Gangs seizing chance to grow in Alberta

In a co-ordinated three-city drug raid, several Alberta law enforcement agencies executed search warrants, the culmination of a two-month investigation into the activities of an alleged gang operating in the Red Deer area.

In a co-ordinated three-city drug raid, several Alberta law enforcement agencies executed search warrants, the culmination of a two-month investigation into the activities of an alleged gang operating in the Red Deer area.

At the centre of their investigation was Cory Lesperance, whom police believe to be a member of the Red Scorpions, a gang based out of British Columbia’s Lower Mainland. Lesperance, 29, has ties to the Lower Mainland himself, according to Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta.

During the July 23 raid, Lesperance was arrested, along with Robin Stewart, 52, at a Balmoral Heights residence east of Red Deer.

A triple shooting had taken place at that same residence in March 2013. Two people were later arrested and a third went to hospital. Josh Voykin and Brad Cusler are in the midst of an extended preliminary inquiry into the incident, which will next be heard on Nov. 20 in Red Deer provincial court.

Police believe Stewart was an associate of Lesperance, as were two others: Amber Theresa McLeod, 26, and Nicholas David James White, 21.

White and McLeod were arrested at an Airdrie residence, where police believe weapons and drugs were stored before being brought to Red Deer for distribution.

White also has a history with Lesperance, as the two were arrested on drug charges in November 2013.

They face a preliminary inquiry in January 2015.

But the recent bust of an alleged member and associates of the Red Scorpions in Red Deer and Airdrie speaks to a growing trend in Alberta — gangs from outside the province seeing the wealth and the opportunity to expand their business.

“A lot of people in the gang and drug world see Alberta as a place where there is a lot of disposable income,” said Schiavetta, adding that it’s a place they can sell drugs in a non-territorial manner.

“They are fighting over artificial territory but there’s actually no geographical territory. Certain gangs don’t control certain geographical areas.”

In other parts of Canada, such as Toronto or Vancouver, territory is a crucial part of gangs.

“In Alberta, gangs strive for anonymity. They don’t want to be seen overtly in the public,” said Schiavetta. “Most of the gangs we see, we don’t see graffiti (excepting aboriginal gangs), especially gangs and gang members coming from the Lower Mainland of B.C. They strive for anonymity.

“They see Alberta as a place where they can maximize profits from illegal activity, usually drug trafficking.”

These gangs coming into Alberta have been subject to police investigations in B.C. and may even have been the subject of targeted attacks from other gangs.

“They come to Alberta to escape being targeted by rival gangs,” said Schiavetta.

While some of the newer gang activity in Alberta is coming from out-of-province-based organizations, there is a smattering of Alberta gangs in the province, too.

“What we find is Alberta-made gangs, in order to expand their own trafficking network or reputation, will form allegiances with other gangs — more established gangs, or gangs established in other provinces.”

The Lower Mainland plays a significant role in the Western Canadian drug trade because of its port access and border with the United States. Both are used by gangs to import drugs into Canada.

During the Red Scorpions investigation, police allege they found drugs and weapons were imported to the Lower Mainland, then taken to Calgary and stored in Airdrie. These items were then brought to Red Deer for distribution, they say.

“Red Deer has a lot of disposable income,” said Schiavetta. “Obviously there is a demand and I think a lot of these gangs want to relocate outside of the major centres to try to evade law enforcement.”

Because of their movement between law enforcement jurisdictions, agencies like ALERT rely on collaboration and shared intelligence for their investigations. In the Red Scorpions investigation, they went through several police jurisdictions, including Calgary Police Service, Airdrie RCMP, Red Deer RCMP and Blackfalds RCMP.

“These gangs are very mobile, they’re very fluid and they try to defeat police by moving around jurisdictions,” said Schiavetta. “That’s why it’s so important for police agencies to share intelligence.”

Schiavetta pointed to the ALERT model as a tool used by police to investigate gangs and organized crime. ALERT has seven Combined Forces Special Enforcement units throughout the province.

In Calgary, Edmonton, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge they work with the local municipal police force, while in Red Deer, Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie they work with the local RCMP detachment.

“One of the dangers we see with gangs coming into Alberta is gangs recruiting vulnerable youths,” said Schiavetta. “It’s very important to get youths away from that lifestyle.

“In the short term they may see some money, some glamorization — but the reality is you’re either going to go to jail or end up dead.”

mcrawford@bprda.wpengine.com

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