Thursday, August 16, 2001

Jennifer Quinn, John Duncanson and Jim Rankin
Staff Reporters

RCMP probes Toronto police corruption

Senior Mountie heads inquiries into disgraced drug squad

The investigation is a 'sad passage in the history of the Toronto Police Service' — Chief Julian Fantino.

Team of 20 officers investigates allegations of perjury

Toronto police Chief Julian Fantino has called in the Mounties to head a probe into allegations of perjury and theft in an ever-widening police corruption scandal that has plagued the force for years.

Calling the investigation a "sad passage in the history of the Toronto Police Service," Fantino said yesterday that "significant numbers" of criminal cases — including ones currently before the courts and those that have already been closed — could be affected by the investigation. The exact number is unknown, but Toronto police drug squads investigate hundreds of cases each year.

This huge probe is an offshoot of the investigation of allegations of theft from the force's so-called "fink fund" — a reserve of cash used to pay off informants for information. That investigation, which is examining cases as far back as 1997, has already resulted in dozens of charges laid against 13 officers, eight of whom are former members of the troubled Central Field Command drug squad. Two other former drug squad officers face criminal charges in matters separate from the "fink fund" investigation.

The expanded internal probe, headed by a senior RCMP officer, deals with allegations of perjury, a difficult charge to prove and potentially extremely damaging to the force's reputation. Sources say police investigators suspect officers lied in order to snare drug suspects, and in some cases, allegedly pocketed money belonging to dealers.

The effects of the widening probe are already being felt in the courts, with one man — whose name is protected by a publication ban — being released from prison last month after the crown conceded there had been a "miscarriage of justice."

In that case, court documents obtained by The Star show a drug squad officer, who is currently facing criminal charges, was involved in the investigation.

"I can't undo what has happened here," Fantino said.

"But I certainly can't sit back and not do all that I can, and should, and must, to deal with the issues for what they are, and delve into why these things have happened, how they have happened, and ensure that we put in place the safeguards to make sure these things don't repeat themselves."

A team of about 20 city police officers under a senior RCMP officer has been assigned to the case, sources say. The team has been working out of an office in an undisclosed location, outside of police headquarters at Bay and College Sts.

Fantino confirmed the RCMP involvement yesterday after a call from The Star.

Saying the investigation could affect a "significant" number of drug cases, Fantino said the team had been assigned to clean up the force's scandal-ridden drug squad.

Fantino would not discuss details of the expanded investigation but said it included allegations of perjury.

According to sources, in some of the cases being examined, officers were sending drug users to buy drugs from targeted dealers. The officers were then allegedly swearing out search warrants using information from the drug users, but claiming instead that the information had come from a different source, an informant.

The identity of informants is routinely protected in court, which means defence lawyers are unable to ask them questions.

Toronto police began looking into alleged theft of informant money about two years ago after accounting irregularities were discovered in a routine audit. Former chief David Boothby ordered a deeper investigation.

More than 50 ongoing drug cases have unravelled since December, 1999, due to the involvement of witness officers considered tainted because of criminal charges or ongoing internal investigations, papers filed in court have indicated. More than 80 people accused of drug crimes have walked free in those cases.

In April, 2000, internal affairs charged five officers — Detective Rod Lawrence, Detective Constable Gary Corbett, constables Gordon Ramsay, Wayne Frye and Rick Franklin — with skimming money from the fund. Two (Lawrence and Corbett) were members of the force's elite repeat offender program enforcement unit.

Then, cases involving a number of drug squad officers began to mysteriously unravel, with crown attorneys staying charges without explanation. It was Fantino who delivered the stunning news in November that eight more officers — all former members of Central Field Command drug squad — had been charged in connection with the informant money probe.

That case — involving charges of theft, fraud and forgery against Staff Sergeant John Schertzer, Detective Constable Steven Correia, and Constables Sean McGuinness, James Leslie, Jonathan Reid, Raymond Pollard, Jaroslaw Cieslik and Joseph Miched — is before the courts.

As the cases against the 13 officers charged in the so-called "fink fund" scandal slowly wind their way through the courts, Toronto police internal affairs investigators, overseen for the past few weeks by the RCMP, have been busy reviewing more cases, poring over court transcripts and other police paperwork.

Two other former drug squad members also face criminal charges. Constable Mark Denton was charged in November, 1999 with possession of hashish for the purpose of trafficking. In June, 2001, Constable Gregory Forestall was charged with perjury in connection with an allegation that a justice of the peace was given incorrect information for a search warrant in a 1998 drug case.

Investigators have also been examining closed cases, where convicted people are doing time in prison based on the work and testimony of certain drug squad officers.

Last month, a Toronto man convicted of possessing heroin was freed from prison after a secret police affidavit brought forward fresh evidence.

While much secrecy surrounds the reasons why the case unravelled, The Star has learned that a Toronto police officer facing criminal charges was central to the investigation.

Court documents from the man's original trial file show the officer in charge of exhibits in the case was Constable Joseph Miched, one of the eight former Central Field Command drug squad officers who face theft, fraud and forgery charges in connection with the "fink fund" scandal.

The convicted man, whose name is protected by a publication ban, was serving the 18th month of a 45-month term at a penitentiary in Kingston before he was freed last month.

A secret affidavit, sworn July 5 by Toronto internal affairs Detective Sergeant Randy Franks, landed before the Ontario Court of Appeal July 13. It contained fresh evidence and has been ordered sealed.

The appeal was granted and the charges stayed.

The man, who had pleaded guilty to possessing heroin and was described as an addict and a drug mule, walked free.

The court noted that it had recently come to the attention of the federal crown that the man's conviction "occasioned a miscarriage of justice."

The contents of the affidavit, the court said, "fully justify the crown's position" to stay proceedings against the man.

A stay means the crown may try a case at a later date, but it must do so within a year.

It also means an accused walks free and any money seized as proceeds of crime must be returned. In some of the cases, the accused were considered flight risks and had been held in jail awaiting trial. They, too, walked free.

None of the stayed drug cases has yet been reactivated.

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: August 20, 2001
Last modified: August 26, 2001
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