The Case of the Drug-Penddling Priest
A crooked priest, a minor racketeer, the big boss and his mistress—the Mounties sent a human decoy into the lion's den and he brought them back alive
THE MOUNTIES • PART FOOR:
Detective fiction pales beside this true story of how the Mounties tangled with a Montreal heroin ring. Braving the violent death that stalked his steps, the young undercover man closed a perfect case only to suffer sad disappointment
¡¡IlllgS FRANK DeCHEVERRY sauntered down the street toward Montreal’s Central Station, unknown gangsters watched him. When he turned his head he could see from the corner of his eye the black-robed figure of the pries:. Somewhere behind the priest, he knew, was a thick-set round-faced man whose gun scarcely bulged his elegant tailoring.
It had taken DeCheverry and the RCMP squad which he spearheaded six months to lure this man to the trap that was ready to spring this September morning. In the next few minutes DeCheverry would know whether the time, the risk and the thousands of dollars had been wasted, or whether he had captured the brains of the biggest wholesale drug ring in Canada.
Constable Frank DeCheverry is a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman, one of our federal plain-clothes men whose job is to keep the drug traffic in check. There are an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 addicts in Canada. They’re a far graver problem than their numbers indicate because, with few exceptions, they are criminals. They cannot hold a job. Their entire existence becomes a search for narcotics. The addict becomes a pickpocket, sneak thief, burglar, shoplifter, forger or pimp.
Women very often enter prostitution. These are no ordinary criminals. According to one survey, only two percent of the shoplifters in chain stores are addicts, but those two percent steal 96 percent of the value of the goods stolen. The money they siphon off from society is staggering, for heroin is worth, literally, more than one hundred times its weight in gold.
Legally, an ounce of heroin sells for $10 to $12. But an addict pays anywhere from $3 to $10 for one grain, and invariably this grain has been adulterated by fifty percent. There are 437 grains in one ounce. That means that an ounce, pure, by the time it has passed along the intricate underworld supply route to the addict brings anywhere from $2,500 to $8,500.
This incredible profit is reaped by an equally incredible criminal network. The individual racketeer has gone, and the traffic is controlled today by “syndicates” headed by the kind of man that Frank DeCheverry was stalking: clever, suave, outwardly well-mannered but inwardly as vicious and as dangerous as any old-time gangster.
The name syndicate suggests the new approach. The syndicate bosses have accountants and lawyers; they pay their employees fixed salaries or
commissions. They operate as efficiently as any modern business -except that their business is crime.
Cities like Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver may have several syndicates. They compete by raising the quality of their product or cutting the price, like any other business firm. No one man controls them all, a common misapprehension. Neither are they controlled from the U. S., though the U. S. syndicates often contribute capital.
The syndicates with the main retail outlets are in Vancouver, which has nearly half the addicts in Canada. The addicts buy from a street peddler, or “pusher,” who is frequently an addict himself. A pusher will service 15 or 20 addicts. He, in turn, gives his order to a “front-end” who tells his pushers where to find the constantly changing street caches. Behind the front-end is a “back-end,” who cuts the drug with sugar of milk to help the profit along, “caps” it (puts a grain in a gelatine capsule), and caches it in packages of 25 to 50 caps. Only the back-end, as a rule, knows the big boss, the “connection.”
The connection DeCheverry was hunting headed what might be called the drug department of his particular Montreal syndicate. He had several associates on the same level, racketeers who had grown rich on gambling profits. This was a wholesale syndicate and therefore simpler in structure than a retail organization.
Montreal is the main wholesale centre for Canada. The Montreal rings have contacts in New York, the main port of entry on this continent for heroin. The New York crime cartel has agents who buy from over-producing legal factories on this continent or from illegal factories in southern Europe. The factories distill morphine and the more concentrated heroin from raw opium. The illegal opium is smuggled in, usually by sea, from the poppy-growing lands of the Near and Far East.
The Script Was Written Backstage
It is only once, occasionally twice a year, that the RCMP can reach behind the addicts to the men who control the traffic. These men know every trick of the federal police. They lurk back in the shadows and let their front men take the risk. Even after the Montreal connection was known there was still the job of getting evidence that would stand up in court against the cross-examination of a skillful defense lawyer.
The investigation was a psychological drama spiced with danger. Most of the dialogue was a clash of wits between four members of the incongruous cast: the RCMP undercover man, a secret agent, a canny sociable racketeer, and a priest. But this dialogue was in large part prepared off stage, on one side by the two RCMP who directed the investigation, on the other by the syndicate boss. These were the real antagonists, unknown strangers working from experience and reports, probing in the dark for each other’s weaknesses. And in the background, the inevitable minor characters: the stool pigeons, the strong-arm men, a shady businessman from Quebec City and the pretty buxom mistress of a call house.
