CALGARY – There’s nothing glamourous about life in a jail cell, and for a Calgary man now considered a rat, prison truly means losing all of his freedom.
“I come out half hour every two days…I’m locked in my room the whole time,” said confessed killer Michael Roberto in a videotaped interview with Calgary police.
Roberto is one of the most notorious gang members in Calgary’s history.
From his jail cell, Roberto is breaking his silence on life as a high-ranking gang member, saying it started when he was a kid who created a “dial-a-dope” operation.
“Getting customers I trusted that I knew weren’t cops or undercovers or whatever, built the phone up to where I knew it was going to make money for me and then I would get people to work for me,” he said. “You look for the younger kids that are kind of not in a cool crowd—they are looking for a friend—so you put your arm around them, bring them in, show them… ‘We’ll be your friends, we’ll be your family, we’ll protect you.’”
There was a war going on between two rival gangs, and Roberto said he wasn’t about to lose it.
“I feared for my life everyday…just always looking over my shoulder, just making sure there was not someone there that was going to shoot me. I wore a bullet-resistant vest everywhere I went. I had a gun with me everywhere I went; I slept with it beside my bed,” he said. “At that point in my life I was just filled with pure hate, and that’s all I wanted to do was get these people.”
Roberto is responsible for some of the city’s most high profile, public killings, including the Bolsa Restaurant triple murder, that killed Aaron Brendle, Sanjeev Mann and innocent bystander Keni Su’a on New Year’s Day in 2009.
“Bolsa happened because of the individual (Sanjeev Mann),” said Roberto. “He was a high-ranking member, a well-known member of the rival group, and he was supposedly known to have killed one of my best friends.”
At the time, Roberto was on top of his game: running drugs and living life as a top-ranking gang member. He said killing became normal, and admitted to murdering five people.
“Five, and four of them were because of the war that I was involved in, because I lost friends,” he said. “One was having to do business. Towards the end I wasn’t even really about business or making money. It was always to get revenge, because I lost people, I lost friends, and I knew they were coming after me so I wanted to get them first.”
When Roberto got caught for the Bolsa shootings and faced life in prison, things changed.
“The person sitting next to you today will testify against you tomorrow,” said Detective Mike Shute with the Calgary Police Homicide Unit. “I think Mike always knew that and always believed that. It just came to a point where he knew he was going to be facing some pretty significant charges, and Mike was looking out for Mike.”
Roberto decided to switch sides. He offered cooperation with police, for immunity on first-degree murder. The catch: he will now testify against his former friends, and he’s officially labelled a snitch.
“He knows because of cooperating with police…that that’s not really an accepted behaviour, regardless of your situation,” said Shute. “So he—everyday, I’m sure, for the rest of his life—will be concerned for his safety.”
“If i could go back, I would definitely not do this whole gang thing,” said Roberto.
Roberto, now 31, will soon be eligible for parole because of the deal he’s cut. In the meantime, he’s in lockup nearly 24 hours a day.
“It’s basically horrible, same thing, day in day out,” he said. “A lot of time to reflect. You are in a room with four cement walls, nothing else.”
Roberto will be testifying in multiple murder trials for years to come.