In 1991, at 15 and 14, Richard and Daniel started selling drugs. “That's when we had to start making money to pay the rent,” Richard says. “The stereos were good for cash to buy [sneakers]and stuff, but to actually have a house we needed to move up and make some money.” They moved to a rented house away from their mother, who admits now that she was lost in a fog of drugs and alcohol.
The Posse spread quickly to the north and west ends of Winnipeg, where it faced rivals. Like any business, it was either grow or die, Richard says. He remembers IP members taking one independent-minded rival for a ride one night. They drove to some woods out of town, handed him a shovel and told him to dig his own grave. They'd seen bikers do this. “That really works, you know,” Richard says. The man survived, but his gang was theirs.
Daniel had an even more direct approach to conflict, Richard says. Although drive-by shootings were common in those days, Daniel thought they were “soft.” He preferred “walk-bys.”
After expanding across Winnipeg, the gang made its next breakthrough on the reserves. In the remote communities of Canada's North, drugs sold for three to five times their price in the city. With almost universal unemployment and widespread despair, the market was insatiable. And as the Posse's brand grew, kids eagerly joined up.
“You [didn't]even need to make recruiting trips to these reserves,” Richard says.
1994: Where did all the money go?
By the time Richard was 19, he was making $15,000 to $30,000 a week, roughly a million dollars a year. The people under him were expected to “kick up” 35 per cent of what they made selling drugs. He was also running the gang's prostitution business. Richard (who was higher in the gang than Daniel at the time) says he disapproved of prostitution, but the money was too good to pass up. The gang muscled out the existing pimps, improved the women's take from 25 per cent to 40 per cent and made $3,000 to $5,000 a night running 10 girls.
Of course, there were costs associated with all that income. Some was used to rent gang houses and set up a fund to pay defence lawyers. Richard admits he also had a weakness for gambling. But police say one of the puzzling aspects of the IP has been its inability to develop the more sophisticated techniques of traditional organized crime.
“There's no discipline to save cash and accrue assets. No education to rely on for cash management,” says Sergeant Mike MacKinnon of Winnipeg's organized-crime unit. “You might pull them over and they'll have $10,000 or $15,000 on them, but at the end of the day that's money already spent. … We haven't seen anyone moving up into buying large condos or anything like that. They still live in the neighbourhoods they always lived in.”
Richard, who left the gang years ago, is quiet when asked where all the money went. Is there a Swiss bank account? He chuckles.
He says they used to talk about investing in youngsters who could go to university and infiltrate the police force and the Crown's office. As with many organizations, recruiting and promoting the right people was a challenge. Daniel was one of the gang's top recruiters, but he complained in a prison letter to Richard in 2000 that there were “too many fucked-up people recruiting fucked-up people.” It was causing “a lot of shit,” he said.
IP recruits, Richard says, are often kids with disastrous home lives, out on the street late at night, looking for any place to belong. They might be tough enough to survive the initiation, but they bring their own baggage. It's better to find a smart kid: “The smart guy can be a tough guy when the time comes, but not vice versa,” he says. “The smart guys usually stay out of gangs, though.”
On the whole, street gangs occupy the bottom rung of the organized-crime pecking order. They handle high-risk tasks such as street-level drug dealing and they pay steep prices to buy drugs from higher up the food chain. And even in the underworld, as at every other social level in Canada, natives are discriminated against, according to one study: They're relegated to less lucrative, less enduring criminal opportunities.