Drug dealer says he could sell freely in Hamilton thanks to cop payoff

A drug dealer testified that his $20,000 monthly payments to Hamilton police officer Craig Ruthowsky meant he and his associates could roam free and sell drugs in Hamilton without having to look over their shoulders.

Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky faces charges including bribery and trafficking cocaine

Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky of Hamilton police is facing several charges in Toronto Superior Court. The Crown alleges Ruthowsky was helping the criminals he was supposed to be prosecuting, in exchange for cash. (Adam Carter/CBC)

A drug dealer testified Thursday that his $20,000 monthly payments to Hamilton police officer Craig Ruthowsky meant he and his associates could roam free and sell drugs in Hamilton without having to look over their shoulders.

The dealer, who cannot be named because of a publication ban, returned to the witness box for the second day in a Toronto courtroom, providing more details about his alleged payments to the officer and what he got in return. 

He's the Crown's key witness in the case against the 17-year veteran of Hamilton police, who spent years in the guns and gangs unit.

"I would know when search warrants were happening, I would know who was informing on me," the witness said. "I was pretty much allowed to sell drugs. I would get pulled over by the police, I would hand the phone out the window, and Craig would talk to them."

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.

The dealer told the jury Thursday about the first time he met Ruthowsky, in the summer of 2011. Ruthowsky, court heard, was one of the officers who took part in a raid on the dealer's Caroline Street condo in downtown Hamilton, looking for drugs.

He said to bring the money with him the next time we meet.— Witness

After his arrest, Ruthowsky helped orchestrate the dealer's release on a promise to appear in court, after he turned over some guns to police, court heard.

The dealer testified that he thought he could make a deal with Ruthowsky for information — because he believed a friend once had a similar deal with the cop, and because he had $30,000 in his apartment at the time of his arrest, but was only booked with about $11,000, he testified.

"Someone stole the rest of it … [so] I knew already I could probably do this," he said.

Striking a deal

Det. Const. Craig Ruthowsky, right, is seen in this court sketch with his lawyer, Greg Lafontaine. (Pam Davies)

Days after the dealer was released, Ruthowsky contacted him to return some car keys that had been seized during the raid, court heard. That's when, the dealer says, he made his pitch to the cop, on behalf of himself and three others he worked with selling drugs.

"I told him I want the same arrangement as my friend before. He asked if I knew the price, I said, 'Yeah, but there's four of us," the dealer testified. "He said, 'There's four of you, you know the price, the next time I see you, bring it with you.'"

The dealer said he understood the "price" was $5,000 a person.

"He said to bring the money with him the next time we meet."

The two met shortly after, the dealer testified, in a Tim Hortons parking lot. 

"Did you bring anything with you?" assistant Crown attorney John Pollard asked the witness.

"Yeah," he responded.

"What?" Pollard asked.

"$20,000 in cash," he said.

"Where did that money come from?" Pollard asked.

"Drug dealing," the witness said, deadpan.

Police wiretaps released

On Thursday, the judge released audio recordings of wiretap intercepts on which Ruthowsky was caught, giving advice about police techniques to the dealer:

In this police wiretap, Hamilton police officer Craig Ruthowsky is heard giving advice to a drug dealer. 0:35

The jury has also heard the panicked calls from a drug runner to his boss that set the entire case in motion, after police officers broke into his car during a secret police cocaine smash-and-grab at a Toronto mall parking lot:

A drug runner who worked with the drug dealer who allegedly paid off Craig Ruthowsky freaks out once he realized someone took two kilos of cocaine from his car. 0:22

Both those calls were intercepted as part of Project Pharaoh, a massive Toronto police investigation into gang activity in the city.

Let down at a drug bust

Later in their relationship, the dealer said, Ruthowsky told him that he needed to hand over information that would help him look like a legitimate police informant.

So the dealer decided to tell Ruthowsky about a marijuana grow-op that he felt was ripping him off. He was even thinking of robbing the place to get back some money he was owed, he testified.

"I just said [to my associates], 'Why don't we see if we can get the police to rob it for us?' And that will be his bust, too," he said.

The deal, the jury heard, was Ruthowsky would get his bust, and the dealer would walk away with half of the weed that police seized.

Police say thousands of pot plants were seized at a grow-op on Green Mountain Road in 2011. (Court exhibit)

Court has previously heard that police did, in fact, raid a massive grow operation on Green Mountain Road in October  2011 — but there was no harvestable weed there. Ruthowsky, in a show of good faith, the dealer said, invited him to come along and see for himself.

Previous police witnesses have testified about seeing the dealer at the grow-op, looking around with Ruthowsky.

"He told me to bring a hat and a hoodie," the dealer said. "He told me to keep my head down … lots of the police know me."

"He said if anyone asked, I was RCMP."

Court also heard Thursday about the dealer's side of an undercover cocaine buy from 2011. One of the trial's most emotional moments came last week when Sgt. Jennifer Lafleur of Hamilton police testified about the deal, saying she feared for her safety.

The dealer said Thursday that after the deal didn't go through, Ruthowsky called him.

"He said, 'It was a good thing you didn't sell it to them, those guys were the cops,'" he said.

The trial resumes on Monday.

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.