap Nero’s phones and record conversations in his home and car in early 2012 as part of an investigation into his alleged drug activities, Gillezeau said.
They were also granted permission to wiretap Caputo’s phone, court heard.
Officers got a warrant to covertly search Nero’s home in March 2012, which led them to a personal identification number and password they later used to crack the encryption on his messages, court heard. They seized his Blackberry during another search in May, the jury heard.
The Crown alleged those messages, sent by the accused using nicknames, laid out the plot to kill Raposo.
In some messages, Nero called Raposo a “rat” who deserved to die for some harm he had caused Nero and Caputo, court heard.
There were discussions on the need to get a photo of Raposo and a list of addresses where he could be found, as well as the gun to be used by the hitman, jurors heard.
In the messages, Alkhalil agreed to supply the hitman with the gun he had requested, the Crown said.
Wiwchar took two short trips to Toronto in May and early June, during which he used a rented car to drive near Raposo’s home and the Sicilian Sidewalk Cafe, Gillezeau said.
Once back in Vancouver, Wiwchar’s messages indicated he was aware he had been under police surveillance in Toronto, but planned to take a circuitous route to evade law enforcement when he returned to carry out the job, court heard.
He took a Greyhound bus to Calgary under a fake name on June 12, 2012, then flew to Montreal and travelled to Toronto from there, arriving the following day, court heard. This time there was no police surveillance, the Crown said.
Less than a week later, Raposo was dead.
Wiwchar was arrested on June 21. Nero and Caputo were arrested in early 2013 — the latter in Germany — and Alkhalil was arrested in Greece the following year.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press