Sunday, April 21, 2013

The gun pipeline: ‘Cop killer’ among Toronto’s favourite handgun

A Hi-Point 9-mm looks a bit chunky. Top-heavy, with a big slide. The handle tends to crack, but nothing some electrical tape can’t fix.

An entry-level handgun on Toronto’s streets.

A few hundred dollars more buys the status and higher quality of a Glock, like the cops on TV use. Sleeker and sturdier than the Hi-Point.

Much rarer and pricier is the FN Five-seveN Herstal — “an assault rifle that fits in your pocket.” After Toronto police took one off a man in 2010, an officer testified that finding the gun scared him because “those bullets can shoot through (my) vest.”

The Mexican drug cartels have nicknamed it the “cop killer.”

These are some of the guns on Toronto streets — guns that kids, drug dealers and criminals with multiple gun possession convictions are carrying for protection, style, intimidation or worse.

An ongoing Star investigation shows border patrols are catching fewer guns at the same time as Toronto criminals’ demand for guns grows.

Smith & Wesson, Ruger and other brands are also popular but “ultimately it really depends on what the firearm trafficker has access to,” said Toronto guns and gangs Det. Michael Grierson.

Bought for a fraction of the price stateside, run up Interstate 75 and smuggled across the porous border to Toronto, the guns are stashed, often in shoeboxes hidden in closets, ready to spill into neighbourhoods, malls and apartment buildings.

In the past 12 months, in venues sometimes crowded with innocent bystanders, the bullets have been wayward and indiscriminate.

A shooting in the Eaton Centre food court killed two and injured six. Two innocent bystanders were killed and 23 others — including a toddler — wounded after gang members opened fire at a block party on Danzig St.

Since the beginning of 2013, four 15-year-olds have been shot, three of them killed.

Toronto police seize about 900 crime guns each year. They come in a variety of sizes, calibres, colours and prices.

A Desert Eagle comes in a gold finish for those drawn to the “bling,” one officer told the Star. “Considered the biggest, baddest handgun,” said another. Unlike a small .22-calibre “deuce deuce” pistol, this .50-calibre handgun is difficult to conceal. “I f***ing want that,” a Toronto gang member recently told an associate offering a Desert Eagle for sale.

Revolvers, also known as “spinners” because of their rotating cylinders, are making a comeback. Unlike semi-automatic handguns, revolvers, if fired at a crime scene, do not spit a spent shell-casing onto the ground.

From this city’s growing menu of handguns, Toronto criminal Khumane Agil recently added a Beretta to his collection.

On a homemade videos recorded with his cellphone, Agil is seen releasing the magazine of a Beretta and sliding it out, displaying cartridges inside.

“You see these in your brain?” he said. “Can you read that? Huh? . . . It’s the limited edition motherf----er,” he said, holding the gun close to the camera, the word “Beretta” visible on the barrel. “Na means? You will lose your brain.” Then the click-clack of Agil racking the slide and loading a bullet in the chamber.
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Saturday, April 20, 2013

The gun pipeline: Mules who bring firearms across border pay high price for fast money

Chantelle Batte didn’t know she had successfully smuggled a small arsenal of guns, including a machine gun with a silencer, into Canada until police showed up at her door and arrested her days later.

Batte, a single mom from Sarnia, is just one of the many people used to mule guns across the border each year.

An ongoing Star investigation reveals that border officers seize few of the guns destined for the criminal market in Toronto and across Ontario.

Today, we look at the stories of three mules to show how the lure of quick money brings guns to the GTA.

 Batte, now 34, was living with her young daughter at a friend’s house in May of 2007 when she was introduced to Roger Peddie, a Kitchener man who was visiting Sarnia. He said his name was “Jerome.”

Peddie told Batte he was looking for someone to travel with him to Atlanta. He promised her $400 if she would take the trip.

At the time, the attractive brunette was going through a difficult time in her personal life and smoking “a ton of marijuana,” according to the judgment in Peddie’s later trial on gun charges.


How one U.S. gun broker moved firearms across the border

Here’s what Detroit gun broker Terrance Coles had to say from prison

Star reporters buy cheap U.S. gun, no ID required

The free trip to a city to which Batte had never been seemed appealing and, in the weeks before, she took two short trips to Michigan with him.

The judge noted in the Peddie trial judgment that Batte said the purpose of these trips with Peddie was to “bring something back,” but she did not recall what.

On June 4, 2007, the pair headed south in Batte’s Chevrolet Cavalier on the 12-hour journey down Interstate 75, a highway well-travelled by gun smugglers.

Batte, as she later told court, spotted Peddie’s real name on his passport at the border crossing. That angered him, but the two continued on, eventually sharing a room in an Atlanta motel. Peddie handed Batte some marijuana and $100 from a “pretty thick wad of money” to get something to eat. Then, he left the motel to “get the car packed,” he told her.

