Criminals fingered the cops

Complaints from drug dealers to their lawyers helped launch a massive police investigation

Feb 02, 2008 04:30 AM

Courts Bureau

It was in the mid-1990s that defence lawyers started hearing complaints from their clients accused drug dealers that members of an elite Toronto police drug squad were stealing their money and their drugs, beating them up, breaking into their homes without search warrants, promising to pay them money for their tips but never delivering, then pocketing the cash themselves.

Those alarm bells rang over the Central Field Command's Team Number 3, a six-man squad of veteran officers with impeccable records, most of them on the job right out of high school. But the allegations were troubling.

Very quietly, a squad of 26 detectives was formed to probe the drug squad, headed by Staff Sgt. John Schertzer, whose squad of Constables Steve Correia, Ned Maodus, Raymond Pollard, Joseph Miched and later, Richard Benoit, had been racking up thousands of arrests in leading the street fight against the scourge of cocaine that had hit Toronto in the late 1980s.

The special task force, out of their secret office in North York, would accumulate nearly a million pages of evidence against Schertzer's squad. The officers were arrested in early 2004.

Instantly, the members of the squad were branded as "dirty cops," worse than the drug dealers they had been arresting.

It was heralded as perhaps the worst scandal in Canadian policing history.

But the case came to a crashing halt Thursday in a Toronto courtroom when Justice Ian Nordheimer stayed the charges after criticizing the Crown for the snail's pace of the prosecution, saying the officers weren't getting a fair trial.

Nordheimer's stinging rebuke meant that lead prosecutor Milan Rupic, along with co-Crowns Susan Reid and Joan Barrett, never got a chance to test their case before a jury. It also meant that defence lawyers never got a chance to challenge those allegations.

Court documents obtained by the Star have painted an unflattering picture of the tactics of "Schertzer's Boys," as some of them were called. The prosecutor's allegations are unproven and untested, and were presented at a preliminary inquiry without a jury.

Lawyer Peter Brauti, whose Charter of Rights motion for "unreasonable delay" scuttled the Crown's case, said that had the trial gone ahead "it would have been clear to everyone that many of the Crown's witnesses were no more than criminals whose stories couldn't be believed."

But prosecutors had no choice about who they could call to the stand in this case. As the saying goes: "When the crime is committed in Hell, you need the Devil as your witness."

Still, after a five-month preliminary, Justice James Blacklock committed the case to trial.

Perhaps the most damning allegation against the squad involved a man they arrested on trafficking charges in April 1998 Christopher Quigley. He was taken to 53 Division, on Eglinton Ave. W., tossed into an interrogation room, and supposedly beaten up over the next 10 hours until he told the squad that he had stashed his drug money in his mother's safety deposit box at a CIBC branch on Avenue Rd. The squad went to the bank, got the manager to open it up. While the manager looked on, he later told investigators, $100 bills "rained" out of the safety deposit box. But when the money was later logged in at the police station, there was no mention of $100 bills, just 50s and $1,000 bills. The squad said they had seized $22,850. Quigley later told the special task force detectives that he had $54,000 stashed away a shortfall of more than $31,000.

Quigley would later complain he had suffered a broken rib, bruising all over his body, and a swollen eye. Police reports said Quigley had a bloody nose and bumps and bruises after attacking an officer when they told him they were going to search his mother's house for his drugs.

In another case, a man arrested by the squad for drug trafficking, Kai Sum Yeung, a heroin dealer, would later tell the cops probing the cops that the squad had seized his wallet, containing $2,000. The police report said $350 was logged in.

In 1999, drug traffickers Tam and Thuyen Nguyen complained that Schertzer's team had seized $10,000, along with jewellery during a search of their west end home. The later police report said the seizure was $640. There was no mention of jewellery.

The charges against the couple were later dropped by prosecutors after the squad was charged.

Andy Ioakim, a cocaine dealer arrested in October 1997, would later tell special task force investigators that he had turned over $65,000 cash to Schertzer's squad and never saw the money again.

Brauti said that Ioakim's testimony kept changing at the preliminary, where defence lawyers openly mocked him, telling Judge Blacklock he was the worst witness they had ever seen.

The $65,000 he said Schertzer's squad had taken from him ballooned to $85,000 during the hearing. Later he testified it was $105,000.

Blacklock ruled that there was "sufficient evidence" to send the officers to trial, while being critical of the Crown's witnesses, almost hinting at perjury, but adding that it wasn't his role to assess "their credibility."

As for Brauti, whose Charter motion scuttled the case for the Crown, he said there should be more focus on the actions of the cops who probed the cops.

Nordheimer, in his ruling to stay the charges, said he found "two clear-cut instances of misconduct" by unnamed officers with the special task force, and noted he was probing a third the deliberate leaking of misinformation to the media by the task force.

"It's too bad that a lot of the conduct of the special task force will never be explored," said Brauti.

"I have a feeling that a number of people on that task force are more relieved than the accused that they don't have to get on the stand."

The last word goes to Schertzer, the man in charge of the squad: "I wanted my day in court. We all did. But I'm glad it's over. I want to move on."

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While the staying of charges against six Toronto police officers ended one case this week, there are more court cases to come:

Another police corruption case resumes Monday at Old City Hall when a preliminary hearing continues for two officers accused of extorting bar owners in the downtown Entertainment District.

Constables Rick McIntosh, the former head of the police association who has since retired, and Bill McCormack Jr., the son of former police chief William Sr., face a charges including fraud, breach of trust and discreditable conduct.

There are still several civil lawsuits related to the corruption charges that are before the courts, including one by Staff Sgt. John Schertzer, the former drug squad head. He is suing former police chief Julian Fantino and members of a special task force who laid charges against him and five members of his team in 2004.