He ran a death squad

Former gangster Bal Buttar reveals how he arranged the murders of Indo-Canadian rivals in a brutal, drug-fuelled underworld that has claimed dozens of young lives.

 In exclusive interviews with The Sun's Kim Bolan, he warns teens not to be tempted by the promise of wealth and power into a world where gangsters betray their best friends.

Kim Bolan

Vancouver Sun

Friday, September 17, 2004

A former gangster paralysed in a 2001 shooting admits he arranged the unsolved 1998 murder of crime boss Bindy Johal, even though he was working under Johal in the "Indo-Canadian Mafia" at the time.

 

Bal Buttar, now a 28-year-old blind quadriplegic, told The Vancouver Sun in exclusive interviews that he felt he had to take Johal out because of erratic behaviour by the notorious cocaine dealer that included killing off a series of his own associates.

CREDIT: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun files

"If I hadn't killed him, he would have got me," Buttar explained. 

"I had no choice."

A December 1998 funeral procession for Bindy Johal heads for the crematorium in Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver. Johal was gunned down as he hit the dance floor at the Palladium nightclub. Bal Buttar says he contracted the hit for $20,000

Buttar, who was shot twice in the head at a Vancouver hair salon in August 2001, also confessed to having a role in other unsolved murders.

 

In a series of interviews, he offered a disturbing glimpse into a criminal underworld that lures teens craving attention, money and power and turns them into gangsters, drug dealers and killers willing to betray their best friends to move up in the organization.

 

He now says he has found God and abandoned his criminal ways. He wants to go public to help kids avoid the path he chose as a teenager when he met Johal and became part of a criminal organization that grew to be worth millions.

 

He is also working on a book about his life and wants to start a foundation to aid crime victims.

CREDIT: Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun

His objective in writing the book is not to name names, but to explain what has gone on in recent years.

Bal Buttar, former Indo-Canadian gang member, is now a quadriplegic and blind after being shot twice in the head.

"I've never in my life been a rat and I'll never be one," Buttar said.

 

"I never used to believe in God before. But once he gave me a second chance, I knew it was for a reason and that reason is to write a book."

 

He'd like to take his message to school children: "If this ever comes to you, watch out -- you've got two ways to go, either the right or the wrong."

CREDIT: Mark van Manen, Sun files

As part of his newfound mission, Buttar agreed to provide information to a Sun reporter about a string of unsolved murders in recent years involving young Indo-Canadian men.

Bindy Johal after he was acquitted of gangland-style killings. In the mid-1990s, Johal founded a five-member hit squad called The Elite.

MURDER FOR HIRE

In the mid-1990s, Johal founded a shadowy, five-member hit squad called "The Elite" that Buttar said was responsible for 25 to 30 murders.

Johal controlled The Elite, but would pass that control to Buttar and others at various times, he said, refusing to name members.

Buttar said Johal ordered him to arrange the July 1998 Vancouver murder of Vinuse News MacKenzie and the unsuccessful October 1998 attempt on the life of Johal associate Peter Gill.

"I didn't want to do this job that Bindy gave me to do. Before, when I was in jail with Bindy, Bindy told me, 'You are going to be the one underneath me. You listen to me. If you take care of things at your end, I'll be happy with you brother. If you f--- me over, I'll kill you. Right.' "

It was The Elite that Buttar turned to in December 1998 to gun down Johal as he hit the dance floor at the Palladium nightclub.

Buttar said he also used The Elite "a few times" more after he took over Johal's criminal empire.

He admitted to being "the middleman" who arranged for The Elite to kill 25-year-old Kuldip Singh in September 1999. Buttar said the other victim in the Richmond shooting, Vikash Naidu, was not the target.

Buttar said he last turned to The Elite in the spring of 2002, looking for revenge for the slaying of his younger brother Kelly a few months earlier.

The Elite took care of Jaskaran Singh Chima in March of that year because he was suspected of being one of the shooters who sprayed Kelly with gunfire at a Richmond wedding reception, Buttar said.

And in June 2002 The Elite gunned down high-profile drug trafficker Robbie Kandola outside his Coal Harbour apartment because he ordered Kelly's December 2001 execution, Buttar said.

"My crew -- my old crew, not my crew any more -- dealt with Kandola because he had a hand in killing my brother," he said.

"Kandola was running big cocaine from the downtown area. He had his pad downtown. He was running cocaine all over the Vancouver area, Moberly area. All of the people who were buying drugs were buying from Robbie Kandola."

Buttar blamed Kandola for the unsolved May 2000 murder of Mike Brar, a bodyguard for accused drug trafficker Ranjit Cheema, who is still fighting his extradition to the United States. Brar was killed outside a west- side wedding attended by former premier turned federal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh.

Asked if he feared criminal charges for disclosing so much information about so many unsolved murders, Buttar said matter-of-factly: "They can't do nothing to me now. What are they going to do? Where are they going to send me now? They can't send me anywhere. All this is going to be in my book."

'GOD WILL PUNISH THEM'

Buttar has serious medical needs after his near-fatal shooting. He is paralysed from the chest down, but has some movement in his hand and hopes to recover even more. He is also "blind as a bat."

But he still has some of the pride in his appearance that he had during his gang days. He wears the trademark gangster goatee and reflective sunglasses, as well as a white velour track suit and running shoes.

He admits his attention to his appearance made him an easy target on Aug. 3, 2001, when his best friend Gary Rai offered to take him to a Victoria Drive beauty parlour to get his legs waxed.

"I was into body-building... He took me to the wax place down on Victoria -- Kohli's. Gary took me there and Gary Rai was on the phone all day and I didn't pay attention to him," Buttar said with bitterness in his voice.

What he didn't know is that Rai had collaborated with some of his other former associates -- Hawryluk and a gangster Buttar will only call "The Teeth" because he is still alive and has never been charged.

He said "The Teeth" had been operating as Buttar's driver and had fallen in love with Buttar's girlfriend. The woman, as well as her newfound love, decided to take Buttar out.

"To get me out of the way, these guys set me up," Buttar said.

Hawryluk agreed to be the shooter because Buttar had thrown him out of the organization over his drug use.

"When you are initiated into this gang we have, you can't do drugs. You can drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, but no drugs at all. Tyler Hawryluk became a junkie," Buttar said. "He used to call my house all the time and I would cut him off and say, 'Don't call my house.' And then he went to the other side -- a different party -- and started talking to them. They said listen, we'll support you, give you money -- take care of Bal."

Buttar clearly feels most betrayed by Rai, who was ironically killed in the same shooting that left him in a wheelchair.

As for "The Teeth," Buttar said: "God will punish him. I believe in God now. God will punish him. Quite a few people are out there who shouldn't be out there. But God will punish them."

BABY BROTHER GUNNED DOWN

Everyone who saw the blood-spattered salon could not believe Buttar survived. He does not remember seeing the shooter or knowing what was unfolding that summer evening.

"All I remember is waking up in the dark. Can't open my mouth. My mouth and jaw is shut," he said, crediting his mother with remaining by his side throughout the first difficult months.

"But after a month or two, I got used to my new life. I was in a lot of pain. I was crying a lot. I can't believe it had happened to me. I am not dead or alive. I am right in the middle. Why did God do this? I don't know why."

Just four months after he was shot, his mother and older brother Manny came to his hospital bed and told them that Kelly, the family baby, had been murdered in a targeted hit. The body of his 22-year-old brother was just a few floors below in the same hospital. That was Buttar's darkest hour. For a time, he wished that he had also died.

After the grief subsided, he made sure there was revenge.

But the more he kept hearing of the continuing violence plaguing his community, the more Buttar began to regret his contributions to the problem. He now thinks God allowed him to survive two bullets to the head to help youths stay away from violent gangs that have been glamourized for years.

"It's because of the easy money. We have marijuana here and people say it is a beautiful drug," he said. "But when people deal big quantities of that, there is murder. All of this violence is caused by marijuana. A lot happens with marijuana."

Buttar thinks he was attracted to the criminal world because he struggled with attention deficit disorder in school and was often bullied and teased. He also wore a turban and other kids would taunt him in the school yard, calling him names.

He compensated by getting tough -- instilling fear in others around him.

"I learned how to give attention to people by giving them fear. And then with fear, they would listen to me. Whatever I would tell them to do, they would do," he said.

First came fights. Then knives, guns and full-fledged assaults. He was charged and convicted, with an associate, of extortion, kidnapping and unlawful confinement. He did stints in youth detention and a wilderness program, but ran away.

During one stretch in the Vancouver pre-trial jail, he ended up sharing a cell with Johal, who had been charged in December 1996 with kidnapping the brother of a rival gang leader.

Johal was already notorious, having been acquitted in 1995 of the high-profile murders of gang brothers Ron and Jimmy Dosanjh.

In jail, Buttar pledged his allegiance to Johal -- "we became, fully, brothers."

"When Bindy got out, that's when we started going out clubbing, beating up people, extortion," Buttar said.

Johal took Buttar, then just 150 pounds, to the gym regularly and gave him steroids. He packed on 100 pounds. "I could knock anybody down -- you know what I mean?"

THE INDO-CANADIAN MAFIA

Johal built a multi-faceted criminal business, in which Buttar and another associate named Roman "Danny" Mann had major roles.

Buttar said Mann was in charge of about 15 men who handled the drug trafficking wing of the business and paid Johal tens of thousands of dollars each month.

Buttar had a 20-person crew involved in a variety of mafia-like crimes "and Bindy would get a piece of the action off any operations we would do."

"I'm talking about stealing loads of lumber, computers, racketeering," he said.

Some of the ventures were surprisingly creative. Buttar knew many truckers in Surrey willing to participate in inside rip-offs, in which they would claim their cargo had been stolen so that Buttar could sell it on the street.

"I would get about 15 to 20 grand off each truck load. We would get three loads a month," he said.

Another scheme involved buying totaled luxury cars from the U.S. and bringing them across the border. Buttar's crew would take them to be crushed, but not before removing the ignition and vehicle registration number. He would then "get one of the guys to go and steal a car like that, change the ignition, change the number and we would sell it at the auction.

We would spend about $2,000 a car and we would sell it for about $15,000-$16,000. That was a really good network we had going there."

Buttar said the Johal empire grew from earnings of about $500,000 in its first year as a gang to about $3 to $4 million a year when Buttar ordered Johal's murder -- "We were the Indo-Canadian Mafia. That's what we called ourselves."

One of the branches of the business was The Elite hit squad, which would get between $15,000 and $20,000 a killing, Buttar said.

"Those guys were murder-for- hire. Five members. Bindy was in charge of that," he said. "Whoever Bindy wanted murdered, they would go do it."

CRIME FAMILY UNRAVELS

By the summer and fall of 1998, Johal was floundering. He ripped off some of his own associates and people were losing confidence in him, including Buttar.

But one incident Buttar witnessed shocked him so much, he realized he would have to kill Johal.

Buttar, his brother Kelly, a friend named Derek Shankar and a few others went out clubbing one night in September 1998.

After several drinks, Shankar decided to call Johal on his cell phone to get him to party.

"And Bindy says I am tired man, I don't want to go," Buttar recalled.

He said Shankar, who was extremely drunk, started razzing Johal, calling him an idiot and a baby and swearing at him for staying home.

"And Bindy goes -- watch your language, don't say these things to me . . . Bindy took it to heart."

When Buttar and his crew returned home in a truck about 3 a.m., Johal was waiting for them with Roman Mann.

Buttar knew there would be trouble. Johal asked where Shankar was and was told he was sleeping in the truck. Buttar said Johal asked him to go for a drive and he jumped in the truck.

"I was shooting the shit with him. I said, 'These guys didn't mean it. Just let these guys go,' and he drove me underneath the Queensborough Bridge," Buttar recalled.

He said he woke up Shankar and suggested the two of them leave quickly. First, they went to relieve themselves.

"All of a sudden I hear a big noise and I turn around and there is Derek Shankar going down . . . Bindy shot him. Bindy looks at me. I had my piece. I'm thinking hey, should I pull my piece on him and I thought, no that's too quick. I was about to jump in the truck and he says no, help me dump him in the water. So I chucked him in the water. Derek Shankar -- you've got to understand -- I have known that guy for a long time. He was from Richmond. He was one of the Richmond boys. So I saw [Bindy] kill him. We chucked him in the water. We chucked the gun off the Queensborough Bridge."

The stunning murder led to Johal's downfall, Buttar said.

"When Derek Shankar went down, Bindy's whole brigade went down. You know what I mean? He took down one of the best kids. He was a guy who was a party animal with us. But he was a legit kid. He never f---ed around."

VISITING THE HELLS ANGELS

Shankar had been extremely close to Kelly Buttar, who was devastated at the news of his death. "My brother took it hard and said -- 'I can't believe you were there and you didn't do anything.' You gotta understand the guy was watching me like a hawk. If I made one move, I know he would have pulled a gun on me."

Buttar said that he promised his brother he would get revenge. "Don't worry, I'll take care of it soon," he told Kelly.

In the meantime, Johal got into a dispute with the Hells Angels. He visited their Vancouver clubhouse with Buttar and Mann one fall evening after getting invited by a member he met at a downtown club. When the trio arrived, Johal was denied entry, which angered his underlings -- especially Buttar.

"I got choked. I said, 'Bindy look, I told you not to go there and now these guys have made us look like fools. They are telling us not to go in there. I pulled out my gun and said shoot the mother in the leg.' I was drunk myself," Buttar recalled.

He said Johal was cool about the dispute but that Buttar was so angry he shot his gun in the air several times.

"We got in the car and we left. These guys thought we shot at the clubhouse.

So what happened in the news -- they said Hells Angels clubhouse got shot up, linked to Bindy Johal or something. I thought that's hilarious. He never did that. It was me," Buttar said.

"That brought heat for Bindy and we started breaking down."

Mann wanted out and told Johal, which led to Johal punching him in the face. When Buttar saw Mann's fat lip, he could also see that everything was unraveling fast.

"The next thing I know -- the next day or two days later -- I hear Roman's body was found behind a warehouse and I knew right away that it was Bindy. Bindy was calling my cell and saying we've got to go to Roman's funeral. We've got to find out if the HAs did this. Blame it on the HAs," he said, referring to the Hells Angels.

Buttar was suspicious when Johal wanted to go out clubbing after leaving Mann's grieving family.

"I said, 'Why the hell do I want to go clubbing when my best friend died. My other guy Derek died and now you want to go clubbing with me?'" Buttar told Johal.

SHOT DEAD FOR $20,000

In early December 1998 Buttar was driving to a Surrey club with his boss when Johal pulled a 360-degree turn in the middle of Scott Road. The Delta police pulled the pair over.

"He pulls out a gun. I couldn't believe it because this guy doesn't carry. He tells me when he's going to carry a gun," Buttar said.

It dawned on him that Johal had probably planned to kill his loyal lieutenant that night.

As the police checked the car's registration, Johal asked Buttar to hide the weapon, but the officer had already seen it and called for backup. The pair were arrested.

"All night he was whining -- 'Oh, I can't go through this again -- for eight or nine months remand and I won't even beat the case,' " Buttar quoted Johal as saying.

Johal asked Buttar to say the gun was his and Buttar agreed to plead guilty.

It would give him a perfect alibi for Johal's murder -- he would be in jail when the hit took place on Dec. 20, 1998.

Buttar said The Elite was now taking orders from him because of the increasing distrust of Johal. "When Bindy was getting reckless, I took over The Elite. I told them to get him. I gave them $20,000 and they got Bindy in a nightclub for $20,000."

"The Elite is still out there," Buttar said. "I'm still friends with them."

Despite all the murders of Indo-Canadian mafia kingpins, Buttar believes the problem of gangsterism in his community is increasing.

All of the crew members trained by Johal and later Buttar have formed their own crews, creating an exponentially larger problem.

'STOP THE KILLING'

"All these guys are dying over greed, power. They want to go create their own power struggle. That is what it is -- a power struggle. Jump on top real fast. You know if you jump on top real fast, these people make you lots of money," he said.

Take the case of Ned Mander, who disappeared in September 2001 -- the same night his friend Rick Bhatti was murdered in a gangland-style hit in Surrey.

Buttar said Mander had a good, affluent family and did not need to get involved in illegal activity. But he was tempted when Buttar and Johal first talked to him about a drug scheme that would involve using his business, which imported marble from India. Johal had the idea of drilling holes in the marble to hide heroin. With putty and stone covering the secret compartment, it would remain undetected by sniffer dogs.

Buttar said he was involved in one shipment with Mander, but the quality of the Indian heroin was not good enough for the B.C. market.

"It is brownish. You got to get it tested before you take it and all that," he said.

He then referred Mander to some new partners, who continued the scheme, and Buttar was paid "a small finder's fee."

Mander's disappearance, and the murders of his friends -- Bhatti and Gary Sidhu -- within months, was related to the scheme going bad, Buttar said.

Mander and his friends were not gangsters, but people who saw a way to make a quick buck and got killed in the process. "These guys were minor," Buttar said. "They got involved in one big scheme."

Another criminal gang put up cash for the heroin, but someone decided to give them fake dope after taking the cash. Mander did not even know about the scam, Buttar said.

When the gang realized it had been ripped off, it took its revenge.

Buttar's take on the high-profile slayings conflicts with the police theory that Bhatti and Sidhu were killed in retaliation for the September 2001 Richmond murder of Kam Jawanda by a friend of theirs named Sarb Dhanda.

Dhanda and Jawanda had been fighting over a young woman who had been seeing Jawanda, but starting dating Dhanda.

Buttar said the Jawanda killing was strictly personal, but that Dhanda was also involved in the drug scheme with Bhatti, Sidhu and Mander.

He also said a pair of killings in November 2001 was related to the same dispute over the heroin scheme. The bodies of Sukhjinder Singh Sahota of Surrey and Gurpreet Singh Butter, of Coquitlam, were found on a dike in Richmond.

Buttar said he tried to steer Mander away from the criminal life. He called Mander "an idiot" for getting involved, but the temptation was too great.

"A guy gets offered $1 million a year to bring the heroin across from India, what do you think? I would do the same thing."

With the money so great, the Indo-Canadian gangs are expanding and getting into marijuana grow operations, as they continue to transport pot to the U.S., Buttar said.

He said the gangs are broken down geographically, with different groups controlling Richmond, Surrey, Abbotsford, Vancouver and Port Coquitlam.

"The police will never find a way to break these guys," he said. "Like I told you, only the certain people in The Elite know they can do this shit and they keep their mouth shut and they do it."

He said the gangs are well organized, despite the seemingly random tit-for-tat slayings. "That is why they can't catch all the killers. The only ones they can catch is the ones who rat each other out," he said.

Buttar doesn't know if his crusade to expose the dangers will make a difference. But he is hoping it will.

"I am alive for a reason," he said.

"I have to write this book and tell young kids to get away from this. We've got to stop the killing."

INSIDE THE INDO-CANADIAN MAFIA:

Bal Buttar was born the second of three brothers on Dec. 11, 1975. He grew up in Richmond, and was involved in petty crime as a teenager. But his criminal connections became much more serious after a chance meeting with a brutal crime boss seven years ago.

Early 1997 - Bal Buttar becomes a cellmate of Bindy Johal at the Vancouver pre-trial jail, beginning his dangerous association with the notorious cocaine dealer.

January 19, 1997 - Buttar says Johal orders the fatal hit on Amarjit Singh Dheil, 31, outside a Marpole community centre.

Oct. 21, 1997 - Buttar says Johal ordered the murder of Gorinder Singh Khun Khun, 24. Johal believed Khun Khun was responsible for the April 1994 attempt on his life that left his innocent neighbour, Glen Olson, dead.

July 1, 1998 - Buttar says he arranged for the murder of Vinuse News MacKenzie on Johal's orders. Johal claimed MacKenzie had drugs in the house. Buttar thinks Johal was really fighting with MacKenzie over a girlfriend.

Sept. 19, 1998 -- Johal friend Derek Chand Shankar, 19, is found shot to death under the Queensborough Bridge in New Westminster. Buttar says he witnessed Johal shoot Shankar after Shankar had been rude to the crime boss.

Oct. 7, 1998 -- Drug dealer Vikash Chand, 26, is shot dead outside Rags to Riches Motorcars in Burnaby. Buttar says he drove Johal and Roman (Danny) Mann to the scene shortly after the killing because Chand was their friend, but that Johal had nothing to do with the hit.

Oct. 25, 1998 - Buttar says he arranged for the hitman who went to kill former Johal associate Peter Gill as he left for the annual bikers' toy run. He says Johal ordered the hit, but that the gunman's semi-automatic jammed and Gill escaped.

Nov. 29, 1998 -- Johal associate Roman (Danny) Mann, 22, is found murdered in New Westminster. Buttar says Johal killed Mann, his close associate, after Mann said he wanted to leave the criminal organization.

Dec. 5, 1998 - Johal and Buttar are arrested on Scott Road by Delta police after a .45-calibre handgun was found in their car. Buttar says the gun belonged to Johal who he believes intended to execute him that night.

Dec. 20, 1998 - Buttar says he ordered the hit on Bindy Johal, 27, which was carried out on the dance floor of Vancouver's Palladium nightclub. He said he felt Johal would have killed him if he had not acted when he did.

Sept. 3, 1999 - Buttar said he was the middleman in setting up the Richmond hit on Kuldeep Singh, 25. The other victim, Vikash Naidu, 23, of Vancouver, was not the intended target.

Aug. 3, 2001 - Buttar is taken to a Vancouver salon by his close friend Gary Rai, who he now believes had plotted with other associates to murder him. Rai is shot dead and Buttar survives two bullets to the head. Others involved in the plot were former associate Tyler Hawryluk, Buttar's girlfriend and another associate he has dubbed "The Teeth."

Aug. 20, 2001 -Tyler Hawryluk, 22, is found shot dead in Burnaby. Buttar said his crew killed Hawryluk for revenge in his near-fatal shooting two weeks earlier.

Dec. 22, 2001 - Kelly Buttar, 22, is gunned down at a Richmond wedding. Bal Buttar says the hit on his kid brother was arranged by cocaine trafficker Robbie Kandola who wrongly believed Kelly was selling drugs on his turf.

March 18, 2002 -- New Westminster police discover the body of 25-year-old Jaskaran Singh Chima in a burning car under the Alex Fraser Bridge. Chima was a known drug dealer. Buttar says the murder was in retaliation for his brother Kelly's slaying.

June 23, 2002 -- Drug dealer Robbie Kandola is sprayed with bullets by killers waiting for him as he gets out of a cab in front of his Coal Harbour apartment. Buttar says the hit on Kandola was also in retaliation for his brother's murder six months earlier.

September 2004 - Bal Buttar says he regrets his criminal past and wants to write a book to warn kids to stay away from gang life.

 The Vancouver Sun 2004

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