A Mountie formerly posted in Innisfail has been convicted of tormenting his tenants and defrauding lenders and their insurance companies.
Const. Hoa Dong La, currently on paid leave from his job with the RCMP passport and immigration section in Calgary, committed “a clear abuse of public office that brings shame and dishonour to the RCMP,” Justice David Gates said in reading his verdict in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench on Friday.
La was tried before Justice Gates earlier this year on three counts of criminal harassment, two counts of extortion and 10 counts of mortgage fraud in relation to properties he and members of his family had purchased in Innisfail and Bowden.
One of the three counts of criminal harassment was dropped during final arguments in the trial, which finished on Feb. 9.
The properties were mortgaged through branches of ATB Financial Services and the Bank of Montreal in Airdrie, Red Deer and Camrose.
Gates reviewed the evidence presented against La, drawing attention to threats and postures that left his tenants paralyzed with fear, including one incident that provoked former tenant Ed Henschel to walk outside and throw up.
Gates said he was satisfied that Crown prosecutors Leah Boyd and James Pickard had proven that La’s actions against Ginia Demyen and her former fiance Jason Bell as well as Ed and Jennifer Henschel constituted both criminal harassment and extortion.
He “bragged and gloated” to the Henschels about how he had run Demyen and Bell out of town and left them fearing that a similar fate was awaiting anyone else who “screwed” or “messed” with him, said Gates.
La had tried to pressure Demyen and Bell into signing a rent-to-own agreement on the acreage he had rented to them, then tried numerous means of pushing them off the property when they refused.
The levels of abuse against both couples was heightened by La’s failure to draw a line between his public duties as a police officer and his private affairs as a landlord, said Gates.
La used the trappings of his office, including his uniform, his weapon and his police car as tools to instill fear in his tenants, he said.
An auxilliary officer who had patrolled with La in Innisfail said his partner was preoccupied with getting Demyen and Bell out so he could rent it to another couple who were interested in a lease option on the property, said Gates.
Auxilliary Const. Eric McDermott tried unsuccessfully to convince La that, despite his grievances, he was going about it the wrong way.
At one point, La asked Jennifer Henschel how she would like to be arrested. On another occasion, he arrived an hour early at their home for a meeting organized the previous day, including a request that the children be out of the house. He was in plain clothes, but wearing his sidearm, keeping it in plain view and continually toying with it while they spoke, said Gates.
His attempts to get Demyen and Bell off their acreage included threats to remove or destroy Demyen’s horses, continual surveillance of their property and following them whenever they drove into Innisfail. He had their power cut off, and then removed the firewood that was their only means of heat in early May of 2004.
The mortgage fraud involves five different applications, including a primary and second mortgage on the Henschel home, in which La misrepresented his intentions.
He was able to achieve better rates and lower fees by claiming that the purchases were to be owner-occupied, when the intent all along was to rent them to tenants who had signed purchase agreements with him, said Gates.
His verdict was disrupted briefly shortly before 2:30 p.m., when La’s wife, Janice suddenly rose from her chair in the public gallery and walked across to where the Henschels were seated.
An RCMP officer seated two rows ahead of the Henschels signalled a sheriff and then rushed to Janice La’s side and escorted her from the room.
La was then moved from his seat in the public gallery and placed in the prisoner’s box at the front of the courtroom. His wife did not return.
After pronouncing La guilty on all 14 of the charges that remained, Gates reminded him that, while he will not be remanded while awaiting sentence, he has been proven guilty and no longer enjoys the presumption of innocence.
La stood rigidly as Gates pronounced sentence, his right hand crossed over his left. He showed showing no reaction when Gates asked him to speak with his wife and remind her that she is not to take the delivery of justice into her own hands.
A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for June 6.