“I’m (going to) untie your bro,” mumbled the teenaged kidnapper to his prisoner’s brother on the other end of the phone.
“Get the three (thousand dollars) and then we’re gonna meet, okay? Fam, I, I … I trust you fam. I’ll put one in this kid early morning tomorrow if nothing is going on fam.”
The captor, who wasn’t a family member, wanted $10,000 to release his two 16-year-old abductees, unaware Toronto police were listening and recording the April 20, 2016 phone call. Hours earlier, police obtained an emergency wiretap to capture the ransom negotiations and money exchange details.
It’s an urban crime tale featuring scenes straight out of a Quentin Tarantino crime movie; they include a condo shootout, a game of Russian roulette and forced sex acts.
It’s also a case underscoring the intractable problem of uncooperative witnesses, even when they’ve been victimized, and the challenges they pose for police and prosecutors trying to bring perpetrators to justice.
Earlier this fall, Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy convicted the 17-year-old ringleader, identified in court as T.G., of kidnapping, firearms and drug trafficking.
While he can’t be identified because of his age, Molloy found him to be a gun-toting, street-level drug dealer with a taste for expensive cognac and lavish spending on cars and short-term rental accommodations. “T.G. was clearly engaged in a criminal lifestyle, as evidence in part by his participation in the kidnapping,” she wrote in a 24-page decision.
Molloy dismissed all charges against his co-accused, M.R.
About an hour before his arrest, T.G. was spotted on a high-rise balcony, “smoking, singing, and pointing to a stack of money he had in one hand.” When heavily armed Emergency Task force officers busted through the door they found street-level drug paraphernalia, fentanyl-laced heroin, crack cocaine and $1,900 in cash.
In early December, Lincoln Richards and Rushine Rowe, in their early 20s, both pleaded guilty for their roles in the kidnapping.
The two captives can’t be identified because of safety concerns.
Their ordeal began at an April 18, 2016, party gone awry in a unit on the 25th floor at 300 Front St., a downtown Toronto building with a reputation as a hot spot for short-term renters throwing parties.
Using the name Antowuan Adams, T.G. paid cash for Unit 2509 — it was customary for him in early 2016, when he was blowing about $4,000 a month on cars and condos, the judge wrote in her decision.
Richards, a rapper known as Ranski, brought two 16-year-olds to the party. One was an outsider, hailing from an area in northwest Toronto known as Queen’s Drive. Most of the partiers were associated with the city’s hardscrabble Lawrence Heights and Driftwood neighbourhoods.
Around 3:30 a.m., uninvited members of “the Queen’s Drive group” showed up at the building, the judge wrote summarizing the evening’s events. Richards, Rowe and two youths left the party to find them, but didn’t, and headed back to the 25th-floor condo. When the elevator door opened, the Queen’s Drive members were in the hallway.
Guns were drawn, bullets fired, surveillance footage recording some of the mayhem.
Police found evidence of shootings in three separate areas of the building and casings from at least two separate guns. Despite this, no one was injured.
T.G. and his associates blamed the 16-year-olds for disclosing the location of the party to the interlopers.
The bandits fled the condo tower and headed for a townhouse in Swansea, near High Park, where Richards lived with his mother. There, the teens were tied to chairs and beaten repeatedly, one of them pistol-whipped in the head.
While Richards stayed behind to clean up the mess, the group took their tied-up captives to two different apartments in Lawrence Heights. There, they were subjected to more beatings, one of them attacked by an assailant using a wooden carving of a fish, grabbed from a wall.
Digital photos of the bound and bloodied pair were sent to members of the Queen’s Drive group.
The Crown also alleged the kidnappers forced the teens to perform sexual acts on each other, which they videotaped to ensure their demands for $10,000 in ransom were met.
An older brother, a convicted drug dealer who knew some of the kidnappers, received a photo showing the captors threatening to cut off his finger with scissors.
Their mother, who learned of the kidnapping from her older son, confronted Richards on the street wearing her son’s jacket. “Your son is in this predicament right now because of what he did so anything that happens to your son he deserves,” Richards, who flashed his gun, told her.
On Thursday, April 21, 2016, the teen’s mother made a $3,000 downpayment on the ransom and he was released at a Husky gas station. It was his grandmother who alerted the cops, who got the emergency wire as a result. The arrests followed later.
After he was set free, the teen gave a detailed three-hour statement to police about his ordeal. “They were playing Russian roulette with us, putting one bullet in … and spinning it,” he told them. One shot went “right by my head.”
But he eventually realized he would be required to testify in court.
“Who does such a thing?” the exhausted teen asked the officers.
“Who does what?” one of them asked back.
“Come to trial and you going to look at me and I am going to say, ‘yeah, this guy he kidnapped me.’ ”
After that he clammed up — and recanted everything he had already told them.
Despite this, prosecutors Elizabeth Nadeau and Glenn Brotherston were able to get his statement admitted into court. (The other victim also refused to cooperate.)
To prove their case, led by Toronto Police Detectives Sergio Brito and Brandon Robinson, the Crown attorneys relied on what the judge called “substantial independent” corroborative evidence, which included fingerprints, surveillance footage, wiretaps — and a broken carving of a fish.
Next month, prosecutors are seeking to have T.G. sentenced as an adult. Rowe and Richards are also scheduled for sentencing in January.
Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy