A former Innisfail Mountie who stalked and terrified his tenants and brought shame to the force was sentenced to serve seven years in prison in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench on Friday.
Hoa Dong La, 47 was tried and convicted before Justice David Gates earlier this year on charges of criminal harassment, extortion and mortgage fraud.
The charges relate to La’s actions in relation to properties he had purchased and subsequently offered for rent in and around Innisfail and Bowden during the mid-2000s, while he was posted with the Innisfail RCMP.
La later transferred to Calgary, where he worked in the passport and immigration section until Nov. of 2006, when he was suspended with pay in relation to the criminal charges against him.
La resigned from the force in March of this year, at about the same time as Gates pronounced him guilty of 14 charges, including two counts each of criminal harassment and extortion and 10 counts of mortgage fraud.
Court heard during La’s trial how he stalked, harassed and browbeat his tenants and how he cheated on mortgage applications for personal gain, crown prosecutor Leah Boyd said in her sentencing submissions.
Especially despicable was his misuse of his uniform, his position and his RCMP-issued weapon in his attempts to coerce his tenants to bend to his will, said Boyd.
“(His) dedication to the law is what he expected from everyone else, but not himself,” she said.
“He knew what he was doing. He knew full well that all of his actions were criminal.”
Defence counsel Ian MacKay of Calgary was unable to attend court on Friday due to illness, leaving co-counsel Heather Ferg to speak on La’s behalf.
While Boyd sought a global sentence of nine years, Ferg asked for a conditional sentence which would have allowed La to live under house arrest with tight restrictions.
She painted her and MacKay’s client as a committed husband and parent and a diligent worker with strong support from his family and his community. She asked that the judge go lightly on the mortgage fraud charges, given that no money was lost as a result.
Boyd discounted the defence team’s submission that La’s struggles with English and his gruff demeanor may have lead to some misunderstandings between him and his tenants.
There is no doubt of the meaning behind statements heard and proven during the trial, she said.
“I will make you life hell until you get the f— off my property,” is pretty difficult to misinterpret, she said.
Gates said he was unable to consider a conditional sentence because it is available only to offenders whose prison term would be less than two years.
He said he found the former RCMP constable who terrorized his tenants and brought shame and discredit to the force to be of a completely different character than the hardworking and well-loved person described by the defence, leaving him to believe that “there are clearly at least two Mr. Las.”
Gates picked out key sentences from victim impact statements read earlier in the day on behalf of witnesses Ginia Demyen, Jennifer Henschel and Ed Henschel.
Demyen and her boyfriend, Jason Bell had rented a rural home near Bowden from La.
The Henschel’s had signed a rent-to-own agreement with him on a place in Innisfail.
They now own the house, which Jennifer Henschel described in her statements as being like having a baby born of rape. She said she and her family love the house, despite the trauma they were put through in their efforts to purchase it.
Demyen’s statement told how she had gone into hiding for five years, fearing that La would track her down and losing her faith in RCMP and other figures of authority.
Ed Henschel’s statement, read into court by Crown prosecutor James Pickard, describes how his own masculinity was destroyed through his inability to protect his family from the wrongdoings of another man.
Gates read the man’s words back into the record: “These events destroyed a huge piece of me. I am not ashamed to say it – you robbed me of my manhood.”
Along with the harm he caused to Demyen, Bell and the Henschels, La placed two of his three daughters as well as his brother at risk by dragging them into his mortgage fraud schemes, said Gates.
He accepted “the fact that he gloated and bragged about his treatment of Miss Demyen” to the Henschels as evidence that La’s actions were planned and deliberate, aggravated by his abuse of his position of trust as a member of the RCMP.
While admonishing La for using his uniform to further his private goals, Gates said he was “impressed” that the former police officer had chosen to find other work and taken training after being suspended from the RCMP and that he had not breached conditions of his release or failed to make any of his court appearances.
Taken into custody during the lunch breakon Friday, La stood quietly in the prisoner’s box as Gates pronounced sentence later in the day, stripped of the suit jacket and tie he had worn to court that morning.
The global sentence of seven years includes three years each on the two criminal harassment charges to be served consecutively to each other and concurrently with sentences of three years each on the extortion charges. Sentences for the 10 counts of mortgage fraud, relating to five different properties, added an additional year to the total time to be served.
La was also ordered to provide a sample of his DNA to the RCMP and will be prohibited from possessing firearms for 10 years following his release from prison.
Sgt. Sylvain Roussel, who led the investigation, said earlier that La would face no further sanctions from the RCMP because he had already resigned from the force when he was pronounced guilty.
After the sentencing hearing, Roussel said La was treated no better or worse than any other person would be in similar circumstances and that he respects the decision of the court in passing sentence.