Batte knew something was being put in her car, but she thought it was marijuana.

At 2 a.m. that night, after only a few hours of sleep, the pair began the drive home. What they didn’t know was that the province’s Provincial Weapons Enforcement Unit were already interested in Peddie. According to the judgment in Peddie’s case, his name had come up in connection with another man, Ronald McKenzie of Oshawa, who was rumoured to be trafficking guns from the U.S. “at a rate of 30 to 40 per month.”

The plan was for Peddie to get out at a friend’s house in Port Huron, Mich., just 20 minutes from Sarnia, and for Batte to drive across the border alone.

She was uncomfortable, but Peddie told her nothing would be found because the car was “professionally done.”

Batte’s car was searched at the border; the glove box and middle compartments, rear passenger sides and underneath the seats. Her trunk was removed and X-rayed. Nothing was found.

Having crossed the border earlier, Peddie took Batte’s car and drove to his home in Kitchener where he met the other man, McKenzie. Later in the day, police involved in the investigation pulled over McKenzie and found hidden in the rear door panel a Cobray M-12 machine gun, a silencer, two handguns, a revolver and three ammunition magazines.

The guns originated in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Tucked beside them was a plastic shopping bag containing the magazines and Peddie’s fingerprint was on the bag in McKenzie’s car, according to the judgment in Peddie’s case.

At Peddie’s trial, the crown laid out a circumstantial case involving the movement of cars and the discovery of the weapons. The crown maintained that Peddie and McKenzie were involved in the “criminal enterprise” of illegally importing firearms, according to the judgment in Peddie’s case.

In the early summer of 2009, Peddie and McKenzie were convicted of firearms trafficking and possession. Both were sentenced to six years in jail. With credit given for time served, Peddie served 23 months and McKenzie 21 months.

Batte, the unsuspecting mule, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and received a year of house arrest and probation.

Batte got $100 of the $400 Peddie promised her.


In 2009, Toronto police seized 861 crime guns in the city, at least 70 per cent of which are smuggled in from the U.S. A crime gun is any gun that is illegally possessed or has an obliterated serial number, or is seized in relation to a criminal act, such as a shooting.

In the same year, border services in Ontario seized just nine crime guns they believed were headed for the criminal market, according to a 2010 internal report on gun smuggling obtained by the Star.

“Intelligence and investigations conducted by law enforcement agencies reveal that hundreds of firearms are smuggled into Canada yearly that are destined for the criminal market,” says the report.

While border services seize hundreds of guns across Canada each year, most belong to legitimate American travellers who don’t declare their weapons, which is against the law. These “mom and pop” guns made up the majority of the 2,641 guns seized by border services across Canada between 2005 and 2009, according to the report.

Still, all firearms, the report says, are a public safety concern because even “mom and pop” guns that make their way into Canada could be stolen or diverted to the criminal market in some way.

The Star’s research also found that border services is confiscating nearly half the number of guns they did a decade ago. From 2001 to 2005, border services seized an average of 856 firearms per year. Over the past five years, the average has been 494 firearms per year. A spokeswoman wouldn’t speculate why that is.

In an email to the Star, she said the agency places a “high priority on the detection and interdiction of undeclared firearms.”


“I blame myself for getting involved with the wrong crowd, which I should have known better,” said Toronto’s Stephen Bobb in a handwritten letter to a Michigan judge before his sentencing in 2009.

Bobb, then 21 and an auto mechanics student at Toronto’s Centennial College, was raised in a supportive home in the city’s northwest end, by two parents married nearly three decades who taught their two sons to “do the right thing.”

Offered a chance to make $2,000, Bobb jumped at it.

“I saw quick money and let it get the best of me. I certainly wasn’t thinking properly and didn’t realize the consequences until it was too late.”

By the time a Michigan state trooper pulled Bobb over for speeding on an October morning in 2008, he had already done one successful gun run from the U.S. to Canada, according to an affidavit filed in court from a special agent with U.S. Homeland Security that says Bobb admitted to doing so in an interview with investigators.

That October morning, on Interstate 94, Bobb struck the trooper as nervous when asked questions about where he had been and where he was headed, the same affidavit says. He let the officer search his 1994 Nissan.

Under the back seat, the trooper saw tool markings on bolts of a fuel gauge unit attached to the gas tank. In the trunk, he found an open bag of ground coffee, commonly used by traffickers to mask the smell of drugs. And on the underside of the gas tank, two bolts were missing and another not completely tightened.

The car was then transported to a towing company, where troopers used a scope to look inside the gas tank. Inside, in a secret compartment, they found five vacuum-packed packages, each with a handgun wrapped in carbon paper — four were powerful Taurus-brand guns (two .45 calibre, one .40 calibre and one 9-mm) and the fifth, a Rock Island 9-mm. Each package contained two magazines.

An American named Jesse Sundal originally purchased those guns, according to another affidavit filed in court by an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Sundal, a now 35-year-old from Fort Atkinson, Wisc., was already on the firearms bureau’s radar, which was working with Canadian police. Just months earlier, the Toronto police identification unit, using special chemicals, forensically extracted the serial number of an illegal gun seized during a search warrant in Toronto. Sundal had purchased that weapon, according to the affidavit.

When investigators first interviewed Bobb, he denied knowing about the guns, but said he had been offered $2,000 to transport something illegal from the U.S. to Toronto. During a second interview days later, Bobb admitted he knew he was transporting handguns back to Canada and told investigators that six weeks prior, on another trip, he had smuggled guns.

The affidavit in Sundal’s records says the American told an investigator that Bobb had called him the day before his arrest by state troopers. Sundal said Bobb asked if he had any guns. Sundal said he had five and removed the serial numbers with a grinding tool. Officers were able to trace the purchase of four guns to a legal purchase in Wisconsin from Tom’s Military Arms and Guns.

Sundal was sentenced in May 2009 to 48 months in jail for possession of firearms by an unlawful user of a controlled substance.

In January 2009, Bobb pleaded guilty to illegally transporting firearms. In June of that year, a U.S. judge sentenced him to time served.

“Intelligent,” “respectful,” “ambitious,” “truthful and “honest” were some of the descriptors used by Bobb’s parents, little brother, longtime girlfriend and numerous extended family members, friends and employers in 39 reference letters submitted before his sentencing.

“I was immature and stupid for what I did and I will never ever get myself into such activities again,” Bobb wrote in his letter.


When police can’t find a record of a firearm in the Canadian system, it means they’ve been smuggled into the country, so they request to run a trace with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, through their assistant attaché who is based in Toronto.

In the past five years, Canadian police have asked the firearms bureau to trace 6,574 guns seized on this side of the border.

The ages of mules smuggling suspected crime guns vary, though the largest group was 26-35 years old, according to the 2010 report.

Most are men, though females make up a sizeable portion (17 per cent) when compared to seizures of all guns.


“Lula dippin’.”

That’s what notorious Toronto gun supplier Lisa Parmanand called a gun shopping trip to the U.S., a “lula” being code for a gun. Parmanand, 32, was convicted in 2012 of trafficking firearms and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Her mule, whom she sent “dipping” in 2009, was David Barrett, a young man from Toronto with a promising future.

Parmanand was the supplier of guns to two notorious Scarborough street gangs — the MNE and the 400 Crew.

Barrett, then 22, had returned home to Toronto and started a landscaping job after studying civil engineering at a Seventh-day Adventist university in Washington state. His parents paid $34,000 a year in tuition before he dropped out more than halfway through his degree. Back in Toronto, he helped care for his elderly grandmother, his mother told his bail hearing.

In March 2009, a Toronto police’s gangs and gun unit wiretap investigation known as Project Fusion intercepted a series of phone calls between Parmanand and Barrett, according to court documents. At the time, Parmanand was trying to find “a youth” a gun.

The plan was for Barrett, who’d already successfully crossed the Niagara border with two handguns strapped to his body, to head to the U.S. At one point, Barrett was taking too long to make travel arrangements. She texted, calling him a “real twit.”

“I’m dippin’ in the morning, everything book,” Barrett texted on March 18, before heading to Georgia, one of Ontario’s top source states for crime guns.

While in Georgia, Barrett was caught on a gun store’s video surveillance picking out two firearms and handing money to a man who purchased them.

Two days later, on April 1, agents from the U.S. firearms bureau raided a suburban home just outside Atlanta searching for him. That same day, Parmanand and dozens of other residences were raided as part of Fusion’s “take down.”

They found him, along with a 9-mm pistol, a .357 Magnum, 100 rounds of ammunition and two empty gun boxes, one of which was for a “Baby 9” compact Glock handgun.

Three months previous, in January 2009, Toronto police raided a home on Scarborough’s Bakerton Ave. In the ceiling, they found the “Baby 9” that went with the box found in Atlanta and another gun, a .45 calibre Heckler & Koch.

Those were the guns, Barrett later admitted to police, that he’d strapped to his chest when he drove across the Niagara border a year earlier.

The U.S. firearms bureau let Barrett go, advising him he was wanted by Canadian authorities. On April 7, Barrett, facing 17 firearms offences, surrendered to Toronto police.

Barrett had no criminal record at the time. He pleaded guilty to illegally trafficking firearms in January 2012, and was sentenced to seven years minus time served. Because he spent three years in pretrial custody, he only had to spend an additional year in jail.

