On Jan. 1, 2009, 22-year-old Aaron Bendle entered a restaurant in southeast Calgary. While many were ushering in the chilly new year with resolutions and hopes for the year to come, Bendle had already been living out his worst nightmare after being kidnapped nearly 18 hours earlier.
This meeting at the restaurant Bolsa was part of a plot to kill 22-year-old FK member Sanjeev Mann in retribution for an earlier shooting in Chinatown in November, and was the result of escalating violence between rival gangs — what’s become known as the worst gang war in Calgary’s history.
Global News is taking a look back at the gang war as part of a three-part series, hoping it can offer insight into the violence plaguing Calgary’s streets today.
The violence between the two groups known as the FOBs and FKs spanned a decade; the body count sat at more than 25 victims with shootouts taking place in public spaces on Calgary’s streets.
“Things were really significantly ramping up,” senior prosecutor Shane Parker with the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service said. “Both fuelled by money in Alberta and they were associated with groups outside of Alberta as well, in terms of the lower mainland of British Columbia.
“The escalation between the two groups was growing and it was becoming more dire.”
“How those groups came to be is that they were actually friends,” Calgary Police Service (CPS) Supt. Cliff O’Brien explained. “They were involved in the drug trade and ultimately they went into two separate groups.”
“As a patrol officer I actually went to one of their first fights… and it was baseball bats and pipes. Obviously, as things continued they started bringing guns and having very public shootings.”
While Parker believes among the dozens of people killed throughout the bloody war there may have been some innocent people caught in the crossfire, the gang activity sent shockwaves through the community when 43-year-old Keni Su’a was killed during the Bolsa massacre — the site of Bendle’s meeting.
“It was Keni’s death that really sent a chill down everyone’s spine,” Parker said. “This isn’t just happening at nighttime on streets between two warring factions. This is now involving anyone and everyone.”
When the shooting started inside the Bolsa restaurant, there were a handful of patrons sitting at tables enjoying their afternoon lunch, along with the staff working there.
The barrage of bullets sent Su’a running for his life. However, due to a case of mistaken identity he was gunned down in the parking lot.
Mann and Bendle were also killed.
“There was more to Aaron Bendle than just trafficking drugs,” Parker said. “He was by all accounts a very good son. He was just a young kid, who got mixed up in something way above where he thought it would ever go.”
Parker said in the face of the violence that had been plaguing the city’s streets for years, the Calgary Police Service (CPS) ramped up its efforts to stamp out the rivalry.
“In 2008, CPS had restructured and really put a lot of resources into the FOB/FK war,” he explained. “Chief (Rick) Hanson and Deputy Chief Murray Stooke reorganized and put a lot of the resources into the gang violence.”
Mount Royal University justice studies professor, Doug King, said the CPS tackled the issue in two different ways.
“It was a very sophisticated approach that the Calgary Police Service took,” King said. “It was obviously in-your-face enforcement, but it was also behind-the-scenes contact with the gangs. And saying, ‘If you guys keep this up, it’s not going to go well for you’.”
Following the Bolsa shooting, a police informant came forward known as “M.M.” who was granted immunity for their testimony.
FOB gangster Hans Eastgaard also testified against his friends in order to avoid jail time.
A number of investigative techniques were utilized as well, including a Mr. Big operation with a supposed crime boss, surveillance and wire taps in order to charge those responsible.
“We were also using other evidence that hadn’t been used before,” Parker said. “Qualifying of a gang expert had not been done up to that point at jury trial level and we were also dealing with (evidence from) cell phones and cell towers which was relatively new.”
Parker said detectives estimate the investigation helped to foil as many as six other murder plots and bring down another gang associated with the FOBs known as the 403 Soldiers.
“What the 403 Soldiers allegedly could have brought to the table was the use of explosives. And there were plans to start to use those explosives on residences,” Parker said.
In the end, after years of work, several people were charged in connection with the New Year’s Day triple-slaying including Real Honorio, who was associated with the 403 Soldiers; Michael Roberto, who was released from prison last year; Nicholas Hovanesian, who faced deportation to Uruguay following his sentence; as well as Nathan Zuccherato and Dustin Darby.
“There was fear on the streets and justifiably,” Parker said. “I think afterwards the public had a tremendous amount of appreciation for the work that had been done by the Calgary police.”