Kyle Halbauer started selling cocaine in Saskatoon months before three White Boy Posse members were charged with gunning down 34-year-old Lorry Santos in a case of mistaken identity.
Halbauer says the Edmonton gang that he's a member of ran a lucrative dial-a-dope operation in the city before – and after – the mother of four was murdered on September 12, 2012.
In an agreed statement of facts presented in court during his murder plea, Halbauer said he and two other gang members had gone to the Santos house that weekday morning believing they were going to kill a fourth man who had left the violent gang. But they went to the wrong house and Santos was shot instead.
The involvement of the two other men has not been proven in court.
Breaking into the Saskatoon market
In an exclusive interview with CBC News, 23-year-old Halbauer spoke candidly and in detail about why he came to Saskatoon and set up a drug dealing network.
Earlier this month, Halbauer pleaded guilty to first degree murder for his role in the Santos shooting. The next day, he pleaded guilty to trafficking cocaine. He’s serving a life sentence for the Santos murder.
In an interview from the Saskatoon Correctional Centre, Halbauer said he decided to break into the Saskatoon market because of the city’s booming economy.
'There was a lot of money, there was a lot of opportunity' - Kyle Halbauer
"It's just a bigger city, nobody from our group has been here before, as far as we knew there was a lot of money, there was a lot of opportunity to make money, come here and expand, get set up here and have something here full time," Halbauer said.
Police have wrestled with so-called dial-a-dope operations for years. The way it works is that people who want to buy cocaine call a cell phone number and then make arrangements with a dealer to meet and make the purchase.
Saskaboom drawing dealers from across country
Sgt. Corey Lenius works undercover with the Saskatoon police drug squad.
He says the crucial difference between now and five years ago is that gangs from across the country are now coming to Saskatoon.
'Saskatoon seems to be the hot spot right now' - Sgt. Corey Lenius
"We're seeing a number of groups coming in from as far east as Toronto and Quebec, and as far west as Burnaby, Vancouver, B.C. and everywhere in between. Saskatoon seems to be the hot spot right now in this country. There's a boom, there's lots of money and people are, criminals, dial-a-dopers, are targeting that," he said.
Halbauer says it took about three weeks to get established in the city.
"You hang around run down places like bars and stuff. You see a lot of people hanging downtown, and just meet one person and get them to hand out a number and you give out tester pieces," he said.
“Basically, what I would do is go ask people if they knew where to find anything and if they did then obviously they were part of that thing, and then you just give them the number and if they seem like they know what they're doing then you give them a (half gram) sample and you tell them to pass the number along and then you hook them up and then you help them out if they help you, y'know?"
The cash rolls in 24/7
Halbauer said he netted $5,000 a day on average, but sometimes sold much as $15,000 worth of cocaine. The purchases ranged from $40 to $200.
He said the customers ranged from “hookers and rubby Native guys to people from the workforce; oilworkers, people that come in from the camps.”
Halbauer distributed one phone number and kept the line open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He made little effort to disguise how he made money.
'If you're stepping on toes, basically people try to protect their property' - Kyle Halbauer
And that led to trouble with rival gangs.
“We're driving nice vehicles, I had lots of gold accessories, gold watch, nice sunglasses, rims on my vehicle (a Denali luxury SUV), you can tell when somebody's like, a drug dealer,” he said.
“If you're stepping on toes, basically people try to protect their property, right? So if you come and start taking over other things then they want to take back over, right? So eventually you're looking over your back and you're worried about everybody else, you're worried about running into other people. There's a couple times when I had a run in with some guys."
It all fell apart for Halbauer about a month after the Santos murder in September, 2012.
A police undercover operation last November led to officers with a search warrant raiding Halbauer’s Gray Avenue apartment and discovering cocaine. Court heard during a presentation during his drug sentencing hearing that police had Halbauer under surveillance that fall and had a made a series of buys as part of a dial-a-dope investigation in the city
"No matter what, you've always got to be on your toes and live your life in the rear view when you're doing that. You've always got to watch your back," Halbauer said.
Halbauer pleaded guilty to trafficking cocaine and was sentenced to 18 months. It will be served concurrently to his life sentence for his part in the Santos murder.