An RCMP informant tells of her life inside a brutal drug ring
At this time of year, the fields around Abbotsford, B.C., are famous for tulips that carpet the flat land in purple and yellow and blood red. But last fall, the blood was real and the stain on this quiet farming community was dark. In the hours leading up to Sept. 11, 1996, two men walked into a white stucco farmhouse not far from the Fraser River with orders to settle an old score. They did their work with stunning brutality, leaving three bodies behind in the farmhouse and two more in a nearby shed. Shocked police speculated that the killings were drug-related. In fact, that was directly true of only two of the murders.
“It was the owner and her husband who were supposed to be killed,” says a young mother who emerged last week from a bizarre double life as both an RCMP informant and a confidante to a major crime figure.
The three other victims, said Tami Morrisroe, 26, were simply in the “wrong place at the wrong time.” Now, she herself is in the mob’s line of fire—Morrisroe, her two children, her commonlaw husband and her brother have been relocated and given new names and identities under the federal Witness Protection Program. Police expect her to be a key Crown witness at a series of murder and drug trials.
The origins of the mass murder in Abbotsford, like a spree of other crimes across Canada, lie in a Cali, Colombia-based cocaine trafficking conspiracy first disclosed in detail in Maclean’s March 31 cover story. Last June, the RCMP boasted that its investigation of the syndicate had netted the force one of its largest drug seizures ever—more than 400 kilos of cocaine hidden in shipments of cookware and mops. But the Mounties have struggled to keep a tight lid on other aspects of the case and the gang’s role, not only in the Abbotsford massacre but also in the contract killings of two RCMP informants, Ernesto Albornoz in Montreal and Eugene Uyeyama in Vancouver. In fact, Maclean’s has learned, the organization is responsible for more than a dozen, possibly as many as two dozen, murders in Canada, including the
August, 1996, shooting of former speed-skiing champion Terry Watts in Vancouver. And Morrisroe, a primary police source in at least nine of the homicides, was the RCMP’s main pipeline into a Vancouver cell under the Cali cartel’s control.
In more than eight hours of interviews with Maclean’s, she revealed her role in the RCMP investigation—which has so far cost $12 million— and how she infiltrated the organization’s Vancouver leadership. Her case, and the RCMP’s investigation of the drug-smuggling conspiracy, have raised disturbing questions about the Mounties’ treatment and protection of informants and the force’s slowness in laying charges.
Morrisroe says that her role as an undercover informant had its roots in her personal quest for justice. She has fond memories of growing up in the 1970s in middle-class comfort in suburban Burnaby, B.C.—and of her father, Sid Morrisroe, a flamboyant plumbing contractor and exprizefighter. “He was always there for us,” she recalled. “My father was my hero.” But that happy childhood ended abruptly in 1983, when Tami was just 13. Her parents were in the middle of a messy divorce when a drifter named Scott Forsyth shot and killed 71-year-old Joe Philliponi, a Vancouver nightclub owner with underworld connections who had promoted boxing matches for her father. Weeks later, Vancouver police charged Sid Morrisroe with planning the crime.
The following year, a jury found both men guilty of first-degree murder—and Morrisroe, now 63, was sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 25 years. But he has consistently denied any involvement in the crime, and for six years, his daughter has waged a tireless legal and public relations campaign to overturn that verdict. In a 1992 application to the federal justice department seeking a review of her father’s conviction under Section 690 of the Criminal Code, Tami Morrisroe alleged questionable police practices during the original investigation and claimed that new evidence would show that he had been framed.
One source of new evidence was an inmate named Sal whom Morrisroe befriended in 1993 while visiting her father at Ferndale Institution—a beautifully landscaped minimum security prison near Vancouver. Intense and irritable, with dirty blond hair, bad teeth and a pock-marked face, Sal would later introduce her to a world of death and drugs. He was nearing the end of a four-year sentence handed down after he and an accomplice stole a transport truck cab and engaged police in a running gun battle in 1990. And according to Morrisroe, he volunteered that he was related to the murdered Philliponi—and asserted that it was an open secret in the family that Sid Morrisroe had been “the patsy” in a clan power struggle.
But on Oct. 18, 1995, the department of justice rejected Sid Morrisroe’s application for a new trial, and his request for a new investigation of the 1983 murder.
