Pubdate: Tue, 30 May 2006
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2006, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Rod Mickleburgh


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.
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