Canadian man found guilty of kidnapping Moira couple

Feb. 20—MOIRA — A Canadian man was convicted Sunday of kidnapping a Moira couple in 2020 in an attempt to settle what he believed was their grandson's debt from a large cocaine sale.

According to the Montreal Gazette, a sequestered jury at a Montreal courthouse deliberated for about a dozen days before finding Gary Arnold, 54, of Godmanchester, Quebec, guilty of two counts each of kidnapping and extortion and one count of conspiracy in connection with the Sept. 27, 2020, kidnapping of Sandra and James Helm Sr. from their Moira home.

Following the kidnapping, Sandra and James Helm, who were 70 and 76 at the time, were smuggled across the St. Lawrence River at Akwesasne and held in a basement cellar in Magog, Quebec. They were held as ransom because co-conspirators thought the couple's grandson, Mackenzie Helm, had stolen $3.5 million worth of cocaine from Canadian drug traffickers.

Unbeknownst to the conspirators, the 50 kilograms of cocaine had already been seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Mackenzie Helm was placed under arrest.

Sandra Helm, who testified at Mr. Arnold's trial, and James Helm Sr., who died in December 2021 but had recorded a statement for use at the trial, were held against their will before being rescued, unharmed, by a Canadian SWAT team.

The Montreal Gazette reports that three other men — Franco D'Onofrio, 57, Kosmas Dritsas, 51, and Taylor Lawrence Martin, 38 — were included in the conspiracy charge. They all pleaded guilty to having roles in the kidnapping before Arnold's trial. Dritsas's father, George, 77, also pleaded guilty. He admitted that he kept the couple company while they were held against their will in a chalet in Magog.

Mr. Arnold is due to be sentenced in March, the Gazette reports.

A Malone man was sentenced Feb. 9 in U.S. District Court, Plattsburgh, to more than 10 years in prison for his role in the kidnapping. Graigory Brown, 52, had pleaded guilty Feb. 9, 2021, to conspiracy to commit kidnapping. He had been charged, along with Melissa G. McCain, 32, Malone with driving the vehicle in which the Helms were taken from their home to the boat launch.

Ms. McCain also pleaded guilty in federal court in Albany to conspiracy to commit kidnapping on Jan. 21, 2021, and was sentenced July 21 to 15 1/2 years in federal prison.