VANCOUVER – To his sister and girlfriend, there was nothing much out of the ordinary about Corey Lal.
For all they knew, the 21-year-old lived with his mother in the Vancouver area, with no car and without a taste for expensive things. He worked at his brother’s mechanic shop. He had the sort of tumultuous romance that any young man might, with regular break-ups followed by inevitable make-ups.
He had been in trouble with the law at least once before, but he was no drug kingpin.
Prosecutors have painted a much darker picture: Corey Lal the drug trafficker, who was deep enough into the world of crime that he was considered an important rival to the leaders of the region’s most violent gangs. His enemies, prosecutors allege, attempted to extort him for $100,000 and then ordered a hit on his life when he failed to pay.
The second version of Lal is central to the Crown’s explanation for what happened in a high-rise condo building in Surrey, B.C., on Oct. 19, 2007, when six people, including Lal, three other men with ties to drugs and gangs, and two innocent bystanders were executed in a barrage of gunfire.
Three alleged gangster are now on trial for murder and conspiracy charges in what was the deadliest single attack in a gang war that went on for another two years.
The Crown alleges the Red Scorpions gang targeted Lal at the Balmoral Tower condo development in a 15th-floor unit described as a “stash house” for drugs and money.
Lal was the target, the Crown contends, but five others, including 55-year-old gas fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg and 22-year-old building resident Chris Mohan, were killed to ensure there were no witnesses.
In addition to Lal, Schellenberg and Mohan, the shooting also killed Lal’s brother Michael, Edward Narong and Ryan Bartolomeo.
Lal’s girlfriend at the time, Patricia Urbanska, testified Wednesday that Lal was a good boyfriend, who spent time with her as much as he could and was never outwardly flashy.
She said Lal worked at a mechanic shop that belonged to his brother, Michael.
Urbanska said she knew Lal had some trouble with the law when he was younger, before she started dating him two years earlier. Urbanska said she had her suspicions he might be involved in something “drug-related” again, but she never once thought he was trafficking drugs.
“You would describe him as a very good boyfriend?” asked defence lawyer Simon Buck, who is representing Haevischer.
“Yes,” replied Urbanska.
“You got to know him well?” asked Buck.
“So I thought,” she replied.
“He was not a drug dealer as far as you knew?” Buck continued.
“Yes,” Urbanska replied in agreement.
Urbanska said Lal had been to the Balmoral Tower before, she said, although it wasn’t clear when. She said she remembers dropping him off at the building, where she believed his friend Raphael lived.
The trial has heard that Raphael Baldini had rented unit 1505 until the condo changed hands to someone introduced to the building’s managers as Baldini’s cousin, Chris, in the spring of 2007.
Urbanska said she and Lal broke up several times, after which they would get back together. A week before Lal was murdered, they had had another fight. They had yet to reconcile by the time Lal was killed, she testified.
Lal’s sister, Jourdane, offered similar details about Lal’s life.
Jourdane Lal testified her brother had previous legal troubles related to drug trafficking with Narong, who she described as her brother’s best friend, though her testimony did not explore his criminal record in detail.
Matthew Johnston, Cory Haevischer and Quang Vinh Thang (Michael) Le are now on trial for various murder and conspiracy charges. A co-accused has already pleaded guilty and another, alleged gang leader Jamie Bacon, is scheduled for trial next year.
Johnston and Haevischer are accused of being directly involved in the killing, along with another man who cannot be named, while Le is accused of being part of the conspiracy.
Jamie Bacon is also charged in the case. He is scheduled to stand trial separately next year.
The Crown alleges Le and Bacon were the leaders of the Red Scorpions gang.