A man whose gunpoint holdup at Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal in 2012 was part of an escalating pattern of armed robbery in the Lower Mainland has been found guilty by a B.C. Supreme Court justice of seven offences, including armed holdups in West Vancouver, Squamish and Surrey.
Thomas Bert Prins, 30, was found guilty of committing three armed robberies with a handgun, having his face masked with intent to commit a crime, and possession of an unlicensed, unregistered handgun in May and June of 2012.
He was also found guilty of threatening death or bodily harm towards a witness in the case later the same year.
Justice Kenneth Ball recently issued the verdict after a trial in New Westminster Supreme Court that followed a lengthy voir dire – or trial within a trial – into admissibility of evidence obtained in an undercover RCMP sting operation, commonly known as the “Mr. Big” scenario. That evidence was eventually ruled admissible.
According to court documents, Prins used a Norinco Model 541 handgun to rob a B.C. Ferries employee at gunpoint on May 28, 2012, as ferry workers were preparing to close the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal for the night.
According to Ball’s decision, two ferry workers were in a “cash room” at the terminal where fares are deposited, when they received a call from the control tower, advising them that a prowler had been spotted in the area.
One worker went out to investigate, and was met by Prins wearing a balaclava and pointing a handgun. Prins forced the worker back into the cash room, where he demanded money from the vault. When ferry workers told him they had no access to that, he asked for their wallets. One of the employees pulled $20 from his pocket and handed it to Prins, who took off into a wooded area near the ferry terminal.
His actions inside and outside the ferry terminal were captured on surveillance video.
Two days later, Prins was again captured on video breaking into a gas station convenience store in Squamish with a sledgehammer. But with no cash left in the register overnight and all the cigarettes locked up, he made off with only sandwiches. Police later discovered a discarded black balaclava containing DNA that matched that of Prins.
A third holdup happened June 7, 2012 in Surrey where a masked man held up the operator of a local golf driving range after-hours as he was walking to his car. The thief demanded the man’s wallet containing $70, his car keys and cellphone before taking off in the man’s car.
During the trial, a former friend of Prins, who first met him in a homeless shelter, testified that Prins had related details of the crimes to him. The friend – whose identity is shielded by a publication ban – went to police after becoming concerned that Prins wanted to commit armed car robberies.
While Prins was on bail following his arrest for some of the offences, the RCMP conducted a Mr. Big sting, during which Prins confessed to the crimes.
In finding Prins guilty, the judge noted details of the events related by various witnesses appeared to match details captured on video surveillance and related by Prins to police officers in the undercover operation.
In contrast, the judge said Prins’ testimony in his own defence was inconsistent, evasive and overall “simply did not make sense.”
Prins has been in custody since December 2012. Part of the reason for the delay in the case coming to trial was Prins’ repeated firing of several defence lawyers, said Crown counsel Winston Sayson, outside of the court.
Prins is set to be sentenced in December.
A conviction on one count of armed robbery carries a mandatory minimum sentence of four years in jail.