$705K in cash seized from Nova Scotia gunman’s property, court documents show

Three days after the attacks that killed 22 people in Nova Scotia, police discovered $705,000 in cash folded in tinfoil and crammed into ammunition containers amid the rubble of the gunman’s burnt cottage in Portapique, N.S., according to search warrant documents.

On April 18 and 19, the 51-year-old denturist went on a shooting rampage and killed neighbours, friends and strangers while driving in a decommissioned police vehicle he had adapted to look like an RCMP cruiser. During the rampage, he burned three homes belonging to people he killed, attacked his spouse and shot two men who survived. 

RCMP shot and killed Gabriel Wortman at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., when he stopped for gas in a stolen car, about 13 hours after the violence started.

In the days and weeks that followed, investigators sought warrants to search the gunman’s properties and gain access to the accounts he used online to purchase police gear. 

CBC and other media organizations have gone to court to gain access to the search warrant documents, which are typically public in Canada. On Wednesday, a Nova Scotia judge lifted some redactions in a 131-page search warrant application that was partially released in September.

The application relates to the RCMP’s request for records from Amazon, which is where investigators believed Wortman purchased the laser grips that police found attached to two handguns he had when he was killed. 

The newly unsealed court documents show that on April 19, a friend of Wortman, whose name was redacted, told investigators the denturist — whom he described as a millionaire — had recently made a large cash withdrawal of about $750,000 and buried some of the cash on his properties.

RCMP previously disclosed they had seized hundreds of thousands of dollars from a fireproof container on the shooter’s property, but never specified how much. It remains unclear where all the money came from.

Investigators believe the gunman stockpiled food, fuel and cash due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic because he was worried institutions could collapse.

The new records do not confirm whether the cash was buried, but do say $705,000 was found at the cottage site in Portapique.

Twenty-two people died before police shot and killed the gunman. (CBC)

Lisa Banfield, the gunman’s spouse who is now charged with providing him with ammunition, told investigators that he asked her to bring two tins of cash stored at their home in Dartmouth to their cottage in Portapique. She estimated there was $50,000 to $60,000, according to a summary of one of her police interviews.

The court documents detail that Wortman withdrew about $475,000 in cash from a Brink’s depot in Dartmouth after making arrangements with CIBC to liquidate his investments and accounts and transfer the savings into his business accounts. Investigators interviewed officials from CIBC and Brink’s about the March 30 withdrawal, which was paid out in $100 bills.  

Probate court document estimated the killer’s estate was valued at $1.2 million, including six properties valued at $712,000 and $500,000 in belongings, including savings.

Frequent trips to Maine

The newly unsealed information also sheds light on the frequent trips the gunman made to Houlton, Maine, as well as where he obtained the two rifles and two handguns he carried during the rampage. Wortman did not have a firearms licence and investigators believe he obtained all the weapons he carried illegally.

An FBI agent interviewed a friend of Wortman and Banfield several times starting on April 21 and it appears police believe two pistols they discovered on April 19 originated with the man. 

The friend, whose name is redacted, told police he believed that Wortman had taken two Glock handguns stored in his home without his permission in the last four to five years. 

He said when confronted, Wortman had told him he needed the weapons for protection. 

The burned-out remains of Wortman’s cottage on Portapique Beach Road are shown on May 13, 2020. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

The man said he had kept the guns in a bedroom and hadn’t accessed them in recent years. FBI agent Raymond Goergen told the RCMP he found the boxes the man referenced as previously being used to store the firearms in a closet and said they weren’t covered in dust.

Though the friend told police he felt betrayed after learning Wortman took the two guns, they appeared to have remained close and the couple would often stay with him. Wortman came four to five times a year, Banfield less frequently. The shooter’s most recent visit was in March, a week before the border closed due to COVID-19, and the witness said he was picking up a motor. 

The man told police he had given Wortman keys and access to his home and allowed him to collect boxes couriered there. The man told police he normally didn’t open the packages, but one time he did and found a light bar meant to be affixed to the top of a police vehicle.

Police determined the gunman used a Houlton address on his eBay account, one of the online sites he used to buy gear to outfit the decommissioned cruiser he drove during the rampage.

‘Everything seemed normal’

The friend said he last spoke to the couple on April 18, before the violence started in Portapique, when they were celebrating their 19th anniversary.

“They were talking and laughing and everything seemed normal,” according to the police summary of the friend’s statement, which also said the witness couldn’t get over what the gunman did.

The gunman’s cottage in Portapique was destroyed in a fire he set, but a large deck along the shore was left mostly intact. Pictured is the area under the structure. One witness told police the gunman stored grenades in a crate under the deck. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

The witness also admitted to giving Wortman a Ruger handgun several years before as a present after Wortman had helped him fix a screen door. That gun, he believed, had been purchased at a gun shop in Maine. Police found a business card for the shop on the shooter’s property. The court documents show RCMP believe it was the same 9-mm pistol they discovered on April 19. 

According to a summary of the man’s statement, the friend also seemed to be aware that Wortman had bought a rifle in April 2019 at a gun show in Maine, though he told police he wasn’t there. He thought that his friend transported it back to Canada by putting it in the cover of his truck bed.

Police determined Banfield and Wortman travelled together to Maine around that time. On April 25, they passed through the border back into Canada, Banfield continued on and Wortman went back into Maine 13 minutes after the first border crossing. 

Another person who gave a statement to investigators, a man originally from New Brunswick whose name is also redacted, made reference to the private sale of a rifle for $1,250. Because information remains redacted, it’s unclear who bought the gun or who it was for.

A summary of the man’s statement said he told an RCMP officer “the sale of the AR rifle was quick and dirty and did not know that the gun was for Gabriel Wortman and did not want to get arrested and go to jail.”

That man, who told police he saw Wortman several times a year, told police they shot guns together in Hainsville, Maine, and went to gun shows. He said he didn’t remember going to a gun show in April 2019. 

4th gun came from Canada

Police traced a fourth gun seized in Enfield, N.S., on April 19 back to a gun shop in Winnipeg. But it appears the firearm may have previously been owned by a lawyer from New Brunswick.

The friend in Houlton said he’d met Wortman in Fredericton in the 1990s, and they both knew lawyer Tom Evans. A relative of the shooter told police that Wortman put himself through university by smuggling tobacco and alcohol from Houlton and Evans was involved. 

On May 21, police interviewed a friend of Evans who said after Evans’s death in 2009, Wortman was executor of his estate. The man, whose name is redacted, said Wortman asked for a Ruger mini 14 .223 calibre — the same model of rifle police later discovered in Enfield. The man handed it over. After the rampage, he told investigators he was sick thinking that it may have been one of the guns the killer used.

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