At his remote waterfront property north of Toronto, Hau “Harry” Duong suffered a harrowing ordeal in 2010: set upon by armed thugs who arrived by canoe, he was smacked about, roped up, held captive for five days and forced to move an immense amount of harvested marijuana.
Or so he says.
Even though one of those purported thugs confessed — claiming the pot was his — Duong’s dramatic claims have unraveled into farce.
What transpired was an elaborate plot to hire a patsy to take the fall. The patsy, a man declared to be the “perfect dupe,” instead became a star witness that, after a court appeal was lost last week, sealed the fate of two brothers.
On Oct. 13, 2010, acting on a tip, Ontario Provincial Police officers arrived at Duong’s cottage property along the Shebeshekong river off Georgian Bay, 250 kilometres north of Toronto, not far from Killbear Park. Someone reported seeing four Asian men unloading marijuana from canoes.
Just as police cars pulled in, Duong was leaving in a black pickup truck towing a trailer.
In the back of the truck police found a loaded rifle. The trailer had bungee cords holding down firewood, but looking closer, police found the wood covered a false bottom hiding 11 bags stuffed with dried marijuana.
In a wooden shed, police found bags of potting soil, fertilizer and dried marijuana. In a padlocked yellow shipping container were five more garbage bags of pot. On the container’s floor, laid out drying, was still more pot.
Duong was arrested.
At the police station, Duong seemed co-operative. He detailed his business, telling officers his start-up costs and expected revenue, where he bought the fertilizer and the seedlings. He drew a map of the property showing where he had planted it.
Six months later, however, as the criminal case against Duong worked its way through court, Detective Ron Marshall received a call from a lawyer’s office arranging for him to meet someone.
That someone was Fred Williams.
Williams, 60, wanted police to know that the huge stash of marijuana found on Duong’s property was really his and that he had threatened Duong to force him to help him.
Williams was at first charged with cultivation and conspiracy to export marijuana. After another interview, Williams was instead charged with attempt to obstruct justice by providing a false statement and fabricating evidence. Police did not believe his confession.
Duong, however, didn’t budge from the new narrative.
Over five days, Duong told authorities, he was held hostage, often tied and blindfolded
At Duong’s trial in Parry Sound in 2012, no one disputed that 311 kilograms of pot and a loaded rifle were seized, or that the cottage property was Duong’s. Contrary to what he told police, in court he said he had no idea about pot fields on his land.
Instead, he told a story of two men arriving by canoe as he worked on his cottage. They carried a gun and a knife and lunged at him when they found him. They hit him, took the keys to his truck and his ATV and tied him up with rope, he said.
The men told him to listen carefully. If he didn’t co-operate, he and his family would be killed and his cottage burned to the ground, he said he was told. He was to follow their instructions carefully and not tell the police.
Over five days, he said, he was held hostage, often tied and blindfolded. On the last day of captivity, the men told him to chop wood and lay it in his trailer while they watched, he said. He was driving the trailer away from the house just as police arrived.
At the sight of police, his two captors must have slipped away into the woods, he told court. He testified the men must have brought the marijuana onto his property while he was tied up. He didn’t tell any of this to police at the time because of the threats, he said.
When he was asked on the stand about Williams, Duong said the first time he ever saw him was when he invaded his cottage, along with a mystery man known only as “Bruno.”
He was asked why he had phoned Williams several times after he was charged and Duong said he had learned Williams’ cellphone number while he was a captive and wanted to settle things.
It strains credulity
He said they met at a supermarket in Chatham where Duong said he gave Williams two choices, either he turn himself in or he would report him to police. Williams decided to surrender, Duong said, and he arranged for him to meet with his lawyer to confess.
Justice Stephen O’Neill of the Ontario Superior Court was deeply skeptical.
He noted 15 points of Duong’s testimony that made little sense, including why he wouldn’t give some indication of his grueling captivity to police when they first arrived at his cottage, why he suddenly found courage to later confront Williams on his own and why Williams, as a supposedly violent thug, had such a change of heart and surrendered to police when he wasn’t even a suspect.
“It strains credulity,” O’Neill said in his ruling at the time. “I am unable to accept Mr. Duong’s evidence and I discount most of it.”
Duong was found guilty of possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking, producing marijuana, trafficking in marijuana, possession of a weapon for a purpose dangerous to the public peace, and unlawfully transporting a firearm in a careless manner. He was sentenced to three years’ in prison.
Maintaining his innocence, his appeal of his conviction was dismissed. The Supreme Court declined to hear his case.
Police were not yet done with their probe.
An investigation into the bizarre role of Williams as an apparent patsy led to the arrest of Duong’s brother, Simon Yeung, 50, of Aurora, Ont.
At Yeung’s trial, as Williams had done at Duong’s, instead of being the fall guy to set Duong free, Williams was the star witness that sank them.
Williams is a status Indian who lived on Walpole Island, a First Nation reserve on the border between Ontario and Michigan, midway between Windsor and Sarnia. He’s lived there most of his life.
He became embroiled in the pot plot not in 2010 by invading Duong’s cottage, he told court, but long afterwards, when Harold Pinnance, another resident of Walpole Island, paid him a visit.
Williams was offered $25,000 and assured he wouldn’t do any time
Pinnance ran a transportation service that brought members of the Walpole Island community to Toronto for medical appointments. Pinnance told Williams one of his old friends was in trouble and “needs a little favour,” Williams told court in 2014. Williams would be “perfect” to help.
Pinnance took Williams to Toronto on one of his medical trips and Williams met Duong for lunch at an Asian restaurant, he said.
Duong offered $25,000 for Williams to confess to owning the pot and forcing Duong into helping him. Duong assured him he wouldn’t “do any time” or at least “nothing big,” court heard.
They met three more times for lunch, after which Williams agreed to help.
The next step was to make sure he could talk convincingly about Duong’s cottage property. Since Duong’s release conditions pending trial prevented him from going there, he said his brother, Simon Yeung, would take Williams and Pinnance to visit it.
Pinnance picked Williams up at his Walpole Island home one morning in March 2011 and drove him to a mall north of Toronto, near Canada’s Wonderland, Williams said. They then moved into Yeung’s SUV and he drove them to the cottage.
Yeung gave them a walking tour of the property, narrating what was what, court heard. Williams then met with a lawyer in Toronto who prepared a written confession.
A few weeks later he was driven to Parry Sound, where Williams turned himself into the OPP.
Williams, however, was a lousy liar. During his second police interview he crumbled. Police seized phones from both Williams and Pinnance. Call logs and text messages seemed to support his story.
Yeung denied the allegations. In court he said he had no knowledge of marijuana being on his brother’s property, hadn’t met Williams and Pinnance until trial and never drove them to the cottage.
Justice Edward Koke compared Yeung’s credibility to Williams’. Williams won.
“Clearly, Mr. Williams is not a sophisticated man. He is a simple man who I expect finds life away from the Walpole Island reserve very challenging,” Koke wrote in his ruling.
“Mr. Williams comes across as a ‘pleaser’ and a follower, a perfect dupe.”
His testimony was believed and Yeung was found guilty of attempting to obstruct justice. Williams earlier pleaded guilty to obstructing justice.
As for Pinnance, he was instead appearing in a United States court, where he was convicted of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling after migrants were brought into Michigan from Canada.
Like Duong, Yeung did not accept the court’s findings.
Last week, his challenge of his conviction at the Ontario Court of Appeal was rejected.