New York woman kidnapped and smuggled into Quebec in 2020 testifies about ordeal

MONTREAL — A woman from Upstate New York who was kidnapped, smuggled into Quebec and held at a cottage for two days told a jury Tuesday she still lives with the consequences of the September 2020 abduction.

Sandra Helm was testifying at the trial of Gary Arnold, a Quebec man charged in an alleged conspiracy to abduct Helm and her late husband, James, over a debt owed by their grandson. Arnold, 54, of Godmanchester, Que., faces seven charges, including kidnapping, extortion and conspiracy.

The court has heard that the abduction of the couple in their 70s was tied to a botched cocaine deal involving their grandson Mackenzie Helm, who had been arrested six days earlier in Vermont with 50 kilograms of cocaine.

Sandra Helm identified Arnold as one of the two men who entered their home in Moira, N.Y., on Sept. 27, 2020. She said her husband had gone to bed on that Sunday night when two men kicked in the door and ordered the couple to get dressed.

They were taken from their home and ferried into Quebec through the Mohawk territory of Akwesasne, before being driven to Magog, Que., about 125 kilometres southeast of Montreal.

Helm said they were largely kept in the basement of a cottage, with her husband occasionally allowed outside to smoke. She told the court that despite her captors' assurances that she and her husband would be taken to a boat to return to New York, she didn't think they would be released.

"I truthfully didn't think that we were going to ever make it back home .... I just can't believe that after seeing them, they were just going to let us go," she said. "We saw their faces."

As their abductors were moving them to a vehicle, a police tactical unit moved in to free the couple. Helm said she fell in the commotion and was scared, but a heavily armed officer reassured her she was being saved.

Even now, more than two years later, Helm said she's afraid to be out after dark and worries about being alone.

"I'm scared all the time that someone's going to come into the house again," she said. She said she uses a two-by-four to block the front and back doors so they can't be kicked in and has installed security cameras around her rural home.

Later Tuesday, her son Michael Helm, who reported his parents' disappearance to New York State Police, told the court about several calls he received from his parents' captors. Jurors heard police recordings of the conversations, in which the captors demanded that he hand over either the missing 50 kilograms of cocaine, $3.5 million or his nephew Mackenzie Helm.

Michael Helm said his parents had raised Mackenzie since he was an infant but had fallen out with him over drugs and property theft.

On Monday, jurors learned that James Helm died in 2021 and they heard a video statement he gave from a hospital in Sherbrooke, Que., to investigators with the Quebec provincial police, the FBI and New York State Police.

After presenting 13 witnesses and a wealth of wiretap, text and phone message evidence, the Crown rested its case on Tuesday. The trial resumes on Thursday, when the defence will announce its intentions to the jury.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2023.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press