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Robert Manuel Moniz: Lawyers contest boxes of evidence

Robert Manuel Moniz: Lawyers contest boxes of evidence

MONTREAL - Benoit Gagnon thought he’d bought a six-unit apartment building.

When he and his girlfriend actually visited the property on Marcel-Laurin Blvd. in St. Laurent in November 2008, and discovered he owned a single condo, she called 911.

What happened next was the focus of first-day testimony Monday at the fraud trial in Montreal of Robert Manuel Moniz, 38.

Moniz, who gave his occupation as businessman, was living in the condo, but absent the day Gagnon showed up. His lawyers are contesting the admissibility of more than a dozen boxes of documents removed from the unit by Gagnon and subsequently turned over to police.

The two Montreal policemen who responded to the 911 call had accompanied Gagnon inside the building and stood by as a locksmith opened the door to the unit for him, entering it before him to ensure the premises were safe.

They testified that Gagnon seemed surprised to find furniture, clothes and other belongings inside.

Policeman Marc-Antoine Goyette said Gagnon told them he’d been a victim of real-estate fraud, and had tried for weeks to reach the real-estate agent who sold him the property.

He produced a notarized deed of sale showing he was the rightful owner of the unit, and on that basis, the police officers allowed the entry.

The next day, they were dispatched to pick up the boxes at an apartment in Terrebonne believed to be the home of Gagnon’s girlfriend.

Moniz’s lawyer, Catherine Ranalli, said there was no urgent need or reasonable grounds for entering the condo, it amounted to an illegal search and violated Moniz’s right to privacy.

The deed could have been fake or outdated, the condo could have been leased, Gagnon might have had a motive for gaining access, and the officers should have demanded more or probed deeper before acquiescing, she said.

“It’s not because you’re the owner of a place that you’re entitled to enter that place.”

After police left, Gagnon took the boxes and had them in his possession until the following day, which could have resulted in tampering or modification, Ranalli said.

She asked the court to exclude all the documents taken as evidence.

Crown attorney Isabelle Roy countered that the police officers acted in good faith, and Gagnon didn’t even know anyone was living in his apartment, let alone who it was.

In his own testimony, Moniz said Gagnon had accorded him power of attorney to administer the apartment unit, which gave him the right to occupy it.

He said Gagnon had purchased the unit in February 2008, from a corporation for which he signed documents and served as “special representative.”

Moniz said he told Gagnon he was living in the apartment and had given him “quite a few” $2,500 cheques to cover the rent, although he didn’t produce any cancelled cheques and couldn’t even remember the bank that had processed them.

Quebec Court Judge Patrick Healy will pronounce himself Tuesday on the motion to exclude the boxes of evidence. The trial is expected to last a month.

pdelean@montrealgazette.com