Quebec man accused of kidnapping U.S. couple in 2020 says he acted under threats

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Quebec man on trial for kidnapping American couple
The trial has begun at the Montreal courthouse for a man accused of kidnapping an American couple in 2020. He is one of five people charged in a case spanning several jurisdictions. Global's Phil Carpenter reports – Jan 11, 2023

A man charged in the kidnapping of a couple from Upstate New York who were smuggled into Quebec in September 2020 says he was threatened into working with the group behind the abduction.

Gary Arnold testified Thursday that he received a letter at the home he shared with his common-law wife in Hinchinbrooke, Que., on the morning of Sept. 24. He described it as a threatening note advising him to attend a meeting that day at a fast-food restaurant in Châteauguay, a suburb of Montreal.

Arnold says he went to Châteauguay without telling anyone about the letter and was met by a man named “Big” — an individual he described as looking like “a refrigerator on steroids” who told him to deliver a phone to the Mohawk reserve of Akwesasne and keep another on him.

He said “Big” told him: “Nothing is going to happen to you if you listen to the instructions.”

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Arnold, 54, faces seven charges including kidnapping, unlawful confinement, extortion and conspiracy in connection with the kidnapping of Sandra and James Helm of Moira, N.Y., on Sept. 27, 2020.

Read more: New York woman kidnapped and smuggled into Quebec in 2020 testifies about ordeal

The Crown says the couple were abducted over a drug debt owed by their grandson, Mackenzie Helm, who had been arrested by U.S. authorities six days earlier in possession of 50 kilograms of cocaine.

A Quebec provincial police tactical unit freed the couple two days later from a chalet in Magog, Que. Arnold was arrested the next day.

Arnold testified that on the day of the kidnapping during an exchange at a Montreal shopping mall, “Big” showed him photos of his common-law partner and her two daughters.

“He says as long as you do as you’re told, the girls will be good,” Arnold told the court. Arnold says he stayed quiet out of fear for his family.

On the evening of the abduction, Arnold said he was told to drive to Valleyfield and exchange his phone with an unnamed individual in the hours before the Helms were taken.

Read more: Officer testifies in case of New York couple kidnapped and smuggled into Quebec

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One piece of evidence the Crown showed was Arnold picking up catheters that Sandra Helm needed from a Valleyfield hospital. Arnold said he was sent there by “Big” after someone else had picked up the wrong medical equipment.

“It was no big deal,” Arnold said when asked why he didn’t try to hide his appearance on hospital videos. He said he didn’t know who the catheter was for, other than for a woman.

Arnold said previously when facing criminal charges he has pleaded guilty, but this case is different. “I’m not guilty,” he told the jurors.

Earlier Thursday, the jury heard from a private investigator hired by Arnold’s lawyer to retrieve documents from Arnold’s home near the Quebec-U.S. border in November 2021. Sylvain Tanguay said he found the letter Arnold referred to in a trash can.

Read more: Disappearance of New York couple found safe in Quebec under investigation as kidnapping

Defence lawyer John T. Pepper Jr. told the jury his client has a criminal record and is not a “perfect gentleman,” but he asked them to focus on the current charges.

“The accused will testify and say ‘This is what I went through, this is what I lived,”’ Pepper said. “The Crown’s got to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. I’m suggesting to you there’s a reason for which this gentleman partook in what he did.”

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The Crown concluded its case on Tuesday after testimony from the victims and a relative as well as a wealth of wiretap and cellular data.

“There are two sides to a coin, you’ve heard one side,” Pepper told the jury. “You’re going to get explanations, you’re going to get the other side of the coin.”

Arnold’s testimony continues on Friday.

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