A former convenience store owner has been found guilty of conspiring to kill his business partner as a way out of a toxic work environment.
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Vic Toews convicted 42-year-old Amare Gebru of counselling to commit murder and counselling to commit robbery. The judge found Gebru “unbelievable” when he claimed on the stand he — not his female business partner — was the intended victim of a convoluted murder plot.
“There’s nothing in the accused’s evidence that leaves me with a reasonable doubt,” Toews said Tuesday.
Gebru, who is married with three children, had a 50/50 business deal with a now-31-year-old woman to buy Teddy’s convenience store on Balmoral Street. Both had immigrated to Winnipeg from Ethiopia and bought the store together in 2011 — but each business partner testified the other had contributed less money to the purchase of the store and each accused the other of stealing money from the business.
Within a few months, their working relationship soured, the store was struggling and both partners wanted out of the business, but they couldn’t agree on a buyout plan.
In May 2012, Gebru approached a regular customer in the store’s laundromat and hatched a plan for the now-28-year-old man to rob his business partner while she was headed to the bank to make a cash deposit.
“After that, he changed his mind. He says, ‘I don’t want her to be stealing money again. I just want her to be dead. So if you can be able to kill her… do it and I’ll give you money, $10,000, and I’ll sign your mortgage for you,'” the would-be hitman testified during Gebru’s trial.
The man balked at the murder plot and told Gebru’s business partner about the plan. Together, they went to police and the man agreed to wear a wire during secret meetings with Gebru. In recordings of the meetings played in court, Gebru spoke vaguely about a “mission” he needed the man to complete.
When he testified in his own defence, Gebru claimed the tables were turned and his business partner was the one who hired a hitman to kill him.
Gebru told the judge the “mission” was a trap he concocted after he learned about the murder plot against him. He said the would-be hitman pulled a gun on him while he was in his car one night and confessed the plan. Gebru said the hitman told him he couldn’t go through with it because he knew Gebru was a “good man.”
In a plot the judge dismissed as “not believable,” Gebru said he later met with the alleged hitman to get him to shoot up the convenience store as a trap that would supposedly allow Gebru to gather evidence against him.
Gebru didn’t report his interaction with the alleged hitman to police — he said he thought doing so would affect his immigration status — even though he contacted them three times subsequently to complain about his business partner and even met with the local member of Parliament to express concerns about the business venture.
“Why he felt that reporting a plan by (his business partner) to murder him would jeopardize his immigration status, but that reporting three other less-serious matters accusing (her) of improper if not criminal activity would not have had a similar impact on his immigration status is unclear and, indeed, makes no sense,” the judge said.
Gebru’s former business partner, as well as a friend of hers who co-owned a separate business with her, also testified during the trial. They said Gebru had threatened his business partner and her family as tensions grew at the store.
The woman testified Gebru admitted to stealing from the store’s international money-transfer fund to pay off his personal debts while his wife was undergoing cancer treatment.
Gebru has been free on bail since the charges were laid in May 2012, and he remains on bail as he awaits sentencing this fall. The Crown is expected to seek a prison sentence.
After five years waiting for the court case to end, defence lawyer Mike Cook said his client is looking forward to completing the process.
“Mr. Gebru is a very well-respected gentleman in the Ethiopian community,” Cook said in a statement, saying he expects supporters to write reference letters “to attest to his good character” prior to the sentencing hearing.