It took a team of professional undercover RCMP officers with years of training in deceit and subterfuge to snare alleged murderer Norman Larue and his former fiancee Christina Asp, jurors heard on Tuesday.
Larue is currently on trial for the 2008 beating and arson death of Ibex Valley resident Gordon Seybold. Asp, his fiancee at the time, was convicted for her role in the killing last year.
Yesterday the court heard a blow-by-blow account of the intricate ‘Mrs. Big’ operation that ultimately netted the couple, stretching from the undercover officers’ first “cold approach” meeting with Asp in February 2009 to the tactical team arrests almost six months later.
Two of the undercover RCMP officers who ran the elaborate operation took the witness stand to explain how it all came about. The identities of all the undercover officers involved are protected by a publication ban.
During the Crown’s examination, both officers separately described how a cast of undercover primary, secondary and cameo players created Project Monsoon, which originally started with only Asp as the target.
The project started in February 2009 with two officers meeting Asp in a strip mall food court in Calgary, Alberta, and telling her they needed help with a job. The officers implied they were working for an organization that did private investigations.
Asp agreed, and helped take pictures at a bar of a third officer who she was told was cheating on his spouse. She was then given an envelope with the photos, which she delivered to the undercover officer along with the message “D-Day is coming.”
“She was laughing about how scared he was,” said the primary officer, who spent the most time with Asp.
After she successfully completed that first job, the operatives of Project Monsoon began raising the stakes. The primary worked to get close to Asp and gain her trust.
The primary took Asp on a road trip in a Cadillac to Prince Albert, Sask., to pick up an officer who was supposedly being released from prison for manslaughter. They picked him up outside the jail itself.
She also drove to Lethbridge, Alta., with Asp and a third officer, letting Asp believe they were smuggling handguns through the U.S.-Canada border, and even showing Asp a box full of real-looking but functionally useless weapons.
As the layers of the fake crime family were slowly peeled back, the primary officer eventually confided in Asp that she had killed someone and the man they had picked up in Prince Albert had taken the fall for her.
Asp apparently replied that the two had more in common that the primary thought, according to the testimony of both the primary officer assigned to her, and the cover officer who oversaw the entire operation. Asp told them she had a secret with Norman Larue and someone had ended up dead, the primary officer testified.
Eventually, as Asp rose through the fake criminal family, the officers led her to a meeting with the vaunted Mrs. Big, the first female “crime boss” figure used in an operation like this in Canada.
In an interview with the crime boss, Asp apparently told of killing Seybold and the crime family offered to help her cover her tracks, according to the officers’ testimony.
In early March 2009, the entire Project Monsoon travelled to the Yukon, for what the cover officer described as a “re-enactment” of the crime, where Asp was to walk them through what happened at the scene and the officers, unbeknownst to Asp, would collect evidence.
However, that didn’t happen because there was too much snow at the site of Larue’s burned cabin, and a decision was made to slow the project down until Larue was released from prison in August where he was serving time for another crime. The hope was that he could also be brought into the web, the cover officer testified.
When Larue was released, the officers used Asp to facilitate a meeting between Larue and one of the fake crime family members posing as a mercenary who needed help with extra muscle and setting up a mercenary website. They offered the job to Larue, and tape-recorded a conversation where he too talked about killing Seybold.
But for all the RCMP’s cloak and dagger tricks, Asp and Larue may simply have been even better liars, defence lawyer Ray Dieno argued during cross-examination.
“Maybe Christina Asp is a better liar than you are? Maybe everything she is saying is not at all what she’s thinking,” Dieno charged.
Dieno also questioned using what he called “inducements,” including numerous expensive restaurant dinners and a necklace and $100 jacket that officers bought for Asp. Asp was also paid for her work with the fake crime family, earning $300 for the gun-running job, and having the family pay for her Calgary apartment and living expenses.
It could make sense, Dieno argued, that Asp and Larue were simply telling the undercover officers whatever they wanted to hear to preserve their chances of working with the criminal family and benefitting from what seemed like a high-class lifestyle.
Dieno said he wondered how the cover officer could know what Asp was thinking.
“You’re not a mind reader. How can you give testimony about what someone else was thinking? You know better than that,” Dieno said.
“No, sir I am not a mind reader,” the cover officer conceded, but added that the admissions Asp made were all voluntary, and only came after months of work to develop a trusting relationship between her and the undercover cops.
Christina Asp herself was called as a witness two weeks ago but refused to testify. Instead, the judge decided the jury will hear tapes of her testimony from her own trial last year when Larue’s trial resumes today.
Such evidence is usually considered inadmissible, but the judge made the exception in light of Asp’s refusal to co-operate.
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