The mass murderer was a thief, a drug runner, and a corrupt tax cheat.
The financial “misdealings” of the man who murdered 22 people in Nova Scotia on April 18 and 19, 2022, who the Halifax Examiner refers to as GW, are detailed in the latest document published by the Mass Casualty Commission. The findings include:
• When Fredericton lawyer Tom Evans died in 2009, GW took control of Evans’ assets, including two apartment buildings. He locked out directors of the companies that owned the buildings, failed to pay claims on the estate, and lied to the probate court. He then sold the buildings and shifted the proceeds out of the estate to himself.
• On at least two occasions, GW attempted to swindle others of their real estate. One attempt was successful.
• The personal papers discovered after GW’s death include a list, in his handwriting, of large amounts of cannabis. The list is written on the back of a 2018 Via Rail boarding pass for a trip from Montreal to Guildwood in Toronto. While the list is the only concrete evidence of illicit drug running, other circumstantial evidence suggests he and Evans were involved in the drug trade.
• GW’s denturist business relied heavily on insurance fraud and unreported cash transactions.
• While he and his commonlaw spouse Lisa Banfield were living a life of comfort, which included multiple vehicles, regular trips to the Caribbean, an expansive cottage and motorbike playground in Portapique, GW reported an average annual income of less than $40,000, and Banfield of less than $20,000.
• In 2019, GW and Toronto lawyer Kevin von Bargen plotted to illegally profit from the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIPP), a government initiative that fast-tracked permanent residency for immigrants after one year of employment at a sponsoring business. The scheme would involve GW supposedly employing applicants at the denturist clinic, but they would never actually work there; instead, the immigrants would pay a large upfront “administrative fee” to von Bargen and GW, and then pay for their own salaries and living expenses for the year. The plot was aborted only when GW realized that, as his own tax-reported salary through the denturist clinic was so low, suddenly employing immigrants at higher salaries would draw the attention of tax auditors.
GW met Fredericton lawyer Tom Evans when he (GW) was 18 or 19 years old and attending the University of New Brunswick. The two had a friendship through the rest of Evans’ life; GW visited Evans in New Brunswick, and Evans visited GW in Portapique.
It’s unclear if GW had a sexual relationship with Evans, but multiple witnesses have told police and commission investigators that Evans sexually preyed on young men and boys.
In November 1990, Evans was convicted of sexually assaulting “a 17-year-old boy he had helped get released from jail in April,” reported the Canadian Press. “The court was told Evans took the boy and a friend back to his apartment and served them mugs of rum and Coke before the incident.” Evans was sentenced to three months in jail for the assault, and fined $1,000 for serving liquor to minors. “Evans told the court he was sincerely sorry about the whole matter.”
Evans resigned from the New Brunswick Law Society, but appealed the conviction. A Court of Appeals decision details the incident:
At the time, Mr. Evans was a forty year old lawyer living in Fredericton. The victim and a friend, who were both teenagers, had been detained by the R.C.M.P. for being intoxicated. The friend called Mr. Evans, who secured their release. In a sense, he was in a position of trust to the two young men as they were released into his custody. He then took them to his residence, where he supplied liquor to both in an admitted attempt to seduce the victim. He remained sober. He lied about the victim’s whereabouts when a telephone enquiry to his residence was made on behalf of the victim’s mother. His plan to seduce the victim was premeditated.
Evans argued that he had “an honest, even if mistaken, belief that the victim had consented.” The court rejected the appeal.
At the time of the sexual assault, Evans was also representing a man employed by the Medellín Cartel, Wilmer Raymon Zanabria, who had been convicted as part of a brazen plot to break two men out of jail.
In April 1989, Jose Ali Galindo-Escobar and Fernando Augusto Mendoza-Jaramillo, both of Colombia, were piloting a white, twin engine Aero Commander 1000 towards the Fredericton airport. The plane was carrying 500 kilograms of cocaine, with an alleged street value of $25 million, destined for Montreal.
The pilots, however, were unaware that they were being targeted by a joint US-Canadian undercover law enforcement team dubbed “Operation Overstep.” The plan was to allow the two to land with the cocaine, and the ground crew, consisting of undercover RCMP officers, would load the drugs onto vans, and follow the vans to ultimately arrest the Montreal drug lords.
But the plane, flying low, struck a tree and crash landed at the Fredericton airport. The two pilots ran into the woods, which disrupted the plan to follow the drugs into Montreal. The pilots were captured and arrested, and the RCMP announced the largest drug seizure in Canadian history.
Escobar and Mendoza-Jaramillo were held at the Fredericton jail while awaiting trial. And the Medellín Cartel wanted them out.
A team of five men — Wilmer Raymon Zanabria, Julio Eulojio Manzano-Bustamente, William Jose Rodriguez, Juan Carlo Hernandez, and Tito Sanchez Ruiz — were sent to New Brunswick, with the aim of attacking the jail and spiriting Escobar and Mendoza-Jaramillo to the Loon Bay Lodge on the St. Croix River; they would cross the river on a Zodiac boat, and a second team of 11 men would secure their passage back to Colombia.
