Jack Steele thought his life as an undercover operative was over after the FBI paid him $700,000 in reward money for providing information that led to the arrest and conviction of anti-abortion sniper James Kopp.
But several years after tipping police to Mr. Kopp’s whereabouts and ending a series of doctor shootings that began in Vancouver, Mr. Steele is once again trying to trade in secrets from the criminal underground.
This time, however, he’s offering information about a drug cartel that he says was headed by Thomas Gisby, a British Columbia man who was murdered last April in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico. Mr. Gisby was apparently killed in a hit-for-hit gang war that was back in the news last week when police arrested three men in connection with the 2011 shooting of Jonathan Bacon in Kelowna, B.C., an incident in which Mr. Gisby was implicated.
“You know that old saying, ‘Don’t look for trouble, trouble will find you?’” said Mr. Steele, 67, a former state government employee turned informant who now lives in a beachside condo in Florida with his much younger wife. “Well, that’s happened to me twice now.”
The first time was in 1999, when an FBI agent offered him $1-million in reward money from U.S. and Canadian officials if he could lead police to Mr. Kopp, then wanted for killing Barnett Slepian, an obstetrician shot through the kitchen window of his home in Amherst, NY.
The shooting was the fourth sniper attack on a doctor. Garson Romalis was shot in his Vancouver home in 1994. In almost identical incidents, Hugh Short was shot in Ancaster, Ont., in 1995, and Jack Fainman in Winnipeg in 1997.
Mr. Kopp, who is serving a life term in a U.S. prison, was an anti-abortion crusader whose car had been seen outside the Slepian residence the night of the shooting. The vehicle had crossed the border into Canada just before Dr. Fainman was shot, and officials were so convinced Mr. Kopp was responsible for all the attacks that a total reward of just over $1-million was offered: $547,000 in Canada and $700,000 in the United States.
Mr. Steele was drawn into the case because he was friends with a couple known to be close to Mr. Kopp. He agreed to work undercover after an FBI agent recruited him outside a Toys ‘R’ Us store near where he was living in Brooklyn. “Jack Steele” is his undercover name.
After two years infiltrating the anti-abortion movement, Mr. Steele was entrusted with sending money to Mr. Kopp, who was hiding in France. His tip led to Mr. Kopp’s arrest, extradition and conviction in 2003.
“The FBI brought me $700,000 in cash,” Mr. Steele said.
He said he was happy with the way the FBI treated him, and thinks he “earned every penny” of the reward by risking his life. But he remains bitter that Canada’s National Task Force on the doctor shootings refused to pay him anything because Mr. Kopp was never brought to Canada to face charges.
A 2009 letter from a spokesman for the National Task Force to the FBI, which had made inquiries about the Canadian part of the reward on Mr. Steele’s behalf, states that the reward was for the arrest and conviction of whoever shot the doctors in Canada. But with Mr. Kopp in jail for life in the United States, the case could not come to trial north of the border. The offer of the reward, which was made by the Canadian Medical Association, has expired.
“The CMA considers this matter closed. …Furthermore, the National Task Force is under no obligation at this time to pay the FBI confidential informant any or part of the Canadian reward money,” the letter concluded.
“I just don’t – well, neither does anyone else involved in this – understand why Canada took this position: ‘Screw it. We don’t want to pay him anything on a technicality,’” said Mr. Steele, who is still fuming about the matter.
A few years ago, Mr. Steele set up a website, CanadianPoliceReward.org, on which he aired his complaints against authorities in Canada.
“I helped the FBI and Canadian police arrest a killer – one of the most wanted men in the world,” he writes on the site. “I helped because it was the right thing to do. But I also did it for the money. … After the murderer’s arrest and conviction, the FBI paid me. …But the Canadian police groups … won’t pay me a dime. The lesson? When you’re dealing with Canadian police, a promise made is not a promise kept.”
Mr. Steele said the site was meant as “a resource – and a warning – for other tipsters.”
But it soon led him back into the world of police informants – work he described as “exciting, man – it’s a high.”
The drug lord
Mr. Steele said a man he will identify only as “the Mexican” contacted him through CanadianPoliceReward.org about problems he’d had collecting a reward from U.S. police. As the two talked, Mr. Steele said, the Mexican told him about a Canadian cocaine dealer he knew of: Mr. Gisby, who was known as The Tank.
