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“Fats” Robertson – A brief history of one of Vancouver’s most notorious Kingpins

By Michaela Sawyer, VPMA Museum Assistant

William Faulder Robertson, also known as Fats Robertson, was a major drug trafficking boss in Vancouver during the 60s and 70s. He was born and raised on Vancouver’s East Side and began his life of crime as a teenager in February 1947, when he tipped off the police to his friends’ plans – which did not include him – to rob a bank. His friends ended up involved in a shootout with police, resulting in the deaths of two VPD officers, Charles Boyes and Oliver Ledingham, in what became known as the “shootout at False Creek Flats”. 

The Wigwam Inn c1962. Vancouver Archives Photo, LGN 1028

Casino at the Wigwam Inn, 1962 

In July 1962, Robertson and his friend Rockmill (Rocky) Myers, attempted to set up a “plush gambling casino” at the Wigwam Inn on Indian Arm, an inlet that extends up the North Shore of Vancouver. The Inn was originally built as a luxury resort in 1910 but had been in a steady decline before Robertson and Myers bought it. 

The police quickly caught wind of the duo’s intended enterprise and descended on the Inn. They arrested 15 people and confiscated “a large amount of gambling equipment and liquor”. 

In court, RCMP officer Jack McDonald testified that Robertson and Myers had asked him to act as a “tipoff man” to potential police raids. Robertson denied this accusation, but Myers had also told McDonald that Robertson would “kill anyone who tried to cut in or double cross [him] on the casino deal”. 

Both Robertson and Myers were found guilty of attempting to bribe a police officer and sentenced to six years in prison. 

Location of the Wigwam Inn

The Canadian Connection by Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, 1976 

Charbonneau’s exposé from 1976 details the police investigations which revealed the connections between notorious criminal figures such as Fats Robertson, Montreal's gang leader Lucien Rivard, and the various Mafia organizations that formed a web of drug trafficking activity across Canada, France, the U.S., Mexico, and the Middle East. Along with this multinational criminal world, international policing agencies were working together to track and convict the countless smugglers, henchmen, and ringleaders involved. 

Charbonneau’s book was even used as part of a defense for a BCTV Newshour reporter at a contempt of court hearing in 1979 where Robertson claimed the reporter made “an objectionable comment” at the start of his trial the year prior. Robertson claimed the comment, which referenced previous police investigations into Robertson’s alleged drug-related activities, was prejudiced against his character. 

The reporter’s lawyer went through the list of Robertson’s colourful criminal past, which were all noted in Charbonneau’s book and therefore argued by the lawyer, to be common knowledge. 

The Canadian Connection by J Charbonneau

Cocaine bust at Vancouver airport, 1978 

In April 1978, Robertson, along with nine other men, was arrested on charges of conspiring to traffic over $3.5 million worth of cocaine. The RCMP and the VPD led the joint investigation where they intercepted 19 lbs of cocaine at Vancouver International Airport. The investigation involved police agencies from the U.S., Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Columbia, Brazil, and Costa Rica. At the time, this bust was the largest cocaine trafficking seizure in Canada. 

Despite the historic nature of Robertsons trial, there was little press coverage as both the Vancouver Sun and the Province were coincidentally on strike at the time. 

Robertson and his lead co-conspirator Ido Paul Zamai received 20-year prison sentences and fines of $50,000 each, but Robertson was released after only 8 years. 

From Smuggling to Stocks, 1988 

After serving 8 years out of his 20-year sentence for trafficking cocaine, Robertson appealed to the B.C. Securities Commission to reinstate his trading privileges on the Vancouver Stock Exchange (VSE). He had lost his privileges in 1972 due to accusations of stock manipulation, and now out of prison, he claimed he had no way to support himself. 

Shockingly, the commission granted Robertson his right to trade on the VSE. The VSE was infamous for shady dealings, fraud, and money laundering for criminal organizations across Canada, and Robertson’s involvement wasn’t exactly ‘by the book’. 

Photograph of Fats Robertson


Throughout his criminal career, investigators documented Fats Robertson with numerous known gang leaders, traffickers, and mafia members.  

While no physical or circumstantial evidence would directly tie Robertson to some of the murders carried out by notorious hitman Michael “Mickey” Phillip Smith, Robertson was mentioned by name during Smith’s 2003 trial for the 1993 murder of Joseph Gaja in Vancouver. Smith was being charged with one count of murder and was facing four more, when he mentioned Robertson had paid him, on multiple occasions, to carry out contracted killings dating back to 1969. 

In his trial, Smith confessed that Robertson had paid him $3,000 to kill Lucien Mayer, a member of the Eastern European mob controlling the heroin trade in Vancouver until the 80s, and later to dispose of Wallace Jack Tadich, a supposed informant. It was only when Smith was arrested through a “Mr. Big” operation* that he confessed to the earlier killings contracted – allegedly – by Fats Robertson. 

** A Mr. Big operation is where police will pose as criminals and earn a suspect’s trust over time, often paying them to commit ‘crimes’ with other undercover officers for a fake criminal organization. Eventually the suspect meets the ‘crime boss’ and is asked to confess to anything that could jeopardize the ‘criminal organization’. Mr. Big operations are a controversial police strategy used to get a suspect's confession and in 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that these types of stings could be abusive and elicit unreliable confessions. 


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