The owner of the Surrey apartment suite where six men were executed – purportedly as part of a drug-related dispute – testified in court Thursday that he inspected the unit six days before the murders and saw no evidence of drug making or growing.
Caesar Tiojanco, who was the owner of suite 1505, but rented it out, took the stand Thursday at the murder trial of three men charged in the death of six men at Balmoral Tower apartment.
He told Justice Catherine Wedge that in early 2007, the year of the murders, he was first renting the suite in Balmoral Tower to a young man who the building manager later warned him was involved with illegal activities in another suite.
Tiojanco said he kicked him out, and then began renting to a girl named Desiree and her boyfriend, Raphael Baldini. The suite owner said he was then informed in June 2007 Desiree would be moving out and Baldini’s cousin, Chris Baldini, would be moving in. He testified Chris looked nothing like Raphael, who appeared Italian, and more closely resembled shooting victim Christopher Mohan.
Tiojanco said Raphael and Chris paid their rent in cash, handing him money at the door.
He said as per strata requirements, he attended suite 1505 on Oct. 13, 2007 – six days before the murders – to inspect for any evidence of drug making or growing. Tiojanco said he had to check there was no tampering with the plumbing or electrical system, which he did, and found nothing suspicious. The inspections, he said, were done every six months.
Tiojanco said he also contacted Baldini about fireplace servicing scheduled to take place in suite 1505 on Oct. 19 and Baldini told him his cousin would be home that afternoon.
Surrey’s Christopher Mohan, 22, and Abbotsford’s Ed Schellenberg, 55, were murdered in suite 1505 on Oct. 19, 2007, along with brothers Corey and Michael Lal, Eddie Narong and Ryan Bartolomeo. Police said the Lals, Narong and Bartolomeo were known to them as having drug ties, while Mohan, a resident in the building, and Schellenberg, a gasfitter working in the building that week, were innocent victims in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Crown’s case against Cody Rae Haevischer and Matthew Johnston and Quang Vinh Thang (Michael) Le rests on the theory that Corey Lal was the intended victim of a targeted hit and that the other five men were killed so there were no witnesses. Crown prosecutors content Corey Lal was dealing drugs on the turf of Red Scorpion gang members, including the accused, as well as one of the gang’s leaders, Jamie Bacon.
The Crown alleges Bacon and Le ordered Haevischer, Johnston and another person (who can’t be named) to kill Corey Lal.
While Haevischer and Johnston face six first-degree murder charges, Le facing one first-degree murder charge for Corey Lal’s killing. All three also face conspiracy to murder charges for Corey Lal’s death. The three men entered not guilty pleas on Monday.
Throughout Wednesday and Thursday, friends and family members of the deceased took the stand at the so-called Surrey Six trial.
Corey Lal’s girlfriend of two years said her boyfriend had a mechanical shop with his brother, but that she suspected he might be involved with drugs. However, she testified, he was “not at all” flashy, never had wads of cash and she saw no evidence that he was a successful drug dealer.
Jourdane Lal, sister of Michael and Corey Lal, said Corey had a string of different cell phones and seemed to have the means to buy expensive things, although he didn’t have his own car. She said Narong was Corey’s best friend and that she thought the two had some trouble with the law, perhaps for drug trafficking.
Katie Bott, a close friend of victim Bartolomeo, testified she believed the 19-year-old was a drug dealer, but that she never talked about it with him and she didn’t do drugs herself. She said she overheard him talking on the phone about dealing drugs and saw him put drugs in bags, leave, and return with no bags.
Haevischer’s defence lawyer Simon Buck challenged Bott, noting in her initial police interview shortly after Bartolomeo was killed, she didn’t mention anything about drugs. Bott said she had being crying all night when she spoke to police that day and likely forgot to mention it.
The Crown, however, pointed out that in her statement, Bott did refer to Bartolomeo being gone for 12 hours at a time “running,” which she explained was for a dial-a-dope operation.
Testimony closed Thursday with Eric Akai, another friend of Bartolomeo’s. He said he talked to his buddy of three years on the afternoon of his death and didn’t detect anything wrong. There was no fear in Bartolomeo’s voice, Akai told the court, even though it was shortly before the time the Crown alleges he and the five other men were murdered.
The trial continues.