At his plea hearing, Superior Court Justice John McMahon said the most important mitigating factor in Barrett’s sentencing was he had taken responsibility for his actions.

“You have dealt with trafficking and what leads to death on our streets. You are going to spend a significant amount of time in jail as a person with no criminal record,” he said. “But as I said to you, and I say it genuinely, that you are a person that, with your background and education, can do a lot with your life. And I wish you every success down the road.”

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

How one U.S. gun broker moved firearms across the border

 Detroit hustler Terrance “Dougie” Coles was looking for easy money.

So he decided to sell guns to Toronto drug dealers.

Coles calculated it this way: buy a pistol in Michigan for a couple hundred dollars and feed it to Toronto, where supply cannot pace demand, for 10 times as much.

There was a complication: with prior convictions for gun and drug crimes, Coles was unlikely to get across the border.

Though only 23 at the time, Coles — a community college dropout whose mother was dead and father a convict — was shrewd, with a particular interest in psychology.

He saw a way to quarterback his business plan while floating above the grimy details and the law.

Related: Ontario guns by the numbers

He used four young women — including two cash-strapped cousins, one of them eight months pregnant — to mule the guns across the border at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel crossing.

“I wanted to be as discreet as possible. I figured it will be less suspicious if someone who didn’t have a criminal background (did) the transporting,” said Coles in a jailhouse interview with the Star (read what Coles has to say from behind bars at noon at

Coles used his grandmother Bertha’s cellphone to schedule the deals and negotiate payments.

The women hid the guns under the hoods of the cars they drove through customs.

The deals were swift and money fast.

Then Coles got greedy and reckless.

Somebody was listening in on his calls.

A Toronto Star investigation has found pricing along the U.S.-Toronto handgun pipeline works like this:

With a driver’s licence, or sometimes without any ID at all, a supplier buys a cheap $150 handgun on the Internet, as Star reporters recently did in Atlanta, or at a store or gun show in Michigan or Georgia, typically anywhere along the Interstate 75 corridor.

A smuggler transports the gun across the border. In Windsor, that $150 handgun will sell for $800 to $1,000.

Another courier (or the initial smuggler who crossed the border) takes the pistol farther, along Highway 401 to Toronto, where the money doubles, the gun selling for $2,000 or more.

Alternatively, smugglers barter guns for cocaine, ecstasy and other drugs more cheaply available in Toronto than in the U.S.

The guns — often stored in a shoebox tucked away in the buyer’s closet — are then ready for use in Toronto.

Though the pipeline, in some cases, does not end there.

The Star has found cases where handguns are then rented to the street, in one instance for as much as $600 per night.

The reasons for the hefty markups are not complicated:

Comparatively strict Canadian laws make gun possession and ownership in Toronto difficult. Drug dealers and other criminals desperate for firepower are willing to pay a lot for Hi-Point and other cheap brands of semi-automatics.

“The demand in Canada and the profit for U.S. suppliers are really what is fuelling the gun trade,” Special Agent Mark Jackson of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told the Star.

The Star’s ongoing investigation, which began last week revealing how easy it is to buy a gun in the U.S., will take you along the pipeline, from broker to mule to end user, from the states with lax guns laws to the border where most guns get across to Toronto. Today’s story is about a Detroit hustler’s growing gun supply business and the lawman on his tail.

To Agent Jackson, who ran the surveillance team, the gun supplier was, at first, just a disembodied, breezy voice on the phone.

Saying he has “Four nice hand boys . . . Two 40s . . . Two 9s . . . a mini chopper” and more.

Jackson wanted it that way. He needed to patiently work the outer edges of the investigation. Rush it, and the supplier might go to ground.

It was months earlier when the agent heard from a confidential source that a Detroit-area gun supplier named “Dougie” was moving guns to Toronto.

Undercover officers posing as Toronto drug dealers put word out in the Detroit-Windsor area that they wanted guns and circulated their cellphone number. Weeks later, “Dougie” called.

Jackson monitored the calls and traced the supplier’s cell to an address — Coles’ grandmother’s house on Santa Rosa Drive in Detroit.

“I had a hunch it was Terrance Coles,” Jackson told the Star. “We needed to set up a face-to-face so we could confirm that this voice we’re hearing on the phone was actually Coles.”

Meantime, Jackson, his team of fellow agents, and Windsor police officers followed the mules.

Jackson, alongside Windsor cop Jayson Bellaire, started planning what would become the biggest and most complicated international gun smuggling case the veteran agent had ever worked.

By the time it was all over, in a strip-mall parking lot, after Jackson steered his unmarked sedan into the front end of a speeding Dodge Charger carrying Coles and his accomplice, Jackson had worked the case eight straight months.