Due in part to a sharp-eyed clerk at a convenience store in Riviere-Verte, who thought the men were acting suspiciously and contacted the RCMP, the jail break plot was interrupted. The sentencing judge listed some of the material the men had in their possession:
A short time later Edmundston City Police apprehended Bustamante driving the red Chevrolet Sprint Rodriguez had rented in Saint John six days before. When the vehicle was searched it was found to contain, among other things, six handguns, one Uzi semi-automatic, two rifles and several hundred rounds of ammunition, Bustamante’s passport, a receipt for rental of the car, Bustamante’s airline tickets, close to $1800.00 in cash…
At about the same time in Edmundston [Sanchez Ruiz] was apprehended driving a brown Chevrolet van with New York plates. Registration and insurance documents showed the owner of the van as Martha Y. Arias of 76-10 34th Avenue 1H, Jackson Heights, New York. Again the Accused said he was on vacation and was on his way to Quebec. When that vehicle was searched it was found to contain, among other things, the Accused’s passport, identity card and airline tickets, packs or bags containing clothing, boots, food, and the passports already mentioned bearing the photographs of the prisoner[s] Jaramillo and Escobar. Some of the witnesses said those packs were in the Chev[y] Sprint but I am satisfied they were in the van. Also found in the van were a plastic bag containing cartridge boxes, 4 bolt cutters with the brand name RIGID, an orange bag containing ten flares, the Zodiac rubber boat and accessories that had been purchased in Fairvale on August 9, a prybar, a heavy maul or sledgehammer, a shovel, a pick, an axe, a Honda generator, an electric grinding tool with a long extension cord attached, a spare grinding wheel, a face shield and a balaclava. The tools and generator appear to be in mint condition. There was no serial number on either the generator or the grinder.
Two hours later Zanabria and Hernandez were apprehended in Edmundston driving the while [sic] Buick with the tinted windows. From that car the police recovered additional weapons — a loaded .22 handgun with 30 rounds of ammunition and an electric stungun….
The next day in Saint John Rodriguez was apprehended with the Plymouth he had rented four days earlier. Among items found in the car or on the person of Rodriquez were two revolvers, one with two barrels, over 90 rounds of ammunition, passports, the warranty card for the Zodiac boat, an instruction and parts outline for the RIGID boltcutters, three first aid kits, a large quantity of camping gear and two walkie-talkie radios. Rodriguez also had over $5000.00 in cash in U.S. and Canadian currency. The sheet respecting the boltcutters indicates their capacity to be from ¼ inch to 5/8 of an inch. There was also found in a pack in that car an envelope containing 35 photographs and 28 negatives. One photograph is of the Fredericton City Hall.
Zanabria appealed his conviction, and that’s where Tom Evans entered the picture. After Evans resigned from the bar, Zanabria’s appeal was taken over by lawyer C. David Hughes; the appeal was dismissed.
Everyone is entitled to a defence. Fredericton is a small city, and there are not many lawyers. And there is no evidence that Evans was directly in communication with the Medellín Cartel, much less in business with them. But it’s hard not to speculate, especially considering that a witness thought that Evans and GW were transporting drugs.
Joe Cartwright lived in Evans’ boarding house in Fredericton at around 2005, when Cartwright was still a teenager. A carpenter and general handyman, Cartwright did renovations and repair work on the building. After the murders, Cartwright told police investigators that Evans had told him he and GW were smuggling tobacco together back when GW was in university.
Evans introduced Cartwright to GW, and Cartwright travelled with Evans to Portapique, where Cartwright worked on GW’s properties — Cartwright installed a tile floor in a bathroom, for example. Cartwright didn’t like GW, and feared him — Cartwright referred to GW as Evans’ “Darth Vader.”
Cartwright was interviewed by police in May 2020, and he was convinced then that if police searched GW’s property, they’d find more bodies, dating back 15 years. He had no evidence for this, and didn’t know of any specific people who had gone missing, but based his suspicion on GW’s general demeanour. (No other remains were discovered on the property.)
“I’m pretty sure they [Evans and GW] were moving coke on a pretty high level,” said Cartwright:
But, I, that’s hearsay. I have no. I didn’t see it. I didn’t take part in it. But there was a lot of, a lot traffic at times and there was a lot of duffle bags being put out at times, that weren’t for eyes only, type thing. Put in the back of the truck and then stopped before the house, put into the basement and then, continued on with what we were doing. Lots of those. Um, the trips to the dental, the dental clinic, similar. I never knew what was in them.
Evans died in 2009, and Cartwright never returned to Portapique.
Evans’ paid obituary in the New York Times says that his “sudden death” occurred on November 5, 2009, when he was 60.
GW’s Via Rail boarding pass was for a trip nine years later. There’s no evidence that he was involved with transporting drugs during that period, but there’s also no explanation for how he suddenly would be in a position to acquire and presumably sell large quantities of cannabis. The list reads “5LB = $5,000,” and then names various strands of Sativa.
Lisa Banfield told investigators that she never saw GW using drugs, and was unaware of any drug trafficking by GW, but said that he had talked about a denturist named Ralph Hughes who had “made a lot of money in that” — presumably in drug running.
Then there are GW’s many trips to a resort in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, during which GW left Banfield at the resort and travelled alone to the city all day, returning in the evening for supper and drinks. No one knows what he was doing during those trips.
This post will be updated with other aspects of GW’s financial wrongdoings.