Nova Scotia mass killer accumulated cash through ‘illegitimate or suspicious’ means

By Lyndsay Armstrong
THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Nova Scotia mass killer used “illegitimate or suspicious means” to amass cash and enjoy a lifestyle well beyond his reported $40,000 annual income, the inquiry into his 2020 murders has found.

But the inquiry says in a document published Tuesday it found no evidence the gunman was involved in organized crime or was a police informant, despite rumours that surfaced after it was revealed he withdrew $475,000 in cash from a Brink’s office shortly before his rampage.

A newly released summary of evidence — known as a foundational document — examines the schemes Gabriel Wortman used to enrich himself and his tendency to hide large sums of cash, including $705,000 found buried under the deck at his Portapique, N.S., property.

The lavish spending of the gunman, who killed 22 people over 13 hours on April 18-19, 2020 before being shot by police, was out of step with his “modest reported annual income and other visible sources of revenue,” reads the document. “While there are no definitive answers about the sources of all of his income, there is a clear pattern of misdealing.”

The killer’s common-law spouse Lisa Banfield told the inquiry that he “wasn’t claiming what he actually made” from his denture business, but to her knowledge he didn’t have another source of income.

Banfield worked in the gunman’s Dartmouth denture clinic and was usually the one to accept payments from patients. She said “a lot” of them paid in cash. At the end of the day, Banfield said, she would bring the cash upstairs to Wortman at their residence above the clinic. If patients paid by cheque, she would cash them and bring him the money.

Banfield was instructed to request that patients make cheques for dentures out to Wortman instead of his business, Banfield said.

A Financial Accounting Management Group report found that between 2012 and 2019 the gunman’s average annual income from Atlantic Denture Clinic, which he owned, was $39,916. Banfield’s reported annual income for her work at the clinic was $15,288.

During this period, the report found Wortman received an additional $232,900 in his personal accounts and another $96,755 in a joint account he shared with Banfield, though it doesn’t indicate where the money came from.

A report commissioned by the inquiry found that both Banfield and the gunman spent beyond their reported incomes. For example, Wortman spent about $23,600 on items from the federal government’s GCSurplus and $19,400 through PayPal between December 2017 and May 2020. During this same time period Banfield spent about $56,000 at grocery and clothing stores.

From December 2017 to April 2020 Wortman’s accounts, including one he shared with Banfield, one for his holding company and one for his denture company, had combined deposits of about $865,600 and combined withdrawals of more than $1.16 million.

A March 30, 2020 cash withdrawal of $475,000 involving CIBC and Brink’s stirred speculation that the gunman was being paid as a police informant, but the inquiry found that Wortman withdrew the money after becoming paranoid that the COVID-19 pandemic would cause a collapse of Canadian banks.

Joe Morgado, senior manager for corporate security at CIBC, told the RCMP that he was initially concerned about Wortman’s cash withdrawal request, because retrieving such a large sum can mean someone is being pressured or is falling victim to a scam.

But after going through email correspondence with CIBC employees and the gunman, Morgado told the RCMP that he understood that Wortman was concerned with “the state of the bank” and noted that “quite a few other clients” were worried that the “banking system is going to collapse” due to the pandemic.

Morgado noted that it’s unusual for someone to request such a large sum of money, but he reasoned that Wortman was a “middle-aged professional” who “gradually amounted a sum of money” and now wanted it withdrawn. He said the bank processed the withdrawal through Brink’s because it did not want to run the risk of having that much cash on its premises if something went wrong.

The RCMP have denied Wortman ever worked as an informant, and in a separate report for the inquiry, investigator Dwayne King concluded the $475,000 withdrawal was not payment for informant work. King said that while confidential informants are paid in cash, police would not require the informant to go to a business with video surveillance and provide identification, as Wortman had to do to retrieve his money from Brink’s.

The document notes rumours of the killer’s involvement with drug trafficking. Wortman and Banfield often travelled to Punta Cana in Dominican Republic, and while Banfield told the inquiry she was often by herself “all day” on vacation, she saw no evidence of drug trafficking or other criminal activity while travelling.

One piece of evidence points to possible involvement in selling or purchasing large amounts of cannabis. A 2018 Via Rail boarding pass found among Wortman’s belongings had handwritten notes that appear to be a cannabis price list. The reverse side of the Via Rail ticket names strains of cannabis, and shows price notes such as “5lb = $5,000.” 

Banfield confirmed to the inquiry that the notes were Wortman’s handwriting, but she said she had not seen them before. She told investigators that she never saw drugs at their properties and that Wortman chose to become a denturist because he believed that would be a good way to make “a lot of money.”