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$10M mortgage on pig farm

Steve Mertl
Canadian Press

Sunday, August 21, 2005

VANCOUVER --The B.C. government has put a mortgage worth $10 million on accused serial killer Robert Pickton's notorious pig farm to cover his publicly funded defence, The Canadian Press has learned.

Robert Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C. December 20, 2004. (CP/Chuck Stoody)

But no one at the Attorney General's Ministry will say if that figure represents the estimated cost of Pickton's seven-member legal team in the long and hugely complex case.

And Robert Pickton's share of the property _ his brother and sister are co-owners _ is currently worth only a fraction of that amount. It's also saddled with several other mortgages and legal judgments that pre-date the province's mortgage.

Even if it could be sold, relatives of the Pickton's alleged victims have other ideas for the land, including turning it into a memorial park or using proceeds of development to compensate the families.

The government's mortgage was registered on the suburban Port Coquitlam property and a nearby smaller parcel, on Feb. 28, 2003, a year after police raided the farm and arrested Pickton.

He faces face 27 counts of first-degree murder related to women, mostly drug-addicted prostitutes, who disappeared from Vancouver's seedy Downtown Eastside in the 1990s. He has not yet entered a plea, and the legal process against him has not as yet resulted in any court findings that he was responsible for any of the deaths.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press show a mortgage principal of $10 million with no interest rate and no repayment schedule.

The lender is listed as the B.C. Crown, represented by the attorney general. The mortgage was handled by a lawyer for the ministry's legal services branch, who authorized its registration in a Feb. 27 letter to the New Westminster land title office.

Pickton, his brother David and sister Linda Wright each own one-third shares in the pig farm located on Port Coquitlam's Dominion Avenue, which they inherited from their parents. The Pickton brothers split the ownership of the smaller Burns Road property that housed Piggy's Palace, often used for parties.

B.C. Assessment, which tracks property values for tax purposes, valued the seven-hectare pig farm at about $5.9 million as of last fall, up from $4.2 million in the previous assessment. The Burns Road property is assessed at about $140,000.

Both are still zoned for agricultural use, although the surrounding land, some of it former Pickton property, was rezoned and now has big-box stores and condominiums.

Pickton lived in a mobile home on the Dominion Avenue property, running a small-scale piggery and slaughter operation. The brothers also ran a variety of other small businesses from there.

Attorney General's Ministry officials would not say whether the $10 million figure is an estimate of the properties' future value or perhaps a ballpark figure for the cost of Pickton's defence.

"I'd love to answer your question but it's not a matter of choice,'' said assistant deputy minister Jerry McHale, responsible for justice services.

"I'm bound by the confidentiality. We just can't get into the funding arrangements during the trial.''

Attorney General Wally Oppal was unavailable for comment.

Pickton was committed for trial after a lengthy preliminary hearing in 2003.

Pre-trial hearings began in June under a publication ban and the trial itself won't start until sometime next year, with thousands of pieces of evidence and testimony from dozens of witnesses.

Pickton's lead defence lawyer, Peter Ritchie, also would not discuss his funding arrangements with the government nor speculate on the defence's ultimate cost.

The stepmother of Marnie Frey, one of Pickton's alleged victims, is angry his defence could ultimately be paid out of the public purse.

"Why does he have seven lawyers?'' Lynn Frey asks. ``Nobody else ... has that many lawyers to defend them. Why doesn't he just have one lawyer and be done with it?''

But Russ MacKay, executive director of the B.C. Trial Lawyers' Association, says while such arrangements are extremely rare, Pickton's platoon of lawyers is fair given the mountain of evidence expected at the trial.

Pickton has been in custody since his arrest on Feb. 7, 2002. Police investigators, bolstered by civilian experts, spent more than a year combing the Pickton properties for evidence.

Documents show Pickton initially mortgaged his share of the larger Dominion Avenue property to Ritchie for $375,000 in April 2002. The mortgage, in the form of a demand loan, was to cover Ritchie's retainer.

It was apparently superseded the following February by the government's $10-million mortgage on the Dominion Avenue and Burns Road properties. Both mortgages carry Pickton's signature.

When shown a copy of the mortgage that he had provided, Ritchie said it was no longer applicable.

With property holdings and business interests, Pickton never qualified for legal aid. The Legal Services Society of B.C. normally pays defence lawyers $80 an hour on lengthy cases and $125 an hour for exceptional ones.

Ritchie launched what's known as a Robotham application in 2002, asking a judge to order Pickton to receive a publicly funded defence.

The hearing ended in October 2002 with Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm of B.C. Supreme Court ordering the Attorney General's Ministry to negotiate a funding arrangement directly with Ritchie.

An expert in real-estate law who didn't want to be named says it's not unusual for mortgages not to reflect the value of a property. The $10-million principal in the Pickton mortgage may represent an estimate of the government's maximum security, he says.

Whether it can recover any of that is another question.

Land title records show a long list of charges, mortgages and judgments registered against the two properties, often against Pickton's share and most pre-dating the government's mortgage.

Linda Wright, for example, registered a mortgage in 1998 on the smaller Burns Road. property owned by her brothers. She and David Pickton registered a mortgage on the pig farm itself through a numbered company, also in 1998.

Karin Joesbury, whose daughter Andrea was another of Pickton's alleged victims, also registered a certificate of pending litigation against the pig farm in 2002 as part of a lawsuit filed against Pickton, the RCMP and Vancouver police.

If the government wants to foreclose on the properties it would have to take Pickton's brother and sister to court and apply to force a sale because of their joint ownership, the real estate lawyer says.

Once it does, the rule of ``first in time, first in line,'' applies, meaning earlier creditors would be paid before the province.

Frey says the costs of Pickton's defence should come out of his assets but is torn on what should happen to the properties if he is convicted.

"One time there was talk of some family members wanting to make it a memorial area, a memorial park,'' she says.

"I would never want it as a memorial park. I'd like to see the monies divided between all the families and their children.''

However Maggie de Vries, whose sister Sarah is among the women who vanished from the Downtown Eastside, says she's not opposed to using the properties to pay for Pickton's defence but is not interested in seeing the land become a park.

"That idea doesn't appeal to me at all,'' de Vries said. ``I personally wouldn't go to a memorial site there or want to be involved with setting one up.''

Frey says she has no objection if the land was rezoned and developed if proceeds were used to help the victims' children, many of whom are in government care.

"They've already got townhouses and an elementary school (on) the property that he sold even before he got arrested,'' she says.

"Obviously it's a great development area. It's a good place to be. I would personally never want to live there.''

 Canadian Press 2005

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016