Long before he shed his prison uniform in a darkened cell and pulled on a janitor's outfit, before he walked toward the locked jail doors, pausing as if to clean the floor with the mop he was carrying, Omid Tahvili had demonstrated a flare for the dramatic.
Passing under the watchful glass eyes of 100 security cameras at the North Fraser Pre-Trial Centre, where he'd been held for 27 months, Mr. Tahvili managed on Nov. 15 to convince almost everyone that he was a member of the cleaning staff just ending his shift.
Only one guard in the high-security prison in Port Coquitlam, just outside Vancouver, apparently knew that night who the man in the black cleaning outfit really was. And B.C. Corrections officer Edwin Ticne, according to Crown prosecutors, was in on the plan, willingly opening a series of locked doors to escort Mr. Tahvili outside, where he got in a car and drove off.
It was the first time anyone has ever escaped from the prison, which was built in 2001 at a cost of $49-million.
Mr. Tahvili, 37, now one of Canada's most-wanted fugitives, is a stocky man with a lopsided smile. In a suit he could easily pass for the respectable Iranian businessman he pretended to be as he ran Platinum Touch, an auto detailing and car rental shop (which has since been sold) in Richmond, B.C.
But when he stripped off his shirt, his heavily tattooed torso suggested there was another side. On his back was a large cross, on his right shoulder a spiral of fire and on each upper arm was a child's face, depicting his two children.
It just might be that one of the faces was of the child he liked to tell people was being held by a triad to insure that he paid his debts. However, that, like much of the life Mr. Tahvili lived after immigrating to Canada from Iran in 1994, may have been a lie.
Evidence presented in the Supreme Court of British Columbia during a trial this year in which Mr. Tahvili was convicted of kidnapping and assault, showed that he was, in fact, a tough criminal. According to police, he was a high-ranking member of a Persian gang in B.C.'s Lower Mainland that dealt in marijuana and cocaine across Canada.
For years he operated off the police radar, but his carefully constructed world began to crumble in June, 2005, when Purolator lost a package being sent to him from Toronto.
After he called Purolator to complain about late delivery, the courier service traced the package to a warehouse in Richmond. For some reason, the package never made it from there to Mr. Tahvili's nearby business office.
Police believe the shipment contained a bundle of about $200,000 in cash. Mr. Tahvili demanded action from Purolator, saying the package contained important documents. Later he told Robert Candido, the senior district manager for Purolator, that the package really contained some $350,000 coming to him from a business sale in Toronto. A few days later, Mr. Tahvili demanded to meet the employees who'd been on shift that night.
"Mr. Candido told him that would not happen," Mr. Justice Brian Joyce of the B.C. Supreme Court wrote in his decision. "Mr. Tahvili then said something about it being a union issue. When Mr. Candido made light of the remark, Mr. Tahvili said it was a different union, Hells Angels, Vietnamese, and Iranians."
Later, Mr. Candido told Mr. Tahvili that Purolator had identified a possible suspect - and gave him the name of the last worker in the warehouse when the package vanished. The man, identified as D.L. in court, had suddenly left for Vietnam, he said, claiming his wife had been in an accident.
One night, a pair of Mr. Tahvili's associates pulled up at the home of the missing worker's brother-in-law, who in court documents is identified as D.T. Parked in the driveway was a Mercedes that was for sale. After a few phone calls, arrangements were made to take the car for a spin. At 10:30 p.m., a man took the wheel of the Mercedes with D.T. beside him, then pulled off the road and an Infiniti QX4 swung in behind them.
Mr. Tahvili walked up to the Mercedes with a gun in his hand and told D.T. to come for a ride. D.T. sat in the back seat of the SUV as they drove around, with Mr. Tahvili beside him, gun on his knee. "The gunman … told D.T. that he had until midnight to tell him where D.L. and the package were, and that if D.T. did not do so there were men waiting outside D.T.'s house that he would send into the house," the judge wrote.
Three men led D.T. into an office. Over the next few hours, they threatened to rape his wife. They pulled down his pants, set a bag of ice in front of his penis, yanked it and asked if he wanted it cut off.
"One of the men told him he had a razor blade and ran it down his back from his shoulder to his buttocks. When D.T. fell to the floor, he was kicked twice, once in the arms and once in his chest. One of the men threatened to shove an object that D.T. said felt like a round stick into his anus," the judge said.
Then, sending the other men away, Mr. Tahvili removed D.T.'s blindfold and kissed his hands. After he replaced the blindfold, D.T. heard the sounds of a struggle as Mr. Tahvili supposedly fought with the other kidnappers to let D.T. go. Judge Joyce described this as "presumably … some sort of 'bad guy/good guy' act."
Hours later, they dropped D.T. back at the Mercedes and warned him not to talk to police about what had happened.
D.T., an innocent victim, might have kept silent, except that when he got home at 2:40 a.m. he found his frantic wife with an RCMP officer who'd responded to a missing-persons call. The officer persuaded him to talk, triggering an undercover operation that included tapping Mr. Tahvili's phone.
On July 1, as he was boarding a flight to Toronto, RCMP officers arrested Mr. Tahvili. Convicted on charges of kidnapping and sexual assault, he was awaiting sentencing when he slipped out of jail.
Mr. Ticne is in custody facing two counts of aiding in the escape and one of obstruction of justice. Mr. Tahvili hasn't been seen since. Police believe he could be in Canada, the Middle East or Europe.