HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Allegations Against Police Could Trigger Drug Appeals
Pubdate: Fri, 24 Nov 2000
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2000, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Kirk Makin and Gay Abbate


A vast number of drug offenders will probably seek legal avenues to
reopen their cases after eight veteran Toronto Police drug-squad
officers were charged with misappropriating funds, defence lawyers

The officers are accused of stealing money from a fund -- known
colloquially as the Fink Fund -- that was earmarked for paying drug
informants. Every case in which any of the officers played a major
role is now suspected of being tainted, lawyers said yesterday.

"It will definitely be in the hundreds, and could easily run into
thousands of cases," lawyer Edward Sapiano said. "These are crimes of
dishonesty and breach of trust, so they really have an impact on an
officer's credibility."

Charged are Staff Sergeant John Schertzer, Detective Constable Steven
Correia, and Constables Sean McGuinness, James Leslie, Joseph Miched,
Jaroslaw Cieslik, Jonathan Reid and Raymond Pollard. Together, they
have a total of 118 years of experience. They have been suspended with

In all, 75 criminal charges were laid on Wednesday, including theft,
fraud, forgery and breach of trust, and the officers also face a total
of 98 disciplinary charges under the Police Services Act.

The incident, which is significant for the number of police officers
involved, drew immediate calls for closer scrutiny by watchdog agencies.

Defence counsel Paul Copeland said convicts may apply to the Ontario
Court of Appeal to reopen their cases and introduce fresh evidence. He
said the most important issue is when the misappropriation was alleged
to have begun.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sapiano said that cases still before the courts are
likely to be stayed in light of the charges.

The Toronto Police internal affairs unit began looking into the
central field command last year, shortly after a group of criminal
lawyers informed the force that clients repeatedly alleged that police
had stolen from them.

Over the next 18 months, about 50 drug prosecutions were stayed under
mysterious circumstances by close-mouthed lawyers from the federal
Department of Justice. In each case, one of the officers arrested
yesterday played a significant role.

Justice Department lawyers have since fended off more and more defence
lawyers trying to force disclosure of details of the internal-affairs

Mr. Copeland said prosecutors recently began taking the unusual step
of offering details of the probe to defence lawyers on condition they
agree to a gag order.

One case involved Mark Morgan, a drug offender who is appealing his
conviction. Justice Department lawyers are scheduled to appear before
the Ontario Court of Appeal next week to respond to a demand for
disclosure of the continuing investigation of the drug squad.

In an affidavit filed in the Morgan appeal, Mr. Sapiano states that
defence lawyers discovered in the middle of 1999 that their clients
were accusing drug-squad officers of theft in similar stories.

In a typical complaint, the affidavit says, a client alleged that
$15,000 in cash and two diamond rings worth about $10,000 went missing
during a search of his home by some of the officers.

Mr. Sapiano says in the affidavit that he was not surprised when the
complaints did not result in charges. He concluded that the
internal-affairs investigators knew they would need stronger evidence
than the testimony of convicted drug offenders if they were going to
lay charges that could be successfully prosecuted.

Police Chief Julian Fantino refused to comment about the charges
yesterday, but the previous night he said "honesty and integrity are
non-negotiable" requirements for his police officers.

Critics outside the force yesterday urged better civilian oversight of
police activities.

Lawyer Peter Rosenthal said the role of Ontario's Special
Investigations Unit, which probes incidents involving police that
result in death or serious injury, should be expanded to include cases
such as the drug-squad allegations. "Police police society, but
there's no one to police the police," he said.

Philip Stenning, a University of Toronto criminologist, suggested
tougher internal checks and balances. "Increasing the number of people
required to give signing authority makes it harder to abuse the system."

There are no reliable statistics on how many police officers in Canada
are charged with criminal offences, but experts say the number is
extremely small relative to the United States.

"Compared to other jurisdictions, we have a place in heaven," said
city Councillor Brian Ashton, a former police board member.

He suggested that the incident, while troubling, has a positive

"It's a case of the system being more transparent, more accountable,
and as a consequence it's more public." 
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