Jury finds Quebec man guilty in abduction, extortion of N.Y. couple in September 2020

MONTREAL — A Quebec man was found guilty of multiple charges on Sunday for his role in the abduction of a couple in their 70s from Upstate New York in September 2020.

A jury convicted Gary Arnold on five counts including kidnapping, extortion and conspiracy to kidnap James and Sandra Helm of Moira, N.Y.

The Helms were taken from their home, smuggled into Quebec by boat through the Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne and held at a cottage in Magog, Que. for two days before being rescued by a Quebec provincial police tactical unit unharmed on Sept. 29, 2020.

The prosecution said Arnold was one of four men behind a conspiracy to kidnap the couple.

The Crown argued the couple were kidnapped as leverage in a bid to recover 50 kilograms of cocaine, $3.5 million cash or their grandson, Mackenzie, who had been arrested in Vermont six days earlier with the drugs.

A total of 10 calls were made to the couple's son, Michael Helm, seeking ransom or his nephew.

James Helm died before the trial, but Sandra Helm testified that Arnold was one of two masked men in her bedroom the night of Sept, 27, 2020 when the couple were kidnapped.

Arnold's prepaid cellphone was also detected at a cell tower near the Helm's home when they were being abducted. Prosecutors argued that Arnold was important because of his contacts and knowledge about how to get into Quebec through the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve from a previous conviction for smuggling cigarettes.

Prosecutors noted that phone records suggested Arnold was in constant contact with the co-conspirators.

Arnold was never seen at the cottage where the Helms were held, about 125 kilometres southeast of Montreal.

The four other co-accused were arrested the same day the Helms were rescued.

Arnold was intercepted in a farmer's field and had his phone seized. He was arrested on Oct. 1, 2020.

Arnold, 54, testified at his trial that he had acted under threats against his life and his family, did not know anything about a kidnap plot, had never met any member of the Helm family and denied being inside the couple's home.

He said he followed orders from a man named "Big" who instructed him to do various tasks like transporting phones, sending text messages and picking up catheters that Sandra Helm needed.

Arnold said he'd received a threatening letter at home summoning him to a meeting a few days before the Helms were kidnapped. Days later, he told court, the same "Big" showed him photos of his wife and her daughters during a threatening meeting at a shopping mall.

Arnold testified he acted out of fear when he elected to do what Big asked of him instead of going to authorities. He maintained his silence even after his arrest due to that fear.

His lawyer argued his involvement was "non-criminal" and threats were the basis for his actions.

The dozen jurors returned the verdicts after being sequestered on Feb. 7 and began deliberations the following day. They were not told that the co-accused in the case had pleaded guilty last year and were serving time.

Arnold had faced seven charges, but two counts of forcible confinement were withdrawn.

The case returns for the sentencing phase on March 6.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2023.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press