Panicked drug runner's wiretap calls played for jury at police corruption trial

For the first time Wednesday, a Toronto courtroom heard panicked calls between a cadre of drug dealers after police intercepted their shipment of cocaine, and the advice Hamilton police officer Craig Ruthowsky gave them about who could have taken it.

Key witness at the centre of the case against Hamilton police officer Craig Ruthowsky testified

Hamilton police officer Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky's trial continued in Toronto Superior Court Wednesday. In the foreground from left to right is Ruthowsky and defence lawyer Greg Lafontaine. In the background is Justice Robert Clark, Crown Attorney John Pollard, and the Crown's key witness, who cannot be identified because of a publication ban. (Pam Davies)

For the first time Wednesday, a Toronto courtroom heard panicked calls between a cadre of drug dealers after police intercepted their shipment of cocaine, and the advice Hamilton police officer Craig Ruthowsky gave them about who could have taken it.

The wiretap intercepts were played as the Crown's key witness in Ruthowsky's corruption trial testified for the first time.

The witness, who cannot be named because of a publication ban, is the drug dealer the Crown alleges was paying Ruthowsky $20,000 a month for information on police investigations. Both men were caught on wiretap calls as part of a massive Toronto police investigation dubbed "Project Pharaoh."

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.

"Why did you want to call Craig about it?" Assistant Crown Attorney John Pollard asked the witness.

"He'd always helped me out in the past," the dealer testified.

"With what?" Pollard then asked.

"There were several times that the police were after me, and he told me that they were," the dealer responded.

After the call, I realized this could have been the cops.- Key Crown witness

In total, the jury heard recordings of nine wiretap intercepts linked to the case.

The first call stemmed from a secret police cocaine smash and grab that Toronto police officer Det. Rajeev Sukumaran testified about earlier this week.

On May 22, 2015, Sukumaran and other Toronto police officers were shadowing a drug runner named Mohammed Moeen, who was believed to be running drugs for Hamilton man Keir McColl. The dealer testified that he was also working with McColl.

Moeen was buying a large quantity of cocaine that day at Sherway Gardens, which is an Etobicoke shopping mall. When he was inside the mall, court heard, police broke into the car and took two kilograms of cocaine from a lock box inside.

Panicked wiretap call played for jury

Wednesday, the jury heard Moeen's panicked call to McColl, made after he realized the drugs had been stolen.

"Somebody knew about that sh-t," Moeen says in rapid fire succession on the call, his voice rising in between gasps of air.

"They opened the box bro. That box was f--king wide open ... somebody f--king knew about that sh-t bro," Moeen said.

Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky of Hamilton police, left, leaves court in Toronto with his lawyer, Greg Lafontaine. (Adam Carter/CBC)

"At Sherway Gardens?" McColl then asked.

"At Sherway Gardens," Moeen responded.

According to the calls, neither McColl, Moeen, nor the dealer could figure out who had taken the drugs. The dealer testified that at McColl's request, he later called Ruthowsky to ask him questions about what might have happened.

"Do the cops do stuff like that, just take stuff and charge somebody later?" the dealer said on the recording.

"They do do that," Ruthowsky responded.

"They need something called a general search warrant, and that's a pretty big deal … I was in gangs for five years, and we never did a general search warrant."

On the call, Ruthowsky also muses that the coke could have been stolen, or could have been pinched in an inside job.

"It sounds like buddy got followed, or buddy himself took it," Ruthowsky said on the call.

The dealer later testified about how that conversation tailored his understanding of police investigations.

"It just gave me a bit more understanding about, police procedure wise, how it worked," he said.

"After the call, I realized this could have been the cops."

A mystery cocaine cutting agent

The dealer also described the various safe houses for drugs he had in Hamilton and Burlington over the years, and how he did business. 

Back around 2011 to 2012, the dealer was selling about 10 to 20 kilograms of cocaine a week, and making around $20,000 a week in profit, he testified.

"I would purchase and basically cut all the drugs," he said.

That "cutting" is one of the key aspects of the trial. 

The Crown said in its opening statement that Ruthowsky, at the request of the dealer who is testifying, 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, the Crown says.

"This stuff, you can cook. This stuff, it would actually hold," the dealer said.

His testimony continues Thursday morning.

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.