Toronto, Canada - Report: Cops tried to avoid inquiry

Police report said investigation of drug squad would lessen chance of 'more damage'

11/22/06, By Alan Cairns, Toronto Sun

In an internal Toronto Police report written in the summer of 2001, professional standards Insp. Tony Corrie said calling in the RCMP to look into alleged wrongdoing by drug squad officers “may avert a public inquiry.”

An internal Toronto Police report written only months before an RCMP-led 25-member task force was formed to probe an allegedly rogue drug squad team suggests such a move "may avert" an embarrassing public inquiry.

Expressing fears that when allegations against numerous cops were "played out" in court, "the inevitable outcry may lead to a Public Enquiry" that would encompass officers from the rank-and-file to the top brass, Toronto Police professional standards Insp. Tony Corrie suggested that in creating a full-time task force, "the service will be seen to be making a commitment to getting to the bottom of all the issues.

"The faster the review is done, the less chance there is of committing more damage ... Taking these steps may avert a Public Enquiry," states a "business case" report written by Corrie in the summer of 2001.

Citing numerous problems, Corrie warned that if more "problematic" cases were revealed, there could be more civil court lawsuits and a "potential for a massive lack of trust in Police Officer testimony and also greater problems in confidential informant use and obtaining search warrants."

Corrie suggested a "Superintendent or above" should lead an internal probe with an "external component" to provide "greater credibility."

And he said a "sample audit must take place of other units to attempt to provide some assurance that it was just team."

The "management" of the task force review should go to a "retired court judge," Corrie added.

Defence lawyers slammed the internal report as, at best, an inappropriate public relations strategy.

"It is a stunning and a shocking document," said Edward Sapiano -- who, along with other lawyers, including Clayton Ruby, complained to Toronto Police brass in 1999 about drug squad "theft by search warrant" allegations raised by clients.

Lawyer Peter Biro said the "whole memorandum is really an exercise in trying to develop a strategy to avoid public scrutiny ... avert a public inquiry."

At the time Corrie wrote his 2001 report, Toronto Police was awash in civil court allegations -- all of which have been denied -- that members of a Central Field Command (CFC) drug squad, led by Staff-Sgt. John Schertzer, had stolen drugs and money from dealers, had lied to get search warrants and had hid the identities of police agents by declaring them anonymous confidential informants. A total of 13 cops from the drug and Repeat Offender Program Enforcement (ROPE) squads faced criminal charges.

Former chief Julian Fantino appears to have heeded Corrie's advice almost to the letter in August 2001 when he named RCMP Staff Supt. John Neily to head a 25-member special task force to oversee a wider probe. Fantino gave Neily a mandate to flush out and review outstanding court cases.

Fantino said an objective probe was crucial to ensure "we don't lose the public trust and violate the integrity of the justice system."

Retired Ontario supreme court justice George Ferguson was recruited to review procedures.

Neily's appointment coincided with the release of Simon Yeung, a drug dealer who was freed from prison in July 2001 after he had served 18 months of a 45-month sentence. Saying a "miscarriage of justice" had tainted Yeung's guilty plea, Ontario prosecutors supported Yeung's appeal. It was later alleged that Schertzer's team never disclosed that a police agent had been used in the case.

In the ensuing months, prosecutors dropped about 250 drug cases they feared would be tainted, freeing some of Toronto's most prolific dealers.

Fink-fund charges against Schertzer's team were dropped because of the "ongoing" investigation.

After a three-year probe, the Neily task force charged Schertzer and five former subordinate drug cops with taking part in a conspiracy to obstruct justice on allegations that search warrants, memo books and court testimony were fabricated and that cash and drugs were stolen.

Another four ex-drug cops named as "unindicted co-conspirators" were not charged.

Schertzer, Steve Corriea, Ned Maodus, Ray Pollard and now-retired Joe Miched were committed to trial in June on conspiracy allegations and other charges. Rick Benoit was sent to trial on allegations that he took part in an assault.

All 10 cops face internal Police Services Act charges.

None of the allegations have been tested in court and all the officers involved deny any wrongdoing.

To date, the task force probe has cost taxpayers about $8 million.

If the accused cops are convicted, the union faces an estimated $6-million legal bill.

If they are not convicted, the City of Toronto faces an estimated $8-million legal bill, not including the potential for future legal costs in a $116-million "malicious prosecution" lawsuit filed by Schertzer and seven other officers. The suit names Fantino, Neily and more than 20 other cops, politicians and prosecutors.

Today, more than five years after the Neily task force was formed, the public perception of Toronto Police integrity hangs in the balance amid allegations by key task force investigator Sgt. Jim Cassells that "numerous incidents" uncovered during the probe were minimized, ignored or had gone unprobed amid police brass indifference and interference. Cassells, a 30-year veteran with the force, alleges that nothing was done when the issues were uncovered during the probe, nor was any action taken when he told internal affairs about the unresolved issues in November 2005.

As revealed in yesterday's Toronto Sun, a second ex-task force member, retired Sgt. Neal Ward, confirmed he penned a 14-point list of unresolved issues. Sources said the list included unprobed allegations of theft by a second CFC drug team and of a suspected cop cocaine ring.

The case took another twist this week, when the Sun revealed that a "procedural review" of Cassell's allegations led by York police has a "very limited" mandate and has focused only on procedures. It has not interviewed anyone on the Neily task force, excepting Cassells.

Blair -- who dismissed Cassells' allegations prior to calling the procedural review in May -- forwarded the report to Justice Ferguson for his input. Toronto Police say the finished review will go to the Toronto Police Services Board Nov. 28.

Board chairman Alok Mukherjee has said the results will be made public.

In his "executive summary" of the initial "fink fund" corruption review filed to police brass in the summer of 2001, Corrie noted additional areas of concern.

Previewing the "fink fund" trial of two ROPE cops in late 2001, Corrie told brass to prepare for media scrutiny.

He wrote that issues "sure to be addressed" would include supervision, ability to investigate misconduct, handling of informants, search warrants, control of informant funds, promotional and discipline practices, organizational structure and checks and balances.

"A preliminary review of the situation ... indicates that members ... may well say things that could cause embarrassment," Corrie wrote.

As "unpleasant" as it might be, it was important that all the facts be brought to the "forefront" so the service could understand what happened, repair the damage and regain any lost public trust, he wrote.

Corrie initially recommended that Fantino "immediately" order an internal administrative investigation in advance of a public inquiry and that the probe have "an external component that will provide greater credibility to the results."

In his report, Corrie also noted a previously unreported allegation that a "stripper" was used as a confidential informant while she was having an affair with a cop.

"There are suggestions of drug use by officers and this is being explored," he wrote.

Corrie warned of "potential" for many more "unsafe convictions" by Schertzer's team. "It is very clear that the review team has only touched the 'tip of the iceberg,'" Corrie said.

But successful prosecution of a drug cop for theft of crime cash "would be most difficult, if not impossible," he said.

Corrie said reviews beyond Schertzer's squad revealed "no indicators" of similar problems.

Yet a search of civil court records by the Sun shows there were three outstanding lawsuits filed against a second CFC team in 1999 and 2000.

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