“It took a very small bite out of the gun trade from Michigan to Windsor and beyond,” said Jackson, who has worked hundreds of gun-trafficking investigations since joining the ATF in 2000. “I think guns are getting across everywhere.”

On Feb. 2, 2008 , Coles told his new clients that he had four guns and would also try to find a MAC-10 or MAC-11, a semi-automatic machine pistol easily converted to fully automatic mode — meaning, one trigger pull can quickly fire all the bullets in the high-capacity magazine.

Coles was also eager to discuss other business opportunities.

“Right off the bat, Coles asked for ecstasy. He starts by calling them Skittles and thingie-things,” Jackson said. “He said, ‘Look, I can get you guns, can you get me ecstasy?’ He knew well enough that a lot of our ecstasy in the States comes from Canada. So I think a light bulb goes on in his head.”

Coles’ push to diversify his operation gave agents an idea for how to ultimately catch their man.

On Feb. 5, Coles sent one of his mules, Denisa Manga, to exchange four 9-mm handguns for $4,400 plus a $500 smuggler’s fee.

An A student studying forensic science at Wayne State University, Manga lived with her parents in Windsor and commuted to and from the Detroit school. A pat explanation for border guards curious about her frequent crossings.

In early 2008, Manga’s parents sensed she lost interest in school and that she was “associating with a young man who is not appropriate,” her defence lawyer would later tell a judge. By the time Coles was finished with her a few months later, Manga pocketed little more than $1,200 and was headed for a six-year prison sentence.

The day of the deal, at 2:15 p.m., Manga drove her mother’s silver Volkswagen into a McDonald’s parking lot one block from the Windsor side of the border tunnel.

Manga got out and then into the buyer’s truck. The vehicle was wired for sound and video. “It recorded everything,” a court would later hear. The buyers were two cops on loan from the Toronto Police Service.

Manga sold them a Star 9-mm, loaded with four rounds, and a Glock 9-mm, loaded with 12 rounds, for $2,200. She said she would return that night with the two other guns. The undercovers handed her an additional $2,200 in advance.

Agent Jackson was on the other side of the tunnel, waiting and watching. He followed Manga, saw her meet with a man — later determined to be an associate of Coles — and watched as he stuffed a wad of cash into his pocket. Manga drove off, Jackson not far behind, and met the same man on a dark side-street two hours later.

“I assume they were loading guns in her vehicle,” Jackson said. “Denisa told the undercovers . . . she had a void in her vehicle in front of the dash, in back of the engine. That’s the exact location she was standing, kind of in the corner of her hood there.”

Close to 10 p.m., Manga met the undercovers in the same McDonald’s parking lot, and handed them two loaded 9-mm pistols, one with the serial number partly obliterated. Manga was paid her $500 smuggling fee.

One of the undercover officers called Coles the next day and said he needed more “burners.” Coles, who often had guns “on deck,” delivered quickly.

From February to June of 2008, Coles sold 35 guns for $36,000, all to the undercovers working the investigation.

Months later, police officers would trace the guns to points of original sale in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia (all intersected by Interstate 75) and other states where firepower can be legally bought with few background checks and little oversight.

The Star learned that most of the guns delivered by Manga had been sold anywhere from six to 10 years earlier at a Detroit gun store now out of business.

It is not clear how many hands the guns passed through before reaching Coles and ending up under the hoods of his bootleggers’ cars.

On Feb. 13, Manga made another border run, delivering four guns, including a Cobray MAC-11 machine pistol loaded with 19 rounds in an extended magazine.

A few weeks later, Agent Jackson finally laid eyes on Coles. The undercover officers had arranged to meet their supplier in a room at a Detroit Marriott Hotel. Jackson and Windsor officer Bellaire set up cameras and microphones and eavesdropped from the adjoining room as Coles discussed future gun deals and his desire to get a large amount of ecstasy pills.

Jackson, comparing the image on the live video feed to a mug shot from Coles’ Michigan driver’s licence, conclusively identified his target. “The man behind the curtain,” as Jackson later called him, was revealed.

On March 18, another of Coles’ smugglers delivered four guns to Windsor. Other deals occurred on April 9, in mid-May and on June 2.

Agents never could identify who was supplying Coles, theorizing Coles got his guns from a variety of sources. Coles told the Star he bought the guns “off of the streets of Detroit.”

“On June 4, we did one last deal,” a Windsor detective later testified. “Multiple arrests took place that day.”

At 2 p.m., Coles and a male associate pulled into a strip-mall parking lot on Jefferson Ave. in Detroit.

Coles’ Toronto clients had come through. In a few moments, he would deliver nine guns, just a down payment, for 50,000 ecstasy pills his clients were looking to unload that day.

“(Coles) was asked a couple of times if . . . he could handle that amount of ecstasy and he said . . . that the ecstasy was accounted for and he could move it ‘all day,’ ” Jackson later testified.

Jackson watched from an unmarked sedan parked across the street from the strip mall. Other police cars were in the area to cut off possible exits should the planned takedown fail.

Waiting in the parking lot was an undercover ATF agent posing as a cousin of one of the Toronto drug dealers.

Coles noticed a grey van in the parking lot, walked over, tried to see if anyone was inside — but tinted windows blocked his view. Spooked, he tried to move the location of the exchange. The undercover agent convinced Coles to stay and get the deal done.

Coles walked to the trunk of the Charger, popped it, delivered the guns, and replaced them with a suitcase of ecstasy pills.

The pills were fake, cooked up at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement lab at the border.

The grey van was in fact full of ATF agents suited in tactical gear for the arrest.

The deal done, Coles got in the Charger and his accomplice drove away. The Charger sped past the grey van. Agents scrambled from the van, yelling at the Charger to stop but were too late.

Agent Jackson watched the failed takedown and drove up Jefferson Ave. toward the parking lot. “The Charger was coming at me.”

Jackson drove his SUV into the Charger, stopped it, and agents swarmed.

Coles clambered into the back seat, trying to squirm away from his captors.

“I saw huge weapons pointed at me so I attempted to get out of the line of fire,” Coles said.

At that point, Coles, whom the U.S. Justice Department later said was the “mastermind of a major international weapons smuggling operation,” likely realized that for some time he was no longer running a growing criminal enterprise; Agent Jackson had been running him for months.

Coles rejected a plea deal , fired four court-appointed lawyers and represented himself at trial. He made no opening statement in the federal courthouse in Michigan. He introduced no evidence. He did not testify in his defence. He lost. Guilty on all 18 counts.

While behind bars awaiting sentencing, Coles became an ordained minister.

Meanwhile, across the border at Denisa Manga’s 2008 sentencing hearing, a judge told her: “You have forsaken the life that you knew and for the friendship or companionship of someone who probably does not value you as highly as you ought to be valued, and for a few dollars of money.”

Manga, who did not comment for this story, is now out of jail. The other smugglers, all American, pleaded guilty in U.S. court and cooperated with investigators. They received sentences of various lengths, none as stiff as the 15 years handed to Coles.

Coles now lives behind the walls of McKean Federal Correctional Institution, about 145 kilometres south of Buffalo. In penitent emails to the Star, Coles said he is a different man, that his “true passion” is to help others.

“It’s a shame that you can obtain guns so easily through license(d) dealers which in turn flood the inner city streets with powerful weaponry,” he said. “It saddens my heart to hear that Toronto is becoming more gun violent.”

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Star reporters buy cheap U.S. gun, no ID required

On a sunny Saturday in a shopping plaza parking lot in Atlanta, two Toronto Star reporters bought a handgun from a guy named Bob.

They met Bob online the day before, on

Sellers use the website to post information about their weapons and asking price and would-be buyers make contact. Like Craigslist or the newspaper classifieds.

Near where Bob parked his Grand Prix, Starbucks customers enjoyed the warm afternoon on the patio.

“It’s a good first gun if that’s what you’re looking for,” said Bob, sitting in the driver’s seat of his car. “A .25 is a perfect round to start with. No recoil . . . I think you’ll like it.”


Guns in Canada: By the numbers

Top trace states: Where the guns are coming from

The reporters, posing as Canadians recently moved to Georgia, handed him $270 for a .25-calibre German pistol, a Deutsche Werke that would sell for as much as $2,000 in Toronto. Bob described it as a “poor man’s James Bond” gun.

Cash on delivery. No background check, no identification asked for and none shown, even though federal law requires proof of state residency, such as a driver’s licence, for a private sale. No paper trail.

Cheap American handguns are flooding Toronto streets.

At least 70 per cent of all guns used in Toronto crimes are smuggled from the U.S., mostly from states with lax gun purchase laws that make it easy to buy a pistol in a pawnshop, at a gun show or in a parking lot.

Over the coming weeks, a Toronto Star investigation will take you along the handgun pipeline, from stateside supplier to mule to end user, up Interstate 75 to the porous border to Toronto.

Waiting at the end of the supply chain, where comparatively strict Canadian laws make gun possession difficult, Toronto criminals desperate for firepower — for protection, status, intimidation or worse — are willing to pay top dollar for economy brands of semi-automatics, like the gun the Star bought.

“You can get cheap handguns here in the States, and it doesn’t seem to matter to the end purchasers in Toronto what kind of guns they are. The criminals up there just want a gun. It doesn’t matter if the thing’s 40 years old,” Special Agent Mark Jackson of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told the Star.

