Quebec man accused in abduction of American couple over drug debt denies involvement

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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 on trial for the kidnapping of a couple from Upstate New York who were smuggled into Quebec in September 2020

denied any knowledge of the abduction plot Friday, testifying that he was never inside their house and never met them.

Gary Arnold, on the stand for a second day, told the jury he did not know kidnapping victims Sandra and James Helm or any members of their family and has never been to Magog, Que., where the couple were held until they were freed by police.

“Did you in any way, shape or form, know of a kidnapping?” defence lawyer John T. Pepper Jr. asked.

“No,” Arnold told the court.

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

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Arnold, 54, faces seven charges including kidnapping, unlawful confinement, extortion and conspiracy stemming from the Sept. 27 abduction of the couple in their 70s, allegedly over a drug debt incurred by their grandson, Mackenzie Helm.

The Crown alleges the couple were kidnapped as leverage to recoup missing drugs or $3.5 million cash. They were taken from their home and ferried into Quebec through the Mohawk territory of Akwesasne, before being driven to Magog, about 125 kilometres southeast of Montreal.

A Quebec provincial police tactical unit freed the couple on Sept. 29 from a cottage in Magog while a second tactical unit intercepted Arnold and seized a cellphone in St-Isidore, about 140 kilometres west of where the couple were found.

The Crown concluded its evidence this week after hearing from Sandra Helm, who said Arnold had been one of the people in her home. Her husband has since died.

Arnold, who was arrested on Oct. 1, 2020, told jurors on Thursday a criminal group threatened him and his family.

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

He said he’d been summoned to a meeting with a man he dubbed “Big” who assigned him tasks such as sending messages to various numbers, transporting phones and picking up a catheter from a hospital in Valleyfield, Que. That hospital visit early on Sept. 28 was caught on video.

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Arnold testified Friday he didn’t inform investigators after his arrest about the threats, worried the co-accused in the case would catch wind of his statement.

“I thought about it and I said, if I say stuff about this guy ‘Big’ or that I got threatened … are they going to report back to ‘Big’ and say ‘He ratted on us’?” Arnold said. “Either they’d get me in jail, or go after the kids and (my spouse).”

Arnold also told jurors a cellphone that was given to him by “Big” was not in his possession for several hours between the evening of Sept. 27 until early on Sept. 28, 2020, because he had been instructed to swap it with another person.

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