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Bob Wilson's moment in the sun

The only person not surprised by the arrest of Whitey Macdonald on a 30-year-old warrant for drug smuggling was his former friend Bob Wilson.

Hard-luck Bob Wilson was left to take the rap for Whitey when, despite being under guard following his 1980 arrest in Florida, Macdonald melted into thin air one day, never to be seen again until a generation had passed.

Wilson was convicted and sentenced to 7 years in prison. An MLA at the time of his arrest, he was kicked out of the Legislature in disgrace. He lost his bailiff business. And he went crazy.

From Day One he's proclaimed his innocence. And every single day since he's been consumed with proving it. He's spent almost every waking hour--- through a marriage, a divorce and even a recent bout of brain surgery--- thinking about his trial, obsessively tracking every person remotely connected to his case, and writing---writing tens of thousands of letters, notes, appeals, and bizarre communications consisting of photocopied trial evidence peppered with his scrawled objections.

He bombarded every reporter in the city for decades with pleas for someone, anyone to take him seriously.

And he told the same story to the few who took some time to listen to him.

You'll find Whitey in Florida, he said.

He's with his wife, Angela, he said.

And sometimes he'd whip out a photocopy of a Florida marriage licence for Jack Ian Macdonald and Angela Louise Smith, nee Hunter. He had paid an investigator out of his own pocket to go to Florida and get it.

A week ago U.S. Marshalls arrested Macdonald in Homosassa, a small town north of Tampa.

He was with his wife Angela.

They were living as Mr. and Mrs. Hunter.

Gosh, said Wilson's trial lawyer Jay Prober, I thought Whitey was dead.

Gosh, said Wilson's prosecutor Bruce Macfarlane, I thought Whitey was dead.

At last, said Wilson.

For Wilson has never given up hope that the truth will come out. And with his renewed Christian faith, he's been more positive than ever. Macdonald's arrest has only revitalized his fight for exoneration.

It's left the Winnipeg press flummoxed. They don't know whether to embrace Wilson as a wrongly convicted innocent, after decades of shunning him. Or to treat him as a deluded and disgraced ex-con who can be milked for a few good stories, but who ultimately isn't worth the time.

Their task is complicated by knowing that if Wilson becomes the 'good guy', they need a 'bad guy' and that position will be filled by former Crown prosecutor Bruce MacFarlane.

Except that MacFarlane is currently a 'good guy' who prosecutes people in the court in The Hague and who, ironically, has written a book about wrongful convictions.

Oh the dilemma.

And, really....who can get excited about a drug charge dating back to the Seventies? For pot? Ha, ha, as one wag said, how old do you have to be to remember when we imported marijuana from the U.S.?

But then, the case has just enough quirky details to make it interesting.

- A hint that drug money was used to buy the Winnipeg Jets and bring them to Winnipeg.
- A prominent Winnipeg lawyer married in a major drug dealer's living room.
- A drug smuggler advised to fly pot shipments to a Manitoba landing strip owned by a prominent Winnipeg judge.
- A relative of then-Premier Sterling Lyon busted with a planeload of pot.
- And, of course, an MLA identified as the secret financier of an international drug-smuggling operation stretching from South America to northern Manitoba.

It all begins with the relationship between that MLA, Bob Wilson, and Jack (Whitey) Macdonald.

It was sort of like the relationship that a shark has with the pilot fish. "I'm with him."

Macdonald was always a hale fellow, well met, whether he was living in Winnipeg (and attending Mayor Steve Juba's New Years Eve parties in Petersfield) or in Florida, where he ran a unique business. He would buy, at auction, boats seized from drug smugglers and resell them at a profit.

Wilson was the quintessential Winnipegger---save-a-dime and stretch-a-dollar. At the time he was being wiretapped for allegedly financing drug deals, he was selling warehouse clearance blue jeans out of his office in the Legislature and worrying he didn't have the sizes to fit the secretaries who were buying from him.

He bought three boats from Macdonald intending on re-selling them in Winnipeg, but to save on the sales tax he registered a business with Macdonald as his partner, and watched prosecutors use this as proof he was Macdonald's co-conspirator in the drug world. When a man showed up with thousands of dollars for Macdonald, Wilson bought a money order rather than sit on that much cash; Whitey went ballistic at the paper trail.

Their worlds collided in May 10, 1979.

That night Whitey arrived in Winnipeg with Michael Gobuty who had recently learned the Jets would be in the National Hockey League. He immediately went to Bob Wilson's house on Middlegate and made himself at home. Wilson, who was at the Legislature for budget estimates, rushed over as soon as he could.

Macdonald phoned one of his local drug smugglers who owed him money. The man delivered $60,000 in cash to Whitey then left. Macdonald also phoned a local businessman who had sold him a speedboat for $125,000 and told him to come over to collect a big chunk of the money he was still owed.

These comings and goings took place under the watchful eyes of police on stakeout.

Wilson would never shake that image of $60,000 cash money from drug sales being counted in his living room. He's claimed from day one he and the businessman were on the second floor of the house where they went when Macdonald told them he didn't want them around while he took care of some business.

