VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canadian police said on Friday they had made a major breakthrough in the 2007 murders of four drug dealers and two innocent bystanders, which had come to symbolize rising gang violence in the Vancouver area it prepares to host the 2010 Olympics.
One prominent gangster pleaded guilty on Friday in a surprise deal that appeared to be linked to the arrest of three other men police allege are members of the Red Scorpions gang. The gang has been at the center of a battle over the drug business in the Pacific Coast city and surrounding suburbs.
More arrests are expected, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who said they would not release more information until Saturday because the investigation was still under way.
The “Surrey Six” case came to symbolize public fears over brazen gang violence in the Vancouver region because two of the victims were bystanders who got caught up in the slaying of four drug dealers in suburban Surrey.
Police said Dennis Karbovanec, 27, whose arrest had not been previously announced, pleaded guilty to three counts of second degree murder and one count of conspiracy to murder. The three other men arrested were charged with conspiracy.
Police had earlier issued an unusual public safety warning about Karbovanec and another man arrested on Friday, James Bacon, saying they posed a danger to the community because rival gangs were so intent on having them killed.
The Red Scorpions gang is one of several mid-level groups fighting over the sale of cocaine and other drugs, which are imported from Mexico and the United States and often paid for with exports of locally grown marijuana.
Gang violence calmed down somewhat after the Surrey killings but has flared up again in recent months. There have been nearly 30 murders in the Vancouver area so far this year, and numerous other shooting incidents.
Officials have dismissed the potential safety risk for the Winter Olympics, which will be held in Vancouver next year, but headlines about gangland shootings have created a public relations problem for organizers, with international media now keeping a closer eye on the story.
Tight-lipped officials did not say when Karbovanec was arrested, but his public whereabouts were last known on March 19, when police issued a statement saying he had moved from his home in the Vancouver suburb of Port Moody to a location they would not disclose.
Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson