• 02/17/12 - - “I used to lie. I don’t any more.”

    - - “I used to lie. I don’t any more.”

    By Joe Fiorito Toronto Star

    Ricky Atkinson is back in town. He is older now, and he says he is wiser and, yes, he has said that before. The difference this time?

    “Fifteen more years in jail.”

    We were talking in his apartment, in the west end, on a cold, damp, prison-grey afternoon.

    Ricky Atkinson, as you may recall, was the leader of the Dirty Tricks gang; he was the brains behind a hundred bank robberies that we know of, and there were many other bad deeds, and he did one or two other things for which he was not caught and about which, prudently, he will not speak.

    He was, to put it simply, as successful as a man can be who leads a life of crime. He is also 57 years old now, and he has spent half of his life in jail, and that is the other measure of his success.

    If you want to learn more about Ricky, you can visit the police museum on College St. If you want to know still more — irony abounds — take a walk around the Atkinson Co-op, where he grew up; it is named in honour of his father, a community activist.

    Ricky’s most recent stretch in jail was for conspiracy, a tale involving some highly placed contacts on the island of St. Kitts, and a plan to import mind-numbing quantities of cocaine. He got nailed for that one while he was — yes, I know — out on bail; he was on TV, telling interviewer Erica Ehm that he’d gone straight; during the taping, he took a call from one of his confederates; the line was tapped.

    Do not pass GO.

    His legal status now? “I’m on parole. I’m still attached. I report once a month.”

    And if, in this matter, I am Erica — his phone rang several times as we talked — I also have a hunch he is not just older but wiser.

    But he is uneasy these days: he is free, and he is broke, and he is unused to being both those things at the same time.

    It didn’t have to be this way.

    “Three different judges said that, with my skills and business acumen, I could have run a Fortune 500 company. Instead I chose crime.”

    He approached crime like a business. “I never robbed. I put scores together and contracted them to guys I knew.”

    So what’s he doing now?

    “I’m selling legal insurance. I’m trying to do some youth work, with a guy I know; we grew up together. He went into the army, and I went into crime. He’s anti-bullying, and I’m gang intervention. His expertise is discipline and mine is motivation. We both saw bullets fly. We were in the arena of death.”

    Call it street cred.

    He has done time in every jail of note in the country. He spent the past few years on the west coast. Why did he come back here? “Vancouver was kind of quiet. There’s a pulse here. I’m a downtown boy.”

    How’s it going?

    He said, “I was at a fundraiser a while ago, a police boxing event; there were hundreds of cops, raising money for kids. It felt strange.” I guess a crowd like that would feel strange.

    “But I understand — we all have a vested interest in stopping kids from falling through the cracks. I was one of the ones who fell through.”

    Why does he want to do youth work? “It’s payback time. I think I know how to help.” Why should anyone believe him? He looked out the window, where freedom is. “I used to lie. I don’t any more.”

    We’ll see.

    Joe Fiorito appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Email: jfiorito@thestar.ca


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