It began with an RCMP plain-clothes constable, Ross Andrews. At 27, Andrews was already an old hand in the drug squad, a big, relaxed, clearthinking policeman. He had good contacts among the addicts in Montreal. One day in January 1949 he picked up a tip that Jean-Claude Lapres was wholesaling narcotics in a big way.
Andrews was well acquainted with “Johnny” Lapres, a cagey racketeer on the fringe of the big time, a dealer in high-grade gold and a forme’ counterfeiter. In April, Andrews had his chance A businessman from Quebec City came into the Montreal CIB office. This man—we will call him André Houle -was mixed up in several shady business transactions and he wanted the Mounties’ good will. He knew an associate of Lapres and he offered to introduce an RCMP undercover man to him.
The chance was too good to let go. Inspector Wilson Brady, Andrews’ boss, sent in a reserve constable. He met Lapres’ associate and confirmed the fact that Lapres did have a large amount of heroin. But the strain of playing a double role before such a hard-eyed audience proved too much for his nerves. At the end of two days his hands shook when he lit a cigarette. It was too tough a job for an inexperienced man. Inspector Brady withdrew him before he was discovered.
This effort, while abortive, uncovered a fantastic fact. Lapres’ front man was a priest, Abbé Joseph Arthur Taillefer. He was trafficking in stolen bonds, counterfeit money, black-market gasoline and alcohol as well as drugs.
The bonds appeared to be the loot from some bank holdups in Ontario. Brady approached the Royal Bank with this news. A head-office official, Cleo Fee, offered to put up $3,500 toward the expense of what Brady warned RCMP headquarters might be “a long and costly operation ...”
The investigation was put in charge of Raoul Carriere, an intense, bright, hard-working corporal (now an inspeei tor). Ross Andrews, the veteran drug j man, was assigned to assist him. They j were to be the brain trust of the j investigation.
As they were waiting for headquarters to find them a man who could work undercover, Frank DeCheverry, a hefty, dark-haired, good-looking con¡ stable was transferred to Montreal j from Quebec City. He was quickj witted, shrewd, self-assured, and single, j Most of his adult life had been spent in j the Air Force and the RCMP. But he | looked and acted like a man who had J been around—with money in his | pocket. And, most imperative, he was a Catholic. Cpl. Carriere realized they had found their undercover man in their own division.
Enter Henri-Paul Papillon
Carriere and Andrews spent days preparing DeCheverry’s fictitious background. He had to be a Frenchspeaking out-of-towner who knew Montreal. He had to have a good reason for having no permanent address the mob could check on. They decided to make him a secret inspector for a hotel chain, a man who traveled from coast to coast sizing up the service in competing hotels.
Now they had to have someone to introduce him. André Houle, the Quebec City businessman, had fallen out with Lapres. Lapres’ men had threatened to have Houle “beat up and left in a ditch.” Carriere and Andrews pressed Houle to name someone else. He suggested a man who did odd jobs for him in Quebec City, Henri-Paul Papillon. Papillon knew the priest through Houle.
Carriere checked on Papillon. He had six children and needed money badly. He was ex-Army Provost Corps and had no criminal record, no trade, no regular employment. On April 11 Carriere called him long-distance. He appealed to Papillon’s sense of duty, adding that the Royal Bank would guarantee his expenses, and if the bonds were recovered he could claim a reward. Papillon agreed to catch the Montreal train that afternoon.
Carriere at once booked two adjoining rooms in a large hotel. DeCheverry, who had never worked undercover before, went downtown and bought himself a light-blue suit, neither flashy nor conservative. Andrews and his wife composed letters on the stationery of various hotels, hinting of shady deals and promiscuity. Andrews knew that the wily Lapres would search DeCheverry’s room for information and these letters would begin to fill in DeCheverry’s undercover character.
Papillon, their secret agent (an RCMP term), met them in the room that night, a thin, wiry man with a little moustache. “This is Frank Martin,” said Garriere, indicating DeCheverry. “He’s a fast-buck operator who talks of Winnipeg, Halifax, Toronto and the States. He’s fixed you up with black-market coupons during the war. That’s all you know about him, except that he’s flush and he’s interested in B and H (bonds and heroin). Don’t forget, we want notes on everything that’s said and done.” Garriere glanced around the room, at the telegrams and the bottle of Scotch on the dresser, the barely visible letters in DeCheverry’s bathrobe pocket. “Are we all set?” DeCheverry nodded.
“A Little B and H, Please”
Cleaning his teeth that night DeCheverry was suddenly shocked to realize that his toothbrush had “RCMP” stamped on it. A detail had almost tripped them up before they had started.
In the morning Papillon went to St. Madeleine d’Outremont Parish to call on the Abbé Taillefer. The Abbé, in his late forties, was a sallow darkhaired man with a faintly harassed manner. Even in his priest’s robes he was thin, almost fragile. He had a local reputation as a dynamic preacher.
“I’ve stopped working for André Houle,” Papillon told him. The Quebec City businessman, he said, had tried to cheat him. He described DeCheverry. “A little commission in B and H would suit me fine, father,” he said.
