Cop at police corruption trial tells of secret cocaine smash and grab

A secret police investigation that was the catalyst for the case against Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky was described in full detail in a Toronto courtroom Monday, as the Hamilton police officer’s trial on corruption charges continues.

Toronto drug sting was catalyst for Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky's being caught on wiretap call

Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky, left, leaves court with his lawyer, Greg Lafontaine. Ruthowsky faces charges of bribery, attempting to obstruct justice, trafficking cocaine, criminal breach of trust, and conspiring to traffic marijuana. (Adam Carter/CBC)

A secret police investigation that was the catalyst for the case against Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky was described in detail in a Toronto courtroom Monday, as the Hamilton police officer's trial on corruption charges continues.

Det. Rajeev Sukumaran, of Toronto police, began his testimony explaining the covert surveillance operations that were being used as part of a sweeping guns and gangs investigation in Toronto dubbed "Project Pharaoh."

Back on May 22, 2015, Sukumaran and several other plainclothes officers were shadowing a man named Mohammed Moeen, who was believed to be running drugs for Hamilton man Keir McColl. The Crown alleges McColl was a friend of the dealer who was allegedly paying Ruthowsky $20,000 a month for information on police investigations.

Ruthowsky, 44, has pleaded not guilty in Superior Court in Toronto to charges of bribery, attempting to obstruct justice, trafficking cocaine, criminal breach of trust, and conspiring to traffic marijuana.

On that day, Toronto police officers were shadowing Moeen as he was buying a large quantity of cocaine at Sherway Gardens, which is an Etobicoke shopping mall.

Police say they located the cocaine in Moeen's Ford Taurus inside a secret compartment behind the back seat. (Court exhibit)

Sukumaran testified that officers saw Moeen grab a black cloth bag with white writing on it from the back of a Mercedes in the parking lot, before placing it inside his car and then walking into the mall.

"We believed it to be drugs," Sukumaran said. So the officers, under the power of what's called a "general search warrant," smashed out the driver's side window to find it.

"It was in a secret compartment behind the seat. Inside that bag was two kilos of cocaine," Sukumaran said.

Policed seized it — leaving Moeen to wonder who had busted out his window and stolen the coke.

It was that action, the Crown alleges, that led to Ruthowsky being caught on a wiretapped police call with a drug dealer, doling out advice on police techniques.

According to the Crown's opening statement, McColl was friends with the dealer who was allegedly paying off Ruthowsky, and he implored his friend to ask the cop if he could weigh in on what happened.

'The jig is up'

It's on that intercepted call, the Crown alleges, that Ruthowsky is heard talking about whether or not police could have broken into the car, or whether or not someone else could have stolen the coke. That evidence has not yet been presented.

Police say they recovered two kilograms of cocaine out of Moeen's car. (Court exhibit)

Sukumaran also testified about a search warrant Toronto police carried out at McColl's home in Ancaster a few weeks later on June 4, as part of the raids connected to project Pharaoh.

They expected to find drugs, but found nothing, court heard — except for McColl's mother.

"When we entered, the only person there was his mother, and she didn't know what was going on, but she was a little bit intoxicated," Sukumaran said.

Though they didn't find drugs, the police did make one puzzling discovery — a plastic rat, sitting on the front steps of the home.

"My feelings [about that] were, 'the jig is up,'" Sukumaran testified.

The Crown alleges that Ruthowsky helped the dealer and his associates know when police would be coming, as part of his deal.

Ruthowsky's lawyer, Greg Lafontaine, objected to any further questions about what Sukumaran thought the "meaning" of the rat was.

"There's no evidentiary value whatsoever," he said.

Justice Robert Clark stopped that line of questioning cold, after that.

Guns and gangs headquarters in poor condition, cop testifies

In court's afternoon session, the jury heard from Sgt. Ryan Moore of Hamilton police, who described the "offsite location" where the guns and gangs unit was operating during Ruthowsky's tenure as "not in good condition at all."

There was a lot of junk left over … a lot of boxes and clutter left over from other investigations," he said.

It's from that location, the Crown alleges, that Ruthowsky took a massive cocaine press that was seized from a drug dealer, and then sold it to another drug dealer on the first dealer's behalf, while setting aside some of the profits for himself.

The jury has heard that evidence that was brought into that building was kept in some old holding cells. In a regular police station, there would be a dedicated evidence room, with actual locking property lockers, Moore testified.

"You would need a key card or something to access it. It would be documented, anyone going in and out of that room," he said.

"It's to keep continuity of the evidence, to know who has accessed the evidence … and also, keeping evidence from being lost."

In the guns and gangs unit's offsite office (which was in a decommissioned Hamilton police station), there was just a single key, that everyone in the unit had access to, Moore said. That meant officers could access property or evidence seized by another officer.

"That was the only security feature," Moore said.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.