The decision by Justice Minister Allan Rock ran to 75 pages. Government lawyers had contacted Sal, who was by then out of prison and running an auto body shop in Vancouver, but he denied making statements about Morrisroe’s innocence. Tami Morrisroe says he later apologized to her, saying he could not betray his relatives to the authorities. In desperation, she decided to lure the ex-convict into repeating his earlier assertions. “I thought if I can get him on tape and take it to Rock, they’re going to have to do something,” she says.
By then, though, other events that would rock Morrisroe’s world were already in play. That fall, the Mounties had received a tip from one of their informants in Montreal, a Colombian trafficker named Ernesto Albornoz, that a Mafia organization in Montreal was dispatching couriers—known as mules—to pick up a large shipment of cocaine from the Cali-controlled cell in Vancouver. Albornoz’s information led the RCMP to the seizure of 270 kilos of coke, about $200,000 in cash and an AR-10 assault rifle in the last week of September, 1995. Two couriers were arrested, but a handful of other traffickers were merely questioned and released.
One of them, Eugene Uyeyama, decided to “roll over” and become an RCMP informant.
In fact, Uyeyama—like Sal— was a deputy leader of the Vancouver organization, headed by a shadowy representative of the Cali cartel named Carlos. And in October, 1995, Uyeyama gave the RCMP a tip that would lead to the cookware and mops seizures the following year—shipments that were purchased from the cartel by the Montreal mob. But the bosses in Colombia suspected leaks in the Canadian end of their operations and dispatched lieutenants to conduct a security review. On Dec. 21, Uyeyama and his wife of two months, Michele, were tortured, strangled to death and then set on fire in their Vancouverarea home. (Three months later, Albornoz was shot to death in his Montreal apartment.)
Sal had been out of town at the time of the Uyeyama hit. But when he resurfaced on the coast shortly after Christmas, Morrisroe
sought him out. He was pleased to renew their acquaintance at a local restaurant, where Morrisroe asked him why he had been out of town. “He said, ‘A couple of people had to be taken out and if I’d been around, I’d have been a suspect,’ ” she recalls. The explanation struck fear into the young woman. “I thought, what am I getting myself into?”
Over the next several weeks, Morrisroe says she continued to meet Sal and court his trust. At least one friend, unaware other covert activity, concluded that Morrisroe, who lived with her common-law husband, Claudio Delazzari, was having an affair. A critical turning point came when Sal offered to pay her to help count the gang’s money. On one night, Morrisroe says, she helped count $6.6 million in cash. “Money to them is everything,” she says. “When I was trusted with their money, I was trusted with their lives.”
By the time spring turned into summer, the gang’s trust in Morrisroe was nearly complete. But it was trust that carried a frightening risk. Morrisroe realized that her earlier plan to tape Sal’s evidence about her father on her own had been dangerously naïve. If she ever was discovered using the tape, she said, “I knew I would be dead. By this point, I’m in way over my head.”
Then, in late June, Canadian officials, acting on a tip from the Los Angeles police, stopped one of the gang’s cars as it returned across the border from an aborted drug buy in Los Angeles. After a search, the RCMP seized $600,000 in American bills from a hidden compartment. On July 5,1996, with Sal and a Chinese-Canadian accomplice following her in another car, Morrisroe drove her gold 1984 BMW to the RCMP’s Vancouver headquarters to file a claim to recover the money on the gang’s behalf. Once inside the building, however, a nervous Morrisroe abandoned the tale the gang had concocted for her about earning the money in stock deals. Instead, she told the police the truth. “I think they were pretty surprised,” she says now. The Mounties were also initially skeptical.
For the next several weeks, two officers kept in discreet touch with her, while her background and tips were checked.
Meanwhile, Morrisroe’s initiation into organized crime continued. She spent time at the auto body shop where Sal and others built secret compartments into cars to conceal drugs and money. She became accustomed to hearing murder discussed as a normal course of business. “They talked about killing like it was nothing,” she recalls. And, she says, she heard frequent and troubling references to the influence that drug money could buy. Often, she says, Sal and his associates boasted that “they’ve got police and judges and politicians on the payroll.”
Morrisroe says that Sal came to view her as his girlfriend. “I led him to believe there were problems between me and Claudio,” she says. “We’d hold hands.” But, she insists,
“we never slept together, OK?” Even so, the ex-con was intensely possessive and controlling. “If we were out at a restaurant,” she says, “I had to sit on the inside of him, not the outside. I was considered his woman.”
She also became a regular visitor at the $200,000 duplex occupied by Sal’s sister on a cul-de-sac in Coquitlam.