Police tailed him from then on, even putting a wiretap on phones in the Legislature he might use. When they thought he was trying to tip off Macdonald, who was back in Florida, that the RCMP were hot on his trail, they swooped down and arrested Wilson.

Some months later, they took Macdonald into custody, too. But he faked a heart attack to get out of jail, then asked to take a shower before going back. By the time his guard checked on him, Whitey had disappeared.

This created a problem for local law authorities. They had just spent two years and $2 million on an investigation and their prime target had flown the coop. They couldn't settle for a bunch of small fry smugglers.

They needed a big trophy and there was nobody to fit the bill -- except MLA Bob Wilson.

The prosecutors had to put some quick polish on the picture if they were to sell it to the public.

In court documents they turned penny-pinching Bob Wilson into a suave Mr. Big of the drug underworld. He never made more than $38,000 a year, and yet, they said, he lived in a mansion and drove a fancy Cadillac. He owned property in Florida, travelled North America, bought pleasure boats, and had thousands of dollars socked away in bank accounts.

They accused him of plotting to kill a Crown witness, which let them get a direct indictment, a rare procedure that committed him to stand trial without a preliminary hearing to test the Crown's evidence.

Then they offered him a deal. Plead guilty to one charge of conspiracy and two others would be dropped, including the conspiracy with Whitey Macdonald. A fine of $1700 and it's all over.

No, said Wilson. I'm not guilty.

The mansion was a three-story house in River Heights with a mortgage. The car was repossessed through his bailiff business. The big money in the bank was a mistaken deposit for $100,000 that belonged to a couple unknown to Wilson. It happens, said the bank, after Wilson was convicted. The travel consisted of taking a friend to A.A. in B.C. to dry out.

The irony was that the jury refused to convict him on the charge the Crown wanted him to admit. But they did find him guilty of the two charges the Crown was prepared to drop.

Now what?

The U.S. Marshalls get to brag they did what the RCMP and FBI could not---find Whitey Macdonald. Although the manhunt turned out to be only slightly more than checking the phone book for Angela Hunter.

Did the RCMP even want Whitey caught?

If he's brought back to Winnipeg and says Wilson had nothing to do with his smuggling operation, they'll run out of eggs in Manitoba because of all the goo on the faces of the legal establishment in the province, which went out of its way to dismiss Wilson's pleas all these years.

Not to mention the extreme likelihood of investigations into RCMP conduct.

Macdonald's chief smuggler said he just happened to bring his book-o'-deals with him when lugging all that cash into Wilson's home. He, ahem, forgot it when he left.

That book was found in Bob Wilson's files by a tax investigator and was used to link Wilson with Macdonald. The funny thing was that the book had already been initialled by an RCMP officer with a date, a date two days before it was "discovered." Hmmmmm.

And then, there's the alleged perjury.

Wilson was questioned after his arrest and the interview was taped by the RCMP. In court, an RCMP investigator testified, under oath, that the recorder malfunctioned and only a couple of minutes of the interview could be found. There was no problem with any other tapes made by the RCMP in the case, he said.

22 years ago, Wilson, using Freedom of Information legislation, pried a 1985 exchange of memos within the RCMP which we'll excerpt (emphasis theirs) :

C.O. "D" Division

Complaint of R. Wilson

snip

"Would you review the original transcript by Cst.GUERTIN to determine if he said the tape was destroyed, and tab the pertinent pages ---jor send a copy back with your report. We have copies of the transcript available."
"Next, at Tab 4, your A-5 indicagtes (a) the tape was never used in court--how does that match with what was said in the transcript and (b) you note Cst. BARRINGTON has had the tape all along--- why was it not entered as an exhibit and treated as such, I wonder."
"What Wilson is saying is there was a tape of conversation (his) made, but one of our members said in evidence that it was destroyed; the jury foreman asked for the tape, but was not allowed to get it. Wilson is further saying this is not true---the member lied. He bases this on the allegation C/Supt. MULLOCK later agreed there is such a tape, to him--Wilson. And now, you indicate indeed there is, and that it was not used in court, and a member has retained it himself."

"I hope there is not an omission on our part here, because such an issue could become very sensitive and embarrassing."

**********
To: Office i/c C.I.B.
From C.O. "D" Division

snip

"...in your memorandum it is noted only about two minutes of the conversation was recorded on the tape in question; this I am sure came from a statement made by Cst. GUERTIN under oath during cross-examination as indicated on the above mentioned Page 3129 of the transcript. In fact, as a result of your memorandum I was able to review the investigation carried out by C/Supt. MULLOCK, and I note (page 7 of his memorandum of 82-01-18) he himself personally listened to the tape and found the first approximately five minutes was very poor with difficulty in understanding any portion of it but the next approximately twenty-five minutes is reasonably understandable. It was only thereafter the tape became blank. I am sure you will recognize the potential significance of this situation and how it would be difficult to explain it if we were suddenly faced with the allegation without previous knowledge."

So....

"such an issue could become very sensitive and embarrassing."

"it would be difficult to explain"
There appears to be an awful lot of people with an awful big motive NOT to want Whitey Macdonald returned to Winnipeg.

As usual, Bob Wilson might be the odd man out.

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