The Abbé promised to talk with “Johnny,” the shrewd and convivial Lapres for whom he fronted. At 8.30 that night Lapres came into the hotel lobby, a medium-sized man, very sharply dressed. He had sensual lips,
a prominent nose and heavy-lidded, near-sighted eyes. He was a man who thought nothing of dropping five thousand dollars in one night of gambling, or of borrowing five dollars to eat on the next day. He was only 32 but he had been in the rackets a long time. He was very cunning, very wary. But Papillon was persuasive. “All right, I’ll deal,” said Lapres finally, “as long as you don’t introduce me to a horseman (meaning a Mountie).”
Up in the room, DeCheverry poured a couple of rounds of drinks and Lapres began to relax. “What do you want?” he asked DeCheverry, “I’ve got everything—gold, diamonds . . . . ”
“How much H can you give me?” DeCheverry asked.
“Any amount. Up to 120—pounds, not ounces.” Lapres was a boastful man who liked people to know he bought fifty-dollar shirts. But if what he said was only one-tenth true, he had an enormous supply.
“Is it pure?” asked DeCheverry.
“Everybody I do business with, they come back for more, that’s how pure it
is. ” Lapres turned wary. “Who’s it for? Yourself?”
“Hell, no,” said DeCheverry. He was too keyed up, like an actor on opening night.
“I don’t know how he figures he’s going to tell the stuff if he doesn’t use
it, ” Lapres said in a sneering aside to Papillon.
“I got ways,” said DeCheverry, forcing himself to be offhand. “You sell me an ounce, I’ll get it checked in an hour. This is no deal for a chocolate bar.”
“Okay. You’ve got identification? Driver’s license, letters?”
“I don’t carry that kind of stuff on a deal like this,” said DeCheverry. His instructions had been to let Lapres find out who he was for himself.
They continued to spar. Lapres showed a scar on his head which he said he had got by not being careful. “You think you got something?” said DeCheverry. He pointed to his jaw, broken by the kick of a horse during RCMP training. “I been crossed too.”
Finally the racketeer agreed to get the heroin. Papillon, the secret agent, whom DeCheverry was pretending not to trust, left with him. But Lapres didn’t pick up the drugs. He took PapiJlon into a tavern. He tried to get him drunk. He kept asking questions about DeCheverry. “You see how he’s dressed,” he said. “No flash. No stones. You sure he’s not one of those G--d——— horsemen?”
Papillon told the Mounties about it when he got back to the room, halfdrunk, in the early morning. “It’s time to show him some money,” Cpl. Carriere decided. Fee, the Royal Bank official, had agreed to deposit $35,000 in a safety-deposit box in DeCheverry’s cover name “Frank Martin” in the main branch of the Royal Bank.
The next day, DeCheverry took the racketeer in a cab to the bank. Fee himself ushered them into the vault. DeCheverry unlocked the safety-deposit box. “I’m the kind of a guy who deals in cash,” he told Lapres. “You want to see money? Look at that. 'There. You see what I got?”
Lapres’ eyes were bulging. “Feel the stuff,” said DeCheverry, carried away by his role. “You know counterfeit money. What’s this?” He picked up a package, riffled it grandiosely, and almost fainted away. Between a sandwich of real bills there was nothing but blank paper. (Garriere had padded out the $35,000 and neglected to mention it to DeCheverry.) He dropit like a hot coal. Lapres had noticed nothing. “Get your paws off,” DeCheverry snapped. “Now you know how I do business.”
Steel on His Heels
Back in the hotel cocktail lounge, Lapres’ caution struggled with his greed. Under the pretext of going to the washroom DeCheverry called the RCMP strategists in the room next to his. “You’re fed up,” Andrews told him. “That’s your line now.”
In the lounge, the racketeer was saying to Papillon. “I think he’s a flic. Look at the steel on his heels. Look at his belt. You think a guy with dough would wear a cheap belt like that?”
“I think you should have his room searched,” Papillon said, feigning fright. The skinny secret agent was proving exceptionally cool-headed. Lapres had no suspicions whatever about him.
DeCheverry came back to the lounge. “I figure I’m getting the runaround,” he told the racketeer. “I produce money and what do you produce—nothing but arguments.”
Lapres insisted DeCheverry produce an underworld reference. DeCheverry stalled; this sort of thing couldn’t be set up by phone. But Lapres refused to talk further business.
Next day DeCheverry checked out of the hotel and Papillon told Abbé Taillefer and Lapres that DeCheverry didn’t like the way they did business. The racketeer shrugged. “If he’s a horseman, it doesn’t matter. If not, he’ll be back.”
Garriere and Andrews, the backroom psychologists, decided to feed the syndicate a little more information. A week later Papillon arranged for DeCheverry to call the priest.
On the telephone the Abbé was nervous. He asked DeCheverry for his solemn word that everything was all right. “You’re not a Mountie, my son?”
