One man was convicted while another walked free as a Yellowknife court heard how police suspected a city apartment became a stash house for a drug distribution network.
In the summer of 2017, RCMP announced a haul of cocaine, firearms, and cash after a major drug sweep that resulted in the arrest of seven people – five suspected of moving to Yellowknife to sell drugs.
“This group is part of a larger network operating throughout Canada, and it is concerning that they were attempting to establish a foothold in Yellowknife,” Sgt Dean Riou said at the time.
“We are pleased our short investigation resulted in the seizure of guns and cocaine, as well as significant proceeds derived from the sale of drugs.”
Late last week, officers’ suspicions about an Executive Apartments suite on 54 Avenue were proven true. However, only one of two men associated with the suite was found guilty after an NWT Supreme Court trial.
Liban Mohamood Mohammed, 28, of Calgary, was convicted and will be sentenced this summer. Gary James Gattie, 52, of Yellowknife, walked free.
The two were jointly charged with two crimes: possession of property obtained by crime and possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking.
“The Crown’s position is that Mr Gattie’s apartment was being used as a stash house to store drugs by Mr Mohammed,” said Justice Shannon Smallwood, adding the drug deals themselves would be conducted elsewhere.
“What was at issue is if the cocaine and money found in the upstairs bedroom was in the possession of either of the accused.”
Safes, bank deposits, and phones
Gattie argued he didn’t have access to the locked room. While police found a fingerprint on the outside of one safe, the drugs and money were found in another, larger safe.
“There were any number of innocent explanations for how Mr Gattie’s fingerprints could have gotten on the outside of the safe,” said Smallwood.
“Mr Mohammed’s position is that he had no key and no access to the locked bedroom.”
On August 31, 2017, RCMP set up surveillance on the Executive Apartments, investigating the comings and goings of the suspects. The apartment block is across from a playground and above a popular fitness club.
In an effort to see who was in the apartment, RCMP on September 5 even staged a traffic stop – complete with lights and sirens – right below Gattie’s apartment to determine who was inside. Gattie came to the window, as did another dark-skinned man who could not be identified.
On September 8, police used a battering ram on the apartment door, finding Mohammed inside. He initially gave a false name. When he was arrested, a bank deposit slip for $1,600 was found in his pocket.
Downstairs, mail was found addressed to Gattie along with his passport. There was also some drug paraphernalia and white powder residue, the court heard. The downstairs bedroom showed a person was living there.
Police gained entry to the upstairs bedroom by kicking in the door. Inside were two safes, 293 grams of crack cocaine with an estimated street value of $46,000, and $52,325 in cash, plus small baggies, digital scales, and several cell phones – one with text messages about drug deals.
Also found were boarding passes for flights from Alberta with the names of different people, a drug and alcohol testing card, and a suitcase with a bank receipt showing a $2,000 deposit inside.
Gattie was arrested at the downtown Subway restaurant an hour later. He had in his possession two cell phones and a bundle of small denomination bills totalling about $590.
A few days later, police reviewed cameras at Yellowknife’s CIBC branch and saw Mohammed making transactions corresponding to the dates on the slips previously seized. After reading texts on one of his phones, police later determined Mohammed was sending money to his wife.
“Overall, I think it is very likely Mr Gattie was involved in this drug trafficking operation, but the evidence does not satisfy me beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Smallwood, reading her decision on Friday. “Banking records and the contents of Liban Mohammed’s cell phone further strengthen the conclusion that he was one of the people occupying the upstairs bedroom.
“Based on all the evidence, I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Liban Mohammed was occupying the upstairs bedroom and had knowledge and control over the cocaine and cash located in the safe.”
Gattie walked out of court a free man on Friday.
Mohammed, who was on the phone from Alberta with his lawyer, returns to Yellowknife to be sentenced on June 8. He had been on parole at the time of the 2017 arrest.
Of the five others charged in that September 2017 police sweep, two have pleaded guilty in earlier proceedings. Charges were stayed in the three other cases.