Families with links to a British Columbia justice training centre were among the targets in the firebombings and shootings of their homes and vehicles by a man who has pleaded guilty to orchestrating the attacks, the Crown told a sentencing hearing Thursday. Vincent Cheung, 43, of Langley, pleaded guilty in B.C. Supreme Court to 18 of 23 counts stemming from the attacks between April 2011 and January 2012.
Reading from an agreed statement of facts, Crown lawyer Joe Bellows said the man targeted 15 families throughout the Lower Mainland after tracking down their homes with information obtained from their licence plates.
All the victims — including a corrections officer and members of a church group — had a member of their family park at the British Columbia Justice Institute, which offers training for people working in public safety including police officers and firefighters, he said.
Bellows said the Crown and defence will jointly ask for sentencing in the range of 10 to 15 years in prison.
He said nine witness impact statements on Friday will shed light on what the families endured.
“A lot of emotional trauma, a lot of financial difficulties,” he said outside court. “They were very traumatized. Especially those who were victimized more than once.”
Lack of injuries ‘simply dumb luck’
Court heard that Cheung hired and directed others, and might have personally participated in the attacks. Most victims were at home and several were sleeping, but nobody was injured or killed, said Bellows.
Their safety was not the result of careful planning, “it was simply dumb luck,” he told the court.
Video footage played in court showed a firebombing at the home of West Vancouver’s former police chief. Bellows said in one case, a fire was set to the front and back entrances of the home of an elderly woman.
Investigators spent four years piecing together the mysterious reign of terror, which at first appeared to involve random victims, court heard. But an email sent to the justice institute in July 2011 drew the connection that concentrated police efforts.
Its subject line read, “Stop following people before someone gets hurt.”
The email listed nine names and addresses. Eight had been victims of arsons or shootings, court heard.
Investigators also found a bag at one victim’s home with a loaded handgun and a document listing names, addresses and accurate descriptions of attacks that had occurred at those residences. DNA found in the bag also matched the accused.
Investigators ran an undercover operation to gather more evidence and got co-operation from a “close associate” who told police Cheung had “serious mental health issues.”
“There was a satellite up in the sky controlled from the (justice institute) building that was zapping his brain,” the agreed statement of facts quotes Cheung as telling the associate. “He had proof of it and that is why they were following him around.”
Police arrested Cheung last September.
They searched his home and found a certificate saying he had completed a recovery and treatment program in October 2010. There was also a page of handwriting including a passage that read:
“The paranoia got to me from all the drugs, so I got friends to tail me to make sure and see who was tailing me and we tailed them back to the justice institute. That’s how I found out they were police.”
Another man facing a single charge in the case pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one count of arson. A sentencing hearing for Thurman Taffe of Burnaby is scheduled next month.
An employee of the Insurance Corp. of B.C. has also been fired after investigators found the person looked up the addresses of all the victims, court heard. That investigation continues and no charges have been laid.