Officer testifies in case of New York couple kidnapped and smuggled into Quebec

MONTREAL — A Quebec police officer told a trial Thursday that a couple from Upstate New York were kidnapped and smuggled into Quebec in 2020 because of a botched drug deal involving their grandson.

Investigator Guillaume Poirier is on the stand in the trial of Gary Arnold, 54, a Quebec man facing seven charges in an alleged conspiracy to abduct James and Sandra Helm.

The couple in their 70s were taken from their home in Moira, N.Y., on Sept. 27, 2020, and discovered by police two days later in Magog, Que., about 125 kilometres southeast of Montreal.

Poirier said that six days before their abduction, the couple’s grandson, Mackenzie Helm, was arrested in the United States by the Drug Enforcement Administration with 50 kilograms of cocaine on him.

He told the jury that the couple's son Michael called local authorities after discovering that his parents were missing and there were signs of a break-in at their home. "That's where a disappearance, kidnapping investigation begins," Poirier said. Michael Helm was subsequently contacted by people using Quebec-based phone numbers seeking ransom in exchange for his parents' release.

Several law enforcement agencies were involved at different points of the operation including the FBI, the DEA, New York State Police, the RCMP and Quebec provincial police, who were alerted the day after the disappearance when authorities came to believe the couple had been transported to Quebec.

Poirier said investigators used cellphone records to track the source of the ransom calls and to retrace the route used to smuggle the couple into Quebec. Notably, James Helm's cellphone was geolocated, showing up in Upstate New York and later at a point in the middle of the St. Lawrence River.

"From the moment we're in the situation of kidnapping, in the present context of kidnapping of elderly persons, on top of that it's an international abduction, we're in a worrying situation, a race against time, and the goal is to find the victims alive," Poirier said.

The Crown says James and Sandra Helm were transported by boat into Quebec through the Mohawk territory of Akwesasne before they were taken to a chalet in Magog, where they were freed after two days by a provincial police tactical unit.

The trial is expected to last up to eight weeks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2023.

The Canadian Press