DRUG BUSTS HELP LIFT VERNON'S 'DARK SHADOW' (Vancouver)
Author: Rod Mickleburgh
Globe and Mail
Tue, 30 May 2006
VANCOUVER -- With its mild climate and modest population barely nudging 40,000, nestled near the shores of three lakes surrounded by hills, the Okanagan city of Vernon might well have been a stand-in for Pleasantville.
Recently, however, the otherwise-idyllic community turned dark, beset by five homicides and two suspicious disappearances in less than a year.
Now, Vernon may be able to reclaim its place in the Okanagan sunshine after a series of dramatic police raids during the weekend that, according to RCMP, broke the back of a large, violent drug ring known as the Greeks.
"I think everyone can all breathe a little easier," Corporal Henry Proce said yesterday. "When you have seven unsolved murders in a town this size in such a short period of time, it does raise a few eyebrows.
"From a police point of view, this is a good news story. The dark shadow is gone."
A local newspaper headlined the police swoop as Vernon's big, fat Greek takedown.
Cpl. Proce said the gang controlled a vast cocaine trafficking network linked to organized crime and extending as far as the Alberta line.
Those who got in the way were killed, he said.
"Whenever a body turned up, the Greeks were sending a message. While a lot of ordinary people were totally unaware of what was going on, these people terrorized others in their own subculture."
The swirl of violence RCMP have attributed to the Greeks began in the summer of 2004 with the disappearance of 47-year old David Marnuik. Police have said he was abducted.
Other alleged victims include Ronald Thom and his 39-year old girlfriend, Belinda Scott; Jeffrey Drake, 60; Thomas Bryce; Robert Hewison, 43; and Stanley Polak, 33, who is still missing.
Four men -- Andre Raymond, Dale Spies, Leslie Podolski and Sheldon O'Donnell -- appeared in B.C. Supreme Court in Kelowna yesterday afternoon, charged with first-degree murder in the death of Mr. Marnuik.
Peter Manolakos, the former owner of a Vernon pizzeria, who police accused of being the gang's ringleader, is facing a charge of manslaughter in connection with Mr. Marnuik's death.
Defence lawyer Alexander Watt rejected police accusations that his client, Mr. Manolakos, is the leader of the purported gang.
"I don't think he's the leader of anything," he told reporters outside the courthouse.
The five men are further charged with committing murder and manslaughter "at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization known as the 'Greeks.' "
Along with 10 other individuals, including one woman, the five accused also face a wealth of charges relating to the trafficking of cocaine and marijuana.
Police say their investigation is continuing and more charges are expected.
The rash of drug-related killings is not the only grim news to hit Vernon in recent years.
The city was rocked two years ago by the death of Bill Abramenko, 75, during a violent home invasion.
Eric Norman Fish, charged with first-degree murder in the case, had been staying at Howard House, Vernon's controversial halfway house at the time.