The Star scoured court cases on both sides of the border; made applications before a judge for exhibits and attended gun shows; interviewed pawnshop owners and police officers; and obtained previously unreleased data that reveal a state-by-state breakdown of where Ontario crime guns originate in the U.S. Half come from states along the I-75.

Within a short period of time The Star's David Bruser and Jayme Poisson are able to buy an undocumented hand gun in Georgia.

The lucrative trade — a gun bought for $200 in Georgia or Michigan can sell for more than 10 times as much in Toronto — involves suppliers out for fast money and border mules hiding guns in gas tanks and behind dashboards, driving their smuggled weapons along Highway 401 to buyers, even renters, many of them kids.

“Without the importing of (handguns) there would be . . . far fewer woundings, killings and charges for possession of them in the hands of the ultimate criminals who use them,” Windsor judge Joseph Donohue said last year before he sentenced a gun smuggler to three years in prison.

Once in Toronto, the guns are stashed, often in shoeboxes hidden in closets, ready to spill into neighbourhoods, malls and apartment buildings.

In the past 12 months, in venues sometimes crowded with innocent bystanders, the bullets have been wayward and indiscriminate.

A shooting in the Eaton Centre food court killed two and injured six, including a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head while eating lunch with his family.

Two innocent bystanders were killed and 23 others — including a toddler — wounded after rival gang members opened fire at a neighbourhood block party on Danzig St.

Since the beginning of 2013, four 15-year-olds have been shot, three of them killed. Nine-year-old Brampton boy Kesean Williams died after a single bullet entered through his mother’s living room window and hit him in the head.

A woman in her 90s was used as a human shield by a young man before he was shot dead in a Cabbagetown Toronto Community Housing building for the elderly.

Then, just two weeks ago, another shooting at a mall, this time in the parking lot of the Yorkdale Shopping Centre, a 23-year-old man killed execution-style.

Meanwhile, Ontario judges are handing down stiff sentences for gun offences, saying over and again that they want to dampen the allure of these powerful weapons.

It does not seem to be working.

Toronto police seize two to three crime guns per day, increasingly from kids.

And while violent crime rates, such as homicide, have fallen over time, the rate of youth accused of gun crimes rose nearly 50 per cent between 2002 and 2008, according to Department of Justice statistics obtained by the Star.

A crime gun is defined as any gun that is possessed illegally, used or suspected to have been used in a crime, or has an obliterated serial number. While most are never seized, the majority of those taken off the street and traced to the U.S. by law enforcement in 2011 came from one of six states.

Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan all have one thing in common: they are intersected by Interstate 75, which runs north to the Detroit-Windsor border crossing and Highway 401.

In 2011, Michigan ranked first with 69 crime guns traced to that state. It was the fifth year in a row that the state topped the list. Next came Florida with 56, Ohio with 41 and Georgia with 38.

The Star traced guns from numerous criminal cases to these I-75 states, including:
In the case of a Detroit man, who used four women to smuggle guns to Windsor, seven of the handguns were originally bought at a Michigan gun store now out of business.
After police arrested a Mississauga man and found four guns hidden in a shoebox in the spare tire compartment of his trunk, one was traced to an original sale in Kentucky and another to Florida.
A Durham Region man was arrested after police found a fully automatic machine pistol with a silencer and three overcapacity magazines, two pistols and a revolver in the panel of his car door. One of those guns traced back to a sale in Tennessee, another to Georgia.
A gun stolen from the back seat of a Mercedes in a Florida parking lot and later used in a 2008 Toronto schoolyard shooting was originally bought by Joseph Dobos, a Ft. Lauderdale architect. Dobos said he had no idea where his FN Five-seven handgun ended up until called by the Star.

“That’s very strange that it would end up all the way in Canada,” he said. “Well of course I know why: nobody’s allowed to have guns in Canada, which I think is a bad thing.” It is not the first time a gun has been stolen from his car.

A few blocks from the I-75, in Jonesboro, Ga., Arrowhead Pawnshop sits near the end of a strip mall.

At Arrowhead you can buy an iPod or a Bushmaster rifle or one of a large assortment of handguns. A Walther P22 with laser sight sells for $389.99, a Ruger 9-mm for $329 and a Hi-Point 9-mm for $169.

The pawnshop is known as a leading source of out-of-state crime guns, a law enforcement source told the Star.

The Star found guns sold at this store have also made their way to Ontario.

One, a .45-calibre handgun, was found by Windsor border guards hidden behind the in-dash CD player of a Suzuki Sidekick. The other, a Taurus-brand handgun, was linked by police to a 2010 shooting of a person in Scarborough.

Whether these guns were stolen from their original legal owners, whether the initial buyers “straw-purchased” them for others or resold the guns without paperwork in a private sale (as happened when Star reporters bought a gun in an Atlanta parking lot), are unknowns.

