Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gang leader ran dial-a-dealer operation while in jail

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The head of a feared Winnipeg street gang splinter faction will serve more than five years in prison after being recorded on a jailhouse phone directing drug operations and meting out discipline to an underling on the outside.

In addition to pleading guilty to a cocaine-trafficking charge, Michael Balingit, 25, admitted Monday to directing others within a criminal organization to conduct crimes on its behalf.

It's believed to be the first time a member of the 334 MOB (Most Organized Brothers) Squad has been convicted of a criminal organization-related charge.

Balingit, the gang's leader, was among the main targets of a never-before publicized Winnipeg police operation dubbed Project Quik. The investigation saw police target one of the longest-running "dial-a-dealer" drug lines in Winnipeg's North End.

It netted 11 arrests out of 16 targets, including Balingit, Crown attorney Jason Clouston told court.

The criminal-organization case against Balingit came about after he made 86 telephone calls from inside jail between Feb. 27 and March 10, not long after he'd been returned to jail to face trial for being a party to selling rocks of crack cocaine to an undercover officer, Clouston said.

He didn't heed a sign warning inmates' calls were being recorded. As a result, investigators got a "fascinating expose" of the lengths Balingit was willing to go to keep control of the MOB Squad, Judge Marvin Garfinkel was told.

Through the taped calls, police learned much about Balingit, the gang and his leadership, according to prosecutors. A "thumbnail sketch" of his dealings were disclosed in court.

-- Balingit directed much of the day-to-day operation of the gang's drug business through a 16-year-old girl, whom he apparently found to be the "most reliable and most malleable" of his associates.

-- The drug business consisted of two distinct "cells," one female, called "the Johnettes," and one male, named "the Johns." Tensions existed between the cells, which were at times reluctant to hand over the key drug-sale cellphone to each other.

-- In addition to using threats of violence, Balingit was taped arranging to have a relative deal with a problem with one of the "Johns" by beating him up. The girl Balingit trusted confirmed to him in two phone calls in March the "John" in question had been dealt with and went into hiding.

-- When a separate Manitoba Avenue stash house was being raided, five different people called Balingit to keep him up to speed as it was happening. "He's getting contemporaneous intelligence from the street," said Clouston.

-- After police seized the MOB Squad's drug phone, Balingit made several calls to try and get the number up and running again, once again through instructions given to the teen girl.

It's believed Balingit started the 334 MOB Squad in 2012 following a dispute with others in the MOB gang.

He's a charismatic and intelligent person who could have great potential if he turned his mind to lawful pursuits, said the Crown.

At 15, Balingit, described by defence lawyer Eric Wach as a former "high- level car thief," crashed a car into a tree while being chased by police. He lost one leg to the incident, likely netting him his street name, "Legs."

Balingit has pledged to use his prison time to finish school and learn a trade, Wach said.

He and his family are hoping he'll get transferred out of Manitoba to allow him to break ties with the criminal lifestyle, said Wach.

Balingit plead guilty at the earliest stage possible, court heard.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 24, 2014 A4

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