Saint John drug trial told J-Tornado sting almost failed
Suspects got nervous when similar Quebec bust using cellphones was revealed
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.
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.
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.
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.