“He got a tattoo on one leg, this tattoo is the skull and body of the monster of Iron Maiden, the rock band … He got friends in Vancouver airport, that’s the way he can send the cocaine …Tom always is in a very low profile, but he is one of the most important drug lords in Canada,” the Mexican told him in an e-mail.
Mr. Steele said Mr. Gisby transferred huge amounts of money – $5-million at a time – through underworld banks, or “stash houses,” in Vancouver, Montreal and Mexico City.
And he said Mr. Gisby’s group smuggled drugs in containers that had been “sniff tested” by dogs.
“They have a training facility in Mexico City or someplace in Mexico, where intentionally they do dry runs and make sure that whatever they send, in whatever manner they send [it] is not being pointed on by the dogs,” he said.
At the time of his death last April, Mr. Gisby had a low profile in B.C., although he was in the news briefly in January, 2012, when he was the target of a bomb attack in Whistler.
Three months after the bombing attempt, he was shot in a Starbucks in Mexico, prompting police in Vancouver to hold a press conference, at which they identified him as “a significant player in the drug world” and warned that his death could trigger renewed gang violence in B.C.
Mr. Gisby was known to be associated with the Dhak-Duhre crime group, which was fighting for control of B.C.’s rich drug trade with the Red Scorpions, Independent Soldiers and Hells Angels. The stakes in that war escalated in 2011, when Jonathan Bacon, head of the Red Scorpions, was shot dead outside a casino hotel in Kelowna.
Mr. Steele said he contacted the RCMP about Mr. Gisby in 2010, hoping the information he had got from the Mexican would bring down a drug cartel and provide leverage to reopen talks on the Kopp reward.
But he said police never followed up with him, and Mr. Gisby was subsequently murdered. Mr. Steele came back to the RCMP recently offering more information, saying the crime syndicate has continued to operate between Mexico and B.C.
“John Gotti is dead but the Mafia is still alive. Just because Tom Gisby is dead doesn’t mean that, you know, the organization and the infrastructure and the movement of drugs isn’t being done,” he said.
But Mr. Steele said the RCMP again refused to revisit the reward issue – and the proposed talks never happened.
“I’m willing to negotiate…but [RCMP Superintendent] Brian Cantera says, no way,” Mr. Steele said.
“Jack, what I am hoping to do is to accommodate you, by providing you an opportunity to give us the information that you have. We are not turning down an opportunity to take your information, if you choose to give it to us,” Supt. Cantera states in a Jan. 31 e-mail to Mr. Steele. “The problem that we have is that you are not willing to provide it to us without the RCMP making some form of commitment to get you the monies which you feel are owed to you. …No one within the RCMP will have the ability … to get access to the monies you are seeking. I am sorry about that fact, but I must be honest.”
Supt. Cantera did offer the possibility of a reward for information on the Gisby drug cartel, but he also warned that RCMP rules would apply and added: “Somehow I doubt you will accept these rules.” The letter did not go into detail about the rules.
Mr. Steele said he can’t trust the RCMP to pay a new reward if they won’t discuss the old one.
“I told Brian, you know, I don’t want a penny or dollar more or less … just give me what I am entitled to,” he said.
Supt. Cantera did not return calls. Sergeant Sodi Dhillon of the RCMP’s Greater Vancouver drug section confirmed Mr. Steele had been “talking to a bunch of different police officers.” But he declined to say more.
“Because this is an active investigation, I can’t make any comments,” he said.
Although he refused to give his real name, Mr. Steele verified his claims by providing e-mail chains between himself, the RCMP in B.C. and the FBI, and through tape recordings of conversations he had with Canadian members of the National Task Force on the doctor shootings. Winnipeg police confirmed the authenticity of e-mails between Mr. Steele and one of their officers, now retired, who was on the task force at the time. And Jim Popkin, a former NBC News producer, said he dealt with Mr. Steele while working on the Kopp story, and confirmed with FBI sources that he had provided the tip that led to Mr. Kopp’s arrest.
Asked if he had given up hope of ever getting the Kopp reward money from Canada, Mr. Steele replied: “Intellectually, I have given up, but emotionally I’m feeling there’s some sort of light at the end of somewhere.”