Federal law requires sellers like Arrowhead ensure gun buyers are state residents and fill out a background check questionnaire that is then sent to the FBI for approval. It is a law the store says it follows.

“We do everything by the book . . . We follow the law to the letter of the law,” said a store employee who refused to give his name.

Asked why his store has been cited as a leading source of crime guns, he said: “How can I tell you the motives of someone else? If you walk up to my counter and say ‘I want to buy this iPod,’ I’m gonna sell it to you. What’s your motive? I don’t know what it is. As long as I follow the law when I sell it to you there’s no way for me to know what’s in someone’s mind.”

According to a 2010 report from an organization of U.S. city mayors seeking gun law reform, Georgia leads all other states in exported crime guns. The report says it’s because the state has lax gun laws.

The Star went on looking for cheap handguns to show how easy it is to purchase a deadly weapon in the U.S. Bob’s ad was the first we responded to.

A reporter, posing as a Canadian now living in Atlanta, emailed Bob, saying he often travelled for work and wanted to buy a gun for his girlfriend so she could protect herself from intruders.

Bob emailed within a couple hours, saying: “This is probably perfect for a lady — it is not tiny and has a great feel. And of course with it being a .25 cal there is little to no recoil to make it scary for her.” Bob also included his phone number.

The reporter talked to Bob the next day and arranged a time and place to meet and possibly buy the gun that afternoon.

Sitting in his car, Bob, a hospitable, talkative man with a salt-and-pepper beard, racked the slide, showing how to operate the gun. He ejected the magazine to show it was unloaded. He demonstrated how the safety mechanism worked.

“The gun is clean. I know the history of it. It was brought back from Germany,” said Bob, who described himself as retired military. “It’s not a weapon that’s been used in a crime. It’s got no American history to it at all.”

The conversation turned to U.S. gun laws, and Bob said stricter gun laws are unnecessary. Criminals won’t buy guns legally, anyhow. “And if a person’s crazy, you can’t stop ’em,” he said.

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted to allow debate on gun legislation, including a controversial proposal to expand background checks to private sales, like those arranged on websites or at one of the more than 4,000 gun shows held every year in the U.S. hosts over 73,000 ads for firearms, and 94 per cent of them are offered by private sellers not required to conduct background checks, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Several days after the deal with Bob, the Star called and told him he had been secretly videotaped for a story on guns.

Bob said he broke no law.

“Not that I’m aware of,” he said during the phone interview. “I have no problem with what I did. Not at all.

“If you’re a hoodrat or something, I’m certainly not going to sell it to you. You were saying (it was) for your (girlfriend) for her protection. That’s an inalienable right for a person. I think it’s a personal right. I look at you guys and I had no problem with it at all because I don’t think you’re a threat to society. It’s not you or your colleague that scares me. It’s the other guy that scares me.”

After Bob sold the gun and drove away, the Star reporters arranged to have the unloaded gun turned in to the Atlanta Police Department. An officer told the Star he knows “that things in your country and mine are sometimes different” and was looking forward to reading the story.
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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Toronto real estate: GTA housing sales slump 17 per cent in March, but prices continue to climb

Home sales continued their downward slide across the GTA in March — down 17 per cent over the same period a year ago — but prices continue to climb, according to figures released by the Toronto Real Estate Board Wednesday.
Overall, home sales were down 14 per cent for the first quarter of 2013, thanks to a slump in sales that began last summer.
But the drop in sales has yet to impact prices: The average house price for the quarter was $519,879, up 3.2 per cent from the first quarter of 2012, said TREB.
Despite an upswing in new listings in March, heading into the peak spring market, there remains a shortage of enough houses for sale in some Toronto neighbourhoods close to the core and to transit which continues to fuel bidding wars that are pushing up prices.
Once again, condos saw the biggest slump in sales, with 18.4 fewer resale units trading hands last month over March, 2012, declines that were felt with equal force in both the City of Toronto and the 905 regions.
Prices, however, held up with Toronto condos selling for an average of $367,595, up 2 per cent over March of 2012 and 905 condos selling for an average $278,984, just 1.3 per cent more than they sold for a year earlier.
Detached homes also saw a significant downturn in sales, off almost 18 per cent year over year. But the decline was most severe in the City of Toronto at 21.6 per cent, compared to a 16.4 per cent drop in detached sales in the 905 regions.
The average detached home sold for an average $846,828 in Toronto compared to $592,265 in the 905 regions, according to TREB.
Townhouses saw the biggest price gains of all house sectors, up 5 per cent year over year to average $450,104 in the 416 region and $369,590 in the suburbs. That was despite an almost 15 per cent decline in townhome sales across the GTA.
Once again, TREB is citing last July’s tightening of mortgage lending rules and the City of Toronto’s double land transfer tax as factors in the slowdown in sales, which is happening in cities right across the country.
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