Pubdate: Fri, 01 Feb 2008
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2008 The Toronto Star
Author: Nick Pron , Courts Bureau
Bookmark: (Corruption - Outside U.S.)


The case that has been called the "largest police corruption scandal 
in Canadian history" began more than 10 years ago.

Yesterday, in a downtown courtroom, the prosecution of six former 
Toronto police drug squad officers came to an abrupt and surprising 
teary end when Justice Ian Nordheimer stayed the charges, blaming the 
Crown for its inept handling of the prosecution.

"No explanation for the glacial progress of this prosecution has been 
offered," said Nordheimer, in his 54-page ruling. "The vast majority 
of the time that has passed in this prosecution resulted from the 
crown's inability to make full and complete disclosure (of the evidence)."

Immediately after the ruling, the packed courtroom erupted in 
applause as many of the six officers, Staff Sgt. John Schertzer along 
with Constables Steve Correia, Joseph Miched, Raymond Pollard, 
Richard Benoit and Ned Maodus, broke down in tears after realizing 
the investigation into their alleged misdeeds that began a decade ago 
was finally over.

"My life has been hell for the past 10 years," said Miched, who quit 
the force in frustration as the case dragged on in the courts, and is 
now selling cars. Like the others, he had an unblemished police 
record before he was accused of stealing money from drug dealers and 
falsifying search warrants.

"It's been a long, stressful and painful journey for us all," said 
Schertzer, who also retired in frustration from the job that he loved.

He has a lawsuit pending against former chief Julian Fantino, and 
members of the special task force that spent more than $3 million, 
accumulating nearly a million pages of evidence in what then-RCMP 
Chief Supt. John Neily, the head of the task force, called a 
"precedent setting criminal investigation .. the largest police 
corruption scandal known in Canadian history."

Schertzer's wife, Joyce, also a police officer who attended nearly 
every court appearance, rushed from the gallery after court ended, 
hugging her husband as the officers tearfully embraced one another 
and their lawyers - Peter Brauti, John Rosen, Harry Black, Joanne 
Mulcahy, Earl Levy, Pat Ducharme and Alan Gold.

The six veteran officers had been charged with obstruction of 
justice, perjury, extortion and assault after allegedly falsifying 
notes, not getting search warrants, beating up drug dealers and 
stealing their money while investigating Toronto street gangs.

The usually loquacious Brauti, the lawyer who filed a two-metre high 
stack of briefs in his Charter of Rights motion to have the charges 
dropped for "unreasonable delay," which was accepted by Nordheimer, 
was almost at a loss for words.

"These men dedicated themselves to the justice system," he said 
later. "They certainly deserved better prosecution."

During a party afterwards, Brauti said all the officers were furious 
that some 200 cases their squad investigated were tossed from the 
courts after they were charged.

"They can't believe that drug dealers got a free walk while police 
officers and their families were put through a decade of hell," said Brauti.

The six went to court yesterday, expecting that only the charges 
against Benoit, whose part in the alleged scandal was minor, would be dropped.

But their spirits lifted as Nordheimer continually zeroed in on the 
Crown and the investigators who handled the case over the course of 
the three hours that he read his judgment.

Nordheimer described how many of the six suffered psychological 
trauma, with several needing medication for depression.

Most had joined the force right out of high school. They had been 
originally charged in 2000, charges that were dropped, only to be 
re-charged in 2004.

The six were immediately ostracized by the force, several marriages 
ended, their children were bullied at school and even the fathers of 
two of the officers became estranged from their sons after they were charged.

The day before his ruling, Nordheimer told the court that he had 
found "two clear-cut instances of misconduct" by detectives with the 
special task force that laid charges against the six, along with 
former police union head Rick McIntosh and Const. Bill McCormack over 
alleged extortion of bar owners in the Entertainment District, in a 
separate case still before the courts.

To a man, at a celebration party last night, they were enraged over 
comments from Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory, who 
called for an investigation into what went wrong with the case.

"Everyone keeps assuming we were guilty. There should be a public 
inquiry all right, but it should be focused on the cops who 
investigated the cops," said Schertzer.

"We had the gangs in this city under control," said Schertzer. "Now 
look at what is happening. Gunplay almost daily, along with shootings 
and murders."

In his ruling, Nordheimer said that "certain investigators" with the 
task force deliberately leaked information to the media "on more than 
one occasion," an apparent bid to "encourage adverse publicity," 
which further prejudiced their right to a fair trial.

In one of the leaks, it was alleged that the money supposedly stolen 
by the squad was put into offshore bank accounts, an accusation that 
Nordheimer said during a pre-trial hearing was totally false.

Rosen said that while the officers were relieved that the charges 
were stayed, they were "saddened by the fact they weren't able to 
face their accusers ... and be vindicated in the courtroom. But the 
main thing is that they have suffered enough and that's what the 
court has found."

He said it was up to Chief Bill Blair to decide if the six should 
face internal police charges, but added "I would hope that this case is over."

The Crown has 30 days to decide if they will appeal the ruling. Lead 
prosecutor Milan Rupic declined to comment.

Nordheimer said in his ruling that a year before the charges were 
laid in 2004, Neily, the head of the task force, wrote to the 
attorney general, outlining his concern that prosecutors were 
botching the case.

"I remain extremely concerned with what appears to be a lack of any 
overt action to review our court briefs, review our materials ... or 
to work with us to formalize a prosecution strategy," wrote Neily, 
said the judge.

"We cannot continue to wait months and months for action on your 
part," he said about the prosecutors. "I have said this to you time 
and again and yet there is no change."

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With files from Dale Anne Freed and Rob Ferguson
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom