An assistant Crown attorney says a Hamilton police officer spent months on a drug dealer’s payroll, taking money in exchange for providing tips and advice that would help the dealer and his associates evade police detection and charges.
The secret worlds of drug dealers, confidential informants and police undercover stings were all laid bare Monday in Superior Court in Toronto, as the jury trial began for Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky, accused of working with the criminals he was supposed to be investigating.
Ruthowsky has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, attempting to obstruct justice, trafficking cocaine, criminal breach of trust, and conspiring to traffic marijuana.
Court heard that Ruthowsky was unconventional in his methods, but also prolific in the amount of information he could bring in about Hamilton’s criminal underworld. The jury also heard about a rift between two of Hamilton police’s biggest specialized units, and their squabbles over arrests and resources.
The 44-year-old’s family sat in the front row throughout the proceedings Monday. Hamilton police officers were also in attendance.
The information Ruthowsky passed on to the drug dealer, the Crown alleges, included the time and locations of pending search warrants, the identity of confidential informants, and covert investigative techniques used by police officers.
In his opening statement, assistant Crown attorney John Pollard told the jury that Ruthowsky was an active part of two separate drug trafficking schemes, “which compromised police investigations both big and small, from roadside traffic stops to large, wiretap-based projects.”
‘The rift between our drug unit and our gang unit was pretty bad at that time.’
– Sgt. James Paterson, Hamilton police
The Crown alleges that Ruthowsky cut a deal with the drug dealer to be paid $20,000 a month in exchange for tips on police strategies.
“It made them better, more effective drug traffickers,” Pollard said.
The Crown contends that Ruthowsky met the drug dealer after the man was arrested in a police raid in Hamilton back in the summer of 2011.
Hamilton police units feuding
Sgt. James Paterson was one of the heads of the guns and gangs unit at the time. He testified that he was Ruthowsky’s best friend.
Paterson did not delve into his relationship with Ruthowsky any further than that — but it was evident from his demeanour that he was not totally comfortable about the position he was in while in the witness box.
Paterson said that back then, Ruthowsky had more confidential informants feeding him information than anybody in the unit, and called him the “most productive person” in the police service.
At that time, Paterson said, there was an “ongoing feud” between the six-person guns and gangs unit and the much larger drug unit.
“The rift between our drug unit and our gang unit was pretty bad at that time,” he said. “We thought we were doing more than the entire drug unit, which had 20 or 25 people in it.”
Paterson laid out how Hamilton police officers would use informants who were facing charges to turn on their compatriots, in order to get information about larger scale criminal activities.
“[It was] if you want these charges to go away, you have to give us something 10 times more,” Paterson said.
Nabbed as part of Project Pharaoh
If the information given panned out, investigators would work to get charges dropped or reduced, or, in some cases, a payout was given as compensation.
But, Paterson said, police would never give information to an informant, especially in a case where it might involve blowing the cover of an undercover police officer.
“It’s a one-way street,” Paterson said. “We’re expected to take [information] in as a sponge.”
But Ruthowsky was happy to make it a two-way street, the Crown alleges. Pollard said in his opening statement that Ruthowsky, at the request of the dealer who was paying him, took a mystery cutting agent for cocaine to a private lab to be chemically analyzed.
Cutting agents are mixed in with cocaine to increase its volume, and therefore, maximize profits. Armed with an identification of exactly what the chemical was, the dealer was able to buy that cutting agent wholesale, which let him turn a much greater profit.
On top of that, the Crown alleges that Ruthowsky agreed to let that same dealer walk out of a massive grow-op with half of the pot that had been harvested inside.
Pollard said the trial will also touch on an undercover cocaine buy, and a bag of cocaine that police grabbed from a lock box inside the car of a drug dealer’s driver.
Court heard that Ruthowsky was implicated on wiretaps as part of a widespread Toronto police guns and gangs investigation dubbed Project Pharaoh, which was centred on drugs and firearms trafficking in the west end of Toronto.
The trial, which is before Justice Robert Clark, is expected to last about three weeks.