The lawyer defending a Mountie on trial in Red Deer for extortion repeatedly asked a witness on Friday, who said she was terrified of the officer, why she didn’t report him to police.
Jennifer Henschel, who was under cross-examination, said she didn’t call the police because — he was the police.
“Because he was an RCMP officer. He told me he could run people out of town,” Henschel said on Friday.
RCMP Const. Hoa Dong La, in a judge-alone trial before Justice David Gates in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench, is accused of using a variety of tactics for monetary gain, involving five different properties in Innisfail and Bowden and in the rural area near Bowden Institution.
La, 47, faces 15 counts altogether, including three counts of extortion, two of criminal harassment and 10 of mortgage fraud.
La is accused of getting a mortgage on a home in Innisfail in November 2005 and pretending to live there, while allowing Jennifer Henschel and her family to rent the home.
Henschel said that La began hounding her and her husband to pay the money they owed him and assume his mortgage after about only one month into their two-year, rent-to-own contract.
Earlier, Henschel testified that at one point La demanded they meet at the home and when he arrived he closed blinds, unplugged the kitchen phone and showed off his gun.
Defence lawyer Ian McKay wanted to know why Henschel didn’t just run out of the house and why she didn’t provide more detail on the incident during the preliminary hearing.
“I had to sit right in front of him,” said Henschel about the preliminary hearing which are held to determine if there is enough evidence for a trial.
“I had never been in court. I didn’t know what you were allowed to say.”
McKay asked her why she didn’t get her advice from her father, a lawyer, during her dealings with La.
She said La warned them several times not to talk to anyone about the agreement and threatened to evict them for being in breach of their contract and sell their home.
“Because of the kind of fear I was experiencing, it was alienating me from my family,” Henschel said.
In June 2006, a fire caused structural damaged to the home they were renting from La and killed their dog, cat and cockatiel.
McKay said insurance investigators ruled the fire was an accident that started on the stove.
Henschel said she believed La may have caused the fire.
Another former tenant of La’s, who testified on Friday, said at times he feared La would harm him.
Jason Bell, 31, and his then-fiancée, rented an acreage from La south of Innisfail, from December 2003 to May 2004.
Bell said at first La seemed like a nice guy.
But about three weeks after they moved in, La changed.
Bell said they received several eviction notices and inspection notices, and once in a garage, La slammed down an eviction notice on a car and ran at Bell.
“He sort of made a dash around the car at me. He said, ‘don’t mess with me.’ He turned around and walked away,” Bell said.
Bell said La would park his personal vehicle or a police vehicle on the road near the house the couple rented.
Three or four times, La pulled them over while he was driving a police vehicle shortly after they left the driveway.
“There was no reason for us to be pulled over. All the times, we drove on without a ticket.”
He said La showed up in the yard once in a police vehicle with another officer. Another time he sent an officer over to give them tickets.
Bell said they belived La was coming into their home while they were away.
Once, clothes in a dresser drawer were scrunched up and pushed aside.
He said others saw La in the area.
“Neighbours told us he was standing with binoculars watching us.”
Bell said he didn’t know why La was spying on them, but if he went to all that time and effort, who knows what someone like that was capable of.
He said La told him he was a black belt.
The trial is expected to continue for three more weeks.
La served with the RCMP Innisfail detachment before transferring to Calgary to work in the Immigrant and Passport Section.
He is on leave from the RCMP with pay.