“Oh no, father,” DeCheverry said, “God forbid.” The Abbé promised to see him the following day.
The Mountie met the priest in the presbytery parlor with its big, solid, old-fashioned furniture. “I respect your position, Father,” said DeCheverry, “You must also realize my position. I’m out to make a buck like you, but I have a good job too.” He explained his hotel connection. “I’m not going to let some two-bit punk like Lapres foul things up.” The abbé’s nervousness vanished. He called
“Rest easy,” said the priest. “We will ¿ill make a lot of money”
Lapres and told him “Martin” was “all right.”
Lapres now agreed to sell a sample ounce, although he was still suspicious. “You could still be a Mountie,” he told DeCheverry. “You got the shoulders for one.”
Next morning DeCheverry met Lapres and Papillon in the hotel lobby. DeCheverry handed Papillon $300— the agreed wholesale price. Nearby, ROMP plain-clothes men were watching. Lapres cautiously refused to count the money or touch it. “Meet me at the Club Tavern in ten minutes,” he told Papillon.
When Lapres reached the tavern a husky man named Rosaire Delisle was with him. They sat down and looked at Papillon in a way that made the secret agent uneasy. “I tell you what I think,” Lapres said softly, “I think you’re an ROMP sent to nail me.” The nerves in Papillon’s stomach tensed. Unless Lapres was bluffing his life wasn’t worth much. He laughed. “Let Delisle search you,” ordered Lapres.
Heroin on the Staircase
Papillon stood up, seemingly bored. Delisle patted his pockets, searching for a gun. He looked under his lapels for the pinpricks of a badge.
“All right,” said Lapres, “Give Delisle the money and you stay with me.”
Papillon relaxed; Lapres had been bluffing. “When I get the stuff,” he said coolly, “I’ll give you the money.” They met Delisle outside another tavern in an hour. He showed Papillon where he had taped the one-ounce packet of heroin underneath the step of an outside staircase. Papillon paid him and left. Back in the hotel Carriere and Andrews tested the powder with nitric acid. It turned vivid bluegreen, a heroin reaction.
Papillon then telephoned the priest. He told him “Martin” was annoyed at the time the deal had taken. “Rest easy, my friend,” said the priest, “the big deal will go through in the morning. We will all make a lot of money.” But Lapres and the Abbé did not appear at DeCheverry’s room till the following evening and Lapres was still hanging back. “We must trust one another,” said the priest.
“It’s all right for you to trust him,” Lapres said, “I don’t trust anybody. How much H do you want, Frankie?” “Fifty pieces (ounces),” DeCheverry said. “How about bonds?”
“The big lot is out of town,” said Lapres. “I’ll need a thousand bucks deposit to get them.”
“We must have faith in each other,” said the priest. “You can leave the money with me in perfect safety.”
“Do you think I’m a bloody fool?” said DeCheverry. “Forgive me, Father, it’s not that 1 don’t trust you. But I’d be leaving myself wide-open.” The Abbé left and the argument adjourned to the cocktail lounge. For DeCheverry this was the worst night of the investigation. With the pretense of showing him drugs, Lapres dragged him from night club to night club until dawn, holding him up to the dead-pan inspection of mobsters who
had met a great many Mounties in their careers.
The next day, Saturday, the racketeer brought a couple of girls around in a transparent move to get information. “Look,” DeCheverry told him. “You took me for a sucker last night. But you’re crazy if you think I’m paying the shot for your girl friends today. I’m leaving town on a big deal tonight, I’ll see you Monday.” Then DeCheverry took a streetcar to the outskirts of Montreal and spent the week end with his aunt.
Sunday night he came back for a late powwow with Carrière and Andrews. “We can’t do any more to convince him you’re okay,” Carrière said. “Get tough. Tell him to make up his mind. But even if he doesn’t come through, don’t close the door.”
DeCheverry called Abbé Taillefer in the morning. “I’m tired of wasting time with Lapres, Father. I’m not going to take my money from the bank. The way Lapres’ muscle men have been following me around, 1 think he’s planning a hijack.” He was taking a shot in the dark about being followed, hut the priest did not dispute him. “Either we put the deal through tomorrow,” DeCheverry concluded, “or we’ll wash it out. I’m leaving town on the four-thirty.”
Just before noon the following day, Lapres and the priest both came to the room. DeCheverry ignored their glances at his Scotch and told them flatly: “The only way I’ll deal is for you to put the stuff in a station locker and give me the key. That way I can get a look at it first. I’ll give the money to the Abbé here, either in the bank or outside, whichever he wants.”
Lapres wanted the money first and he wouldn’t touch a locker. The meeting broke up. At one o’clock, Carrière told Papillon to call Abbé Taillefer. “Martin’s gone out to eat,” the secret agent told the priest, “I just wanted to tell you he’s sure Lapres is a con man. He says, ‘If they want to do business, they’ll have to do it my way.’ ”
“I don’t blame him,” said the priest, “Johnny wants him to take all the chances.”
