A year after his wife left him and during their custody battle, Mohammed Hakimzadah hired a hit man. He wanted her dead. And her family court lawyer, too.
Fortunately, that hit man was an undercover cop wearing a wire.
On Monday morning, Hakimzadah was half-carried, half-dragged into a downtown Toronto courtroom by three court officers and put into the prisoner’s box, where he lay down on the bench. He did not move or respond as Superior Court Justice Robert Goldstein found him guilty on five counts of counselling to commit an indictable offence.
According to a series of November 2016 conversations in several Toronto locations, including a Scarborough Tim Horton’s, Hakimzadah arranged for his wife and her family lawyer to be murdered by “Marc,” a hit man he believed to be a Hells Angel member from Quebec. The price for each murder was set at $50,000, Goldstein said in his ruling.
Hakimzadah, 55, was paranoid about being recorded so he would write down the most incriminating parts: “I don’t want her alive,” he wrote of his wife at one point, according to the testimony of the undercover officer, whose identity is under a publication ban.
Hakimzadah wanted the murder to look like an accident, not a suicide, the officer testified.
The Toronto taxi driver also provided the apparent hit man with the name and address of the family lawyer.
“So that lawyer is to be gone,” he said, according to the recording.
The hit man Googled her while in the car with Hakimzadah and he confirmed what she looked like. Hakimzadah suggested she be shot while going to the downtown courthouse at 393 University Ave, where the custody case was being heard.
“Do like this and finish her,” he said, according to the recording the undercover officer made.
At another point, Hakimzadah made a motion as if slicing his own throat, in reference to the family lawyer.
The only issue of dispute between him and the hit man, Goldstein said, was whether the family lawyer should “disappear” or if her murder should end up “in the news.”
Hakimzadah later changed the plan, putting the murders on hold, to first frame his then-wife by having “Marc” put a loaded gun and cocaine in her car and then calling the police. He said he wanted to her to be put in jail for no reason, like he felt he had been for a week after he was charged with threatening one of his children and violating a court order. Those charges were withdrawn by the Crown as the more serious criminal charges proceeded.
It is clear that Hakimzadah’s “state of mind was extremely hostile to women generally and to his wife in particular,” Goldstein said. There was “overwhelming evidence he intended for (the undercover officer) to carry out the crimes,” and never abandoned that position “even when he saw what he believed to be the actual gun and drugs.”
Hakimzadah was arrested shortly after the undercover officer showed him drugs and a replica gun in the parking lot of a Chapters bookstore on Nov. 17, 2016.
Hakimzadah was introduced to the undercover officer because his desire to hire someone to kill his wife and daughter was reported to police by a man who had ridden in his taxi
Steven Portelance was picked up by Hakimzadah, who owned a cab company, after grocery shopping in October 2016. During the ride, Hakimzadah said he wanted to get “revenge” on his wife and daughter for the harm he believed they’d caused him, and wanted to kill them, Portelance testified.
Portelance, who has a long history of minor crimes, said he initially planned to rip off Hakimzadah and pretended he knew a hit man who was a Hells Angel from Quebec. But he got worried Hakimzadah would actually go through with it, and went to the police.
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Portelance agreed to introduce the “hit man” to Hakimzadah; the undercover officer told him he could manage “human resources problems.”
Hakimzadah’s wife testified that she went to visit him while he was in custody to understand why he wanted to kill her. “I built a hole for you and I fell in,” she said he told her, which she understood to mean he wanted to kill and bury her.
Hakimzadah was not represented by a lawyer during his trial, despite numerous adjournments and his assurances that he would get one. An amicus, a lawyer who can offer assistance to the court about issues relevant to Hakimzadah’s defence, was eventually appointed.
Goldstein said he has ongoing concerns about Hakimzadah’s mental health, noting a physical and mental deterioration in Hakimzadah over his three years in custody. During the trial, Goldstein ordered that Hakimzadah have a mental health assessment and he was found fit to stand trial.
Hakimzadah maintained that the police had altered the recordings to frame him and that he’d done nothing wrong. Goldstein said there was no evidence at all to support the claim that the recordings had been interfered with.
Research has found women’s risk of violence from a male partner is highly elevated during and after separation, a period which factored in two-thirds of domestic homicides in Ontario over 14 years.
Isabel Grant, a law professor at the University of British Columbia who researches intimate partner violence, said the facts “sound like a very typical scenario in a femicide case. Thank heavens for the victim here that it was an undercover officer.”
It is difficult to know how often a woman is almost killed by her current or former partner just from looking at criminal charges, like attempted murder, Grant said. The facts of a near-fatal attack often end up being covered by a range of charges like assault or aggravated assault — or, as in this case, counselling to commit an offence — in part because attempted murder is very difficult to prove.
“We need to take a step back and look at how much danger women are in when they leave these relationships,” she said, noting that domestic violence can destroy lives in many ways, including criminal harassment.
A sentencing date for Hakimzadah has not yet been set.
If you or someone you know need help, you can call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 (Toll Free), 1-866-863-7868 (TTY) or 416-863-0511 (Toronto).