It was a journey from the big house to something more closely resembling a penthouse, an odyssey that began June 7 with three Quebec gang suspects escaping a jail yard by helicopter.
The fugitives were caught early Sunday morning, when a SWAT team raided a high-rise waterfront condominium in Old Montreal. Yves Denis, Denis Lefebvre and Serge Pomerleau are back behind bars as police suggest that those who plotted to help them will soon follow.
“The investigation continues and more arrests could occur,” said Sergeant Claude Denis, adding the trio will appear in court in Quebec City on Monday to face fresh charges. “The Sûreté du Québec (SQ) will not comment more about the circumstances of these three arrests or the investigation.”
Where the three accused – who had been facing drug and murder conspiracy charges – ended up was a mystery until 1:30 Sunday morning, when the SQ announced on Twitter that it had apprehended them.
It would appear the inmates of the Orsainville Detention Centre in Quebec City had managed to wind up at Phase IV of the Le Solano condominium complex in the heart of Montreal.
They allegedly bunked on the 10th floor of the complex at 370 Rue Saint André. The one-bedroom apartment is one of only four on the floor, and it sits near the top of a tower built two years ago, with a balcony that has a stunning view of the city.
“Smartly enough, these guys picked a project that is luxurious enough not to have too much foot traffic,” Thierry Lindor, a 33-year-old ReMax broker who lives in the building, said in an interview. He added “it wasn’t the penthouse floor but they weren’t too far … it wasn’t just any property that they looked for on Kijiji.”
Apartments in the building are rented by itinerant diplomats, athletes and Hollywood producers, Mr. Lindor said. The fugitives would have “literally had 100-per-cent privacy.”
It’s not known how the men managed to rent the apartment, or to have someone rent it for them. City of Montreal property records show it is valued at about $450,000.
The unit is owned by a holding company, one that had apparently been trying to find a renter for some time. Brokers posted photos of the apartment online – and it appears the men had rented it with the same furnishings used in “fluffing” it for marketing purposes.
Resident France Maltais, who lives a few floors down from the unit, said she heard a loud “boom” after she saw about six police enter the building Sunday morning. Hours later, they left the scene after carrying out several containers and bags, and a splintered door was ajar in its bent frame.
The three fugitives were initially arrested during “Operation Crayfish” in 2010, a police probe that aimed to dismantle a network of drug traffickers. Since the jailbreak – after which Interpol had added the trio to the red notice list, placing them among the world’s most wanted fugitives – the Quebec government has ordered an internal investigation as to how it could have taken place.
Acknowledgment of the existence of a possible jailbreak conspiracy is contained in Quebec Superior Court Justice Louis Dionne’s judgment dated March 24. Justice Dionne had been asked to rule on the strict security conditions, which the inmates argued impeded preparations for their defence in court.
In his ruling, which was recently made public, Justice Dionne gave the detainees access to a secured computer for their trial preparation. The ruling also stated they didn’t have to wear handcuffs during proceedings and would be allowed to go into the jail yard on weekday evenings, prison staffing permitting.
Quebec Public Security Minister Lise Thériault told a reporter Sunday she was “relieved” the men had finally been caught. “We’ve been saying for two weeks [that] the first priority is to catch the three men, so that’s done,” she said, adding they will be under heavy security.
Last year there was a similar escape in Quebec. In March, 2013, two inmates grabbed onto a rope dropped from a helicopter at the St-Jerome detention centre and flew away. But they were quickly recaptured.
With a report from The Canadian Press