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Friday, 22 August 2008

Philbert Truong was gunned down outside the Red Jacket nightclub

00:43 |

The two young men charged in last month's shooting death of Victoria student Philbert Truong were among the 11 suspected associates of the violent Red Scorpion gang identified by Victoria police during a recent drug sting, sources close to the investigation said yesterday.Dubbed Operation Mongoose, the initiative kicked into gear on July 22, three days after Mr. Truong was gunned down outside a View Street nightclub.On Tuesday, police said they had seven of the 11 alleged Red Scorpion affiliates in custody. They later acknowledged that only five of the people arrested in the sting have been linked to the gang.On condition of anonymity, sources close to the investigation acknowledged that the other two who are "believed to have some affiliation with the Red Scorpion gang" are the suspects in Mr. Truong's death. They were taken into custody minutes after the shooting. Victoria police Constable Colin Brown refused comment Tuesday when asked about possible links between Mr. Truong's murder and the wave of drug arrests.Yesterday, Victoria police Sergeant Grant Hamilton called the murder investigation "completely separate" from Operation Mongoose."It's before the courts, and it would be inappropriate to speculate on any association between these arrests and the incident on View Street," Sgt. Hamilton said.He declined to specify which suspects are believed to be Red Scorpion affiliates, noting that police departments can be sued for incorrectly identifying someone as a gang member.Mr. Truong was gunned down in the early morning hours of July 19 as he and a group of friends were leaving the Red Jacket nightclub.
Two other young men believed to be friends of Mr. Truong were wounded in the attack.
Somphavanh Chanthabouala, 22, of Surrey and a 16-year-old who can't be named are facing charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder in connection with the shooting.The seven people facing drug possession or trafficking charges, or both, as a result of Operation Mongoose are: Mark Hubahib, Kurtis Schmidt, John Supena, Ashley Appolinario, Raphael Jose Blanco, Hisham Bennink and Justin Houchen. The suspects range in age from 18 to 23. Mr. Houchen was convicted of selling crack cocaine outside Victoria City Hall in July and sent back to the Lower Mainland. He is a under court order to stay away from Victoria.Victoria police said on Tuesday that Red Scorpion affiliates began aggressively targeting the local drug trade this spring.
Red Scorpion district "managers" had equipped junior drug runners with vehicles and cell phones as part of a dial-a-dope drug-dealing business, similar to Red Scorpion operations on the Lower Mainland, police said.
The Red Scorpion gang formed in 2000 inside a youth detention centre. Upon their release, the group of Asian males began a "dial-a-dope" operation in the Coquitlam area. In 2006, RCMP officers arrested several Red Scorpions and charged them with drug trafficking.
The investigation, titled Project E-Poison, produced 10 guilty pleas.
"That was the project that was thought to have really brought about the demise of the early manifestation of the Red Scorpions," said Sergeant Shinder Kirk of the Lower Mainland's Integrated Gang Task Force. "But again, given the drug situation not only within the Lower Mainland but the province and certainly nationally, we had a coalescing of people under that name and off they went again. That speaks to the draw of the drug trade."
Police don't know how many members the Red Scorpion gang has, or how far the gang's reach is.Sgt. Kirk said the "franchising" model used by the Red Scorpions to bully their way onto the Victoria drug scene is nothing new to the B.C. drug trade.
"We've seen it in organized crime," Sgt. Kirk said. "They may have an individual who has ties there that's already part of the group, or there's somebody already in the community who's engaged in the drug trade who sees an opportunity to now connect with someone who has the capacity to import or move larger shipments. We have a two-way street."

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