“Don’t tell him we were talking,” Papillon cautioned.
Twice during the afternoon Lapres called to argue for his method of handling the sale. “Why doesn’t he make up his mind?” said DeCheverry irritably. “I think he’s willing to deal,” said Andrews thoughtfully, “I think there’s someone behind him holding him back. That’s why they’re changing plan so much.” At four o’clock, DeCheverry said good-by to Papillon and returned to the big downtown RCMP divisional building, where he was confined to barracks to avoid recognition.
Papillon paid a visit to the presbytery next morning. “Frank’s pulled out,” he said. “I’ve lost my commission. You’ve lost yours. All because of Lapres.”
“Johnny thinks Martin is a policeman,” said the Abbé. “I think he is right. We do not want to trust him. Good-by, my friend. I am sorry you have not made any money.”
That was April 25. The curtain had fallen on the first act, a long opening movement. The salient facts were referred to Ottawa:
1. They knew Lapres had narcotics, probably a huge amount.
2. They could more than
link him to the first test purchase by the testimony of Papillon, DeCheverry and the cover men who had sometimes been close enough to record scraps of conversation.
3. Rut a premature seizure might fail to net the drugs or the bonds.
4. Then there was the delicate matter of the priest; in such a case, one purchase seemed scarcely sufficient evidence.
5. There was the vague, mysterious figure behind both Lapres and the priest. This man was undoubtedly big, for Lapres was no minor criminal.
Headquarters decided to let two months go by to give the syndicate a feeling of false security.
On June 3 the case took a bad turn. They heard that their original informant, André Houle, the Quebec City businessman, had gone to Msgr. Joseph Charbonneau, Archbishop of Montreal, with the tale of Abbé Taillefer’s activities. When Cpl. Carrier:? questioned Houle he denied it, but his manner was evasive and uneasy. Carriere asked Papillon to visit the Abbé and try to find out what actually had happened.
The priest welcomed Papillon. “I have much to tell you, my friend.” André Houle, said the Abbé, had tried to blackmail him. Houle had told the priest that Papillon and “Martin” were Mounted Policemen. All the syndicate’s movements had been watched, their telephones tapped, their conversations recorded. For a thousand dollars, Houle had said, he would pay off a high-ranking RCMP officer and stop the investigation. Otherwise, he would teil the Archbishop all about the Abbé.
This threat had been discussed at a top-level meeting of the syndicate, the priest told Papillon. “Suppose I go to Quebec and knock him off?” one mobster had suggested.
“No, no, no!” the priest had answered. “That would be against my principles.”
“We could pick him up and make him talk,” said another racketeer.
“Let us wait,” the priest advised. “If I don’t hear from the Archbisop we can be sure he is lying to get money out of me.”
“I think he’s lying,” the top man had concluded. “If Martin and Papillon were redcoats they’d have knocked us off long ago. From what you say, Martin spent $400 in one week. The Montées wouldn’t spend that kind of money. Resides, it takes more than a thousand dollars to fix them.”
Their quarry was still on the hook and the RCMP officers knew now what they had only suspected before: someone big was directing the moves of both Lapres and the priest. Carrière and Andrews warned their double-crossing informant André Houle to keep his mouth shut, but how long he would they didn’t know Once again they extended the bait, a letter from Papillon to the priest.
On July 8, the priest replied:
Dear Mister & friend:
I see that you are fine but if money was present things would be better ... If you communicate with Martin and I think it would be a good idea if you did, tell htm J. Lapres has always his material H and that he would be willing to do business this time.
I leave you now with my best regards,
J A. Taillefer, Ptre> This was their opening On July 12 DeCheverry and Papillon and the two co-ordinators, Carrière and Andrews, once again checked into adjoining rooms, this time in a different hotel. Their strategy now was to cut out Lapres. They already had enough on Lapres to convict him and as long as he remained active they had little hope of involving the man behind him.
Papillon set it up by a visit to the Abbé. “Martin’s in town,’’ he told the priest. “He doesn’t know I’m here. I wanted to see you first. Here’s our chance to make some money. He’s mad at Johnny Lapres. But he trusts you. I think you could swing a deal.”
The next morning the priest came to the hotel. DeCheverry, playing hard to get, tried to beat down the price ($300 an ounce).
“I didn’t set it myself,” explained the priest.
“That ounce I bought from Lapres was one-fifth short,” DeCheverry complained.
“I assure you I didn’t know,” the Abbé told him. “You will get full measure from me, my friend. You can have every confidence. My man is a good, solid man.”
The Abbé left and returned at noon. “Everything is arranged,” he said, “but my man will only sell ten ounces this time.”
“The same old run-around,” Martin
said. “I’ll think it over.” At eight o’clock, he called the priest. “On a test purchase, Father, I’m not going to risk more than $1,500.” Again the Abbé had to go back to “his man.” Again and again DeCheverry haggled, each time drawing the unknown figure behind the priest deeper into the deal. Finally, the terms were agreed.
The priest knocked on DeCheverry’s door at eleven the following morning, very pale, very agitated. “Where’s the H?” DeCheverry asked him.
“In a locker at Central. The key is hidden near St. James Cathedral.”
“Once I’ve seen it, is it okay to move it to another locker?”
“No, no, do not move it! There are men watching it. They might jump you. On my honor, no one will touch it.”
“Okay, okay. Don’t get excited, Father.”
They walked out of the hotel, along the street, and up the steps of the great cathedral. On the east side, the Abbé pointed toward a diamond-shaped stone. DeCheverry found the locker key in an envelope beneath it. “Wait for me at the station, the south entrance,” he told the priest.
The locker in the station held a brown paper package. In it were six tiny cellophane envelopes. DeCheverry slipped one under the band of his wrist watch. Outside, he found the priest chain smoking nervously.“Relax, Father, everything looks okay,” said DeCheverry. He made sure the tails had had time to get into position, then flagged a cab. “Royal Bank, main branch,” he said. In the rear-view mirror he could recognize a police car, a blue sport model.
The priest sat in the cab while DeCheverry went in. Carrière and another Mountie were waiting in the vault. They tested the ounce of heroin, and gave DeCheverry $1,500 in marked bills. Riding back to the station in the cab DeCheverry let the priest count the money, then took it back. “We’ll wait till I see if the stuff is still there, Father.” He didn’t know if their plans included a hijacking or not.
Connecting with a Connection
The brown paper package was still in the locker. “Here’s the money,” DeCheverry said. He had no trouble pretending to be nervous. “Now telephone your man and get him to call off his hoods.” He manoeuvred the Abbé into a telephone booth that had no dial system and the priest was forced to repeat the number aloud to the operator. DeCheverry memorized it, holding in his excitement. This was the break.
“My man is satisfied,” said the priest. “I must admit, I was afraid there would be some federal police.” They shook hands. That afternoon the priest called back. “I am leaving on my holidays. When you come back to town we will make a good deal, eh?”
This might be termed the second movement, short and successful beyond their hopes. They had now enough evidence to prosecute the priest, Lapres, and Lapres’ henchman, Rosaire Delisle. And they knew the man behind, the “connection.” His phone number had been traced. He called himself Michel Sisco. Little else WJK known about him. He had no police record in Montreal.
The RCMP strategy now was to have DeCheverry meet Sisco. DeCheverry booked a hotel room on Aug. 1 and invited Abbé Taillefer up for a drink. They talked of the money the priest had made during the war with blackmarket gas and sugar coupons. “Who would suspect me?” the Abbé said, “I’m a perfect front. They wouldn’t dare touch me.” They talked of Communism, blondes, automobiles. More than anything else the priest wanted a car, a limousine. “If I make enough on our deals to buy a car,” he said hopefully, “you can borrow it when you come to town.”
“I’ve got to get a better price,” said DeCheverry. Always while dangling the lure he had to seem to be backing away.
“I’ll ask my man,” the Abbé promised.
“Maybe I should talk to him. Put things on a solid basis. We’re wasting a lot of time running back and forth.”
The priest said he would try to arrange a meeting but he did not mention it the following day. DeCheverry did not press it. He checked out of the hotel, boarded the Halifax train, got off at Montreal West and was picked up by a police car. A few days later, through the hotel chain he was supposed to work for, he received a card from the priest. “I will pray for you,” the Abbé wrote, “and that our deal goes through.”
On Sept. 6, hotel chambermaids noticed that the strange men who seldom went out were back in adjoining rooms. This time the strategists, Cpl. Carrière and Const. Andrews, intended to force Sisco into the open. They had primed DeCheverry with logical questions the Abbé would not be able to answer. They had given him letters supposedly written by his Winnipeg backer suggesting he get the stuff in Toronto for fear of “a double cross by Lapres.”
“Cancel the deal if you have to,” Garriere said, “For the kind of money he thinks you’ve got he’ll come out.” They knew by now that Sisco owned a roadhouse north of the city. He controlled an elegant call house through his mistress Suzanne Filleau, a pretty, shapely brunette. He was listed as a commercial agent, but the Customs had no importations under his name. He paid no income tax. Dun & Bradstreet didn’t know him. He was suave, sophisticated, spoke five languages, and made several phone calls a week to New York. The FBI, through their Ottawa liaison officer, had been asked to check on the calls.
DeCheverry had expected that the priest would greet him gladly. Instead, the Abbé was standoffish. He said he was very busy with the opening of the schools. “Don’t hand me that,” said DeCheverry testily. “You don’t want to deal, okay. I know where I can get the stuff and none of this runaround.” Uneasily, the priest promised to come to his room.
When he came two days later he talked ambiguously of getting out of “the H business.” Suddenly, he said: “Did you hear that Johnny Lapres was arrested?”
“No!” said DeCheverry.
“Some Montee named Carrière.”