By August, Morrisroe saw concrete proof that the gang did more than just talk about murder. One evening, she sat in the duplex’s kitchen and watched Sal washing a pistol and bullets in vinegar. The acid, he explained, would obscure fingerprints on the weapon.
The gun was put to use that night. Four days later, Vancouver police found the body of former alpine ski racer Watts, 41, in a parked rental car in Vancouver’s Chinatown after passersby complained of a foul odor coming from the trunk. Watts, Morrisroe says,
“worked with [Sal’s] people a few years ago, and ripped them off.” The amount: half a million dollars. More recently, Watts had been living in Venezuela but, desperate for cash, was lured back to Canada by the Vancouver gang with the promise of another deal. Says Morrisroe: “They brought Terry back specifically to kill him.”
The Watts murder, which Morrisroe says she did not know about in advance, sharply heightened the RCMP’s interest in her. She continued to feed information to her handlers, although she still had not signed a contract that would make her an official RCMP informant. But as the summer of
Tf I ever tried to leave, they would kill me and my family'
1996 slipped away, the RCMP became increasingly convinced other credibility. That conviction was cemented when Morrisroe reported to her RCMP handlers that Sal had been in Abbotsford around the time that Sonto Graves, 56, her 70-year-old husband, Raymond, and 37-year-old son, Karnail Sangha, as well as Darryl and Theresa Klassen, both 30, were murdered. Those killings, says Morrisroe, were also in retribution for an unpaid drug debt—the Graveses owed Carlos $500,000.
Then on Sept. 20, Sal announced without preamble that Morrisroe was going to marry him. Her consent was taken for granted. Two days later, Sal’s Chinese-Canadian partner acted as best man and his sister served as maid of honor in a strained wedding ceremony held at the duplex. “I was vibrating, my knees were shaking,” remembers Morrisroe. On the street outside, police “zeros”—surveillance experts, so-called because their official designation is Special Operations or “Special-Os”—kept watch. The following night, Sal consummated the marriage in characteristic mob fashion. “He handcuffed me to a bed and I was violently raped,” says Morrisroe.
Hours later, Morrisroe signed an RCMP informant contract and was flown to Ottawa for a week’s rest. Her sudden absence heightened tensions—she told Sal that she needed surgery for a torn cervix—and prompted arguments with Delazzari. While in the capital, she also put in writing her best recollections of her contacts with the gang in the previous weeks. When she returned, her unexpected career as an undercover agent moved into high gear. Over the next seven weeks, she met almost daily with her RCMP handlers, who had placed taps on dozens of the gang’s phones. Most meetings took place late at night in the Delta airport hotel, less than five minutes by car from the tree-shaded bungalow that Morrisroe continued to share with Delazzari and their children.
When her own car was in for repairs, she borrowed vehicles belonging to the gang—and delivered them to RCMP technicians to be fitted with electronic bugs and tracking devices. On other occasions, she sketched floor plans of gang members’ residences so that RCMP zeros could enter surreptitiously and plant more bugs. In all, she says, the Mounties recorded thousands of hours of secret discussions among the mobsters.
It was a risky, frightening time. “I was in danger 24 hours a day,” Morrisroe says now. On several occasions, she recalls, gang members made it clear that “if I ever tried to leave the organization, they would kill me and my family.” She knew it was not an idle threat—during that time she discovered that the gang had also been involved in the Uyeyama and Albornoz murders. And Sal boasted of having personally been involved in “a couple of dozen” murders, including a hit where he killed a man, his lover and her 10-year-old son. “When he talks about killing, his whole demeanor changes,” she says. “I think he enjoys it.” On one occasion, he described a God-like feeling when he “puts tape over [victims’] mouths and listens to them try to scream.”
The end came just before Remembrance Day. Concerned that the gang’s suspicions about her were growing, Morrisroe’s RCMP handlers called an end to her undercover career on Nov. 9, 1996. She telephoned Delazzari from a downtown Vancouver hotel in the middle of the night, and he roused the couple’s two children, both of them under 8, packed a few belongings and fled the family house. The next day, they entered the federal Witness Protection Program with new names. By then, Morrisroe says, the RCMP possessed ample evidence of the cell’s links to overlords in Colombia, its largescale cocaine smuggling by sea and land, and nine of the gang’s murders in Vancouver and Montreal.
'When I was tmsted with their money, I was tmsted with their lives'
She had also provided them with the prime suspect in the Abbotsford massacre. The man she calls Bobby is a 41-year-old career criminal and native of Victoria who has been in and out of jail since 1972. In Vancouver in 1975, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison on three counts of attempted murder. Released early, he received another 15-year sentence in Montreal in 1980—this time for conspiracy to commit robbery. His criminal history prompted a B.C. Supreme Court judge to tell Bobby that he had a “dreadful record involving crimes of violence.” The judge imposed a life sentence for a terrifying 1986 bank robbery in Surrey “to put a stop to your predatory activities for as long as possible.”
As long as possible turned out to be six years. Bobby received day parole in September, 1993. He lived in an Abbotsford-area halfway house during the week, and stayed at Sal’s Coquitlam home on weekends. A year before the murders at the farmhouse, police in neighboring Matsqui charged him with drunk and dangerous driving and with leaving the scene of an accident. According to Morrisroe, Sal told her—in a conversation recorded by devices planted by the police— that he hired Bobby and an accomplice, Mark, to carry out the slayings. She also says that police discovered that the killers made telephone calls from the farm at the estimated time of the murders to Sal’s cell phone and to a pager used by the gangster. Days after the bloodbath, says Morrisroe, Sal gave her a gun, subsequently revealing that Bobby had had it with him at the crime scene. When he later ordered her to get rid of it, she turned the weapon over to the RCMP, but assured the gang she had thrown it into the Fraser River.
Bobby remained free until his parole was revoked after he was caught driving on Sept. 28,1996, while his licence was under suspension. Today, he is behind bars, continuing his life sentence at Kent Institution, a maximum security prison 70 km east of Vancouver. But nearly six months after the RCMP withdrew Morrisroe from her risky role as an informant, no new charges have been laid against him or three others closely involved in the hits. And although senior RCMP officials confirmed Morrisroe’s role in the investigation to Maclean’s, none would comment publicly. In a letter to Morrisroe in February, however, Insp. Gary Bass thanked his undercover agent for “the important contribution you have made to our ongoing investigation.”
In fact, the force has gone to great lengths to discourage media scrutiny of the murders and their aftermath. Investigators persuaded the Vancouver Province, for one, to withhold a story about Morrisroe’s undercover life for four months (the paper published an eight-page report last week). Privately, police sources say that charges against gang members were postponed while investigators pursued more senior members of the organization, some of them outside Canada.
At least one individual linked to the killing spree has eluded police surveillance and gone underground. On May 31,1996, Sylvain Malacket, a Montreal-based enforcer and drug dealer, was charged with trafficking for his role in the B.C. cocaine bust in September, 1995—the one prompted by the Montreal informant Albornoz’s tip. Malacket was scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing next week, but he has not reported to the Mounties, as required by his bail, since mid-February, and police suspect he has fled Canada.
The loose ends in the investigation raise troubling questions—not least for Morrisroe’s young family. “I’m afraid they’re going to have my Dad killed, and then they’re going to have me killed,” Morrisroe says. “The RCMP told me that if I got on a plane back to Vancouver, I’d be dead 15 seconds after landing. All of those guys [in the gang] know what I did, and they’re still walking the streets.” In letters to both Justice Minister Rock and Solicitor General Herb Gray late last November, and again in mid-April, Morrisroe revealed her role as an RCMP agent. Noting that cartel members bent on retaliation would have little trouble targeting her incarcerated father, she pleaded with the Liberal ministers to allow Sid Morrisroe to join her in the witness program. For his protection, Morrisroe was moved last week into the medium security Matsqui Institution. Meanwhile, Rock told Maclean’s that Justice officials are once again reviewing Morrisroe’s conviction and incarceration.
But Tami Morrisroe is bitter and angry. “Rock has just put my family more in danger than they were at the beginning.” Critics in other parties, meanwhile, accuse Rock of failing to take the family’s safety seriously enough. “We know that prisons are not secure against violence,” says NDP Justice critic Chris Axworthy. “Mr. Morrisroe’s life is in danger—they should treat this as a serious risk and do something about it.” The slowness of police and prosecutors to lay charges, and the refusal of the Liberal government to intercede on her father’s behalf, leaves Tami Morrisroe ruing her decision to infiltrate the drug cartel and, ultimately, become an RCMP informant. If she had known what she was getting into, she says, she would never have done it. She is in hiding, in danger and—to her dismay—still legally married to Sal, whom she describes contemptuously as “a real low-life.” At night, she is haunted by a dream. In it, she frantically hides her children in big Tupper ware hampers from a predator who has been sent to kill them and her. “I dread nighttime,” says Tami Morrisroe. It is a nightmare that, she knows, could easily come true. □