Actor sent poisoned water, trial hears
An aspiring actor sent poisoned water bottles and mail bombs to a list of perceived enemies, including talent agents, a bank and a judge, a Superior Court trial heard yesterday.
Adel Arnaout pleaded not guilty yesterday to 16 charges, including attempted murder, possession of explosives and intent to cause explosions that could seriously harm or kill others. The allegations stem from a series of packages sent out between 2004 and 2007 in Toronto and Guelph.
The Crown alleges Mr. Arnaout, now about 40 years old, targeted people and businesses against whom he held a grudge.
Saroor Zaidi, owner of the defunct Blitz talent agency, said he received threatening letters from Mr. Arnaout in the months before a case of bottled water arrived at the company’s downtown office in July, 2004. The water was purportedly a promotional sample from Nestlé, but staff quickly realized something was off about the product after a receptionist took a sip.
“It was quite odd,” Mr. Zaidi testified, citing obvious signs of tampering, including pinprick holes on the cap of each bottle and a “hazy” appearance to the water.
“It had an odd smell to it as well,” he told the court.
Simonette Jesus, who also worked at Blitz, said the agency helped Mr. Arnaout assemble a portfolio, which was sent to potential employers in the hopes of landing commercial acting work. But his career did not take off as expected, and he blamed the agency, Ms. Jesus suggested.
“Eventually I believe he was discouraged … He began sending faxes, death threats,” she tesified.
In some, Mr. Arnaout warned he was “part of the Russian mafia,” Mr. Zaidi testified. Other threat letters were assembled from pieces of newspaper.
Those incidents ultimately led to Mr. Arnaout’s first arrest in 2003. He pleaded guilty to criminal harassment and received a conditional discharge; Blitz would hear nothing more from Mr. Arnaout, but received the tainted water months later, the court heard.
David Christen of downtown talent agency Christen and Associates, which also took Mr. Arnaout on as a client, recounted similar details about receiving a case of suspicious bottled water. He noticed pinprick holes and “white and crusty” deposits on the caps, along with a “rotten egg smell.”
When Mr. Christen looked more closely at the “promotional letter,” his suspicions were raised further.
“The grammar was off and the labelling was off,” he said, noting he contacted both Nestlé and police.
Tainted water was also delivered to a CIBC office and the Old City Hall courthouse that summer. The Crown alleges Mr. Arnaout had a dispute with the bank, and at the courthouse, the water was addressed to the judge who sentenced him in the harassment matter.
The water contained dimethyl sulfide, a poisonous industrial solvent, the court heard yesterday.
Mr. Arnaout, clad in a dark sport jacket and blue shirt, with thinning hair and drawn features, watched proceedings attentively and occasionally took notes as the witnesses spoke. He is being tried by judge alone.
Three years after the bottled water incidents, Mr. Arnaout allegedly sent mail bombs to a former roommate, a handyman and a lawyer.
One of the packages exploded upon opening, but the other two recipients became suspicious of the contents and notified police, Crown attorney James Dunda told the court. One noticed “a distinct smell of gasoline” emanating from the package.
A pattern emerged of links between Mr. Arnaout and the package recipients. Abdelmagid Radi once shared accommodations with the accused; lawyer Terrence Reiber had defended him in the criminal harassment case; and handyman John Becker once had a run-in with Mr. Arnaout in which the accused asked about certain weapons, spurring Mr. Becker to contact police, the court heard.
The attempted mail bombings gained much public attention in August, 2007, when police had to shut down the Don Valley Parkway on a Friday afternoon to transport seized explosives.
After Mr. Arnaout’s arrest, authorities who searched his laptop allegedly discovered material linking him to the 2004 bottled water incidents.
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