DeCheverry choked on his drink. Garriere had wanted DeCheverry’s surprise to be genuine. He had grilled Lapres on a counterfeiting charge. He wanted Lapres to be too hot for Sisco to use.
“They questioned him all night,” said the priest. He looked up and met DeCheverry’s eyes. “Johnny says when he went to the toilet he met you face to face. Is this true? Are you a Mounted Policeman?”
DeCheverry jumped up angrily. “He’s a doublecrossing, chiseling nogood . . . Get him to meet me in the presbytery. I’ll tell him to his face. We’ll see who’s lying.” He swore bitterly. “The deal’s off. How do I know Lapres isn’t behind your man?”
“I give you my solemn word,” said the priest. He left on a somewhat conciliatory note.
The next day he called back. “You do not have to confront Johnny, my son. My man has forced him to tell the truth. Johnny was lying. We know you are not a Mounted Policeman. My man will meet you for fifteen minutes tomorrow night, here in the presbytery.” It was the word they’d been waiting for. Lapres’ lie had been an unexpected piece of luck.
The Mountie and the syndicate head shook hands in the Abbé’s booklined office. Michel Sisco had thin close-shut lips and a prominent nose in a round olive-skinned face. His short heavy figure was draped in
expensive tailoring. His fluid French had a continental flavor. “This is the boss,” said the Abbé.
“Where does Lapres come in?” demanded DeCheverry belligerently.
“I no longer trust him,” Sisco said. “He is not in this transaction. Were you satisfied with our deals? Was the quality good? Have I given you full measure'?“’
DeCheverry allowed himself to be mollified. “You can guarantee a steady supply?”
“Even if war comes.” Sisco allowed DeCheverry a cut in price, referring to
the heroin as “merchandise.” “The merchandise from America is not pure,” he said. “The best is made in Germany.” He exuded authority and charm. “I have been in business for twenty years. I know how to handle these deals. If at any time you cannot come yourself, write a letter to the Abbé here, tear it, mail half, and give half to a messenger. It is dangerous to send merchandise through the mails. Do you want any now?”
“Yes, but I’ll have to check with my clients on the amount.” DeCheverry invited Sisco out for a drink. Sisco
declined. “It would not be wise to be seen together,” he said.
It had come to a head much faster than they had expected. Cpl. Garriere and Const. Andrews hastily assembled their men. They couldn’t risk shadowing Sisco but two constables and their wives were sent to his roadhouse, ostensibly to dance, actually to familiarize themselves with his appearance so that they would be better able to shadow him during the deal. Six constables were assigned to watch the presbytery in eight-hour shifts. When the priest left they would join six others covering DeCheverry along tfte route of the transaction.
DeCheverry telephoned Abbé Taillefer and set up the sale: 32 ounces of heroin—the same arrangement as last time. A hurry-up request for $7,200 went, up the chain of command to the Treasury Board and was granted. Until the last moment, DeCheverry pestered the priest with changes of plan in the hope of badgering Sisco into personally taking part.
DeCheverry was on edge when the Abbé arrived in the room at eleven o’clock on the morning of the deal.
Much of their work would succeed or fail in the next hour. “Everything’s ready,” the priest said nervously. “I am sure all will go well.” On the other side of the wall, Const. Andrews was quietly co-ordinating the movements of half a dozen police cars by two-way radio.
Once more the Abbé led the Mountie to St. James Cathedral and they waited in the still, cool, vaulted entrance. “My man would like the money when we get the key,” said the priest. “Nothing doing,” DeCheverry said, “I’ve got to see the stuff first.”
A thick-set round-faced man walked in: Sisco himself! He shook hands, leaving the locker key in DeCheverry’s palm. “My men will be watching every move you make,” he said evenly. “Please don’t try anything or you’ve had it.”
DeCheverry walked to Central Station, the Abbé following, Sisco trailing the Abbé. The Mountie opened the locker and felt the brown paper parcel. He threw it back in and slammed the door. He had felt no drugs. He could sense the unknown eyes watching him.
The Abbé was loitering at the
station’s south entrance. “What the hell are you pulling off?” said DeCheverry, low-voiced and angry. “All I got there’s a bunch of lousy paper.”
The priest laughed. Sisco came up. “I wanted to see what would happen,” he said. “We have to protect ourselves. Go back to the church and wait for me.”
This time the key was for a Windsor Station locker. DeCheverry opened it, felt the waxy one-ounce packs and knew that this was the big haul ($40,000 to $140,000 retail, depending on the city it sold in). He and the Abbé and Sisco got into a taxi.
A man in an idling car nearby spoke quietly into a microphone: “He’s heading for the bank.” Const. Andrews, in the hotel room, relayed the message. Another car pulled up beside the Royal Bank and Cpl. Garriere went in.
Carriere stood like any customer by the rows of safety-deposit boxes while an attendant ushered DeCheverry and the priest to a private room. “Count the money,” he heard DeCheverry say, and then he added, “Take it, it’s yours.”
