Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Joe's freedom sparks feelings of betrayal

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"Everybody in this place has two stories. The first is the one they tell before they get sentenced, making them seem innocent. Once they get sentenced, the story with the truth comes out..."

-- Excerpt from prison journal

of Joe Stone Lamontagne

WHEN Joe Stone Lamontagne went to The Forks this week to thank merchants who helped raise funds that bought his freedom from a barbaric South American prison, he got a surprise.

He was lectured by a young woman he used to work with. She was angry. She had thought he was innocent.

"They just feel they helped a drug dealer," his father, Rick Lamontagne, says of the merchants who raised about $1,000 in collection jars last July.

Judging by that vignette, and critical letters to the Free Press, not everyone feels joy at last weekend's homecoming of Joe Stone Lamontagne.

The 23-year-old confessed to me last week that only his mother knew the truth -- he had agreed to be a drug mule for $6,000 US.

Some of you now feel he deserved more than the six months he spent in a South American hell of a prison for trying to run a half-kilo of cocaine from Ecuador to Spain.

Disgust in the letters was aimed largely at Joe's mother, the driving force to raise $40,000 US to rescue her son. The Stone Lamontagnes still owe $25,000 Cdn.

Reader Gord Greasley criticized my coverage of the Stone Lamontagnes.

"It appears that you have successfully spearheaded a campaign to raise money from Winnipeggers to bribe foreign justice officials to release an admitted drug courier from prison, and have returned him to our city," Greasley wrote.

He also criticized Susan. "You also reported Sunday that Stone Lamontagne's mother knew he had knowingly taken a drug courier job. Apparently this knowledge did not deter her from proclaiming his innocence while lobbying Winnipeggers to send money to free him."

That's not quite the way it went.

When I checked the original March 16 story on Joe's imprisonment by Free Press reporter Carol Sanders, I discovered Susan told the "truth" at the outset.

"His family says the young man, who had never been in trouble before ... was recruited by traffickers to be a drug mule," the article reads.

" 'What we want to do is let the rest of Winnipeg know these guys are right here in our very home town recruiting our kids,' said his mother, Susan Stone Lamontagne."

Shortly after that story, Susan Stone flew to Ecuador to visit her son.

She returned with a different version. One she said Joe told her.

When he got to the oil patch, there was no job. So his "boss" asked if he wanted to go to Ecuador. There was a carnival on that weekend. When he got there, his boss called and asked if he would bring his briefcase back.

Joe was suspicious. But, on his boss's invitation, he searched the briefcase and couldn't find drugs.

He was arrested at the Guyaquil airport. The cocaine was sewn inside.

In the pile of angry letters, I found only one from someone who donated money, and now was angry. Barb Hewitt gave $100.

"Susan Stone knew that her son was guilty of trying to traffic in drugs, and she lied about his culpability in order to dupe the generous and caring citizens of this city into contributing to the bribes that freed him."

I called Hewitt this week. S he sounded less angry in person.

"I'm so glad he's back," she said. "Even if he is guilty, you don't deserve that kind of treatment."

She said she felt misled, though. "That was what angered me."

But did Susan Stone really intentionally mislead anyone? Did she even lie?

On Tuesday, I called the Stone Lamontagne home.

Rick answered. He said the first he knew of the "truth" was when he read it in the Free Press Sunday. If his wife knew, he said, she didn't tell him.

I reached Susan later, on the road. Joe was with her. Not surprisingly, he has struggled emotionally and pyschologically.

I asked Susan if she knew the truth when she campaigned for support.

"No," she said.

But Joe had told me she knew the truth.

"I asked him about that," she said. "He said I knew part of it."

Which part?

"We haven't got that far yet," she said.

The excerpt from Joe Stone Lamontagne's journal at the top of this column suggests he was adopting the "rules" of the prison when he lied before he was sentenced about what really happened and may have even misled his mother.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Anne Fairley. She wanted to know if $100 would help the family with its $25,000 debt.

"The truth of what really happened touched me very much," she wrote.

I guess not everyone feels misled.

Or betrayed.

I know I don't.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

PHOTO KEN GIGLIOTTI/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 28, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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