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Five charged in Vernon man's slaying Add to ...

One body was found lying on a Vernon road, spotted by an early morning commuter. Another, a woman's, was discovered hundreds of kilometres from home, in the woods outside the town of Hope.

A third victim was dumped near the shores of pretty Lake Okanagan and yet another, David Marniuk, simply vanished.

Altogether, eight people were shot or beaten to death in the picturesque north Okanagan city between July of 2004 and June of 2005, rattling residents in the otherwise tranquil spot.

The near-year-long homicide rampage, police said, was the work of a ruthless drug gang that called itself the Greeks.

That gang was kneecapped last year when Mounties rounded up four local men and charged them with first-degree murder in the death of Mr. Marniuk. A fifth man, Peter Manolakos, whom police allege was the ringleader of the Greeks, was charged with manslaughter.

This week, police say they drove yet another nail in the coffin of the once powerful gang when they charged five men with first-degree murder in the death of Ronald Thom, whose body was dumped on a Vernon road in May, 2005. Mr. Thom had been shot to death. His girlfriend was Belinda Scott, 39, whose body was found in the woods near Hope. Police have not disclosed the cause of her death.

Four of the men charged were already in custody for Mr. Marniuk's death. A fifth man, 37-year-old Douglas Brownell, was arrested Friday.

RCMP spokesman Corporal Henry Proce said Vernon hasn't experienced another homicide since police swooped down on the gang.

"We certainly don't have that off-the-scale level of violence that we experienced for that one year," Cpl. Proce said.

The Mounties said that all of the victims were connected to Vernon's drug trade or drug culture.

At its peak, the Greeks ran an extensive cocaine trafficking network that stretched from the B.C. Interior to the boundary with Alberta. Police said the victims were people who crossed the group.

"I think it's fair to say [the killings]were warnings, they were enforcement-oriented and basically, the organization was crossed in some manner and this was the retribution," Cpl. Proce said. "They were certainly an organized crime group and ruthlessly efficient in their dealings."

Police claim that Mr. Manolakos rose from selling hashish out of his Vernon pizzeria to become a cocaine dealer and leader of the Greeks.

Vernon today is a quieter place, although police are certain that other players have filled the drug-trafficking void left when police made their first arrests in May, 2006.

Meanwhile, the police investigation is continuing with 12 task force members working on the outstanding homicides.

The trials of the accused are scheduled to begin in the fall of 2008. Cpl. Proce said the trials will be long and complicated.

Charged with first-degree murder are Mr. Manolakos, Andre Raymond, Dale Sipes, Sheldon O'Donnell and Mr. Brownell.

 

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