By: Allya Davidson and Julia Sisler
The night of September 14th, 2013 north of Montreal, police set off on a manhunt that led to an arrest that would blow apart the Montreal police force as we know it.
Notorious Hells Angels hitman Rene “Balloune” Charlebois had escaped from his minimum security prison earlier that evening. When police tracked him to a remote chalet just under two weeks later, they found Charlebois’ body after an apparent suicide. A third party provided Quebec’s provincial police, the Surete du Quebec or SQ, with Charlebois’ final words: a series of audiotapes that he asked be made public if anything were to happen to him. The tapes feature conversations, which, if proven authentic, will bring down one of Quebec’s most respected biker cops and rock the Montreal Police force.
Weeks later, the SQ moved in on their target. The cops had a new recruit pose as a criminal offering to sell the tapes for $50,000. The SQ’s mark meets the recruit and offers $10,000 upfront for the tapes, $40,000 later, lending credibility to what is on them. Shortly after the meeting, the SQ arrested star biker investigator Benoit Roberge.
One of the country’s top biker cops, now accused of selling information to the Hells Angels, says he will ‘not go down alone’ in a telephone conversation obtained by our colleagues at Radio- Canada’s Enquete and the fifth estate.
As one of the key players in Operation Springtime 2001, the largest-ever one-day sweep in police history, Roberge is now on the other side of the law. His talent for developing sources and informants had made him a star, both inside the police community and with the general public. His charges officially date back to 2010, but some sources say alleged leaks could have started even earlier.
Montreal police chief Marc Parent says the force launched an internal investigation to make sure no other officers could be implicated.
“Well, I hope that the investigation will show everything that we need to know,” he told the fifth estate’s Mark Kelley.
“We know there’s a constant shadow of the mob, of the organized crime, trying to get into the police organization, to get information - the pressure is there. So those people working close to the organized crime, we do know that we have to check that. It’s a near miss for us so we have to check that very close.”
At least one person has been removed from their duties due to this internal investigation.
the fifth estate has learned that Montreal police are investigating one of Roberge’s colleagues and close friend from the anti-biker squad. He was given a polygraph test, and he failed it. The officer was reassigned.
Montreal police announced they will now rotate intelligence officers more often to prevent possible leaks in the future.
Roberge says police have been tough on him since his arrest, incredulous that a cop might have put other cops in danger. In one of Charlebois’ recordings, he and Roberge can allegedly be heard talking about the whereabouts of a key Hells Angels biker turned informant whose intelligence propped up Operation SharQc, a large police sweep in 2009 where more than 100 bikers were arrested.
“They’d like to see me dead,” Roberge told his friend Benoit Perron in a telephone call from jail.
“They wanna send me to hell, but I’m not going down alone. That’s it.”
Perron told the Radio-Canada program Enquete and CBC’s the fifth estate about several phone conversations he had with Roberge since his arrest. Roberge also sent a letter to Perron, obtained by Enquete, with his first words made public since his arrest last October.
“I cried so much,” Roberge wrote. “I’m still crying while I write this letter sitting cross-legged on my bed with no bench or chair. My cell is in ruins.”
Montreal Police chief Parent says he did not know of any reason not to trust Roberge when he was on the force.
“I met with the partner that worked for him for five years. And he never saw a sign for five years,” he told Kelley. “And we know that police officers are suspicious, they have this instinct, but he never saw anything.”
Roberge clocked long hours, cultivating informants and chasing leads. According to colleagues he “hated what the bikers stood for.” And as the Montreal biker wars of the 1990s heated up, claiming the lives of civilians, including 11-year-old Daniel Desrochers, the force was under pressure to put a stop to the bombings, shootings and fires. For some, it seemed like Roberge was doing what it took to get results.
But others who knew Roberge say there were red flags years before his 2013 arrest.
Guy Ouellette was part of Quebec’s provincial police, and for years he worked with Roberge on a police team to stop the biker wars.
“My surprise would be that nobody never saw, nobody close to him never saw or never ask,” he said. “There’s some people somewhere who were sleeping. That’s my concern.” Roberge routinely broke police protocol by meeting sources without his partner, according to one of his long-time informants, Eric Nadeau.
“For the 10 years we met, he was alone about 80 per cent of the time. We were meeting in parking lots, under bridges,” he said.
In 2004, Richard Dupuis was the head of Montreal’s major crimes division, and Roberge’s boss.
He kicked Roberge off the anti-biker unit after the officer told him about a meeting with a well- known Hells Angel from Montreal, where the biker paid about for a $300 bottle of wine for them to share.
“I told him, you’re putting yourself at risk. You’re in danger and you’re putting the whole organization in danger. This is not acceptable behaviour. You’re gonna finish your reports and you’re never gonna do that again. Then he said: you know nothing.”
But in 2009, Roberge was called back to the anti-biker unit to help with Operation SharQc. More than 100 bikers were arrested, thanks to testimony from the Hells Angels informant. Still, nearly 30 members of the gang avoided arrest.
Dupuis, now a security analyst for the TVA network, says many police were convinced the bikers were getting inside information.
“There were leaks going back to 2004. Whenever there were big operations or raids, if there was a big sweep planned, some people just disappeared, or they moved away, or else they were right there when we arrived, waiting for us.”
Last fall, Charlebois broke out of Montee St-Francois Institution – and sparked a chain of events that led to Roberge’s arrest.
Charlebois was sentenced to life in prison for killing a police informant for the Hells Angels, among several other charges. Roberge began visiting him, trying to convince him to become an informant even from behind bars.
Charlebois began receiving day passes in March of last year, then one September day he walked out and didn’t return. Police tracked him to a cottage more than 100 kilometres from the prison. Before they arrived, Charlebois committed suicide, but he left behind 10 audio recordings he had secretly taped during his conversations with Roberge.
According to a source who has listened to them, the tapes reveal that instead of buying information from Charlebois, Roberge was selling it to the biker.
One of the key pieces of information they discussed was the whereabouts of the Hells Angels informant whose testimony led to the mass arrests of gang members in 2009.
If Roberge sold that information, it could not only be a death sentence for the informant, but it could also put his police protectors in danger.
Charlebois also told Roberge to leave one of his car doors open so members of the Hells Angels could drop off an envelope with $100,000 to help Roberge if he was caught, according to a source who has heard the tapes.
Roberge retired from the police force in August 2013 and began working as an investigator at Revenue Quebec. The source who heard Charlebois’ recordings told Enquete that Roberge boasted that his new job gave him access to sensitive information.
The Quebec police set up a sting and when Roberge showed up to make a deal, he sealed his own fate. Roberge was arrested that same night in the “Quartier Dix-30” in Brossard outside Montreal after leaving the meeting.
“That’s how police confirmed what was in those recordings. Because nobody would pay 50 thousand bucks if they had nothing to hide,” his former boss at the Montreal police Dupuis said. Roberge is charged with obstructing justice for the profit of a criminal organization (a gangsterism charge), attempting to obstruct justice by divulging information, contributing to the activity of a criminal organization (another gangsterism charge) and breach of trust. None of these charges have been proven in court.
Days after Roberge’s arrest, Montreal police chief Parent held a press conference to reassure the city that the force is not corrupt.
“It’s very rare that someone is going to go on the other side, the dark side,” he told Kelley.
Police psychologist Mike Webster is not surprised by the chief’s reaction, but he says it is wrong to think Roberge is likely just one ‘rotten apple’.
“Corrupt police persons are not natural-born criminals. Proper corruption control has to look at the barrel as well as the apples, has to look at the organization as well as those who work for it,” he said. “Corrupt police persons are made, not born.”
For some cops who have also worked closely with criminals, the human aspect of the challenge is very real. Benoit Roberge was well-known for his cowboy tactics, getting up close and personal with bikers, even spending his evenings and weekends with them. At some point, that closeness became dangerous for Roberge. Bob Stenhouse worked for years as a both a biker investigator and an undercover cop in Alberta and B.C. For him, the line between a role and reality became very blurry.
“I think that not only are you wrestling with kind of that dark side of humanity in terms of the behaviour you see in terms of the brokenness, the abuse, the struggle, but you start to wrestle with it yourself. That’s where you’re vulnerable and that’s where the smart criminal knows you’re vulnerable.”
After developing a drinking problem and going through a divorce, Stenhouse decided to leave life undercover behind, but he is all too aware of how close he was to crossing over to the dark side. “I got out of it in time. I’ve two ex-colleagues die; one died of alcoholism, one died of suicide. I saw guys that had been doing it for too long and I saw what it did to their life. So I don’t want to go there. So I need to make some choices to go this way.” For other cops though, it’s not easy to pull away from the seductive criminal life. In the last few years, there seems to have been a wave of cops who have done more than pretend to be bad guys.
Rapinder Sidhu, a former B.C. Mountie, spent years as an undercover biker cop. He pled guilty last year to running a multi-million dollar drug smuggling ring between Canada and the U.S. for the Hells Angels. He has been sentenced to 8 years in prison by a Washington State judge. Ian Davidson, a Montreal police officer, was arrested when boarding a flight to Costa Rica in October 2011. He was not charged, but was suspected of trying to sell locations of police informants to the mafia for $1 million. At the time of his arrest he was in possession of a computer that contained "sensitive" police files, despite the fact that he had retired as a sergeant-detective in the criminal intelligence unit 9 months earlier. Davidson fled and committed suicide before any charges could be laid.
Dean Rudge, a veteran police officer from the Niagara region, leaked police information to the Hells Angels for 2 years. His sentencing judge called it an act of treason.
And the fifth estate famously reported on RCMP drug investigator - Claude Savoie and his ties to a Montreal gang. On the eve of broadcast in 1992, Savoie committed suicide. Police forces around the country are trying to address how to get good intelligence without allowing officers to go too far.
Montreal chief Parent says the force has measures in place to prevent officers from getting too close to the criminals they are investigating.
“It’s a challenge for all the police organizations. You can work on the early warning, random check. You can put in place let’s say a computer safety system,” Parent said. “You can do a lot of things, but you know that the human part of it will always be a challenge for a police organization.”
Stenhouse, the former RCMP undercover cop, says Roberge shouldn’t be seen as a pariah, but an example of cops who spend too long walking the line between cop and criminal.
“There are going to be cops that will break the law and so, don’t stick our head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t happen. Sometimes a system in the organization needs to take some responsibility as well and look for those red flags. You know the idea of holding police out as something ‘better than’ in terms of what they might be tempted by is dangerous, right?”
Roberge is now being held in solitary confinement while he awaits trial, to protect him from people he may have helped to put behind bars during his time as a police officer.
In a letter to his childhood friend Perron, shared with the fifth estate and Enquete, Roberge writes about the dramatic reversal in his life.
“I feel alone, up against a powerful state. In spite of all the ups and downs, I am on the road to recovery. I will be a better person. I’ve had an incredible life with a tragic destiny, but a lot of good memories. This is the price of justice. What an unbelievable situation.”