New Brunswick

Saint John drug trial told J-Tornado sting almost failed

A Saint John drug trial heard Monday that an RCMP plan to infiltrate a New Brunswick drug ring using BlackBerry cellphones almost unravelled when police in Quebec announced a big drug bust using intercepted BlackBerry messages.

Suspects got nervous when similar Quebec bust using cellphones was revealed

Alleged crime group members accepted BlackBerry phones from a police agent

A Saint John drug trial heard Monday that an RCMP plan to infiltrate a New Brunswick drug ring using BlackBerry cellphones rigged for surveillance almost unravelled in June of 2014 when police in Quebec publicly announced a big drug bust in that province had been made possible by intercepted BlackBerry messages.

RCMP Cpl. Tony Dunphy told the ongoing trial of Shane Williams and Joshua Kindred that a flashy press conference in Montreal announcing dozens of arrests under the umbrella of Project Clemenza — an unrelated case in Quebec — sent a chill through suspects being targeted by Operation J-Tornado in New Brunswick.

Police in Quebec, including the RCMP, publicly celebrated that they had managed to intercept BlackBerry messages between Quebec crime suspects, leading to mass arrests.

"This is the most important interception of its kind in the context of a major investigation in North America," said Insp. Michel Arcand about the compromised BlackBerry communications at the Montreal press event.

But just two weeks earlier police in New Brunswick had begun distributing rigged BlackBerrys to suspects in J-Tornado.

The trial heard testimony that accused J-Tornado drug dealer Shane Williams was given $8,140 in cash in this Saint John Tim Horton's parking lot. (CBC)
A former Saint John restaurant owner who had been hired as a police agent to collect evidence in the case had convinced the group to let him supply them with the smartphones which police had rigged to allow them to intercept messages.

Cpl. Dunphy told court Monday alarm bells went off among J-Tornado suspects who had been given the BlackBerrys, and the police agent — whose identity is protected by a publication ban — was asking for advice on how to calm the waters.

Dunphy said he told the police agent to explain to J-Tornado suspects that the Quebec arrests involved intercepted BlackBerry PIN messages and they were safe because their phones could only send and receive emails.

That seemed to work as J-Tornado suspects kept using their BlackBerrys for another three months until arrests began in September, but Dunphy said all that summer the suspects appeared nervous that they were under surveillance.

They were, but failed to detect who was doing it.

Suspects nervous

Dunphy told the court the suspects began thinking they were seeing undercover officers when they weren't.

Williams became so worried he once used hand signals to communicate with the police agent, and another time
he made him leave his smartphone inside the car while the two talked outside.

All that time it was the agent himself who was bugged.

More testimony included word that the police agent drove to this Greco Pizza outlet where he was given 4 oz. of pure cocaine by convicted drug dealer Robert White. (CBC)
Dunphy testified that the police agent was given $40,000 by police to buy cocaine from J-Tornado suspects during the summer of 2014, which he did three times. The agent's home, vehicle, smartphone and the agent himself were all outfitted with surveillance equipment and police documented every transaction.

Meetings occurred all over Saint John, including at the agent's home, at Williams' eastside sports bar, Big Shots, and in various McDonald's, Tim Horton's and Greco Pizza parking lots.

Defence lawyers for Williams and Kindred will be cross-examining Cpl. Dunphy Tuesday.

They insist the police agent, who is scheduled to testify later this week, set their clients up.