Calgary

Smile Gang founder admits he set up Calgary home invasion for convicted killer

The man behind a random-acts-of kindness movement in Calgary called the Smile Gang helped two accused killers set up a violent home invasion where children were present, CBC News has learned.

Akeam Francis says he 'screwed up' and is trying to make up for his past through his Smile Gang

Akeam Francis started the Smile Gang, a group of people who perform acts of kindness in Calgary. But Francis has a criminal history and was involved in setting up a violent home invasion where children were present. (CBC)

The man behind a random-acts-of kindness movement in Calgary called the Smile Gang helped two accused killers set up a violent home invasion where children were present, CBC News has learned.

Akeam Francis has also spent some time in jail on an unrelated matter.

Francis came into the media spotlight after starting the Smile Gang in March 2016, beginning with a Facebook page offering to help strangers — by picking up their deliveries, doing their dishes, whatever help they needed. His goal, he said, was to help a million people and make each of them smile.

"I screwed up and I'm working hard as hell to show everybody I'm not the same person I was," Francis said in an interview with CBC News.

Last month, Francis was the prosecution's first witness at the home invasion trial of Jean Havyarimana, Lloyd Kollie and Mangok Geng, who are charged with break and enter and robbery.

Two of the men were also accused of being involved in the killing of a northeast shopkeeper who was stabbed to death.

Havyarimana pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2014 death of Maqsood Ahmed, while Kollie goes to trial on a charge of second-degree murder next year.

Kids home during violent B&E

Six months after Ahmed's death, the two and Geng are accused of breaking into a home belonging to two drug dealers while brandishing a gun, knives and a crowbar.

Though Francis admitted to sending the trio to the home where two of his friends lived, and despite being arrested for conspiracy to rob, he did not get charged.

He denies a formal plea deal was made with the prosecution but Francis was never charged despite his involvement.

The victims of the home invasion were friends of his who had recently upped their drug-dealing business from marijuana to cocaine. Francis said he wanted to "scare them a bit so they don't feel like they should get into that lifestyle."

The targets both had young children at the time, and Francis knew two babies would likely be in the home. 

"I explained to [Jean] and Mangok that they had kids in the house, so I kind of thought that they would take that accordingly," said Francis in his testimony.

He said he had no idea Havyarimana and Kollie were accused killers.

Lloyd Kollie, left, and Jean Bertrand Havyarimana are on trial, accused of participating in a violent home invasion. Six months before that incident they were both accused of murdering a local shopkeeper. Havyarimana pleaded guilty to manslaughter and Kollie goes to trial next year. (CBC)

Still, three masked men broke into the home, two were armed with knives and a crowbar while a third had a gun. One of the victims was beaten with a crowbar and slashed with a knife. The incident lasted an hour before the masked men took the drugs and money and left. 

The goal of the Smile Gang is to improve the community one smile at a time, according to its founder.

"And then the facade all came down because [police] had you on wiretap talking to people about a home invasion, correct?" defence lawyer Mark Takada asked Francis in his cross-examination.

"That's correct," said Francis.

The group, which includes Francis and some friends, got started in April 2016. Francis has been involved in children's birthday parties, and has been invited into people's homes and yards. 

Francis assaulted cabbie and snowplow driver

Francis was also convicted of assault and mischief after he attacked a taxi driver and a snowplow operator in January 2016.

He spent a month in jail in May 2016 after breaching his release conditions.

In November, Francis pleaded guilty. He admitted to punching and choking a taxi driver and then attacking a snowplow driver who stopped to help the cabbie. He also caused about $2,000 in damage to the cab of the snowplow when he ripped some of the electrical wiring out.

Though the prosecution sought a one-year jail term, the judge imposed a conditional sentence order meaning, Francis would serve his sentence in the community under certain conditions.

'I destroyed so many lives'

Geng, Havyarimana and Kollie's trial has been delayed for now.

Concerns about Geng's mental health arose during the trial, peaking when he threw a binder at provincial court Judge Brian Stevenson. Geng is now being assessed by a forensic psychologist.

Francis says he is still involved in the Smile Gang and has also opened the Smile Shop at the Cornerstone Church. It offers free clothing to people in need every Saturday.

He says the regret and "full remorse" he feels about his past life fuels his desire to make his community a better place. 

"I love doing what I'm doing," he said. "I affected so many lives that night and I destroyed so many lives. That eats me up every day."

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