“Later,” the priest said.
“It’s yours,” DeCheverry insisted and he turned and left the room. As the priest followed, reluctantly holding the money, Carriere placed his hand on his shoulder. “You’re under arrest,” he said.
Abbé Taillefer’s mouth opened but no words came. Outside on the street Sisco had been arrested. Lapres’ henchman, Rosaire Delisle, was being rounded up. Lapres, cocky as ever, came in by himself. “I’m Johnny Lapres,” he said, “I hear you’re looking for me.”
From B. C.—Or from Bone?
A search of Sisco’s flat yielded no new evidence, but in the Abbé’s office they found a scrap of paper on which the priest had been figuring his profit. They did not recover the rest of the huge drug cache which now they were sure existed. The bonds had already been sold to racketeers in New York.
At first Sisco suavely tried to pass off his arrest as an unfortunate misunderstanding. Carriere said: “The man you met in Abbé Taillefer’s room, the man you sold 32 ounces of heroin to, was not Frank Martin, but Const. Frank DeCheverry of the RCMP.”
“No name was mentioned when I met him,” Sisco said. He realized his slip at once. “If you think you can get me to talk you’ve got the wrong man. If you think you have a case you have only to charge me. I’ll tell my story in court.”
But Michel Sisco never came to court. And he told his story a few days later. He was born in Michel, B.C., he said. His mother had died very young and he had been taken back to Italy. The Germans had interned him in Milan but he had escaped to North Africa. A British cruiser had brought him from Casablanca to Halifax. He had no proof for his story but it was very hard to disprove; the records of birth in Michel, B.C., had been destroyed by fire.
Some weeks later Sisco’s fingerprints, identified by the International Criminal Police Commission in Paris, told his true story. He was Antoine (called Michel) D’Agostino, born in Bone, Algeria, in 1919. He held controlling interests in various illegal businesses in Italy and France. He was wanted for counterfeiting in Italy. And in France, as an ex-Gestapo agent, he was under sentence of death for murder. It cannot be proved, but he is believed to have been smuggled into Canada with Suzanne Filleau, his mistress, by the steward of an Italian liner.
A judge of the Court of the King’s Bench set bail at $20,000, though the RCMP advised that allowing Sisco bail was unwise. At first, Sisco wasn’t able to raise it. Then he asked to see Cpl. Carrière and said: “If I’m not sprung I’ll have something to tell you.” He said he could supply the low-down on the international drug traffic reaching back to illicit factories in Europe. His threat found its way via the underworld grapevine to his syndicate associates. Shortly afterward his bail was reduced to $12,000. It was posted and Sisco promptly vanished.
He comes briefly to view again in 1951 when a very large narcotics ring was broken in New York. Sisco is described by the U. S. Immigration Service as “a main ringleader of this international smuggling organization . . . very clever, very dangerous . . . usually armed,” and his stature may be j judged by the fact that two of the j gangsters arrested were top - level ¡ figures in the nationwide Unione i Siciliano, which succeeded the murI derous Mafia. Sisco and his mistress j again escaped. The U. S. Bureau of Narcotics has advised the RCMP that he is now in the U. S.-Mexican drug j traffic.
As for the others, Johnny Lapres was sentenced to three years. The unrepentant Abbé Taillefer drew two years and a thousand dollar fine, and j Lapres’ henchman, Rosaire Delisle got three months, since this was his first I offense. Their sentences served, these men—like Michel Sisco—are free today.
In trying to control the drug traffic the RCMP faces the unpleasant fact that it is next to impossible to keep narcotics out of Canada. An influential “connection” has only to lift j his telephone to place an order in New York. By nightfall, a runner will be driving north, heading for any one of several hundred border points. He carries the white narcotic powder in books with sections cut out, in chocolates with the cream removed, in toothpaste tubes, talcum tins, matchboxes with false bottoms. He may wear shoes with false heels, a skintight belt, or have a pocket concealed in his underwear. If the crime cartel which controls the traffic thinks a runner is known, he’s changed immediately.
The profits from this traffic pour in a steady flow into the coffers of the organized underworld. It’s a source of easy capital which is often reinvested in other rackets. The biggest man in the underworld in Montreal today came to Canada nearly broke in the Thirties. He pulled three quick narcotics deals and made enough capital to get into the numbers racket. Then he branched into bookmaking. Now he is strong enough to tackle anything.
The drug traffic is like a cancer in the social body. It can be cured only by cutting out the roots: by controlling j the poppy crops and the factory proÍ duction, which the United Nations I organization is attempting to do. In ! the meantime, a much-needed interim step has just been taken by parliament : the maximum jail sentence has been increased to 14 years, which may encourage judges to hand out stiffer penalties.
Otherwise the traffickers who are finally caught return to their trade in a few years with one lesson engraved on their mind: never never sell to a man you do not know. And the work of the RCMP undercover men becomes increasingly difficult and costly.